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Reign of George I page 20

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The king of Spain hoped, by the dismissal of Alberoni, to obtain more advantageous terms of peace from France and England; but they still stood firmly to the conditions of the quadruple alliance. On the 19th of January, 1720, the plenipotentiaries of England, France, and Holland signed an engagement at Paris not to admit of any conditions of peace from Spain contrary to those of the alliance. Stanhope dispatched his secretary, Schaub, to Madrid, to endeavour to bring over the queen to this agreement, and Dubois sent instructions to the marquis Scotti, father d'Aubenton, and others in the French interest to press the same point. She stood out firmly for some time, but eventually gave way, and the mind of the king was soon influenced by her. Some difficulties which could not be overcome were referred to a congress to be held at Cambray. On the 26th of January Philip announced his accession to the quadruple alliance, declaring that he gave up his rights and possessions to secure the peace of Europe. He renewed his renunciation of the French crown, and promised to evacuate Sicily and Sardinia within six months, which he faithfully performed.

Dispatches were instantly sent by the English and Austrian ministers, informing admiral Byng and the count De Mercy of the accession of Spain to the quadruple alliance, and these informed De Lede of the fact by a trumpet. De Lede, however, who still maintained his hostile attitude at Alcamo, had received no intelligence of the event from his own government, and therefore declared himself unable to treat for a cessation of hostilities until he did obtain such authority. Byng and De Mercy still pressed him to a convention for the cessation of hostilities; but De Lede would not consent to any other terms than those of still retaining possession of Palermo, by which he would be in full enjoyment of the provisions of the island, and the allies would be cooped up in one corner of it, subject to great privations. After much fruitless negotiation, the allied general and admiral prepared to force the surrender of Palermo, and De Lede to defend it, and the two armies were on the point of engaging in a sanguinary conflict, when De Lede received the official intelligence from Spain, and orders to arrange for the evacuation of the island.

This great event put in train, the English admiral sailed to Cagliari, conveying the Savoyard troops thither, and actively exerting himself for the complete surrender of the island to the new king of Sardinia; and he did not quit the port till he had seen the Spanish troops all embarked, and the island put completely into the hands of the authorities of Savoy. Throughout all these transactions, by which the attempts of Alberoni on Sardinia and Sicily were completely defeated, the conduct of admiral Byng had been most meritorious. " This," says the historian of u The Expedition of the British Fleet to Sicily," " ended the war wherein the fleet of Great Britain bore so illustrious a part that the fate of the island was wholly governed by its operations, both competitors agreeing that the one could not have conquered nor the other have been subdued without it. Never was any service conducted in all its parts with greater zeal, activity, and judgment, nor was ever the British flag in so high reputation and respect in those distant parts of Europe."

