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Reign of George II page 12

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The nation seemed to rejoice to a man almost at this declaration of hostilities. It had been raised to a pitch of intense hatred of the Spaniards by the stories of their atrocities beyond the Atlantic. The merchants were on fire to reap the wealth of those celebrated regions. They saw the ocean scoured by our men-of-war, and the colonies invaded by our armies. It was imagined that the conquest of these envied regions would be an easy enterprise, and that all the mines of Mexico and Peru would be transferred to us. There was a rise of speculative imagination, like that of the commencement of the South Sea bubble. The stocks, which had been low, rose instantly. The bells rang from every steeple in London, and the populace followed hurrahing at the heels of the heralds who proclaimed what to them seemed such glad tidings. The chiefs of the opposition joined in the procession, where appeared even the prince of Wales, who stopped at the Rose Tavern, at Temple Bar, and drank success to the war.

Such are the delusive anticipations with which men hail the greatest curse of the human race, fraught with unimaginable mischiefs to the multitude - deaths, agonies, taxes, and poverty, and, to all but a very few, disappointment and chagrin. Walpole, who had reluctantly resorted to this master evil, as he heard the rejoicings, exclaimed, "They may ring the bells now, but they will soon be wringing their hands!" Had this able but ambitious man had as much sound principle as he had love of power, he would rather have resigned than rush into a war of which he disapproved; and he would have found his best policy in it, for the time would have come when the nation, awaking to its folly, would have honoured his principles as much as his sagacity, and would have recalled him to power to put an end to their difficulties. But he was weak enough to retain office to conduct a war which he condemned, and he reaped the bitter fruits of such culpable policy.

The first symptoms of the consequences which the war was likely to produce were seen in the new hopes which it awoke in the ranks of the Jacobites. There was eager running and riding amongst them to carry the news, and to concert measures for taking advantage of this change of circumstances. Large numbers of them met at Edinburgh, and drew up a bond of association, pledging one another to take arms and venture life and fortune for the restoration of the Stuart. On the other hand, those nationson which England calculated for aid hung back and remained neutral. The Dutch were bound to furnish certain troops in case of war, and, before the declaration of it, Horace Walpole was dispatched by his brother to demand their production; but they pleaded the menaces of France, which threatened them with invasion by fifty thousand men if they assisted the English, and which held out to them the prospect of their obtaining that trade to the Spanish colonies which England had enjoyed. As for France herself, she assumed an air rather ominous of war than of peace, and thus England was left alone in the contest.

When parliament assembled on the 15th of November, the king informed it that he had called it together earlier than usual on account of the declaration of war; that this he had made in conformity with the wishes of the nation, and therefore he trusted it would be as unanimous in supporting the war as it had been in recommending it; that it was a i most just and necessary war, occasioned by the injuries and violence of the Spaniards, and their refusal of all redress. If he was well seconded by parliament, he did not doubt but that we should make Spain repent of the wrongs it had done us, and let our enemies see that we were not to be injured or insulted with impunity.

The opposition had flocked back to their seats, for the declaration of war was precisely what they had recommended, and Pulteney dwelt much on that circumstance as justifying their secession. The war, he said, was just as necessary when they seceded as it was now; and, as the minister had at last made up his mind to do what they had contended for, they should support him in prosecuting the war with all vigour. He recommended the conquest of the Spanish West Indian Islands, and that no minister should ever be allowed to give them back again on any pretence whatever.

Walpole could not bring himself to give a gracious reply to these observations. He had been forced into a course which his own mind condemned, and he was in no mood to submit to any triumphings of those who had done so much to bring about this result. He observed that, after what passed last session, he certainly did not expect to have the company of certain gentlemen quite so soon again; that, however much they might have contributed to the declaration of war, their absence had undoubtedly facilitated the passing of various useful measures at the close of the last session, and, for his part, he should not be sorry to see them taking their departure again. He thought, however, that they had found no cause to congratulate themselves on their proceeding, for their constituents could not imagine that they had been promoting their interests by abandoning them.

