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Reign of George II page 2

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In England the Hanoverian dynasty and the Walpole ministry made rapid strides in popularity, and carried all before them. The new parliament met in January, 1728, and Walpole's party had in the house four hundred and twenty-seven members, all stanch in his support. Sir Spencer Compton being raised to the peerage, Mr. Arthur Onslow was elected speaker, and continued to exercise that office with unexampled eclat for three-and-thirty years. So strong was the party in power, that several measures were carried which at other times would raise much discontent. It was proposed by Horace Walpole that two hundred and thirty thousand pounds should be voted for maintaining twelve thousand Hesseans in the king's service. For this shameless proposal there was no possible excuse in the aspect of affairs either at home or abroad, which all tended to peace. It was palpable that the object was to guard Hanover and not to serve England; yet the proposal passed by two hundred and eighty votes against only eighty-four. The duke of Brunswick was by treaty to be paid twenty-five thousand pounds a year for four years, for the maintenance of five thousand more troops.

These things did not pass without remark by the opposition. Pulteney and Bolingbroke discussed them with much vigour and acrimony in the "Craftsman." It was assented in the house that the public burthens had increased instead of diminished since 1716; but Walpole contended that there had been a reduction of the debts to the amount of two million five hundred thousand pounds; and his statement was supported by a large majority, and it was laid before the king. The opposition then demanded an explanation of the expenditure of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds for secret service money. Pulteney asserted that this money had been spent in such a manner to foster corruption that ministers dare not bring it to the light. It was well understood that Walpole had used the greater part of it in buying up that triumphant majority which enabled him to carry the most obnoxious measures. The king had made a great merit, on coming to the throne, of dismissing the shoals of Germans which followed his father; yet here had parliament voted, by overwhelming majorities, the employment of no fewer than seventeen thousand Germans as soldiers. The demands of the opposition were so vehement, and the abuse was so glaring, that even Walpole was embarrassed how to get rid of the question. He could only recur to the old plea, that the money had been spent on services highly advantageous to the state, but which could not properly be made public. Suddenly events lifted him out of his difficulty. News arrived that the king of Spain, who declined to ratify the preliminaries of peace entered into at Vienna, on hearing of the death of George I., hoping for a revolution, had now given way, and had issued what was called the act of Pardo, ratifying the preliminaries, and referring all remaining difficulties to be settled at a congress to be held at Soissons.

Walpole read the dispatch to the house, and announced that now he could tell them without any difficulty how tho money had been spent - it was to procure this peace. Such was the manner in which Walpole carried his measures by the most daring audacity and the force of his huge majority. The excuse was accepted with a clamour of approbation. The question was instantly called for and carried without a division. The ministerial party continued increasing, and the son of the triumphant minister remarked that "a good majority, like a good sum of money, soon makes itself bigger."

At the congress which commenced in June, William Stanhope, Horace Walpole, and Poyntz appeared on behalf of England. At Paris lord Waldegrave supplied the placo of Horace Walpole; and at the Hague the earl of Chesterfield ably managed the national interests. But the congress made little progress; there was a frequent exchange of memorials and counter-memorials, but no accomplishment of real business. The only things which became apparent were that France and Spain were every day becoming more reconciled, and that the league betwixt Spain and the emperor was as fast dissolving.

The opening of the year 1729 was distinguished by the arrival of Frederick prince of Wales from Hanover. During the reign of George I. this young man had never been allowed to visit England, and there were now great rejoicings on his advent. He was a youth of popular manners, and great hopes were built upon him. But to his father his coming must have been anything but agreeable, for he commenced a system of opposition to the paternal authority precisely like what his father had practised towards his father, George I. He was now just twenty-one years of age.

