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Reign of George II page 11

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He dispatched a squadron of ten ships of the line to the Mediterranean, under admiral Haddock; another strong squadron sailed for the West Indies; letters of marque and reprisal were issued to the merchants; and troops and stores were forwarded to Georgia, which the Spaniards had threatened to invade. He gave directions to all merchants in Spanish ports to register their goods with a public notary in case of a rupture. These measures produced a rapid change of tone at the Spanish court. Orders were issued for liberating and sending home seventy-one English sailors, who had been taken by Guarda Costas; and Geraldino was instructed to say that his Spanish majesty was ready to enter into negotiations for settling all past differences, and for preventing all future ones. The terms of this negotiation were discussed, first betwixt Walpole and Geraldino in London, and afterwards by Mr. Keene and the Spanish minister, La Quadra, at Madrid. On comparing the demands on both sides for damages sustained in commerce, there appeared a balance in favour of England of two hundred thousand pounds. Besides this, the Spaniards demanded sixty thousand pounds in compensation for the ships taken by admiral Byng in 1718 - a claim which Stanhope would never allow, but which had been recognised in the treaty of Seville, and was now, therefore, allowed. This reduced the sum to a hundred and forty thousand pounds, which the Spanish court proposed should be paid by assignments on the American revenues. This, the ministers were well aware, might involve the most endless delays and uncertainties, and they certainly showed a most conceding spirit by allowing a deduction of forty-five thousand pounds for prompt payment at Madrid. The sum was now reduced to ninety-five thousand pounds; and this being agreed to, a convention was signed by Keene and La Quadra on the 14th of January, 1739. It was stipulated that it should be paid in four months from the date of the ratification. There was another sum of sixty-eight thousand pounds which La Quadra asserted was due to the king of Spain from the South Sea Company; but Keene explained that the king had nothing whatever to do with the debts of the South Sea Company; and it was settled that, in the discharge of these claims, those of the South Sea Company should not be taken into consideration. Within six weeks two plenipotentiaries on both sides were to meet at Madrid to settle all the matters betwixt the two powers regarding the rights of to-day, as well as to the limits of Carolina and Florida, during which time no progress was to be made in the fortifications of either province.

In this convention no mention was made of the right of search, and various other matters were reserved for the consideration of the plenipotentiaries. When the convention was announced to parliament by the king in his opening speech, there arose a general denunciation of it both in and out of parliament. The right of search was declared to be purposely sacrificed; the limits of Georgia left undefined; and the Spanish captains in the West Indies left unpunished for all their cruelties. That sixty-eight thousand pounds should be allowed for compensation for ships taken by admiral Byng in 1718 was very justly declared taxing us for our victories. In fact, Walpole, in this treaty, seems ready to give up everything to Spain, knowing, probably, how hopeless it was to extract money from that country, and glad of an excuse of any set-off against our claims as the easiest way of settling them. But all did not avail him. The more conceding he was to the Spaniards the more immovable they became, whilst the public at home were enraged at the tameness displayed by ministers. Ministers found their majority continually on the wane. Chesterfield and Carteret attacked the address to his majesty, in which the house of lords was made to say that it trusted care would be taken to secure our trade in the American seas, and to assure his majesty that the parliament would support him in such endeavours. The duke of Argyll went over to the opposition, and the prince of Wales gave his first vote in parliament in the amendment on the address. On a division, seventy-one peers voted for the address, and fifty-eight against it.

A still more determined assault was made on the address in the commons. Horace Walpole introduced it in an elaborate speech of two hours, but no sooner did he sit down than there commenced a fierce criticism on the convention. Sir Thomas Saunderson complained that it was a testimony of the most truckling meanness on the part of the English government that the captain who cut off Jenkins' ear was still at large. Lord Gage was vehement on the miserable amount of compensation consented to; lord Lyttleton was equally eloquent on the right of search; and William Pitt, in a most powerful speech, declared that the convention was nothing but a stipulation for national injury; an illusory expedient to baffle the resentment of the nation; a truce without a suspension of hostilities on the part of Spain; a surrender of the rights and trade of England to the mercy of plenipotentiaries; a security not only inadequate, but decidedly repugnant to the resolutions of parliament and the promises from the throne. On the division the ministers' majority had dwindled to twenty-eight, namely, two hundred and sixty votes against two hundred and thirty-two.

