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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 18


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In this speech, which was greatly admired, the king said that he trusted that they had met together with a full sense of the common danger of Europe, and of that resentment of the conduct of the French king which had been so strongly and universally expressed in the loyal addresses of the people; that in setting up the pretended prince of Wales as king of England they had offered to him and to the nation the highest indignity, and put in jeopardy the protestant religion and the peace and security of the realm, and he was sure they would take every means to secure the crown in the protestant line, and to extinguish the hopes of all pretenders and their abettors; that the French king, by placing his grandson on the throne of Spain, had put himself in a condition to oppress the rest of Europe, and, under the pretence of maintaining it as a separate monarchy, had yet made himself master of the dominions of Spain, placed it entirely under his control, and so surrounded his neighbours that, though the name of peace continued, they were put to the expense and inconvenience of war; that this endangered the whole of our trade, and even our peace and safety at home, and deprived us of that position which we ought to maintain for the preservation of the liberties of Europe; that to obviate these calamities he had entered into several alliances according to the encouragement given him by both houses of parliament, and was still forming others. And he then said emphatically, "It is fit I should tell you that the eyes of all Europe are upon this parliament. All matters are at a stand till your resolutions are known; therefore no time ought to be lost. You have yet an opportunity, by God's blessing, to secure to you and your posterity the quiet enjoyment of your religion and liberties if you are not wanting to yourselves, but will exert the ancient vigour of the English nation; but I tell you plainly my opinion is, if you do not lay hold on this occasion, you have no reason to hope for another."

He then recommended the commons to take measures for the discharge of the debts, and preserving public credit by the sacred maxim, that they shall never be losers who trust to a parliamentary security. In urging them for the necessary aids, he was only urging them to care for their own safety and honour at a most dangerous and critical time; that in the late war he ordered yearly accounts of the expenditure to be laid before them, and passed several bills for securing a proper examination of the public accounts; that he was quite willing that any further measures should be adopted for that end, so that it might appear whether the debts had arisen from misapplication or mere deficiency of the funds. He then finally came upon the sore point of the dissensions; trusting that both houses were determined to avoid all manner of disputes and differences, and resolved to act with a general and hearty concurrence for promoting the common cause, which alone could insure a happy session; that he should think it as great a blessing as could befall England if he could perceive them inclined to lay aside those unhappy feuds which divided and weakened them, for that he himself was disposed to make all his subjects easy as to even the highest offences committed against him. He conjured them to disappoint the hopes of their enemies and let there be no other distinction amongst them for the future but of those who were for the protestant religion and the present establishment, and those who were for a popish prince and a French government; that, for his part, he desired to be the common father of his people, and that, if they desired to see England placed at the head of the protestant interest, and hold the balance of Europe, they had only to improve the present opportunity.

The effect of this speech was wonderful. It flew through the nation, which was already worked up into a war-fever, with the rapidity of lightning, and was everywhere received with enthusiasm. It was printed by the zealous supporters of the principles of the revolution in ornamental style, in English, Dutch, and French, and was soon translated into other languages and disseminated all over Europe. It was the announcement of a determined war against the grasping ambition of France, and the eyes of the whole world were truly fixed on England, which volunteered to take the lead in this serious enterprise. As for the supporters of William and the protestant government, they framed his speech and hung it in their houses as the last legacy of the protestant king to his people. The lords immediately drew up a zealous address, in which they echoed his resentment of the conduct of the French king in acknowledging the pretended prince of Wales, and declared that they would not only support and defend him against the pretended prince of Wales and all other pretenders, but, should they be deprived of his majesty's protection, they would still defend the crown of England, by virtue of the acts of parliament, against all but the recognised successors. On the 5th of January the commons presented a similar address, and assured the king that they would enable him to make good the alliances he had made and such as he should yet make for the peace of Europe. The lords, not to be behind the commons, presented a second and more explicit address, in which they not only engaged to support the king in his alliances, but declared that Europe could never be safe till the emperor was restored to all his rights, and the invaders of Spain should be expelled. And they, too, declared their full approbation of the king's new alliances, and their full determination to support him in them.

William, warned by the resentment of the last house of commons at the concealment of the partition treaties, now laid his present treaties at once before the new parliament. On the 6th of January secretary Vernon laid before both houses copies of the treaty with the king of Denmark and the States-General, the secret articles attached to this treaty, the treaty betwixt the king of Sweden, the States-General, and William, and the separate treaty betwixt William and the States-General, signed in the month of November. The commons were as prompt in expressing their approbation of them, and on the 9 th of January they proposed, by an address to his majesty, to take care that an article be introduced into the several treaties of alliance, binding the allies never to make peace with France until reparation was made for the indignity offered by the French king in declaring the pretended prince of Wales king of England. They also resolved that a bill should be brought in for the abjuration of the pretended prince of Wales.

They then went into the question of the supplies, and voted unanimously 600,000 should be borrowed, at six per cent., for the services of the navy, and 50,000 for guards and garrisons. They agreed to the number of troops which the king had stipulated as his contingent in the war, namely, 30,000 foot and 7,000 horse; they added 8,300 more English soldiers to the 10,000 already sent to Holland, and voted 40,000 seamen, and that his majesty's allies should be invited to embark a certain proportion of troops on board his majesty's ships of war; they confirmed all the king's contracts for subsidising troops belonging to foreign princes, and to defray the charges of these naval and military forces, they imposed taxes with an alacrity almost unparalleled. They imposed four shillings in the pound on all lands and incomes, including annuities, pensions, and stipends, and on all the professional profits of lawyers, doctors, surgeons, teachers of separate congregations, brokers, factors, &c. Then an additional tax of two and a half per cent, on all stock in trade and money out at interest, and five shillings in the pound on all salaries, fees, and perquisites. They laid on a poll tax of four shillings per head, so completely had this generation come to tolerate this hated form of imposition which formerly roused the people to open rebellion. Besides this they taxed the capital stock of all corporations and public companies which should be transferred in sale to the amount of one per cent., and, finally, sixpence a bushel on malt, and a further duty on mum, cyder, and perry.

