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Reign of George II page 13

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The turn of affairs on the continent justified his most serious apprehensions. France was soon discovered to have made a compact with Spain, and once having taken this step, she displayed her usual activity in every court of Europe, to induce England's allies to break with her, and to prevent her making new leagues. Walpole did his best to counteract these French influences. He managed to secure the Russian court, before in connection with France, and subsidised Sweden, Denmark, Hesse-Cassel, and some other of the German states. But at this crisis died the savage old Frederick William of Prussia; and his son Frederick now commenced that extraordinary military career which obtained him the name of Frederick the Great. England was of course anxious to secure the alliance of this young and enterprising monarch; and as the same animosity which had raged betwixt George of Hanover and the father was not necessarily continued betwixt him and the son, every exertion was made to obtain his friendship. The French, on the other hand, used equal assiduity to obtain his alliance; but Frederick, who had plans of his own, waited coolly, without encouraging the one or the other. It was not long before it was seen in what direction he would turn his ambition, and that his designs must necessarily sever him from England, and lead him into co-operation with France.

Although the late king of Prussia had made no great military campaigns, he had been proud of an army, and had left seventy-six thousand well-disciplined soldiers, and a million and a half sterling in his coffers. Temptingly adjoining his own territory, Frederick, the young king, beheld those of an equally young female sovereign, Maria Theresa of Austria, and he determined to extend his kingdom at her expense.

The emperor, Charles VI., died on the 20th of October of this year, leaving his daughter, Maria Theresa, sole possessor of his dominions. All the powers of Europe were bound, by their consent to the Pragmatic Sanction, to support her claims; but it required a very few months to show how little oaths and treaties bind monarchs. The year had not elapsed before the king of Prussia was in arms to wrest from her as much of her territory as possible, and numbers of the other powers were in equal haste to join him, and come in for a share of the plunder. The elector of Bavaria put in direct claims as a male heir to a great part of the Austrian dominions, and he declared that the female line could not succeed. He refused to recognise the accession of Maria Theresa; the rest of the powers of Europe did recognise it, but only to break with and help to make war on her. Of all these not one, besides England, stood by her. England, for her own sake, endeavoured to secure the interest of Prussia against France; and Horace Walpole drew up a plan of a grand confederacy against the house of Bourbon, in which Frederick was complimented by being placed at the head. But Frederick, though he did not yet throw off the mask, was planning a very different state of things, and the French were equally assiduous in endeavouring to er.gage him to declare for them, but in vain.

On the 15th of December Frederick gave a great masked ball at Berlin, and, at its close, mounted his horse, put himself at the head of thirty thousand men, and marched off, nobody at first knew whither. So far only he disclosed his intentions by saying to the French ambassador as he got on his horse, "I am going to play your game; if aces are dealt to me, we will go halves." This was a plain intimation that he was going to do what would subserve French interests; though, as to going halves of what he hoped to win, Frederick meant nothing less. The mystery of his movements was dissipated by his crossing, on the 23rd of December, the Austrian frontiers into Silesia. It was seen that it was the favourable opportunity of overpowering a weak neighbour which had tempted the Prussian robber to break his engagement, and to endeavour to make himself master of the domains of a defenceless young princess. But these royal robbers, who, if they succeed, are worshipped under the convenient name of conquerors, never lack an excuse for their conduct. Frederick, therefore, brought out some antiquated claims on the province of Silesia, and on these he justified his breach of treaties. The province was protestant, which was greatly in his favour, for it was only too glad to escape from the catholic yoke of Austria. There were very few troops in the province, so that it was easy for Frederick, at this season, when the world was dreaming nothing of campaigns, to make his way. The handful of Austrians retired before him; Breslau, the capital, harangued by an enthusiastic protestant shoemaker, and led by protestant sympathies, threw open its gates; Namslau and Ohlau were equally ready to receive the conqueror; and, by the middle of January, Frederick was master of the whole province. The Austrian troops had retired into Moravia.