The original address passed the commons without any division; but in the lords the peers' address, which was opposed most vehemently by Chesterfield, Carteret, and others, was only carried by sixty-eight votes against forty- eight. The duke of Argyll was amongst the most steady and determined of the opposition now, and Walpole was censured for having left him so long in possession of all his great posts, notwithstanding his obvious desertion of the ministerial party. It was asserted that he dared not turn him out; but this was soon proved to be no truer than many other of the opposition's assertions. Argyll was dismissed from everything at once. The great Scottish duke vowed revenge, and the year 1740 opened with a threatening aspect for the minister.

The opposition, being the real parents of the war, claimed a right to conduct it according to their own notions. They brought in a bill to encourage the seamen by conferring on them all the prize-money acquired. This had been brought in in the former session, and had been thrown out; but now Walpole found himself compelled to concede it. Then Sir William Wyndham professed to believe that Walpole was not in earnest in the war, after all, and that he would seize the first opportunity to put an end to it. On the 21st of February he moved a most violent address to his majesty, praying him never to make peace with Spain until the right of search and our right to navigate the American seas without being subject to it were utterly given up. He expected that Walpole would oppose it, but, on the contrary, he supported it, and it was carried unanimously. The place and pension bill was again introduced, but it was once more rejected by two hundred and twenty-two votes against two hundred and six.

The war was scarcely begun when it was discovered that, according to an ancient and almost invariable practice, we had proclaimed hostilities much before we were prepared to carry them out. Our ships were badly manned, and therefore slow to put to sea, and the more alert Spaniards were busy picking up our merchant vessels. Nor they only - the French, Dutch, and other nations hoisted Spanish colours, and were making wide devastation amongst our trading vessels. The government was to blame for this in one respect. They adhered to the old and impolitic practice of paying seamen on board men-of-war less than merchantmen paid them. The consequence was, that though Jack expressed himself anxious to have a brush with the Spaniards, his patriotism did not rise high enough to do it at a considerable discount in his wages. The merchants petitioned parliament for fleets and convoys to protect their trade, and yet, at the same time, there was a loud outcry against the barbarity of pressing men. A committee of the house of commons, to which the matter was referred, proposed to surmount the difficulty by establishing a register of all able-bodied seamen and watermen, and to make periodical drafts from them as men were needed; this only raised the outcry higher. It was represented as a system of pure despotism, by which husbands and fathers of families would be dragged away at the will of the government, and leave all dependent upon them to poverty. Walpole contended that it was the only efficient mode of manning our navy; that the system of impressment provoked as much ill-will, without furnishing anything like the numbers required; that whilst we were issuing proclamations and press warrants, and gleaning up our men one by one, the enemy was become aware of all our projects and in readiness to defeat them. Admiral Sir Charles Wager introduced a bill upon this principle, but Pulteney asked for the delay of a few days, so as to have the bill printed; and this being assented to, the measure, as Pulteney meant, was defeated, for there was such an outcry raised against the scheme, as based on French principles and French despotism, that the bill was presently abandoned. The house of commons, as well as the ministry, seemed at its wits' end. Men must be had, and yet every means of obtaining them was opposed. All seemed impressed with the necessity of a register, but none dared support it. At length it was proposed that there should be a voluntary register, as if such a thing could be more than a name. Walpole was compelled to issue letters of marque and licenses to whole swarms of privateers, who issued forth to make reprisals. The lords of the admiralty, on the 1st of February, had ordered an embargo on all shipping except coasters, so as at once to keep them out of reach of the enemy, and to induce active seamen to enter the navy; but on the 28th of March a petition from merchants and owners of shipping was presented, complaining of the hardships and the destruction of trade by it. The lords of the admiralty contended that such had been the complaints of injuries done at sea to our traders, that they had been compelled to impose the embargo in the absence of sufficient hands for men-of-war. They now took the embargo off foreign ships, and gave notice to English owners that they would take it off altogether, on condition that the owners and masters of vessels would enter into an engagement to furnish a certain number of men to the navy in proportion to the number of hands in each trader. This also was denounced as a most oppressive measure, and the opposition represented it as intended to make the mercantile community sick of the war. Driven, however, to extremities, ministers would not listen to these arguments; a motion was made and carried, sanctioning this plan, and then the merchants came into it. It was agreed that the merchants should introduce landsmen to the amount of one- third into their service, and should furnish one man in four to the king's ships. This being settled, on the 14th of April the embargo was removed from all merchant vessels of Great Britain and Ireland outward bound.

