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Reign of George II page 10

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Such were the reasons assigned for inducing the prince to keep open one of the most foul and odious domestic feuds imaginable. The prince replied that he would never make dishonourable terms - as if anything could be so dishonourable as the position in which he and his father stood towards each other!

This alarm was succeeded by another, namely, that Pulteney and Carteret had formed a scheme to get the prince into their hands, and thus make a property of him. Lords Cobham and Chesterfield went and prevented this. The opposition was thus agitated by fears of one another, and no party was secure of the prince, or could rely wholly on his word. All sections of the opposition, however, exerted themselves to keep up his hatred to Walpole. They carried everything possible to him to incense him against him. He was told that when the deputation was formed to congratulate him from the house of commons on the birth of his child, Walpole called across the house to one of those named to go up with the address, " Take a bank bill of twenty thousand pounds with you; he needs it. He will touch!" He was said, also, to call the prince of Wales one of the pretenders to the crown, saying that there were two of them - one at Rome, the other at Norfolk House. If Walpole really indulged himself in such sallies, it must have been under the conviction that he had sinned too deeply against the prince ever to be pardoned; and the prince was heard to say that, whatever else he might do, he would never speak to Walpole.

On the opening of parliament in January, there was a desperate effort made by the opposition at once to reduce the army and to kindle a war with Spain. Walpole proposed to place the army on a footing of seventeen thousand men, The "patriots," as they were called, voted to reduce the number to twelve thousand. Walpole, exasperated at their factious conduct, launched an indignant sarcasm at them, which produced so much effect that they did not venture to divide on the motion. "No man of common sense," said Walpole, "will now profess himself openly a Jacobite; by so doing, he not only may injure his private fortune, but must render himself less able to do any effectual service to the cause he has embraced; therefore there are but few such men in the kingdom. Your right Jacobite, sir, disguises his true sentiments. He roars out for revolutionary principles; he pretends to be a great friend to liberty, and a great admirer of our ancient constitution; and under this pretence there are numbers who every day endeavour to sow discontent among the people. These men know that discontent and disaffection, like wit and madness, are separated by thin partitions, and therefore they hope that if they can once render the people thoroughly discontented, it will be easy for them to render them disaffected. By the accession of these new allies, as I may justly call them, the real but concealed Jacobites have succeeded even beyond their own expectation."

During the debate, colonel Mordaunt was imprudent enough to remark that "a standing army was absolutely necessary to support the whig interest against the tory." This was immediately seized on by the opposition, and lord Polwarth, in a strain of patriotic virtue, declared that no interest or party ought to be tolerated which required a standing army for its support. The motion of the opposition was lost by one hundred and sixty-four votes against two hundred and forty-nine ministerial ones.

