Reign of William and Mary. - (Continued.) page 12
On the 7th of November parliament met. William had a poor story of his campaign to relate, but he attributed his defeat to the enormous exertions which Louis had made, and on that plea demanded still greater efforts from this country. He demanded that the army should be raised to a hundred and ten thousand men, and the navy proportion- ably augmented. He complained bitterly of the mismanagement of the fleet, and the commons immediately proceeded to inquire into the cause of it. The whigs made a vehement charge of treachery and neglect against Delaval and Killigrew; the tories, to defend them, threw the blame on the admiralty. Lord Falkland, who was chief commissioner, was proved by Rainsford, the receiver of the navy, to have embezzled a large sum, and it was moved that he be committed to the Tower. This, however, was overruled, but he was reprimanded in his place. The lords then took up the same examination, and endeavoured to turn the blame from the earl of Nottingham to Sir John Trenchard, the whig secretary. Nottingham declared that early in June he received a list of the French fleet from Paris, and the time of their sailing, and handed it to Trenchard, whose duty it was to send the orders to the admirals. But Trenchard was in his turn screened by the whigs. The matter was again taken up by the commons, and lord Falkland was declared guilty of a high misdemeanour and committed to the Tower; whence, however, in two days he was released on his own petition. Robert Harley - destined to make a great figure in this and the succeeding reign - Foley, and Harcourt, all of whom had from whigs joined the tories, presented to the house a representation of the receipts and disbursements of the revenue, which displayed the grossest mismanagement. But the farther the inquiry went the more flagrant became the discoveries of the corruption of both ministers and members of parliament, through bounties, grants, places, pensions, and secret service money; so that it was clear that parliament was so managed that ministers could baffle any bill, quash any grievance, and prepare any fictitious statement of accounts. The result was that William was compelled to dismiss Nottingham, and to place Russell, secret traitor as he was, at the head of the admiralty. The seals which Nottingham resigned were offered to Shrewsbury, but were not at once accepted.
Having expressed their feelings on the mismanagement and treachery of the past year, the commons proceeded to vote the supplies for the next, and in this they showed no want of confidence in the king. They did not, indeed, vote him his hundred and ten thousand troops, but they voted eighty-three thousand one hundred and twenty-one, but not till they had called for the treaties existing betwixt William and his allies, and the quota which every one was to furnish. To defray the charge they voted five millions and a half, in nearly equal proportions betwixt the army and the navy, including four hundred thousand pounds to pay the arrears of the session; and this they ordered to be raised by a land-tax of four shillings in the pound, and a further excise on beer, a duty on salt, and a lottery. This was a profusion which would have made the country stand aghast under the abhorrent rule of James, and the force was nearly double that with which Cromwell had made himself the dread of Europe.
These matters being settled, they tried their strength on the popular questions of the bills for regulating the trials for high treason, the triennial bill, and the place bill. None of these bills were made law. The triennial bill and the bill for regulating the trials for high treason were lost; the place bill was carried, but William refused to ratify it, under the idea that it was intended to abridge his prerogative. The excitement in the commons was intense. It was resolved to address his majesty, and such an address was drawn up and presented by the whole house. William received them very graciously, but conceded nothing, and Harley declared, on returning to the house, that the king's answer was no answer at all. Menaces of showing their power on the next occasion by stopping the supplies were thrown out, and it was proposed to go up to his majesty again to demand a more explicit answer; but the whigs represented the danger of thus encouraging the hopes of the Jacobites by the prospect of a breach betwixt the king and parliament, and the matter dropped.
The question of the charter of the East India Company was again warmly debated. The feud betwixt the old and the new company had grown so violent, that the old company, fearing government might be induced to grant a charter to the new company, had put forth all its powers of bribery, and had succeeded. This company had by some means neglected the payment of the tax on joint-stock companies, by which, according to the terms of the act, their charter was forfeited. The new company eagerly seized on this circumstance to prevent a renewal of the charter; but the old company put nearly one hundred thousand pounds at the disposal of Sir Thomas Cook, one of their members and also member of parliament, and, by a skilful distribution of this sum amongst the king's ministers, Caermarthen and Seymour coming in for a large share, they succeeded in getting their charter renewed.