Maria Theresa applied, in her alarm, to the powers who had concurred in the Pragmatic Sanction, but all except George II. fell away instantly from her. They believed her incapable of defending her territories, and hoped to come in for a share of the spoil. The elector of Bavaria joined Prussia; Saxony the same; France was eager for the promised half of the winnings; and Spain and Sardinia promised their secret support to Frederick. George II., confounded by this universal defection, advised Maria Theresa to compromise the affair with Prussia by giving up half Silesia, or the whole, if necessary; but the high-spirited queen rejected the proposal with scorn, and called on George to furnish the troops guaranteed by England under the Pragmatic Sanction. George could, however, only assemble some few soldiers on the Hanoverian frontier, but this obliged Frederick to appropriate a considerable section of his army to guard against any attack from Hanover. He went on through the winter increasing his army, and before spring he was able to dispatch thirty thousand more troops into Silesia.

The movements of Russia in this new outbreak of continental war had now to be determined by a new monarch. The czarina, Anne, died about the same time as the emperor of Austria, and was succeeded by Ivan, the infant grandson of her sister, the duchess of Mecklenburg. The Russians, impatient of being governed by a child, deposed him, and placed on the throne Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great. Elizabeth was of mature age, and of considerable ability; and she was eagerly importuned by both the belligerent parties to throw her weight into the scale. Whichever way this should incline, it must make an important difference.

George II. returned to England at the commencement of November, and opened parliament on the 18th. Affairs both at home and abroad wore a sombre hue. During his absence there had been riots in various parts of the kingdom, in consequence of the high price of bread. The military had been called out, had fired on the people, and had killed some of them. The Spaniards and other privateers continued to make havoc amongst our merchant vessels at sea. Walpole, who had done all in his power to avoid war, and who had told the people they would soon be wringing their hands instead of ringing their bells, was most unjustly blamed for these losses.

The king, in his speech on opening parliament, mentioned the fleets which we had dispatched to the West Indies and South America, and his determination to continue those armaments so as to bring Spain to reason. He professed to rely with confidence on our allies, when we had scarcely one left, whilst, in the same breath, he admitted the no longer doubtful hostility of France, and when almost the only ally we had - namely, Austria - was calling on us for assistance, instead of being able to yield us any, should we need it. On the proposal of the address, the opposition proceeded to condemn the whole management of the war. The duke of Argyll led the way, and was followed by Chesterfield, Carteret, Bathurst, and others, in a strain of extreme virulence against Walpole, calling him a minister who for almost twenty years had been demonstrating that he had neither wisdom nor conduct. In the commons Wyndham was no longer living to carry on the opposition warfare, but Pitt and Lyttleton more than supplied his place; and the criticisms on Walpole's administration were such as to call forth from him the bitterest rejoinders. In both houses the addresses were carried, but the attack was continued undertime form of calling for papers, and making motions on the subjects of the general management of affairs. Admiral Haddock was declared by him to have done nothing in the Mediterranean but what they called "the mean and mercantile services" of protecting the British commerce, blockading Cadiz, and defending Gibraltar and Port Mahon. They called on government to carry on the war with more vigour, and yet opposed any augmentation of the army.

The storm grew every day more violent, and on the 11th of February Sandys, who had acquired the name of "the motion-maker," announced that he intended to make a motion for a direct charge of condemnation of the minister, and for his removal from office. Walpole thanked Sandys for his announcement, and, laying his hand on his heart, said, with much emotion, "Nil conscire sibi, nulli pallescers culpse." A strange scene occurred, as passing in an assembly whose business it was, not to discuss points of prosody, but the laws of the nation. Pulteney declared Walpole's Latin as bad as his government; that Horace had written "nulla pallescere culpa." Walpole denied that, and offered to bet a guinea on his correct quotation. Pulteney accepted the bet, and left the decision to Nicholas Hardinge, clerk of the house, and a friend of Walpole, who decided that Walpole was wrong. Thereupon Walpole flung the guinea to Pulteney, who held it up, and exclaimed that it was the only money he had received from the treasury for many years, and that it should be the last.