By the firmness of the allies a peace which continued twelve years was given to Europe, and the storm which Alberoni had so fondly expected out of the north was as completely dissipated. The new queen of Sweden had consented to yield absolutely to George I., as king of Hanover, the disputed possession of Bremen and Verden. Poland was induced to acknowledge Augustus of Saxony as king, and Prussia to be satisfied with the acquisition of Stettin and some other Swedish territory. But the czar and Denmark, seeing Sweden deprived of its military monarch, and exhausted by his wild campaigns, contemplated nothing less than the actual dismemberment of Sweden. The queen of Sweden threw herself for protection on the good offices of the king of England, and both England and France agreed to compel the czar and the king of Denmark to desist from their attacks on Sweden if they would not listen to friendly mediation. Lord Carteret, a promising young statesman, was sent ambassador to Stockholm, and Sir John Norris, with eleven sail of the line, was ordered to the Baltic. Russia and Denmark, however, continued to disregard the pacific overtures of England, trusting to there being no war with that power. They ravaged the whole coast of Sweden, burning above a thousand villages, and the town of Nykoping, the third place in the kingdom. Seeing this, lord Stanhope, who was still at Hanover with the king, sent orders to admiral Norris to pay no regard to the fact of there being no declaration of war, but to treat the Russian and Danish fleet as Byng had treated the Spanish one, Norris accordingly joined his squadron to the Swedish fleet at Carlscrona, and went in pursuit of the fleet of the czar. Peter, seeing that the English were now in earnest, recalled his fleet with precipitation, and thereby, no doubt, saved it from complete destruction; but he still continued to refuse to make peace, and determined on the first opportunity to have a further slice of Swedish territory. Denmark, which was extremely poor, agreed to accept a sum of money in lieu of Marstrand, which they had seized; and thus all Europe, except the czar, was brought to a condition of peace. England had, in fact, saved Sweden from annihilation, though the motives of her monarch had not been of the most sublime or generous kind. They were Bremen and Verden which had been the influencing motive, and in other particulars the Hanoverian transactions of George were not very creditable. In exchange for the services of Byng in the Mediterranean, according to lord Chesterfield, George had obtained from the emperor the administration of the affairs of the duchy of Mecklenburg. The duke of that state had been suspended by a decree of the Aulic council for tyranny and maladministration; and George, thus invested with the protection, was strongly suspected of an attempt at annexing it permanently to Hanover. The suspended duke declared that Hanover had constantly fomented the quarrels betwixt himself and subjects. In fact, the corruption and rapacity of George's Hanoverian court and ministers were of the most extraordinary kind, and were severely commented on in England. Mr. secretary Craggs, in a letter, draws the most revolting picture of the domineering spirit and selfishness of George's favourite minister, Bernsdorf, and of aril the Germans at the English court. He says the sales of offices were of the most scandalous nature, and threw the utmost discredit on the king's service. Everything was set to sale in church and state, by land and sea; and that, provided a man had money, he might buy anything of the favorites and mistresses, however sacred or important. Lord Chesterfield ironically remarked, according to Horace Walpole, that " if we had a mind effectually to prevent the pretender ever obtaining this crown, we should make him elector of Hanover, for the people of England would never fetch another king thence."

George arrived in England from his German states on the 11th of November of the preceding year, 1719, and opened parliament on the 23rd. He laid sufficient stress on the success of his government in promoting the evacuation of Sicily and Sardinia by Spain, in protecting Sweden, and laying the foundation of a union amongst the great protestant powers of Europe. He then recurred to the subject of the bill for limiting the peerage, which had been rejected in the previous session. George was animated by the vehement desire to curtail the prerogative of his son, and declared that the bill was necessary to secure that part of the constitution which was most liable to abuse. Lord Cowper declared, on the other hand, that besides the reasons which had induced him to oppose the measure before, another was now added in the earnestness with which it was recommended. But Cowper was not supported with any zeal by the rest of the house, and the bill passed on the 30th of November, and was sent down to the house of commons on the 1st of December. There it was destined to meet with a very different! reception. During the recess Walpole had endeavoured to rouse a resistance to it in both houses. He had obtained a meeting of the opposition whigs at Devonshire House, and called upon them to oppose the measure; but he found that some of the whig peers were favourable to it, from the perception that it would increase the importance of their order; others declared that it would be inconsistent in them to oppose a principle which they had so strenuously maintained against a tory ministry - that of discountenancing the; sudden creation of peers for party purposes; and others, though hostile to the bill, declared that they should only expose themselves to defeat by resisting it. But Walpole persisted in his opposition, and declared that, if his party deserted him, he would contend against the bill single- handed. He asserted that it would meet with strong resistance from the country gentlemen who hoped some time or other to reach the peerage - a hope which the bill, if carried, would extinguish for ever.

By these endeavours Walpole managed to array a considerable body of the commons against it. It was introduced on the 8th of December, and Sir John Packington, Sir Richard Steele, Smith, Methuen, and others joined him in attacking it. Steele made a very powerful speech against it, but the grand assault was that of Walpole. He put out all his strength, and delivered an harangue such as he had never achieved till that day. He did not spare the motives of the king, though handling them with much tact, and was unsparingly severe on the Scotch clauses, and on the notorious subserviency of the Scotch representative peers. He declared that the sixteen elective Scotch peers were already a dead weight on the country; and he asked what they would be when made twenty-five, and hereditary? He declared that such a bill would make the lords masters of the king, and shut up the door of honour to the rest of the nation. Amongst the Romans, he said, the way to the Temple of Fame was through the temple of Virtue; but if this bill passed, this would never be the case in this country. There would be no arriving at honours but through the winding-sheet of an old, decrepit lord, or the tomb of an extinct noble family. Craggs, Lechmere, Aislabie, Hampton, and other ministerial whigs supported the bill; but, in the words of Speaker Onslow, the declamation of Walpole had borne down everything before it, and the measure was defeated by a majority of two hundred and sixty-nine to one hundred and seventy- seven.