Defeated in this object, the patriots united all their force to embroil us with Spain. There were many causes in our commercial relations with Spain which led to violent discontent amongst our merchants. They found the trade with the Spanish settlements in America exceedingly profitable, but they had no right, beyond a very limited extent, to trade there. The Spaniards, though they winked at many encroachments, repressed others which exceeded these with considerable vigour. Their Guarda Costas insisted on boarding and searching our vessels which intruded into their waters, to discover whether they were bringing merchandise or prepared to carry away colonial produce. This assertion of right led to many clashing incidents, which enabled the English merchants to raise a plausible cry of violence and ill-treatment against the Spaniards. The truth was, that the Spaniards tolerated much more intrusion into their colonial ports and trade than we had any right to expect; but our merchants, in their keen pursuit of gain, were not disposed to give way, and were ever ready to represent themselves as the innocent sufferers. The Spaniards acted on their own regulations regarding their colonies, which they had every right to make, and which were recognised by repeated treaties with us. By the treaty of 1670 Spain had recognised the British colonies in North America, and England had agreed that her ships should not enter the ports of the Spanish colonies except from stress of weather, or with an especial licence from the Spanish government to trade. By the treaty of 1729 we had assented to the old regulations regarding trading to the Spanish main, namely, that we should have the assiento, or right of supplying these colonies with slaves, and that, besides this, we should only send one ship annually to the Spanish West Indies and South America. However rigorous was this restriction, Spain had insisted upon it, and we had consented to it in repeated treaties. However much, therefore, our merchants might grumble at it, they had no right to infringe the international law. The Spaniards stationed their Guarda Costas, or guard ships, along their coasts to prevent interlopers; and they claimed a right, which the tenor of the treaty clearly gave them, to search such of our ships as went thither, to ascertain whether they were licensed or were exceeding the limits of the treaty. The English, however, were continually intruding, and the Spaniards were in general only too easy; but when the intrusions became too barefaced or frequent, they occasionally were roused to a more vigilant action, which gave high offence to our traders, who retaliated on the Spanish vessels when they met with them on the high seas, either in the Atlantic or Pacific. They are said, too, to have made occasional buccaneer-like descents on the coasts of the Spanish main, burning towns and plundering the inhabitants. The one ship which was allowed to trade annually with the Spanish colonies was made a means of the most extensive and audacious smuggling. As fast as that authorised ship discharged its cargo in a Spanish port, she received fresh supplies of goods over her larboard side from other vessels which had followed in her wake, and thus poured unlimited quantities of English goods into the place. Other English traders did not approach too near the Spanish coasts, but were met in certain latitudes by South American smugglers, who there received their goods and carried them into port. In short, such a system of contraband trade was carried on in these waters by our merchants, that English goods in abundance found their way all over the Spanish American regions, and the great annual fair for goods imported from or by Spain dwindled into insignificance.

It was no wonder that Spain, feeling the serious effects of this state of things, should resist it; and when she did so, and exerted an unusual degree of vigilance, then the most terrible outcries were raised, and wonderful stories were circulated of Spanish cruelties to our people beyond the Atlantic. At this time the opposition got hold of one of these, and made the house of commons and the nation resound with it. It was, that one captain Robert Jenkins, who had been master of a sloop trading from Jamaica, had been boarded and searched by a Guarda Costa, and treated in a most barbarous manner, though they could detect no proof of smuggling in his vessel. He said that the Spanish captain had cut off one of his ears, bidding him carry it to his king, and tell his majesty that, if he were present, he would treat him in the same manner. This story was now seven years old, but it was not the less warmly received on that account. It excited the utmost horror, and Jenkins was ordered to appear at the bar of the house of commons on the 16th of March, to give an account of the outrage himself; and it would appear that both he and other witnesses were examined the same day. Jenkins carried his ear about with him wrapped in cotton, to show to those to whom he related the fact, and the indignation was intense. It has been suggested that probably the captain was wearing both his ears at the time under his bushy locks, though the excited feelings of his auditors did not suggest to them to make the examination. But Tindal, the historian, asserts that he certainly had lost an ear, but, as it was suspected, as a punishment from the hands of his own countrymen, and probably in the pillory.

Pulteney, Barnard, Wyndham, and Pitt, who took the lead in this movement, made the most of this story, and William Murray, afterwards lord Mansfield, was engaged by the petitioners as their counsel. But an answer of Jenkins himself produced the most universal effect. He was asked by a member how he felt when he found himself in the hands of such barbarians, and he replied, "I recommended my soul to God, and my cause to my country." The worthy skipper had probably been crammed with this dramatic sentiment by some of his clever parliamentary introducers; but its effect was all the same as if it had been a genuine and involuntary expression of his own mind. It had an electric effect both in parliament and the country. "We have no need of allies," exclaimed Pulteney, in triumph," to enable us to command justice; the story of Jenkins will raise volunteers." Burke has since dubbed this story, "The Fable of Jenkins' Ears."