But that there should be a majority at all on such a question brought the opposition to try an experiment which they had been for some time planning. This was the absurd scheme of seceding in a body from the house of commons, on the plea that a paid and standing majority rendered all reason and argument nugatory. That might, to a certain extent, be true; but to renounce the opportunity of exposing the state of things to the whole nation was to leave the majority in unmolested possession of their power, without a voice to proclaim evil when it was done. They hoped by this proceeding to excite the nation to such a ferment in defence of its violated rights as should drive ministers out of office. But all such attempts have proved failures, because removing the watchdogs does not remove the thieves. The motion of Horace Walpole was carried in committee; and on the report of it being brought up, another division being carried, Pulteney spoke in strong terms against the convention, and then Wyndham rose, and declared that it was useless sitting longer in that house; that "in a future parliament he might, perhaps, still be at liberty to serve his country as before; but now, being unable to discern the least appearance of reason in any one argument offered on the ministerial side, he must conclude either that the majority was swayed by other or secret arguments, or that he himself wanted common sense to comprehend the force of those which he had heard. In the first case, he could not with honour sit in an assembly determined by such influences; in the latter case, he looked upon himself as a very unfit person to act as a senator; and in either case, therefore, he thought it his duty for the future to retire, and content himself with offering up his prayers for the preservation of his country."

In the course of his farewell speech, Wyndham made use of such violent language, that Mr. Pelham jumped up to move the commitment of the honourable member to the Tower; but Walpole was too well aware that such a proceeding would have wonderfully served the ends of the opposition, rendering them martyrs to their country's cause, and raising a vivid interest in their behalf. He therefore stopped him, and said that the measures which that gentleman and his friends might pursue gave him no uneasiness; on the contrary, the house was much obliged to them for pulling off the mask. "We can be on our guard," he said, "against open opposition, but it is difficult to guard against secret traitors. The faction I speak of," he said, "never sate in this house, never joined in any public measure of the government, but with a view to distress it, and serve a popish interest. The gentleman who is now the mouth of this faction was looked upon as the head of those traitors who, five-and-twenty years ago, conspired the destruction of this country and of the royal family to set a popish pretender upon the throne. He was seized by the vigilance of the government, and pardoned by its clemency; but all the use he ungratefully made of that clemency has been to qualify himself according to law, that he and his party may, some time or other, have an opportunity to overthrow all law. I am only afraid that they will not be so good as their word - that they will return; for I remember that in the case of their favourite prelate (Atterbury), who was impeached of treason, the same gentleman and his faction made the same resolution. They went off, like traitors as they were; but their retreat had not the detestable effect they wished and expected, and therefore they returned. Ever since, sir, they have persevered in the same treasonable intention of serving that interest by distressing the government; but I hope their behaviour will unite all true friends of the present happy establishment of the crown in his majesty's person and family more firmly than ever, and that the gentlemen who with good intentions have been deluded into the like measures, will awake from their delusion, since the trumpet of rebellion is now audaciously sounded."

With such a flaying censure sounding in their ears, the seceders were not likely to carry much public sympathy with them, for, unfortunately, there was too much truth in this uncompromising charge of the minister. The weakness of the opposition of that day rose from the palpable fact, that it was not from patriotic motives that they acted, but to destroy the protestant dynasty, and lead back again the worst race which had ever cursed the country. Bolingbroke was still their counsellor, and the solid, independent good of their country the last thing in their thoughts. Sir John Barnard, a man of a different stamp, Mr. Plumer, of Hertfordshire, lord Polwarth, and a few others, refused to join the secession, who, as Walpole foretold, were very soon convinced that they had made a gross blunder, and were anxious to get back again on some plea or other. They hoped that a call of the house fixed for Monday would give them this opportunity, either to return to their posts, as in obedience to it, or by giving occasion for their being taken into custody, and thus making them objects of public interest. But Walpole perceived this object, and defeated it by moving an adjournment till Tuesday.