Such were the difficulties which ministers had to contend with for commencing the war at sea. In one particular, however, there was more liberality; money was freely voted; the land-tax was raised from two to four shillings in the pound, and the sinking fund was so freely resorted to, that the supplies altogether amounted to upwards of four millions. During these discussions, news came on the 13th of March, that admiral Vernon had taken Porto Bello from the Spaniards. This was good news for the opposition, for Vernon was one of their party, and a personal enemy of Walpole. There were great rejoicings, and bonfires made in the streets, and the lords sent down an address of congratulation to the king, for the concurrence of the commons. Yet in this they could not avoid making a party matter of it, the address stating that this glorious action had been performed with only six ships, and thus to mark the contrast with the doings of admiral Hosier in those seas, and so to blacken his memory. The address was carried in a thin house, but only by thirty-six against thirty-one, so that along with the news went the comment to Vernon, that the ministry begrudged him his glory.

Parliament was prorogued on the 29th of April, and the king set off on his summer visit to Hanover. Active measures were meanwhile continued to send powerful fleets against the Spanish possessions. Sir John Norris, having on board the duke of Cumberland as a volunteer, was ordered to Ferrol, to waylay the Spanish fleet about to sail to the West Indies; but he was attacked by very stormy weather, and continued tossed about near the English coast, and, after having two of his vessels greatly damaged, had the mortification to find that the enemy's fleet had escaped him, and was on its way across the Atlantic. The duchess of Marlborough, who, though no longer capable of exerting any power, continued to exert her tongue and epistolary pen with as much causticity as ever, remarked that Sir John lingered near the coast, and that perhaps it was contrived purposely to allow the Spaniards to escape. In the autumn commodore Anson was sent to co-operate with Vernon. He was to proceed to the Pacific, and commit depredations there, and communicate with Vernon across the Isthmus of Darien. Still greater preparations were made for attacking, and, it was confidently hoped, conquering the Spanish colonies of North America. A fleet of twenty-seven ships of the line was assembled in the Isle of Wight, under the command of Sir Chaloner Ogle. It was extremely well equipped, and attended by a multitude of frigates, fire-ships, bombs, ketches, tenders, hospital-ships, and store-ships, and carried over an armament, consisting of marines and detachments from old regiments under the command of lord Cathcart. These were to be joined at Jamaica by four battalions raised in the British colonies of North America, and great hopes were ex-cited of the services they were to perform.

Still greater forces would have been sent into this quarter could the duke of Newcastle have ruled. Newcastle, who had for a long time appeared easy and unambitious, now began to aspire to equal if not superior power with Walpole. He assumed to have a leading voice in the direction of the war, as he had been one of its foremost promoters. He would have sent every ship we had to the West Indies and North and South America, but Walpole knew too well that there would be urgent need for a strong force in the home seas. He knew that the pretender was on the watch to seize all opportunities of advantage, and there were symptoms of fresh combinations of the continental powers, which "boded much trouble. So far from finding support in his views in the cabinet, he was now compelled to contend with Newcastle and other members on almost every measure brought forward. These things showed too plainly that his ascendancy was on the decline, and he evinced his mortification by giving way to bursts of passion, and lost the buoyancy and cheerfulness of his temper.

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