After the eloquent and stirring speech of Mr. Murray, Pulteney delivered one of his most masterly harangues on the question, declaring that the British nation had a right to sail freely over any sea in the globe, so that they did not intrude into forbidden ports; that, so long as they kept out of the Spanish harbours, they were at liberty to traverse the American waters, and to carry their articles of commerce from one British colony to another; that they had a just right to cut logwood in Campeachy Bay, and to gather salt on the Island of Tortuga. These were rights which the Spaniards denied, and had sometimes resisted, though at other times they had suffered the English, who went with arms in their hands, to carry away those articles. Pulteney, however, contended that we had acquired a right by long use.

Walpole, in reply, said he did not deny that the Spaniards had committed great outrages on English traders, but he thought these might receive a full and friendly compensation, and he promised his utmost exertions towards this end with the court of Madrid. He besought the house not to close the avenues to accommodation by any intemperate proceedings, and by denying altogether the right of search, which he thought the Spaniards would not readily relinquish. He had been severely ridiculed for his tameness, as the opposition called it. Imperious as he is at home, he is no less abject and crouching, they said, abroad; and they quoted continually some lines ascribed to bishop Atterbury, which called him "The cur-dog of Britain and spaniel of Spain." Walpole now repudiated these charges. "I have always," he said, "disregarded a popularity that was not acquired by a hearty zeal for the public interest, and I have been long enough in this house to see that the most steady op- posers of popularity, founded upon any other views, had lived to receive the thanks of their country for that opposition. For my part, I never could see any cause, either from reason or my own experience, to imagine that a minister is not as safe in time of war as in time of peace. Nay, if we are to judge by reason alone, it is the interest of a minister, conscious of any mismanagement, that there should be a war, because by a war the eyes of the public are diverted from examining into his conduct; nor is he accountable for the bad success of a war as he is for that of an administration."

Walpole in the commons maintained his ascendancy against the repeated attacks of Pulteney, but Chesterfield and Carteret in the peers found no men capable of competing with them, and they carried some strong resolutions which were embodied in an address to the crown. At the same time, Walpole had to contend with the false and wayward conduct of the Spanish ambassador. This was a man of Irish descent, Thomas Fitzgerald, now bearing the Spanish cognomen of Don Thomas Geraldino, who caballed with the opposition, and, encouraged by their conduct, held most intemperate language in public regarding the matters in dispute. He made no hesitation in betraying state secrets to serve his purpose, and declared everywhere that ministers were deceiving the country by pretending that Spain would be induced to give up what she knew to be her inalienable rights. Walpole sent a formal complaint of his conduct to the court of Madrid, but Geraldino assured the Spanish government that Walpole, whilst pretending pacific measures, was doing all in his power to destroy the security of the Spanish trade, and that the interest of Spain was to foment to the utmost the differences and discontents in England; and, under this persuasion, the Spanish government kept him still in London.

And, in truth, everything now seemed to run counter to Walpole, and to tend towards war. His colleague, the duke of Newcastle, who had been one of the most obsequious of subordinates both under Stanhope and himself, now thought he should serve himself decidedly by advocating war. The king was naturally of a martial turn; he had won some military repute in his youth, and he was no longer under the much more sensible guidance of the queen. Newcastle, therefore, probably in the hope of supplanting Walpole, fostered this spirit in the king, and took advantage of it to recommend warlike measures in the cabinet, and to send dispatches to the English ambassadors in Spain, which it required all the energy and wisdom of Walpole to prevent doing irreparable mischief, and which rendered the negotiations extremely difficult. Lord chancellor Hardwicke and lord Harrington arrayed themselves on the same side, and blew the war-note in the house of lords with unrestrained zeal. There was a time when Walpole would have had these antagonistic colleagues dismissed; but both he and they saw too well that there was such a strong war spirit in both king and people, that no such thing was possible. He therefore pursued his efforts with the court of Spain for peaceable conclusions, at the same time that he fell in so far with the belligerent spirit as to make active preparations, as if for an encounter. This, however, was his last and most powerful argument for peace - an argument meant to tell on the fears, as he could not reach a spirit of conciliation in the Spaniards.

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