The only measure of any importance in parliament during this session of a domestic nature was the barefaced voting by a large majority the grant of one hundred and fifteen thousand pounds to make up a pretended deficiency in the civil list. Walpole is said to have done all in his power to dissuade the king from this disgraceful measure, for no such deficiency existed, but George wanted the money. The reluctance with which Walpole conducted this affair through parliament was rendered the more galling by the determined opposition to it in the house of lords; and when it was forced upon it, as if it were a transaction to be buried in the deepest oblivion, the house would allow no report of its proceedings. In fact, no report of the peers' proceedings during this or the previous session remains. To make the matter the more scandalous - for it showed that the court was very conscious of its dishonest character - a vague clause was introduced into the act stipulating for the repayment of the sum at his majesty's death. It was never likely to be repaid at all; but even the semblance of a hope of repayment was postponed beyond his majesty's time.

The great difficulties of the government at this time were the settlement of the questions with Spain of the right to cut logwood in the bay of Campechy, and the retention of Gibraltar. The Spaniards had frequently resisted the cutting of logwood in the bay of Campechy by the English; and in 1717 the marquis of Monteleone had presented a memorial against it, but the board of trade contended that the practice was of old standing, and amounted to a right. This representation was now laid before the house of commons, and was backed by many petitions from the merchants of Loudon and other places, complaining of the interruptions to their trade to the South American and West Indian colonies, which had been carried on by connivance rather than by actual permission of Spain. There was a great fermentation in the public mind on these subjects, and the minister was accused of tamely submitting to national injuries. The nation seemed ready to rush into a war with Spain, and perhaps all the more so, that the king in his opening speech had observed that "an actual war was preferable to such a doubtful peace, but that the exchange was very easy to be made at any time."

The point, however, which excited the most indignation was that regarding Gibraltar. There was a strong feeling in the public mind that the government was willing to give up this fortress to Spain. The Spanish government was extremely urgent on the subject, declaring that there could be no peace, no truce with England, until it was surrendered.

It was recollected by the English public that Stanhope had actually offered to give it up, and it was not known whether any equivalent except the signing of the Quadruple Alliance had been demanded. When Stanhope had sounded the house of lords upon the subject, such a resentment was occasioned by the proposal, that he wrote to Sir Luke Schaub in Paris, saying that the only hope of Spain ever obtaining Gibraltar was by dropping all mention of it for the present. The French government had eagerly snatched at the proposal, for it would have greatly liked to see England deprived ofthat important fortress, and had held it out to Spain as an incentive to peace. Stanhope, in order to induce the French government to desist from this mischievous course, had made an express journey to Paris. But Spain had continued to be so pressing on the subject, that the king had been induced, by the consent of the lords-justices, to write a letter to Madrid, offering to give up Gibraltar for an equivalent, and by consent of his parliament. The king and queen of Spain would hear of no equivalent, nor of the consent of jparlia- ment; and George wrote a second letter, considerably modified. Spain considered this letter as an unconditional offer of surrender, and demanded its fulfilment. When Townshend came into office after the deaths of Stanhope and Craggs, the contest on this point still went on. The house of lords now demanded that the king's letter should be laid before them, which, after some reluctance, was done; and the opposition moved, "That effectual care be taken in any treaty that the king of Spain do renounce all claims to Gibraltar and Minorca in plain and strong terms." The ministers, however, carried a more moderate resolution – "That the house relies on his majesty for preserving his undoubted right to Gibraltar and Minorca." A similar discussion with a similar result took place in the commons. The government saw plainly that nothing would induce the English public to relinquish this important station.

