Reign of George II. (Continued.) page 2
The opposition made no objection to the re-election of Onslow as speaker of the commons, but they made a determined attack on the address. Lord Noel Somerset moved that in the address his majesty should be desired not to engage this kingdom in a war for the defence of his Hanoverian dominions. This was seconded by Shippen, who declared that he had grown old in the house of commons, only to see all the predictions of his life realised in the manage ment of the nation. He re-asserted that Hanoverian maxims were inconsistent with the welfare and happiness of this kingdom, and at war with the spirit of caution which inspired those patriots who framed the act of settlement, which conferred the throne on the present royal family. He pointed out the instances in which the minister had violated these cautionary securities, and insisted on steps being taken to prevent the nation being sacrificed to the preservation of foreign dominions. Gibbon, who followed him, exclaimed against the folly of returning thanks for a war of disaster and dishonour. "What! " he said, "are our thanks to be solemnly returned for defeats, disgrace, and losses? - for the ruin of our merchants, the imprisonment of our sailors, idle shows of armaments, and useless expenses? "
Pulteney seemed to be animated by a double portion of patriotic indignation. He reviewed Walpole's whole administration, and accused him, not merely of individual acts of erroneous policy, but of deliberate treachery. The whigs, elated by this fiery denunciation of the minister, called for a division; but Pulteney, aware that they had not yet a majority, observed that dividing was not the way to multiply. Walpole, on his part, offered to leave out the paragraph thanking his majesty for his royal care in prosecuting the war with Spain; but this was only regarded as a proof of conscious weakness, and Pulteney proceeded to charge Walpole with purposely ruining the nation to serve the pretender.
This called Walpole up, and he defended himself with all his accustomed self-command and ability. He retorted the charges of serving the pretender on his enemies, and these with real grounds. He referred to Chesterfield's recent visit to the pretender's court at Avignon. He asked, as he had done before more than once, whether he, as minister, had raised the war in Germany, or advised the war with Spain? - whether he was amenable for the deaths of the late emperor and the king of Prussia, which opened up all these complications? - whether the lawless ambition of Frederick, f or the war betwixt Sweden and Russia, were chargeable on him? He offered to meet the opposition on the question of the state of the nation, if they would name a day. This challenge was accepted, and the 21st of January next was fixed upon. The clause respecting the Spanish war, as Walpole had suggested, was also struck out, and the address then was carried unanimously.
But though the 21st of January was to be the day of the grand attack on the ministry, the battle was not deferred till then. Every day was a field- day, and the sinking minister was dogged step by step, his influence weakened by repeated divisions, and his strength worn out by the display of the inevitable approach of the catastrophe. The first decided defeat that he suffered was in the election of the chairman of committees. The ministerial candidate, Giles Earle, was thrown out by a majority of two hundred and forty-two to two hundred and thirty-eight, and the opposition candidate, Dr. Lee, was hailed by a shout that rent the house. "You have no idea," writes Horace Walpole, the minister's son, "of this huzza, unless you can conceive how people must triumph after defeats of twenty years together." This was the point of the wedge - the whole wedge must soon follow. The swarms of petitions against election returns gave opportunity of pursuing the attack without intermission. In these combats Walpole's majority sank to seven; and this induced those who now saw that the old sun was setting, to look out for the rising luminary. Then came a petition against the conduct of the high bailiff and the magistrates in the election for Westminster. The high bailiff had been guilty of some illegal practices at the poll, and three justices of the peace, on pretence of preventing a riot, sent for a military force to overawe the election. The petitioners employed William Murray, afterwards earl of Mansfield, as their counsel; and he made so masterly a charge against the magistrates, that the election was declared void by a majority of four. The high bailiff was taken into custody; the officer who ordered the soldiers to march, and the three justices, were called to the bar of the house, and reprimanded on their knees.
The fall of Walpole was now certain, and he would have consulted both his dignity and comfort in resigning at once. This was the earnest advice of his friends, but he had been too long accustomed to power to yield willingly. He was oppressed with a sense of his defeats, and the insolence of enemies whom he had so long calmly looked down upon without fear. He was growing old and wanted repose, but he still clung convulsively to his authority, though he had ceased to enjoy it. At this time his son describes his condition thus: - "My father, who used to be called in the morning, and was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow - for I have frequently known him snore ere they had drawn his curtains - now never sleeps above an hour without waking; and he who at dinner always forgot he was minister, and was more gay and thoughtless than all his company, now sits without speaking, and with his eyes fixed for an hour together."
