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ON A MOTION FOR INQUIRING INTO THE CONDUCT OF SIR ROBERT WALPOLE.
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
MARCH 9, 1742
SIR ROBERT WALPOLE was driven from power on the 11th of February, 1742. So greatly were the public excited against him, that the cry of "blood" was heard from every quarter; and a motion was made by Lord Limerick, on the 9th of March, 1742, for a committee "to inquire into the conduct of affairs at home and abroad during the last twenty years." This, of course, gave the widest scope for arraigning the conduct of the ex-minister; while, at the same time, no specific charges were requisite, because the question was simply on an inquiry, which was expected to develop the evidence of his guilt.
This motion was strongly opposed by Walpole's friends, and especially by Mr. Henry Pelham, who remarked, in allusion to one of the preceding speakers, that "it would very much shorten the debate if gentlemen would keep close to the argument, and not run into long harangues or flowers of rhetoric, which might be introduced upon any other subject as well as the present." Mr. Pitt followed, and took his exordium from this sarcasm of Mr. Pelham. He then went fully, and with great severity of remark, into a review of the most important measures of Walpole's administration. This led him over the same ground which had been previously traversed by Walpole, in his defense against the attack of Mr. Sandys and others about a year before. The reader will therefore find it interesting to compare this speech on the several points, as they come up, with that of Walpole, which is given on a preceding page. He will there see some points explained in the notes, by means of evidence which was not accessible to the public at the time of this discussion.
WHAT the gentlemen on the other side mean by long harangues or flowers of rhetoric, I shall not pretend to determine. But if they make use of nothing of the kind, it is no very good argument of their sincerity, because a man who speaks from his heart, and is sincerely affected with the subject upon which he speaks (as every honest man must be when he speaks in the cause of his country), such a man, I say, falls naturally into expressions which may be called flowers of rhetoric; and, therefore, deserves as little to be charged with affectation, as the most stupid sergeant-at-law that ever spoke for a half-guinea fee. For my part, I have heard nothing in favor of the question but what I think very proper, and very much to the purpose. What has been said, indeed, on the other side of the question, especially the long justification that has been made of our late measures, I can not think so proper; because this motion is founded upon the present melancholy situation of affairs, and upon the general clamor without doors, against the conduct of our late public servants. Either of these, with me, shall always be a sufficient reason for agreeing to a parliamentary inquiry; because, without such inquiry, I can not, even in my own mind, enter into the disquisition whether our public measures have been right or not; without such inquiry, I can not be furnished with the necessary information.
But the honorable gentlemen who oppose this motion seem to mistake, I do not say willfully, the difference between a motion for an impeachment and a motion for an inquiry. If any member of this House were to stand up in his place, and move to impeach a minister, he would be obliged to charge him with some particular crimes or misdemeanors, and produce some proof, or declare that he was ready to prove the facts. But any gentleman may move for an inquiry, without any particular allegation, and without offering any proof, or declaring what he is ready to prove; because the very design of an inquiry is to find out particular facts and particular proofs. The general circumstances of things, or general rumors without doors, are a sufficient foundation for such a motion, and for the House agreeing to it when it is made. This, sir, has always been the practice, and has been the foundation of almost all the inquiries that have ever been set on foot in this House, especially those that have been carried on by secret and select committees. What other foundation was there for the secret committee appointed in the year 1694 (to go no further back), to inquire into, and inspect the books and accounts of the East India Company, and of the Chamberlain of London?1 Nothing but a general rumor that some corrupt practices had been made use of. What was the foundation of the inquiry in the year 1715?2 Did the honorable gentleman who moved the appointment of the secret committee upon the latter occasion, charge the previous administration with any particular crimes? Did he offer any proofs, or declare that he was ready to prove any thing? It is said, the measures pursued by that administration were condemned by a great majority of the House of Commons. What, sir! were those ministers condemned before they were heard? Could any gentleman be so unjust as to pass sentence, even in his own mind, upon a measure before he had inquired into it? He might, perhaps, dislike the Treaty of Utrecht, but, upon inquiry, it might appear to be the best that could be obtained; and it has since been so far justified, that it appears at least as good, if not better, than any treaty we have subsequently made.
