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Reign of William III. (Continued.) page 14

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The commons appear to have carried their object, that of branding the characters of these ministers, for they took no active steps to carry out the resolutions of impeachment. On the 5th of May the house of lords sent a message to the commons, reminding them that no articles had yet been exhibited by them against the noblemen whom they had impeached. The commons immediately drew up a charge against the earl of Orford, accusing him of having received enormous grants from the crown; of having been connected with the pirate Kydd in his lawless enterprise; of having committed gross abuses in managing and victualling the fleet whilst it lay on the coast of Spain; and finally, of having advised the partition treaty. The earl defended himself in the lords by stating that the only grant he had received from the crown was a very distant reversion, and ten thousand pounds after his defeat of the French fleet at La Hogue; that in Kydd's affair he had done nothing illegal, but had acted at his own cost and heavy loss for the benefit of the country; that his accounts for the fleet had been examined and passed, yet he was ready to waive any advantage on that score, and answer any charge brought against him; that as to the partition treaty, he denied having advised on the subject at all. No immediate replication was made to these statements by the commons. The king adjourned parliament, and on its reassembling, secretary Hedges informed the house that the States-General were resolved not to take any steps in the negotiation with France, without the concurrence of his majesty, and returned him their hearty thanks for the assistance promised in case of their being attacked by France.

The commons voted an additional aid to support this charge of three shillings in the pound as a tax on land; but at the same time they laid their hands on various sums which the court was treating quietly as its own, The fifty thousand pounds a year allotted as dowry to the queen of James II. not being paid, they claimed, as well as thirty thousand pounds a year fallen in by the death of Catherine, the queen of Charles II., and twenty thousand pounds a year by the death of the duke of Gloucester, and passed a resolution that this sum of one hundred thousand pounds a year should be appropriated to assist in defraying the public debt. This was extremely mortifying to the court, and many of the whigs, who were now anxious to win favour and regain power, voted against it, but in vain; the resolution was carried by two hundred and fourteen to one hundred and sixty-nine.

At this juncture the men of Kent manifested their old public spirit by sending in a petition, praying the house to endeavour to rise above their party squabbles, and to combine for the furtherance of the public business. The whole community were beginning to grow disgusted with the dissensions, which had evidently more of party rancour than patriotism at their bottom. This petition had been got up and signed by grand jurors, magistrates, and freeholders of the county assembled at Maidstone, and confided to Sir Thomas Hales, one of their members. But Sir Thomas, on looking over it, was so much alarmed, that he handed it to the other member, Mr. Meredith. Meredith, in his turn, was so impressed with the hazardous nature of the petition, that, on presenting it, he informed the house that some of the supporters of it, five gentlemen of fortune and distinction, were in the lobby and ready to attest their signatures. They were called in accordingly, and owned their signatures, when they were ordered to withdraw, and the petition was read. It concluded by saying, "that the experience of all ages made it manifest that no nation can be great or happy without union. We hope that no pretence whatever shall be able to create a misunderstanding amongst ourselves, or the least distrust of his most sacred majesty, whose great actions for this nation are writ in the hearts of his subjects, and can never, without the blackest ingratitude, be forgot. We most humbly implore this honourable house to have regard to the voice of the people, that our religion and safety may be effectually provided for, that your addresses may be turned into bills of supply, and that his most sacred majesty, whose propitious and unblemished reign over us we pray God long to continue, may be able powerfully to assist his allies before it is too late."