Under these circumstances opened the year 1742. Fearing the consequences of the debate on the state of the nation to take place on the 21st of January, Walpole made a last grand effort to divide the party in array against him: this was, to buy off the prince of Wales and his adherents. For this purpose, he prevailed on the king to grant an additional fifty thousand pounds a year and the payment of all his debts, on condition that he should abandon the opposition. Seeker, bishop of Oxford, was selected as the bearer of this offer; but the prince declined the proposal, declaring that he would listen to no overtures so long as Walpole continued in office. This was a stunning blow, but the tenacious minister did not yet give in. He continued to avail himself of the interval before the 21st to bribe and bring over less distinguished men. The opposition, however, were now every hour receiving fresh accessions of strength, and men who had stood the brunt of many years now went over to them. Lord Hervey joined Pulteney and Chesterfield; and Bubb Doddington, now perceiving that one side really preponderated, stepped out of his equivocal demeanour, and openly wrote to lord Wilmington to entreat him to persuade the king to dismiss the obnoxious minister.
The 21st of January arrived, and Pulteney entered on his great question. There was nothing new to bring forward, but the old charges were dressed up with new force, and Pulteney affected to make his attack on no particular person, but merely to demand a plain statement of the condition of the nation for the service of his majesty. Pitt used similar language; but this assumed candour was unceremoniously cast away by lord Perseval, who had been brought into the house by the re-election for Westminster. He declared that "the patriots" would be satisfied with nothing short of the dismissal of Walpole, as the great cause of all our present troubles and disgraces. He should, therefore, he said, vote for a committee of accusation.
Walpole defended himself with an ability worthy of his best days. He boldly reminded the opposition of the long twenty years of defeats in their endeavours to turn him out; he declared their accusations were just as false and groundless as ever; and he proceeded to anatomise the characters of Bubb Doddington and Pulteney in a manner which must have made men of any feeling wince. He was ably sap- ported by Sir William Yonge, by Pelham, and Winnington, but the division showed a majority for the minister of only three. On this occasion five hundred and three members voted. On both sides the very invalids had been brought up to the house; but whilst the opposition brought them into the body of the house to be ready to vote, Walpole allowed his sick friends to occupy an adjoining room, belonging to his son as auditor of the exchequer, till they were called for. Then it was found that some of the opposition, who were aware of the circumstance, had filled the keyhole of the room with sand and dirt, so that it could not be unlocked till too late, and thus the minister lost their votes. The prince of Wales was present, and when a lame member was brought in who was in favour of Walpole, his royal highness remarked to general Churchill, "So I see you bring in the lame, the blind, and the halt." "Yes," replied Churchill, "the lame on our side and the blind on yours."
The result of this division shook the last resistance of Walpole. When the motion which had been rejected on the 18th of December - for copies of the correspondence with the king of Prussia - was again put, he made no opposition, and it passed without a division. He made, however, one more attempt to carry his measures. In the disputed election of Chippenham he stood his ground against the petition, and was defeated by a majority of one. It was now clear to himself that he must give way. His relatives and friends assured him that to defer longer was only to court more decided discomfiture. On the 31st of January, he, therefore, prepared to depart for his seat at Houghton, and the next morning he demanded of the king, in a private audience, leave to retire. George, on this occasion, evinced a degree of feeling that did him honour. When the old minister who had served him through so long a course of years knelt to kiss hands, the king embraced him, shed tears, and begged that he would often come to see him.
The next day, February 2nd, Walpole did the prince of Wales the courtesy, though he had greatly contributed to his fall, to send him a private intimation of his intended resignation, and that evening calling to him Sir Edward Baynton, the opposition member whose return was secured by Walpole's last division, he pointed out to him members who were then voting against him, but who owed many favours to him. He said it was time to retire, and that he would never again enter that house.