Sir, it was not the Treaty of Utrecht, nor any measure openly pursued by the administration which negotiated it, that was the foundation or the cause of an inquiry into their conduct. It was the loud complaints of a great party against them; and the general suspicion of their having carried on treasonable negotiations in favor of the Pretender, and for defeating the Protestant Succession. The inquiry was set on foot in order to detect those practices, if any such existed, and to find proper evidence for convicting the offenders. The same argument holds with regard to the inquiry into the management of the South Sea Company in the year 1721.3 When that affair was first moved in the House by Mr. Neville, he did not, he could not, charge the directors of that company, or any of them, with any particular delinquencies; nor did he attempt to offer, or say that he was ready to offer, any particular proofs. His motion was, "That the directors of the South Sea Company should forthwith lay before the House an account of their proceedings," and it was founded upon the general circumstances of things, the distress brought upon the public credit of the nation, and the general and loud complaints without doors. This motion, indeed, reasonable as it was, we know was opposed by the Court party at the time, and, in particular, by two doughty brothers,4 who have been attached to the Court ever since; but their opposition raised such a warmth in the House, that they were glad to give it up, and never after durst directly oppose that inquiry. I wish I could now see the same zeal for public justice. The circumstances of affairs I am sure deserve it. Our public credit was then, indeed, brought into distress; but now the nation itself, nay, not only this nation, but all our friends upon the Continent, are brought into the most imminent danger.
This, sir, is admitted even by those who oppose this motion; and if they have ever lately conversed with those that dare speak their minds, they must admit, that the murmurs of the people against the conduct of the administration are now as general and as loud as ever they were upon any occasion. But the misfortune is, that gentlemen who are in office seldom converse with any but such as either are, or want to be, in office; and such men, let them think as they will, will always applaud their superiors; consequently, gentlemen who are in the administration, or in any office under it, can rarely know the voice of the people. The voice of this House was formerly, I grant, and always ought to be, the voice of the people. If new Parliaments were more frequent, and few placemen, and no pensioners, admitted, it would be so still; but if long Parliaments be continued, and a corrupt influence should prevail, not only at elections, but in this House, the voice of this House will generally be very different from, nay, often directly contrary to, the voice of the people. However, as this is not, I believe, the case at present, I hope there is a majority of us who know what is the voice of the people. And if it be admitted by all that the nation is at present in the utmost distress and danger, if it be admitted by a majority that the voice of the people is loud against the conduct of our late administration, this motion must be agreed to, because I have shown that these two circumstances, without any particular charge, have been the foundation of almost every parliamentary inquiry.
I readily admit, sir, that we have very little to do with the character or reputation of a minister, but as it always does, and must affect our sovereign. But the people may become disaffected as well as discontented, when they find the King continues obstinately to employ a minister who, they think, oppresses them at home and betrays them abroad. We are, therefore, in duty to our sovereign, obliged to inquire into the conduct of a minister when it becomes generally suspected by the people, in order that we may vindicate his character if he be innocent of the charges brought against him, or, if he be guilty, that we may obtain his removal from the councils of our sovereign, and also condign punishment on his crimes.
