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Reign of George II page 13


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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."

In conclusion, he moved "that an humble address be presented to his majesty, that he would be graciously pleased to remove the right honourable Sir Robert Walpole from his majesty's presence and councils for ever."

This long and damnatory charge being concluded, in which there was, as usual on such occasions, a great deal of truth mingled with considerable falsity and exaggeration, it was seconded by lord Limerick, and then a warm discussion arose on the mode in which the debate should be continued. Mr. Wortley Montague, the husband of the celebrated lady Mary Wortley Montague, a man of enormous wealth, but dull and heavy as his wife was witty and sparkling, proposed that, according to many precedents, Sir Robert should be ordered to retire whilst his conduct was passed under review. This motion was seconded by Gibbon, and as strenuously opposed by Bromley and Howe. It was justly argued that the precedents quoted were unjust, and contrary to the genius of British judicature, and the majority were of this opinion. Gibbon then proposed that Walpole should make his reply and then retire, it being understood that neither his life, liberty, nor estate were involved in the decision. But it was contended that this was equally contrary to English ideas of justice and to precedent; that it was not to be expected that a gentleman should be charged by speeches only, unsupported by any documentary or other evidence, and that he should withdraw whilst members were at liberty to heap upon him any accusations that they pleased. The opposition, however, still made a great stand on this point, but its glaring injustice compelled them at last to give way, and it was determined that Sir Robert should hear all the charges to be advanced against him, and then finally to reply.

Then commenced a series of speeches from Pulteney, Pitt, Bootle, Fazakerley, Lyttleton, and others, in which the whole life and policy of Walpole were analysed with all the keenness, completeness, and ability which party feeling and such men furnished for this great occasion. Pulteney went over the ground traversed by Sandys with such striking similarity, though abounding with variations, as gave ground for the opinion that he had had the chief getting up of Sandys' speech. He dwelt particularly on the crime and folly of Walpole cultivating the French alliance at the expense of that of Austria, though it would have been difficult to show wherein Austria had contributed anything to us except expense and bloodshed in defence of its territories and claims. Pitt dwelt more particularly on the increase of the debt and the equal multiplication of taxes during the administration of Walpole. Whilst this was the case at home, abroad, he said, the whole system of Europe was overthrown; that a new and more awful struggle was coming upon the civilised world than it had ever yet known; and that it was absolutely necessary for the safety of the country that a minister who had lost the confidence of all mankind should be removed from his majesty's councils.

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