On the following Friday Sandys made his threatened motion of condemnation. There was a rush to the house at an early hour; some members took possession of their seats by six o'clock in the morning, though the debate did not begin till one o'clock. The passages to the gallery were densely thronged, and a great crowd surrounded the house. Sandys began by lamenting the miserable condition to which the administration of Walpole had reduced us; that we were engaged in a war with one great power, and were menaced with it by another, without having one ally in the world left us; that we had accumulated an enormous debt, which was crushing us to the earth, independently of any extra war expenses; that we had reversed the wise old policy of the country, which treated France as she was - our determined enemy - and had vainly sought to make a friend of her, whereby we had forfeited the ancient friendship of Austria. He had the candour to admit the disastrous nature of the peace of Utrecht, but he contended that the Quadruple Alliance and the glorious victory of Byng over the Spanish fleet on the coast of Sicily ought to have counterbalanced all that. He contended, notwithstanding this, that we ought to have taken advantage of the indignation of Philip of Spain against the court of France, for having sent back the infanta after she had been affianced to Louis XV., and then have assisted him against France. Instead of that, we had, by the treaty of Hanover, united with France; and from that day England had been in a state of degradation, under the influences of French policy. He ran through all the succeeding negotiations, the act of the Pardo, the treaty of Seville, and all others, in the same strain. He charged Walpole with permitting Spain to wrest Naples and Sicily again from the emperor, and France to aggrandise itself by the acquisition of Lorraine. He accused him of having opposed the just merits and withheld the proper rank of admiral Vernon, because he had had the boldness to denounce the perfidy of France. He wound up his tirade on foreign affairs by expressing the utmost execration of the convention; and then, turning to domestic concerns, he laid the whole crime and ruin of the South Sea scheme at once on Walpole. That that minister had made a profit by that bubble was quite proof enough to Sandys that he had not only patronised it, but had blown it - though nothing was more notoriously untrue. He had a more just cause of blame against him in the treatment of the sinking fund, asserting that since 1727 it could not have produced less than fifteen millions, all which, he declared, had gone u in Spithead expeditions and Hyde Park reviews."

He next drew an awful picture of the general policy of the minister: his maintenance of a large standing army to exhaust and enslave the people; the enormous system of bribery and corruption which he had organised to secure his power; his passing laws of a very arbitrary tendency; his frequent votes of credit; his dismissal of officers of the army for voting against the excise scheme, which he characterised as one of the most mischievous projects ever conceived. He accused him generally of steady opposition to the abolition of all burthensome taxes, because such abolition would reduce the number of placemen and officers interested in maintaining his continuance in office.

Finally, he fell upon the management of the present war, in which he asserted that exactly everything had been done which ought not to have been "done, and everything left undone which ought to have been done; that it was at once one grand scene of mismanagement and party spite against those who rendered the highest services to the country, when those who performed them happened not to be his friends; and, as a striking proof of this, he pointed at the manner in which that great man, as he styled him, admiral Yernon, had been thwarted and ill-used by him. He described Walpole as a minister more hated than any wicked minister ever yet was, notwithstanding which, and his full knowledge of it, he had continued to hold office. This, the speaker declared, was evidence that this was no longer a free country, for a free people would never submit to be controlled by a minister whom they hated and despised. Rut, he added, he has been so much in league with the French, that he has imbibed their principles, and has introduced a practice familiar enough to them - that of a minister retaining place without regard to the feelings, wishes, or interests of the people. It was on this ground that he attributed all the evils of the country - not to the cabinet at large, but to this man in particular, because, he said, " this one person has grasped in his own hands every branch of government; this one person has attained the sole direction of affairs, monopolised all the favours of the crown, compassed the disposal of all places, pensions, titles, ribands, as well as all preferments, civil, military, and ecclesiastical; this one person has made a blind submission to his will, both in elections and parliament, the only terms of present favour and future expectation."

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