After having said thus much, sir, I need scarcely answer what has been asserted, that no parliamentary inquiry ought ever to be instituted, unless we are convinced that something has been done amiss. Sir, the very name given to this House of Parliament proves the contrary. We are called The Grand Inquest of the Nation; and, as such, it is our duty to inquire into every step of public management, both abroad and at home, in order to see that nothing has been done amiss. It is not necessary, upon every occasion, to establish a secret committee. This is never necessary but when the affairs to be brought before it, or some of those affairs, are supposed to be of such a nature as to require secrecy. But, as experience has shown that nothing but a superficial inquiry is ever made by a general committee, or a committee of the whole House, I wish that all estimates and accounts, and many other affairs, were respectively referred to select committees. Their inquiries would be more exact, and the receiving of their reports would not occupy so much of our time as is represented. But, if it did, our duty being to make strict inquiries into every thing relative to the public, our assembling here being for that purpose, we must perform our duty before we break up; and his present Majesty, I am sure, will never put an end to any session till that duty has been fully performed.
It is said by some gentlemen, that by this inquiry we shall be in danger of discovering the secrets of our government to our enemies. This argument, sir, by proving too much, proves nothing. If it were admitted, it would always have been, and its admission forever will be, an argument against our inquiring into any affair in which our government can be supposed to be concerned. Our inquiries would then be confined to the conduct of our little companies, or of inferior custom-house officers and excisemen; for, if we should presume to inquire into the conduct of commissioners or of great companies, it would be said the government had a concern in their conduct, and the secrets of government must not be divulged. Every gentleman must see that this would be the consequence of admitting such an argument. But, besides, it is false in fact, and contrary to experience. We have had many parliamentary inquiries into the conduct of ministers of state; and yet I defy any one to show that any state affair which ought to have been concealed was thereby discovered, or that our affairs, either abroad or at home, ever suffered by any such discovery. There are methods, sir, of preventing papers of a very secret nature from coming into the hands of the servants attending, or even of all the members of a secret committee. If his Majesty should, by message, inform us, that some of the papers sealed up and laid before us required the utmost secrecy, we might refer them to our committee, instructing them to order only two or three of their number to inspect such papers, and to report from them nothing but what they thought might safely be communicated to the whole. By this method, I presume, the danger of discovery would be effectually removed; this danger, therefore, is no good argument against a parliamentary inquiry.
The other objection, sir, is really surprising, because it is founded upon a circumstance which, in all former times, has been admitted as a strong argument in favor of an immediate inquiry. The honorable gentlemen are so ingenuous as to confess that our affairs, both abroad and at home, are at present in the utmost embarrassment; but, say they, you ought to free yourselves from this embarrassment before you inquire into the cause of it. Sir, according to this way of arguing, a minister who has plundered and betrayed his country, and fears being called to an account in Parliament, has nothing to do but to involve his country in a dangerous war, or some other great distress, in order to prevent an inquiry into his conduct; because he may be dead before that war is at an end, or that distress is surmounted. Thus, like the most detestable of all thieves, after plundering the house, he has only to set it on fire, that he may escape in the confusion. It is really astonishing to hear such an argument seriously urged on this House. But, say these gentlemen, if you found yourself upon a precipice, would you stand to inquire how you were led there, before you considered how to get off? No, sir; but if a guide had led me there, I should very probably be provoked to throw him over, before I thought of any thing else. At least I am sure I should not trust to the same guide for bringing me off; and this, sir, is the strongest argument that can be used for an inquiry.
We have been, for these twenty years, under the guidance, I may truly say, of one man--of one single minister. We now, at last, find ourselves upon a dangerous precipice. Ought we not, then, immediately to inquire, whether we have been led upon this precipice by his ignorance or wickedness; and if by either, to take care not to trust to his guidance for our safety? This is an additional and a stronger argument for this inquiry than ever was urged for any former one, for, if we do not inquire, we shall probably remain under his guidance; because, though he be removed from the Treasury Board, he is not removed from the King's Court, nor will he be, probably, unless it be by our advice, or unless we lodge him in a place at the other end of the town [i. e., the Tower], where he can not so well injure his country. Sir, our distress at home evidently proceeds from want of economy, and from our having incurred many unnecessary expenses. Our distress and danger abroad are evidently owing to the misconduct of the war with Spain, and to the little confidence which our natural and ancient allies have reposed in our councils. This is so evident, that I should not think it necessary to enter into any particular explanation, if an honorable gentleman on the other side had not attempted to justify most of our late measures both abroad and at home. But as he has done so, though not, in my opinion, quite to the purpose of the present debate, I hope I shall be allowed to make some remarks upon what he has said on the subject; beginning, as he did, with the measures taken for punishing the South Sea directors, and restoring public credit after the terrible shock it received in the year 1720.