On the following day lord chancellor Hardwicke announced his majesty's desire that the house should adjourn for a fortnight, and during that interval Walpole resigned, and a new ministry was appointed. On the 9th Sir Robert was created earl of Orford, and on the 11th he made a formal resignation of all Iiis places. He that day retired to his lodge at Richmond, as he expressed his hope to pass the remainder of his days in peace, far from the rancour of parties and heart-burnings of courts. Nevertheless, he was not allowed to withdraw without a passing storm of censure. He had not occupied the seat of power so long without taking care of himself. From a country squire of two thousand a year he had grown into a very opulent nobleman. His house at Houghton was worthy of being a royal palace, and was enriched by a noble collection of books and paintings. It is true that he had made part of this by speculations on the Stock Exchange, as we have seen, not neglecting to draw profit from schemes that he condemned, as the South Sea Bubble. Yet every one has regarded Walpole rather as an arbitrary than a rapacious minister. Though he helped himself and his friends, he did so with more moderation than many ministers who both preceded and succeeded him. However much we are obliged to condemn that system of political corruption which he raised to an unexampled height, though he did not originate it, we are equally obliged to confess that he might have employed the power it gave him much worse. He firmly maintained and established the protestant succession; he was a stanch friend to peace, and dared to cultivate an alliance with France as long as the opposition would let him. Under these circumstances, the country had risen rapidly in wealth and comfort, and at the time that the people were rejoicing enthusiastically in his downfall, they were enjoying the substantial blessings which he had conferred on the country. Those who came after him soon showed, by their bloody vengeance on the followers of the young pretender, a dark contrast to the humane policy of Walpole.
But the merits of Walpole were concealed from the public view for a good while by the exaggerated representations of his demerits and his crimes by the opposition, and by the accumulated honours and favours amidst which he withdrew from public life. He not only received a patent of nobility, but a pension of four thousand pounds a year; and he obtained at the same time a patent of rank for an illegitimate daughter by a lady whom he had since married. There was a terrible outcry as these facts became known. It was so vehement that Walpole resigned the pension, but only to resume it at a future date, which, two years later, was permitted to him without much notice. He would also have given up, probably on the same understanding, the patent for his daughter; but it had already passed the seals, and could not be recalled.
So passed from a long possession of power a minister who inaugurated a system of corruption, which was not so much abused by himself, as made a ready instrument of immeasurable mischiefs in the hands of his successors, growing still more terrible and oppressive till it reached its acme in our time, and compelled the necessity of political reform. Had Walpole used the power which he purchased with the country's money more arbitrarily and mischievously, the system must much sooner have come to an end. As it was, the evils which he introduced fell rather on posterity than on his own time.
Before he withdrew, the king, who retained his high opinion of his political wisdom, consulted him on the constitution of the new cabinet. Walpole recommended that the post of first lord of the treasury, including the premiership, should be offered to Pulteney, as the man of the most undoubted talent. If he should refuse it, then that it should be given to lord Wilmington, who, though by no means capable of directing affairs by his own energy, was of a disposition which might allow them to be conducted by the joint counsel of his abler colleagues. The king consented that the premiership should be offered to Pulteney, though he hated the man, but only on this condition, that he pledged himself to resist any prosecution of the ex-minister. Pulteney declined the overture on such a condition, for though he said he had no desire to punish Walpole, he might not be able to defend him from the attacks of his colleagues, for, he observed, "the heads of parties, like those of snakes, are carried on by their tails." The king then sent Newcastle to Pulteney, and it was agreed to allow Wilmington to take the post of first lord of the treasury. Carteret thought that this office was more due to him, but Pulteney declared that if Wilmington were not permitted to take the premiership, he would occupy it himself, and Carteret gave way, accepting the place of secretary of state, with the promise that he should manage in reality the foreign affairs. In all these arrangements the king still took the advice of Walpole, and Newcastle was instructed to again endeavour to draw from Pulteney a promise that he would at least keep himself clear of any prosecution of the late minister. Pulteney evaded the question by saying that he was not a bloody or revengeful man; that he had always aimed at the. destruction of the power of Walpole, and not of his person, but that he still thought he ought not to escape without somecensure, and could not engage himself without his party.
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