In our time this defeat would, as a matter of course, have turned out the ministry, but in that day it had no such effect. They continued to hold office, and to command undiminished majorities on other questions. Still more singular was its effect, for it induced them to offer office to their triumphant opponent Walpole, who not only accepted a subordinate post amongst- them - the paymaster of the forces - but consented to support the very clauses regarding the Scotch peers which he had so firmly denounced, should they be inclined to bring forward the bill a third time - a sufficient proof, if any were wanting, that Walpole did not expect to make his way through the temple of virtue, but through the easy abandonment of any principle which lay in the way of his ambition.

The spring of 1720 was a period of remarkable national prosperity. By the able management of Stanhope, all the schemes of Alberoni were defeated, and that minister driven from Spain. The Spaniards were driven from Sicily, the regent of France was confirmed in his power, Holland and Austria were brought again into alliance with us, and the hostility of the Prussians, Danes, and Poles allayed. The czar still held aloof from treaty, but his alliances were weakened, and the attempts of the pretender were rendered nugatory. At home he had strengthened his ministry by the accession of Walpole, Townshend, and Methuen. By the mediation of Walpole, a reconciliation betwixt the king and prince of Wales was effected, and the hopes of the Jacobites proportionably reduced. Bishop Atterbury, the most industrious and steadfast of Jacobites, wrote to the pretender to express his alarm at the aspect of affairs; that though the seeming reconciliation was far from sincere, there was a probability that time would make it so; that the common necessity of affairs would drive these new allies into measures of mutual interest, and the grand money schemes projected of late, would settle and fix them in such a manner, that it would not be easy to shake them. Under the flattering influence of these auspicious appearances, George departed for Hanover on the 14th of June, attended by Stanhope, and adding before his departure lord Townshend and the duke of Devonshire to the council of regency.

But "the grand money schemes projected of late," which appeared to Atterbury and others calculated to cement the royal peace and strengthen the foundation of the government and nation, were destined to produce a very different effect. They were pregnant with the most unparalleled delusions and ruin. The whole public were smiling in the most golden hopes on the bosom of a volcano. One John Law, a Scotchman, had a few years previous broached a grand scheme for paying off the national debt. It had not taken in England, and he proceeded to France to try to introduce it there. He established a bank in Paris, which became successful, and he there unfolded his ulterior views. These were to embody the public debt as stock in an "Indian Company," which, by being endowed with the exclusive privilege of trading to the Mississippi, was to make enormous profits, and by this means to speedily liquidate the debt. This project gradually seized on the public imagination, and in December, 1719, had grown into a popular mania. The "actions" or shares, or as we should now call it, the scrip of the new company, sold for more than twenty times their real value. The Rue Quincampoix was the place where this scrip was sold, and it became thronged all day like a fair. The smallest room in the street let for incredible sums, the clerks could not register fast enough the purchase of stocks, and a little hunchback was said to have made fifty thousand francs by letting out his back for a desk! The arrogance of Law, the grand adventurer, became prodigious. Voltaire says that he had seen him at court followed humbly by dukes, marshals, and bishops; and even Dubois, the prime minister, and Orleans, the regent, were treated with the utmost freedom by him. He attempted to mortify the English, by saying that there was but one great kingdom in Europe and one great town, and these were France and Paris. His haughtiness had the effect of rousing the resentment of lord Stair, who had so long and brilliantly conducted our diplomatic business at the French capital; and the feud betwixt him and Law became so violent, that Stanhope was compelled to make a visit to Paris on that account, and when there, to displace Stair and send Sir Robert Sutton in his stead. The success of this adventurer deprived England of the eminent services of Stair for twenty years.

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