The new company and the merchants of London were exasperated at this proceeding. They published an account of the whole transaction; they represented that the old company was guilty of the grossest oppression and the most scandalous acts of violence and injustice out in India and its seas; they asserted that only two of their ships had exported in one year more cloths than the old company had exported in three years; and they offered to send more the next year of both cloths and other merchandise than the company had sent in five; but the bribes prevailed, and the old company obtained its charter - not very definite in its terms, however, as regarded its monopoly, and subject to such alterations and restrictions within a given time as the king should see fit. At this juncture the old company were imprudent enough to obtain an order from the admiralty to restrain a valuable ship called the Redbridge, lying in the Thames, from sailing. Her papers were made out for Alicant, but it was well known that she was bound for the Indies. The owners appealed to parliament, and parliament declared the detention of the vessel illegal, and, moreover, that all subjects of England had a right to trade to the Indies, unless prohibited by act of parliament. Encouraged by this decision, the new company prayed the commons to grant them a direct sanction to trade thither, and the old company, on their part, prayed for a parliamentary sanction to their charter; but no decision in either case was come to, and for some years scenes of strange contention continued to be enacted betwixt the rival companies and free traders in the seas and ports of these distant regions.
But no bill in the session occasioned such a disturbance as one for naturalising foreign protestants. The introducers of this measure said that there were great numbers of foreign protestants who had been expelled France by the bigotry of Louis, or ruined in Germany and Flanders by his devastating arms, and that it would be a politic and at the same time humane measure to allow them to bring their arts and trades to England, where men were wanted to cultivate the waste lands to supply the costs of war; that we had been signally benefited by the introduction of the Flemings and French Huguenots, who had introduced cloth and silk weaving, and other beneficial handicraft arts. The bill appeared to meet with no opposition till the third reading, when a perfect tempest broke forth; and it was denounced as a scheme for introducing a swarm of Dutchmen, to creep into all sorts of offices and privileges to the rejection of Englishmen. Dutchmen would re-enact the lord Danes; they would flock over in swarms from the Holland marshes, and go up into every man's house and kneading- trough, as they had already done in the palace. Sir John Knight, formerly mayor of Bristol, was pre-eminently insulting to the Dutch monarch by his virulent harangue, and desired the sergeant-at-arms to open the door of the house, that they might first kick the bill out of the house, and then kick the Dutch out of the kingdom.
This speech was instantly issued by the unlicensed press, and spread by tens of thousands all over the kingdom. The people were roused by it to such a pitch of fury as had not been seen since the revolution. Sir John was declared to be the saviour of the nation; but when the ministers complained of the outrageous and seditious nature of this printed speech, the house likewise resented it in no measured terms, and the Bristol knight, a man of coarse and bullying disposition, denied all knowledge of it in that form, and so was excused, but the speech itself was ordered to be burnt by the hangman, and the bill dropped.
The year 1698 terminated with a transaction which was as disgraceful to the government as many of the arbitrary measures which disgusted the nation with the Stuarts. The people of Ireland complained of the lords justices there, lord Coningsby and Sir Charles Porter, abusing their powers, and oppressing the natives grievously for their own selfish ends. Lord Bellamont, a member of the privy council, exhibited articles of impeachment against them in the house of commons. The house listened at first with undisguised indignation to the details of cruelty and misery which were laid before it; but to the surprise of all, they suddenly came to a resolution that, "considering the state of Ireland at the time, they did not think it fit to ground an impeachment upon them." That this resolution, so opposed to the manifest feeling of the house, was suggested from court, which had now its majority in the house, was immediately confirmed by the dismissal of Lord Bellamont, and the pardon of Coningsby and Porter. This, unfortunately, was the uniform custom of William. Amid all the benefits which he conferred on England, it cannot be denied that he always screened the malversations and oppressions of his officers. This was only too well shown by the impunity of the murderers of Glencoe, by the refusal to listen to the charges of peculation and extortion of Ginckell and Coningsby before in Ireland; and now again, in the same country, of Coningsby and Porter - dismissing, not the criminals, but the exposer of them.
The year 1694 opened with fresh disasters at sea. Sir Francis Wheeler, lately returned from the unsuccessful expedition to the West Indies, was sent to convoy the Mediterranean fleet, and to bring back the Smyrna home- bound merchantmen. In the bay of Gibraltar, in February, he was overtaken by a terrible storm, and his vessels, not being able to make their anchors bite, were many of them driven ashore and perished. He himself went down with all his men in the Sussex, and two other ships of the line and three ketches were lost. The rest of the fleet was so shattered that, instead of pursuing the voyage, they put into Cadiz to refit, and at the same time to avoid the French, who were cruising about under Chateau-Renaud and Gabaret.
