Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 13
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.
On the 19th of April the marquis de Torcy handed to the earl of Manchester at Paris a letter from the new king of Spain to the king of England, announcing his accession to the throne, and expressing a desire to cultivate terms of friendship with him. This announcement had been made long before to the other European powers, and it might well have been doubted whether William would now acknowledge his right. To do that was to admit the validity of the late king of Spain's will, and there could then be no real reason to refuse the conditions of the treaty of Ryswick. William was from this cause in a state of great perplexity; but the earl of Rochester and the new ministers urged him to reply and admit the duke of Anjou's right. The States-General had already done it, and, in fact, unless England and the old allies of the emperor were prepared to dispute it with efficient arms, it was useless to refuse. Accordingly, after a severe struggle with himself, William wrote to "the most serene and potent prince, brother, and cousin," congratulating him on his happy arrival in his kingdom of Spain, and expressing his assurance that the ancient friendship betwixt the two crowns would remain inviolate, to the mutual advantage and prosperity of the two nations. With this was certainly ended every right of England to dispute the possession of all the territories and dependencies of the Spanish monarch by the new king; and there could be no justifiable cause of war with France until she attempted to renew her hostilities to neighbouring peoples.
This act was a heavy blow to the emperor, who was beginning to move in defence of his claim on the crown of Spain, and to call on the different states of the empire and on his old allies, the Dutch and English, to assist him in his object. But there appeared very few circumstances in his favour. True, he was at peace with Turkey, and could withdraw his troops from that quarter and pour them into the Netherlands; but this force alone was wholly inadequate to contend with France and Spain. The states of Germany were divided as usual. Hanover and the Palatinate were in his favour; but Louis had been busy with others, and the elector of Cologne was in his pay, and raising five thousand troops, the elector of Bavaria the same, and raising ten thousand. Bavaria, who had accused Louis of poisoning his son, and thus getting rid of him as a claimant of the Spanish crown, had now changed his note, and transferred the charge of this crime to the emperor, the young prince's grandfather. Then what were William and the States-General to do, who had now acknowledged the duke of Anjou? The emperor proposed to send prince Eugene into Italy with an army to take possession of the duchy of Milan; but on that side the pope, Clement XI., was a creature of France, and the Venetians, though favouring the emperor, saw too well the unequal contest to declare themselves openly.
Louis, notwithstanding his pretended astonishment at the demands of William and the States-General, was yet willing to renew the negotiations at the Hague; but this was with the design of engaging the Dutch in a separate treaty. As they had been induced by their fears to acknowledge the duke of Anjou without William, he hoped that they might be brought to make peace without England. Finding that the Dutch would not listen to any proposals independent of England, Louis pursued his plans for dividing the princes of the empire, whilst he drew lines on the frontiers of Holland. The Dutch, on their part, took every possible measure for their defence; they strengthened their garrisons, laid in supplies, and sent to neighbouring states to solicit assistance. It was plain that Louis, trusting to his new strength, could not long rest without renewing his encroachments on other states.
Whilst affairs were in this position abroad, the anxiety of William was increased to the utmost by the war which was waging betwixt the two rival factions in parliament. In endeavouring to damage the whigs to the utmost, the tories damaged and tortured the king, who was sufficiently miserable with the prospects on the continent and his fast- failing health. The commons now determined to impeach Portland and Somers on the ground of their concern in the second partition treaty, contrary to the constitutional usages of the country. They passed a resolution that "William earl of Portland, by negotiating and concluding the treaty of partition, which was destructive to the trade of this kingdom and dangerous to the peace of Europe, was guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour." They ordered Sir John Leveson Gower to impeach him at the bar of the lords, and named a committee to prepare the articles against him. They then demanded a conference with the lords, and desired them to communicate the particulars of what had passed before them between the earl of Portland and secretary Vernon, as well as what information they had obtained in regard to the treaties of partition of the Spanish monarchy. To this demand the lords demurred, and, returning no answer for six days, the commons applied to his majesty for copies of the treaty of the grand alliance, of the treaties of partition, and of the powers granted for negotiating these treaties. The copies were accordingly furnished by the king; but secretary Vernon informed the house that there were no instructions in writing. On this the commons had another conference with the lords, and they then received, through Sheffield, marquis of Normanby, and afterwards duke of Buckingham, two papers in Latin, the first containing full powers granted at Loo, July Ist, 1690, to the earls of Portland and Jersey to treat with France, Holland, and Germany for peace, but containing nothing regarding the Spanish succession; the second, dated at Kensington, January 2nd, 1690-1700, with full powers to sign the second treaty of partition. Normanby also handed to them a paper containing the following statement made in writing by the earl of Portland, when charged by them with acting in this negotiation. It was not, however, signed by him: - "At the beginning of the summer, '99, when I was in Holland at my country house, and when the king would have me be concerned in the negotiating of this treaty with the emperor, the French king and the States, being very unwilling to meddle with business again, from which I was retired, before I would engage myself I would advise with my friends in Holland, and writ into England to the secretary Vernon, as my particular friend, whether it was advisable for me to engage in any business again. To which Mr. Vernon answered in substance that it would not engage me but for a little while; that I, being upon the place and generally acquainted with the foreign ministers, it would be easier for the king, and properer for me to be employed in it than anybody else that must be otherwise sent for on purpose.''