In proportion to the excellence of the advice was the indignation with which it was received by the angry commons. When men are conscious that they are acting from private motives of no very respectable kind under the mask of patriotism, the discovery that they are seen through invariably exasperates them. Accordingly, the house was furious at this very seasonable petition. Some of the members went out to the petitioners, and called upon them to make a proper submission to the affronted house; but they stoutly refused, contending that they had only done their duty; whereupon the house voted that the petition was scandalous, insolent, seditious, and tending to the destruction of the constitution; and they ordered the sergeant-at-arms to take the petitioners into custody. But the stout men of Kent were not secured without a vigorous resistance. They were then sent to the Gate-House; but their treatment only damaged the commons, for the public w ere greatly of the same opinion. Similar petitions were soon preparing in different quarters, and these gentlemen were much visited in their confinement, which continued till the prorogation. It was, moreover, much questioned whether the commons had not greatly outstripped their real authority, and infringed the statute of the 13th of Charles II., which guarantees the right of petition.

These angry proceedings were again interrupted by a message from the king, laying before them the critical state of Holland from the unprincipled encroachments of France. He accompanied them with a letter from the States-General, which detailed the French conduct, and then most earnestly implored the assistance of England. They relied, they said, on the treaty made with Charles II-in 1678, and they added - "We will tell you, sir, in what condition France puts itself, and your majesty will judge by that if our fear, which reanimates our demand, be ill-founded. France, not contented with having taken possession of all the places in the Netherlands that remain to Spain, has thrown into them, and causes actually every day formidable forces to march thither. They draw a line from the Scheldt, near Antwerp, to the Meuse; they are going to draw such a line, according to our advices, from Antwerp to Ostend; they send a numerous artillery into the places that are nearest to our frontier; they make with great diligence many magazines in Flanders, in Brabant, in Guelderland, and at Namur, which they fill with all sorts of ammunition for war and subsistence, besides the great stores for forage which they gather from all parts. They build forts under the cannon of our places; they have worked, and work still continually, to draw the princes that are our friends from our interests, to make them enter into their alliance, or to engage them to a neutrality at least. In short, by intrigues and divisions in the empire, they make our friends useless, and increase those of France. Thus we are almost surrounded on all sides, except on the side of the sea."

The last observation was meant to imply how completely the Dutch depended on the assistance from England which had been given so preeminently in the last war. But they did not content themselves with implying; they made the most direct and earnest appeals for it. They declared that they were worse off than when in a state of war, because then they could take measures to hinder these attempts. They declared that they were compelled to cut their dykes and overflow their country for protection; and they looked forward with deep alarm to the approaching summer.

This piteous appeal was confirmed by Mr. Stanhope, the English ambassador at the Hague. He complained of the double-dealing of D'Avaux, the French ambassador-extraordinary, and of the numbers of French troops pouring into the Netherlands, and of the transport of vast quantities of cannon, mortars, bombs, and ammunition which were advanced towards the frontiers. It was clear that France, which had always been the restless disturber of Europe, could not long remain quiet. It was not enough that it had obtained the long-desired dominion of Spain and all its dependencies; that acquisition only the more inspired it with the desire to domineer over every people within its reach. To William's great relief the commons, who, however averse to a continental war, were bound by treaties to support Holland, from which they could not at such a juncture recede with honour, took into consideration the papers and messages sent down to them by the king, and resolved to enable him to assist his allies in maintaining the liberties of Europe, and to provide the succours demanded by the States-General. On the heels of this resolution the emperor's ambassador, count Wratislaw, announced to the king his imperial master's determination to assert his rights to Spain and its dependencies in opposition to France. He stated that he was quite aware of the formidable nature of the attempt, but he relied on the support of the kings and princes who had entered into the late confederacy, and first and foremost on the king of England. He assumed that the old confederacy was still in force, and that all the parties to it were bound to furnish their stipulated quotas of men and money, though the treaty of Ryswick and the two partition treaties had virtually dissolved and superseded that compact. All parties were still looking to England to sacrifice herself for their particular interests, and the tone of the house of lords was of a kind to encourage this expectation. They sent to William an address, assuring him that they felt deeply the imminent danger of the States-General; that they regarded the interests of England and Holland as inseparable, and they prayed the king to renew all his treaties with his old allies, including the emperor of Germany, and expressed their confidence that his subjects would second his efforts in so righteous a cause as the defence of the liberties of Europe, with their property and their lives. They did not, however, conceal from him that they held him bound rather by treaties into which he had been led by fatal counsels, than by natural claims upon England had those treaties been kept clear of. William, notwithstanding this bitter drop in the cup of encouragement, thanked them for their address, assuring them that was a policy which would raise England to the pitch of national honour.