Relieved of their presence, he now carried his measures in unopposed quiet. There was little speaking, for there was no need to show the propriety of measures, and thus deprive opposition of its force, and there was no division. Bills were introduced and carried as a matter of course; bills on behalf of the woollen manufacturers and the sugar colonies. The only question which raised a debate and a division was the repeal of the Test Act, on which Walpole and some of his supporters were at issue; but this was negatived by a larger majority than on the previous occasion. Nay, there can be no doubt that the opportunity was seized to pass such objectionable measures as would scarcely have been resolved upon in the face of a present opposition. Such was the proposal for a subsidy to the king of Denmark, by which we agreed to pay him annually two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for three years, on condition that he held six thousand meD at our service, if we should need them. The reason alleged for this subsidy was that the French government had been endeavouring to draw Denmark and Sweden into an alliance against England, and had made them such advantageous offers as it was necessary for us to outbid. But this was a barefaced pretence without foundation. The real cause was another Hanover job which this country was called upon to pay for, and the opposition, by its absence, lost a most admirable opportunity of exposing its grossness. George had bought a petty castle called Steinhorst from the duke of Holstein; but the Danes declared that the place belonged to them, and dispatched a body of troops against it. A skirmish ensued, and the Danes were driven back. They prepared, however, for a more efficient attack, and George, to get rid of the trouble without any cost to himself, hit upon this subsidy as a placebo for Denmark. A more impudent transaction it was difficult to conceive; and it was of little use for the opposition, from their distant country seats, to cry out against it, or for Bolingbroke to apprehend that "we should throw the small remainder of our wealth where we have thrown so much already, into the German gulph, which cries 4 Give! give!' and is never satisfied." The opposition had, in fact, invited such dirty transactions by their desertion of their post.

Parliament, having so smoothly transacted its business, was prorogued on the 14th of June, and Walpole then addressed himself to the settlement of the Spanish difference. But here he found a spirit of resistance which had undoubtedly grown from the invectives of the opposition. The outcries against the Spanish captains, the right of search, and the payment of compensation for the ships taken by Byng, had given great offence to the proud Spaniards. They were encouraged, also, by the earnest manner in which Walpole had argued for peace. They now assumed a high tone. They complained of the continuance of the British fleet in the Mediterranean; and La Quadra said that, so long as they remained there, "no grace or facilities were to be expected, for the king his master would not condescend to make any concession with that scourge suspended over him." They demanded the payment of the sixty-eight thousand pounds which they said was due from the South Sea Company, though it had been stipulated in the convention that it should not come into consideration. But they asserted that Mr. Keene had declared that he would see the money paid. Mr. Keene contended that he had said if the money was found to be due from the company, he would undertake that they should pay it, but that it could not be charged to the king.

Here all further progress became impossible. The Spaniards, having reduced their debt to less than one-half the original sum, were fighting stoutly to reduce it to nothing. There appeared no chance but for arms to decide it. Cardinal Fleury, with his usual pacific disposition, made an effort to avert the war by guaranteeing to undertake the payment of the ninety- five thousand pounds by Spain, provided that the English fleet was withdrawn from the Mediterranean. But English spirit, even in Walpole, had now reached its limit of patience. The king and the nation were equally in a mood for war. Walpole, therefore, ceased to listen any longer to the Spanish objections, but took his stand on the true British ground of resistance to the right of search, and on that of an acknowledgment of all British rights and claims in North America. Instead of withdrawing the Mediteranean fleet, he ordered its reinforcement, sent Sir Chaloner Ogle with fresh ships to the West Indies, and Sir John Norris was ordered to put to sea with a third squadron. The above demands being peremptorily made from the court of Madrid, and being rejected, war was proclaimed in London on the 19 th of October.

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