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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 12


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Had such a sweeping bill as this passed the houses some years ago, William would have refused to ratify it, as he did so long the triennial bill. Certainly it was from beginning to end the most trenchant piece of censure on his conduct, both as it regarded leading the nation into foreign wars, and as it concerned his lavish favouritism to Dutchmen, that ever was laid before a king for his signature. William had from the first made use of the lives and the substance of Englishmen to defend his beloved Holland with a most reckless disregard to the purse and the life-blood of this country, yet always under the pretence that it was for the honour and safety of England. He had gone away at his pleasure and spent his summers in Holland; here was a most marked reproof of the practice, and caution against its repetition. The condemnation of his making the partition treaties without the knowledge of his privy council, much less of parliament, was equally severe. His introduction of his Dutch favourites into the privy council and into the house of lords, to the prejudice of Englishmen, had its reproof; and his profuse and extravagant endowment of them with hundreds of thousands of English and Irish acres was shown to have excited the indignant observation of the nation. Most of these restrictions were most essentially conducive to the national good, and have been the greater part of them continued down to our time. Well would it have been if more of them had remained so; if placemen and pensioners had been rigorously excluded from parliament^ with the exception of the three or four chief ministers. Well, had the people united in abstaining from continental wars, but the succession of the house of Hanover led us deeper than ever in this fatal practice of meddling with foreign feuds, the result of which is an expenditure of three thousand millions on those foreign wars, of which eight hundred millions remain yet as a debt upon us and our posterity; whilst the utter waste of these enormous sums and of oceans of British blood is shown by the whole of Europe, including the very nations which we attempted to serve, lying under the most heartless and hopeless despotisms that the world ever saw. Europe, armed to the teeth, and its people from end to end held down at the points of millions of bayonets, and their minds trodden under the iron heels of freedom- hating despots, is the only result of our foolish and thankless interference.

There were politicians who saw clearly all the mischiefs which have followed even under these restrictions, and would have willingly imposed more. Though the nation, in electing William, and even Mary, out of her strict order of succession, had established de facto the doctrine of a nation choosing its own sovereign, there were many yet who would have had this doctrine clearly defined in this bill in express terms, and have carried it so far that the nation should be authorised to set aside at will an incompetent heir to the throne and substitute a more suitable one, either from the same or another family; that the well-governing of the realm should be the first consideration, and not a person merely standing next in the course of birth. This doctrine was ably urged by Toland in a treatise on the subject. He contended that we had a right to impose what restrictions we please on persons to whom we present the crown voluntarily and out of our own good will; that we might have done it to our vast advantage in admitting William and Mary; that the case was now still more open to us; and that we ought not to accept any member of the houses of Hanover or Brandenburg without insisting on their first renouncing their foreign possessions. "For," said he, "if our crown should fall upon either of those families, they will fall under mighty temptations to enlarge their dominions beyond sea, in order to make the communication betwixt their old and new dominions more speedy and easy. This the house of Hanover may attempt by falling down upon the Elbe and the Weiser, and swallowing up Hamburg, Bremen, Verden, &c.; and the house of Brandenburg might do the like, falling down the same rivers and the Rhine. All these things, how remote and chimerical soever they may seem at present, ought to be considered." If they had been considered and provided against, the very ends foreseen would have been prevented during the reigns of the Georges, and this country would have been spared much trouble, bloodshed, and many millions of money.

William naturally regarded the restrictions which were introduced with the greatest mortification, for, indeed, they were every one of them severe censures on his own conduct; but he passed the bill without venturing on any remarks.

Still more offensive was this measure to the popish princes who were nearer in blood to the throne of England than the electress of Hanover, The duchess of Savoy, the sole daughter of Henrietta, the daughter of Charles I., was the next in succession to James and his issue, and she ordered count Maffie, the duke of Savoy's ambassador, to make a strong protest against the abrogation of her claim, though that was already sufficiently done by the Bill of Rights, which cut off all papists whatever. This might, notwithstanding, have occasioned some embarrassment had the duke of Savoy still continued the faithful ally of England; but this very moment he had entered into alliance with France and Spain on condition that the king of Spain should marry his youngest daughter without dowry, but engaging for himself to command the allied army in Italy, and to furnish eight thousand infantry and two thousand horse, in consideration of a monthly subsidy of fifty thousand crowns.

The house of Hanover, though overjoyed to have obtained the reversion of the crown of England on such easy terms, pretended to consider the restrictions introduced as diminishing the value of the gift. Their agent talked largely of the princes of Hanover as "this great family." He informed the English court that "this great family" was already determined to show their zeal for England; that they were marching five thousand men to the frontiers of Holland for its defence against the French - as if the defence of Holland and England were synonymous; but in the same breath insinuated that "this great family" "could not make bricks without straw;" which meant that "this great family" was very poor, and must be paid for defending England - that is, Holland. Here was a striking practical proof of the necessity of the additional restrictions which Toland and many others had contended for. The old electress immediately became a person of immense consideration; the court of Hanover became a sort of second English court; all the poor principalities of Germany, which before paid little' attention to them, were now assiduous in paying court to "this great family," and Sophia wrote to her friends that her son George "gave himself the airs of a sovereign."