No sooner, therefore, had the parliament closed and the king had set out to Hanover, than ministers sent off William Stanhope to Madrid to exert all his powers of persuasion to procure a treaty of peace without any mention of Gibraltar. On arriving at Madrid he found that the court had removed to Seville, in Andalusia. This had been done by the influence of the queen, in order to draw Philip from the council of Castile, which was doing all it could to prevail on him again to abdicate. Stanhope followed the court to Seville, and laboured with such effect that he obtained the signing of a treaty of defensive alliance betwixt England, Spain, and France, to which Holland afterwards acceded. By this treaty Spain revoked all the privileges granted to Austria by the treaties of Vienna, and re-established the English trade k with her American colonies on its former footing, restored all captures, and made compensation for losses. The Assiento was confirmed to the South Sea Company. Commissioners were appointed to settle all claims of Spaniards for ships taken in 1718, and to settle the limits of the American trade. The succession of Don Carlos to Parma and Tuscany was recognised, with the right to garrison the ports of Leghorn, Porto Ferraja, Parma, and Placentia, with six thousand Spanish troops. Not a word was said of Gibraltar - a silence amounting to a renunciation of its demand by Spain; and that Philip regarded it as such was evidenced by his beginning to construct the strong lines of San Roque, and thus to cut off all communication with the obnoxious fortress by land. Though the king gave up all hope of ever recovering Gibraltar, the people of Spain still clung to the idea, and for half a century continued to cherish hopes of its realisation. Mr. Keene, the English consul, was instructed to remonstrate against the construction of the lines of San Roque, or the Campo, which ran right across the sandy isthmus connecting the rock with Andalusian mainland; but he received for answer that the king would rather let himself be cut to pieces than desist, though the whole universe should fall on him; and that the English might as well pretend to Cadiz as to the spot where the line is. Nearly a century after this the English procured the destruction of these lines by a clever ruse. When the French in the great Napoleon war were advancing on San Roque, the people ran to seek protection under the guns of Gibraltar but the governor told them he could spare no artillery to protect the lines; that the French would seize and occupy them, and, therefore, it would be better to blow them up. The Spaniards consented, and not only the garrison, but nearly every inhabitant of Gibraltar, hastened to assist in this unexpected destruction of the fortifications which had so long shut them in from the mainland. There soon remained nothing of all these formidable defences but heaps of stones, which, owing to the tremendous batteries since erected to command them, are never likely to be again placed one upon the other.

William Stanhope was rewarded for his accomplishment of this treaty with the title of lord Harrington, and was soon after made secretary of state. But whilst the English were delighted by the completion of the treaty, the emperor was enraged by it, and his mortification was doubled by the fact that, when he sought to raise four hundred thousand pounds by a loan in London to supply the want of his Spanish subsidies, the ministry brought in and rapidly passed a bill prohibiting loans to foreign powers, except by a licence from the king under the privy seal. The opposition raised a loud outcry, calling it "a bill of terrors," an eternal yoke on our fellow-subjects, and a magnificent boon to the Dutch. But Walpole very justly answered, "Shall British merchants be permitted to lend their money against the British nation? Shall they arm an enemy with strength, and assist him with supplies?"

In the midst of this prosperous career, the two brothers- in-law, the ministers, began to differ in their views, and lord Townshend was soon driven, by the overbearing conduct of Walpole, to resign. Lady Townshend, the sister of Walpole, and even queen Caroline, exerted their influence for some time to put an end to these feuds; but lady Townshend soon died, and the queen, finding the breach inevitable, took the side of Walpole as the most indispensable servant of the crown. There were serious topics on which Townshend and Walpole differed, both domestic and foreign. Townshend did not approve of the length to which matters were carried against the emperor, and he was weary of the timid temper of the duke of Newcastle, and strongly urged his dismissal, and the employment of lord Chesterfield in his place; but a pension bill brought the quarrel to a crisis. The object of the bill, which was warmly supported by the whole opposition, was to prevent any man holding a pension, or who had any office held in trust for him, sitting in parliament. The king privately styled it "a villanous bill, which ought to be torn to pieces in every particular." Both Walpole and Townshend were of the same opinion; but Townshend was for openly opposing it, Walpole for letting it pass the commons, and be thrown out in the lords. This was the course which Walpole continued to pursue regarding this bill, for it was again and again brought forward during his whole administration. He sought to throw the odium of rejecting it from the commons to the lords. Townshend, to whom the odium of rejecting was thus carried in the lords, protested against this disingenuous conduct on the part of Walpole, and assured him that the ruse would soon be fully observed, and bring more unpopularity on him in the end than a manly, open opposition - which it did.

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