On the 15th of January they passed unanimously a bill for the attainder of the pretended prince of Wales, and sent it up to the lords, and the lords, exceeding them in zeal, added a clause, attainting, also, the ex-queen Mary of Modena as regent of the pretended prince of Wales. The commons, however, objected to this amendment, as calculated to sanction a practice of attainting persons by added clauses instead of original bills, which they designated as a pernicious course, as not allowing the full consideration due to so momentous a measure. They struck it out, but the lords demanded a conference, and pressed their amendment on the ground that the commons had themselves adopted that practice so long ago as the 3rd of Henry VIII. The commons were not likely to pay much regard to the practice of either house in the reign of that lawless monarch, and returned the bill to the lords without the clause, and the lords, on further reflection, passed it.

This was followed in the lords by the bill so strongly recommended by Sunderland for the abjuration of the pretended prince of Wales, in which was a clause introduced into the oath, acknowledging William rightful and lawful sovereign. There was a violent debate on the point whether this oath should be voluntary or compulsory. The earl of Nottingham strongly opposed its being compulsory, and he was supported by other lords of the tory party. They contended that the government was first settled with another oath, which had the value of an original contract, and any other oath was unnecessary; that this oath could do nothing more than that oath had done. All inclined to keep that oath had kept it, and all inclined to break it had broken it, and these would break this or any other oath. Whilst they were in debate, Sir Charles Hedges introduced a clause which made it obligatory on all persons enjoying appointments in church and state, and with an obligation to maintain the government in king, lords, and commons, and to maintain the church of England, with toleration to the dissenters. After a sharp debate it passed the commons, but only by a majority of one. In this bill it was made equally penal to compass or imagine the death of the princess of Denmark as it was the death of the king. The bill was strenuously opposed in the lords, but it was carried, and Nottingham and nineteen other peers entered their protest against it. The quakers had endeavoured to get themselves exempted from the operation of the bill, but in vain. This zeal of the whigs in parliament for imposing fresh oaths did them no good, but tended to revive the unpopularity which had so lately driven them from office. Whilst these subjects were before parliament, the lords made a fresh attempt, by a bill of their own, to procure the attainder of Mary of Modena, but the commons let the bill He.

The fatal passion for war with which the whigs had again managed to inoculate the nation, tended in some degree to swallow up the party feuds; yet the tories could not altogether forget their heartburnings of last session. They complained of petitions and addresses which had reflected on the proceedings of the commons, especially of the Kentish petition, and demanded satisfaction; but the commons rejected the motion, declaring that it was a fundamental right of the people to petition or address the king or parliament for the redress of grievances. The tories came back to the charge in the allegation that the lords, in the late motions for the impeachment of certain members of that house, had denied justice to the commons; and this served to bring back into debate all the rampant fury of the last session and the advice of the king to avoid such divisions was apparently on the point of being forgotten, but the commons again rejected this motion, resolving that justice had not been denied. The tories, however, did not give up their attack altogether, but accused Thomas Bliss and Thomas Culpepper, two of the gentlemen concerned in the Kentish petition, of having been guilty of corrupt and scandalous practices in a contested election at Maidstone, and they succeeded so far as to obtain the condemnation of Culpepper and his committal to Newgate. They then went on and carried resolutions to the effect that whoever asserted that the house of commons was not the only representative of the people, or that the house of commons had no right to commit any but their own members, or who published any books or libels reflecting on the proceedings of the house, were guilty of subverting the rights of that house and the constitution of the kingdom. They next addressed the king, praying him to provide for the half-pay officers by employing them in the first companies raised, to which the king gave a satisfactory answer. William then went to the house of lords and gave his consent to an act appointing commissioners to examine the debts due to the army, navy, and transport service, and take an account of the prizes taken during the war.

In consequence of various petitions and addresses to the king and to the commons from individuals in Ireland, complaining of the conduct of the commissioners appointed to carry out the act of resumption of the forfeited estates, and of a circular letter which was sent to the members of the grand jury of Ireland to incite them to resist the act of resumption, the commons voted that these addresses and the charges in this circular against the commissioners were scandalous, false, and groundless. Yet, notwithstanding this resolution, they were urged by fresh petitions to examine into the causes of complaint, and they made the required inquisition, discovered the causes of remonstrance were just, and ordered them to be removed.

In Scotland the clamour against the government for its treatment of the Darien scheme still continued. The earl of Nottingham, therefore, moved that the Scottish parliament should be dissolved, and an attempt made to unite the two kingdoms, by which all causes of complaint would be hereafter removed, all parties having a like interest in the trade of the nation. The king was greatly bent on this design, but he had just now met with an accident which prevented him going to the house of lords to propose it. But he sent a message both to the lords and to the commons, expressing his earnest desire that a union should take place, and that commissioners were already appointed in Scotland to treat with such commissioners as should be appointed in England for that end. He represented that he was fully satisfied that nothing could more contribute to the security and happiness of the two kingdoms than such a union, and that he should esteem it a peculiar felicity if, during his reign, so great an event should take place.

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