During these transactions negotiations were going on at the Hague betwixt England, France, Holland, and Spain. Mr. Stanhope, envoy extraordinary to the States-General, was empowered to treat in union with Holland for a continuation of the peace on certain conditions. These conditions were, that Louis should withdraw all his troops from the Spanish Netherlands, and engage to send no fresh ones into any of the Flemish towns. That no troops but native born troops of Flanders or Spain should be kept there, except in Newport and Ostend, which should be given up to king William as cautionary towns, and in Luxembourg, Namur, and Möns, which should be garrisoned by the States-General, for the security of their frontiers, but without prejudice to the rights and revenues of the crown of Spain. That no towns in the Spanish Netherlands, nor any port belonging to Spain, should be given up to or exchanged with France on any pretence whatever. That the subjects of England should enjoy the same liberties and privileges as they did on the demise of the late king of Spain, and in as ample a manner as the French or any other nation, in all parts of the Spanish dominions, whether by land or sea. That the emperor should be invited to join, and that any other princes or states who desired to unite for the preservation of the peace of Europe, should be admitted to the treaty.

D'Avaux, the French minister, received these demands with an air of the utmost astonishment, and declared that they could not have been higher if his master had lost four successive battles. That the French troops would be removed from Flanders as soon as Spain could send forces to replace them, he said was certain, but for the rest of the articles he could only send them to Versailles for the consideration of the king. Louis expressed the utmost indignation at these demands, which he declared to be most insolent, and could only be put forward by William with a desire to provoke a war. He said that he would renew the treaty of Ryswick, which was all that could be reasonably expected. In fact, though the demands were no more than were necessary for the security of Holland, William, knowing the nature of Louis, and that he was now at the head of both France, Spain, and a great part of Italy, could not seriously have expected that he would accede to them. Perhaps William intended him to reject them, as that would furnish a good casus belli, and would enable him to rouse the spirit of the English people to a martial tone. Accordingly he communicated the refusal of the French court to accede to the terms offered; but the commons feeling that the object was to engage them in support of a continental congress, which might lead them into another war more oppressive than the former one, they thanked his majesty in an address for his communication, but called for copies of the partition-treaty, that they might inform themselves on the precise terms agreed upon in that treaty with France. The tories, however much they might be disposed to maintain the same course themselves, would by no means omit the opportunity of damaging the whig ministers who had been concerned in that business. They had already agreed to send ten thousand men to the aid of the States-General in support of the treaty of 1677, and they now set to work to establish by this inquiry a plea against lord Somers, Portland, and the others engaged in the treaty.

The lords, not to be behind, also called for copies of the two treaties. They appointed a committee to examine them, and placed Nottingham, a thorough tory, in the chair. There was a sprinkling of whigs in the committee to give it an air of fairness, and a strong contest went on between the two parties. On the fourth resolution, that there were no instructions in writing given to the plenipotentiaries of England, and that, if verbal orders were given, they were given without being submitted to the council, Portland, who had been almost the sole manager of these treaties, in conjunction with William, by permission of the king, informed them that he had, by the king's order, laid the matter before six of the king's ministers - namely, Pembroke, Marlborough, Lonsdale, Somers, Halifax, and secretary Vernon. These lords then endeavoured to excuse themselves by admitting that the earl of Jersey having read the first treaty to them, they had objected to various particulars, but being informed that the king had already carried the matter as far as possible, and could get no better terms, and that, in fact, everything was settled, they had nothing for it but to desist from their objections. Various protests were entered against the resolutions in committee., but the report, when brought up, was to this effect: - That the lords spiritual and temporal had found, to their great sorrow, that the treaty made with the French king had been very prejudicial to the peace and safety of Europe. That it had probably given occasion to the late king of Spain to make his will in favour of the duke of Anjou, and that the sanction of France having possession of Sicily, Naples, several ports in the Mediterranean, the province of Guipuscoa, and the duchy of Lorraine, was not only very injurious to the interests of Europe, but contrary to the pretence of the treaty itself, which was to prevent too many territories being united under one crown. That it appeared that this treaty never was submitted to the consideration of the council or the committee of the council (in our phrase the cabinet), and they prayed his majesty in future to take the advice of his natural-born subjects, whose interest and natural affection to their country would induce them to seek its welfare and prosperity. This last observation was aimed at Portland.

The ministers, such as were admitted to the secret of the treaty, as well as the king, had undoubtedly grossly violated the constitution, and had the tories been honest, they might have rendered essential service to the country by punishing them. But their object was too apparent, to crush Portland and Somers, and to let the rest go, whom they quietly passed over. The new lord-keeper carried up the address to the king, but the members at large, not relishing the unpleasant office, took care not to accompany him, and he found himself at the palace almost alone. Two or three of the lords in waiting were all that served to represent the house of peers. On its being read William endeavoured to conceal his chagrin, and merely replied that the address contained matter of grave moment, and that he would always take care that all treaties should be made so as to contribute to the honour and safety of England.

The debates in the commons were in the meantime still more vehement on the same subject. Sir Edward Seymour declared that the partition treaty was as infamous as a highway robbery, and Howe went further, denouncing it as a felonious treaty; an expression which so exasperated the king, that he protested, if the disparity of condition betwixt him and that member had not been too great, he would have demanded satisfaction by his sword. These discussions in the two houses excited out of doors a general condemnation of the treaty, and threw fresh odium on the government.

On the last day of March a message was communicated to both houses by secretary Hedges, that no further negotiation appeared possible with France, from its decided rejection of the terms offered, and its continuing to concede only the renewal of the treaty of Ryswick. The commons, instead of an immediate answer, adjourned to the 2nd of April, and then resolved unanimously to desire his majesty to carry on the negotiations with the States-General, and take such measures as should conduce to the safety of the kingdom. In reply to two resolutions from the States-General, and a memorial presented by their envoy in England, which the king laid before them, they assured him that they would support him, supplying the twenty ships and ten thousand men which they were bound to find by the treaty of 1677. This gave no sanction to any negotiations for a fresh alliance with the powers formerly combined against France; and William was deeply mortified, but he merely thanked them for their assurances of aid, and informed them that he had sent orders to his ambassador at the Hague still to endeavour to come to terms with France and Spain.

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Pictures for Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 12

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