The tory party in the commons then returned to their prosecutions of the late whig ministers; but on the very day that the lords carried their martial address to the king at Kensington, Harley, the speaker of the commons, received a packet from the hands of a poor woman as he entered the house. Such an incident could not take place now, the commons having protected themselves from such irregular missives by making it necessary that all petitions should have the names of the places, as well as the persons whence they came, clearly stated, and be confided to the care of a member in good time for him to note its character and contents. This, however, turned out to be no petition, but a command. "The enclosed memorial," it was stated in a letter accompanying, "you are charged with in behalf of many thousands of the good people of England. There is neither popish, Jacobite, seditious, court, or party interest concerned in it, but honesty and truth. You are commanded by two hundred thousand Englishmen to deliver it to the house of commons, and to inform them that it is no banter, but serious truth, and a serious regard to it is expected. Nothing but justice and their duty is required; and it is required by them who have both a right to require and power to compel it - namely, the people of England. We could have come to the house strong enough to oblige you to hear us, but we have avoided any tumults, not desiring to embroil, but to serve our native country. If you refuse to communicate it to them, you will find cause in a short time to repent it."

This strange memorial was signed Legion, and charged the house with unwarrantable practices under fifteen heads. A new claim of right was arranged under seven heads. Amongst the reprehensible proceedings of the commons were stated to be, voting the partition treaty fatal to Europe, because it gave too much of the Spanish dominions to the French, and not concerning themselves to prevent them taking possession of them all. Deserting the Dutch when the French were almost at their doors, and till it was a1 most too late to help them, it declared to be unjust to our treaties, unkind to our confederates, dishonourable to the English nation, and negligent of the safety of both our neighbours and ourselves. Addressing the king to displace his friends on base surmises, before the legal trial or any article proven, which it pronounced illegal, contrary to the course of law, and putting execution before judgment. Delaying proceedings on impeachments to blast the reputations of the accused without proving the charges, which is illegal, oppressive, destructive to the liberties of Englishmen, and a reproach to parliaments. In the same strain it criticised the attacks on the king's person, especially those ofthat "impudent rascal John Howe," who had said openly that his majesty had made a felonious treaty. Insinuating that the partition treaty was a combination to rob the king of Spain, when it was quite as just as to blow up one man's house to save that of his neighbour. The commons were admonished to mend their ways, as shown to them in the memorial, on pain of incurring the resentment of an injured nation; and the document concluded thus, "for Englishmen are no more to be slaves to parliament than to kings - our name is Legion, and we are many."

No sooner was this paper read, than the blustering commons were filled with consternation. They summoned all the members of the house by the sergeant-at-arms; anticipations of sedition and tumult were expressed, and an address to his majesty was drawn up in all haste, calling on him to take measures for the public peace. Howe, one of the noisiest men in the house, and accustomed to say very bold things, and other tory members, declared their lives in danger; others got away into the country, believing that "Legion" was on the point of attacking the parliament. A committee was appointed to sit permanently in the speaker's chamber, to take every means for averting a catastrophe, with power to call before them all persons necessary for throwing light on the danger, and to examine all papers. At length, however, as "Legion" did not appear, and all remained quiet, the house began to recover its senses; it began at the same time to dawn upon their apprehensions, that they had been hoaxed by some clever wag. This wag was universally believed to be no other than Daniel Defoe, the inimitable author of "Robinson Crusoe," and one of the shrewdest political writers of the time. Defoe had seen the hollowness of the tory faction, which, under the mask of patriotism, was pursuing only its own malice, and must have luxuriated in the terror into which he had thrown them.

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