These and some other memorandums were ordered to be translated and laid before a committee, and, on examining these, the animus of the commons against Portland and Somers became glaringly apparent. Though it was shown that the earl of Jersey, Mr. Vernon, and Sir Joseph Williamson had been equally concerned in the management of the treaty - Williamson having actually signed it - yet these persons were carefully passed over, and the whole vial of wrath poured on the heads of Portland, Somers, Orford, and Halifax, the two latter being added to the accused. To procure fresh matter against them, the pirate, captain Kydd.
was brought from Newgate, where he was now lying, and examined at the bar of the house. Burnet says, "Their enemies tried again what use could be made of Kydd's business, for he was taken in our northern plantations in America and brought over. He was examined by the house; but either he could not lay a probable story together, or remnants of honesty, raised in him by the near prospect of death, restrained him. He accused no person of having advised or encouraged his turning pirate; he had never talked alone with any of the lords, and never at all with lord Somers; he said he had no orders from them but to pursue his voyage against the pirates in Madagascar. All endeavours were used to persuade him to accuse the lords. He was assured that, if he did it, he should be preserved, and, if he did not, he should certainly die for his piracy. Yet this did not prevail on him to charge them; so he, with some of his crew, were hanged, there appearing not so much as a colour to fasten any imputation on those lords."
These lords and others, it will be recollected, had, at their own expense, sent out Kydd to put down the pirates, and when he had betrayed them, any treasure found on him or his ship was ordered to be paid over to them to reimburse them. This, too, was seized on as a crime, and contrary to the constitution, but it would not stand in law; and so far from attaching blame to them, the tightest legal authorities declared that it was quite proper, and that their whole conduct in that business had been highly patriotic and meritorious. The conduct of Kydd also showed that though the fascination of a roving sea life had led him astray, as it had done the buccaneers, yet, like them, amid much crime, there was a fine, honest nature in the man, which made him prefer death to the bareness of accusing honourable men. So vindictively, however, did the commons adhere to this attempt to implicate such men as Portland and Somers in piracy and lawless plunder, that the matter was not dismissed until it had been four times debated, and then only by a small majority.
They then turned to a more legitimate argument. In consenting to act in a negotiation with foreign powers unknown to the cabinet, though known to several members of it, and though commanded by the king, they had fairly incurred the censure of parliament, as they had clearly sinned against the constitution. On this head they now resolved to impeach them, and on this ground alone they ought to have stood. Somers, in affixing the great seal to a carte blanche for the king to fill up in treaty with France and Holland as they might agree, and that only at the command of the king, had certainly committed a serious offence. The moment that he heard that the question of his impeachment was mooted in the commons, he desired to be heard at their bar. He was admitted, and stated in self-defence that when he received the king's letter with the order to send over the necessary powers with all secresy and despatch, he did not think he was authorised to put a stop by his refusal to a treaty of so much consequence, the life of the king of Spain hanging, as it were, by a thread; for had the king died before the treaty was finished, then he should have been blamed for defeating the treaty. That he considered the king's letter to be really a warrant; nevertheless, he had objected to various particulars, and proposed others which he deemed more for the good of the country. That he thought himself bound to put the great seal to the treaty when finished; that he had acted as a privy councillor to the best of his judgment; and discharged his duty as lord chancellor as seemed to him most faithfully. He then withdrew, but returned, and begged to leave with the house a copy of a letter which he had received from the king and his answer, and this he said he was authorised to do by his majesty.
The statement of Somers seems to have excited a violent debate in the house, though the particulars of it have not come down to us, and very different reports have been made as to its effect on the members. Burnet says that nothing could be more convincing and successful; on the contrary, lord Dartmouth, who was equally hostile to the king and the whigs, commenting on Burnet's statement, says, u I was in the house of commons during the whole debate. What the bishop says of lord Somers making an impression in Iiis favour is so far from true, that I never saw that house in so great a flame as they were upon his withdrawing. He justified his putting the great seal to a blank so poorly, and insisted that the king's letter, which he produced, was a good warrant, which everybody knew to be none - nor did the contents sufficiently justify him if it had been any - and his endeavour to throw everything upon the king, provoked them to such a degree, that he left them in a much worse disposition than he found them; and I have heard many of his best friends say they heartily wished he had never come thither."
There seems to be great truth in these remarks We have seen that Somers endeavoured to get Vernon to issue a warrant for the affixing the seal to the carte blanche, but Vernon would not. Somers, therefore, showed that he knew very well that the king's command was not a warrant of itself, yet he took the responsibility of affixing the seal; and now to produce the king's letter and plead his command, certainly was an attempt to excuse himself at the expense of the king. This, however, has been so regularly the practice of facile or corrupt ministers, that the plea has been taken from them by the maxim that "the king can do no wrong," leaving the responsibility of yielding to illegal demands from the monarch on the ministers in all cases. From Somers, however, we have been led to expect better things, but, however just and honourable in general, this case sufficiently testifies that he was not one of those truly great characters, who are ready to sacrifice place rather than consent to an unconstitutional demand from the monarch. The commons, evidently, were of the same sentiment, for when he had withdrawn, amid that flame of excitement which lord Dartmouth mentions, a resolution was moved and carried, "That John lord Somers, by advising his majesty in 1699 to the treaty for dividing the Spanish monarchy, whereby large territories of the king of Spain's dominions were to be delivered up to France, is guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour." Similar resolutions were next carried against the lords Orford and Halifax, whom it was resolved to impeach at the bar of the house of lords. An address was also carried, praying his majesty to remove from his council and presence for ever Somers, Portland, Orford, and Halifax, and that without a division. There was, however, instantly a counter address moved in the house of lords, and carried by a majority of twenty, that his majesty would be pleased not to pass any censure on these noblemen until they had been tried by their peers according to the law of the land. The king replied to the address of the commons by assuring them that he would employ none in his service but such as he thought most likely to increase the confidence betwixt him and his people; but when the counter address was presented from the lords, confounded by the conflicting prayers, he remained silent, but allowed the names of the accused lords to remain in the council-book.
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