The last act of this parliamentary session proved the most important of all; it was the establishment of the Bank of England. Banking, now so universal, was but of very recent introduction to England. The Lombard Jews had a bank in Italy as early as 808; Venice had its bank in 1157; Geneva in 1345; Barcelona in 1401. In Genoa, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Rotterdam there had long been banks, but in England men had continued, till within a very short time previous to this period, to hoard and pay out their own money from their own strong boxes. The goldsmiths of Lombard Street had of late become bankers, and people began to pay by orders on them, and travellers to take orders from them on foreign banks. It was now beginning to be strongly agitated to establish joint- stock banks, and there were various speculative heads at work with plans for them. One Hugh Chamberlayne and his coadjutor, John Briscoe, published a scheme of a land- bank, by which gentlemen were to give security for their notes on their land; on the principle that land was as real and substantial property as gold. But the extravagant and unsound views as to the actual value of land which they promulgated ruined their credit. Because an estate was worth twenty thousand pounds at twenty years' purchase, they argued that it was worth that every twenty years, and, therefore, could be immediately convertible at the same rate for any number of years - as if they could put a hundred years' purchase in the first twenty, and raise the hundred years' value, or one hundred thousand pounds, on it at once.
There was, however, a more sober and shrewd projector, William Paterson, a calculating Scotchman, who in 1691 had laid before government a plan for a national bank on sound and feasible principles. His scheme had received little attention, but now, though a million of money was raised by the lottery, another million was needed, and Paterson secured the attention of Charles Montague, a rising statesman, to his scheme. Paterson represented that the government might easily relieve itself of the difficulty of raising this money, and of all future similar difficulties, by establishing a national bank, at the same time that it conferred the most important advantages on the public at large. He had already firmly impressed Michael Godfrey, an eminent London merchant, and the brother of the unfortunate Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, with the immense merits of his scheme. They now submitted these merits, and the particularly attractive one to a young politician of raising himself by a happy mode of serving the government, and acquiring immediate distinction for practical sagacity. Montague was a young man of high family, but a younger brother's younger son - -poor, clever, accomplished, and intensely ambitious. At Cambridge he had distinguished himself as a wit and a versifier; but he was now in the commons, and had made a rapid reputation as an orator and statesman by his management of the bill for regulating the trials for high treason. This man - vain, ostentatious, not too nice in his means of climbing, but with talents equal to the most daring enterprise, and who afterwards became better known as the earl of Halifax - at once saw the substantial character of Paterson's scheme, and took it up. Whilst he worked the affair in Parliament, Godfrey was to prepare the city for it.
Montague submitted the scheme to the committee of ways and means, and as they were at their wits' end to raise the required million, they caught at it eagerly. The proposed plan was to grant a charter to a company of capitalists, under the name of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England. This company was to have authority to issue promissory notes, discount bills of exchange, and to deal in bullion and foreign securities. Their first act was to be to lend the government twelve hundred thousand pounds, at eight per cent., and to receive, as means of repayment, the proceeds of a new duty on tonnage, whence the bank at first received the name of the Tonnage Bank. The bill for establishing this bank was introduced ostensibly to parliament as a bill for imposing this new duty on tonnage; the charter of the proposed bank being granted in consideration of its making an immediate advance on the tonnage duty. In the commons it underwent many sallies of wit and sarcasm, as one of the thousand speculations of the time; but in the city, where its real character was at once perceived by the Lombard Street money-dealers, it was instantly assailed by a perfect storm of execration. It was declared to be a scheme for enabling the government to raise money at any moment and to any extent, independent of parliament, and thus to accomplish all that the Charleses and Jameses had ever aimed at. To silence this suspicion, Montague introduced a clause making it illegal, and amounting to forfeiture of its charter for the bank to lend any money to government without the consent of the parliament. This, however, did not lay the tempest. It was now denounced as a republican institution borrowed from Holland and Genoa, and meant to undermine the monarchy; - that it was a great fact that banks and kings had never existed together.
<<< Previous page <<<
>>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 <12> 13 14