As those measures, sir, were among the first exploits of our late (I fear I must call him our present) prime minister, and as the committee proposed, if agreed to, will probably consist of one-and-twenty members, I wish the motion had extended one year further back, that the number of years might have corresponded with the number of inquirers, and that it might have comprehended the first of those measures to which I have before alluded. As it now stands, it will not comprehend the methods taken for punishing the directors [of the South Sea Company], nor the first regulation made for restoring public credit; and with regard to both, some practices might be discovered that would deserve a much severer punishment than any of those directors experienced. Considering the many frauds made use of by the directors and their agents for luring people to their ruin, I am not a little surprised to hear it now said that their punishment was considered too severe. Justice by the lump was an epithet given to it, not because it was thought too severe, but because it was an artifice to screen the most heinous offenders, who, if they did not deserve death, deserved, at least, to partake of that total ruin which they had brought upon many unthinking men. They very ill deserved, sir, those allowances which were made them by Parliament
Then, sir, as to public credit, its speedy restoration was founded upon the conduct of the nation, and not upon the wisdom or justice of the measures adopted. Was it a wise method to remit to the South Sea Company the whole seven millions, or thereabouts, which they had solemnly engaged to pay to the public? It might as well be said, that a private man's giving away a great part of his estate to those who no way deserved it, would be a wise method of reviving or establishing his credit. If those seven millions had been distributed among the poor sort of annuitants, it would have been both generous and charitable; but to give it among the proprietors in general was neither generous nor just, because most of them deserved no favor from the public. As the proceedings of the directors were authorized by general courts, those who were then the proprietors were in some measure accessary to the frauds of the directors, and therefore deserved to be punished rather than rewarded, as they really were; because every one of them who continued to hold stock in that company received nearly fifty per cent., added to his capital, most part of which arose from the high price annuitants were, by act of Parliament, obliged to take stock at, and was therefore a most flagrant piece of injustice done to the annuitants. But we need not be at a loss for the true cause of this act of injustice, when we consider that a certain gentleman had a great many friends among the old stockholders, and few or none among the annuitants.
Another act of injustice, which I believe we may ascribe to the same cause, relates to those who were engaged in heavy contracts for stock or subscription, many of whom groan under the load to this very day. For after we had, by act of Parliament, quite altered the nature, though not the name, of the stock they had bought, and made it much less valuable than it was when they engaged to pay a high price for it, it was an act of public injustice to leave them liable to be prosecuted at law for the whole money which they had engaged to pay. I am sure this was not the method to restore that private credit upon which our trade and navigation so much depend. Had the same regulation been here adopted which was observed toward those who had borrowed money of the company, or had a sort of uti possidetis been enacted, by declaring all such contracts void so far as related to any future payments, this would not have been unjust; on the contrary, such a regulation, sir, was extremely necessary for quieting the minds of the people, for preventing their ruining one another at law, and for restoring credit between man and man. But there is reason to suppose that a certain gentleman [Walpole] had many friends among the sellers in those contracts, and very few among the buyers, which was the reason that the latter could obtain little or no relief or mercy by any public law or regulation.
Then, sir, with regard to the extraordinary grants made to the civil list, the very reason given by the honorable gentleman for justifying those grants is a strong reason for an immediate inquiry. If considerable charges have arisen upon that revenue, let us see what they are; let us examine whether they were necessary. We have the more reason to do this, because the revenue settled upon his late Majesty's civil list was at least as great as that which was settled upon King William or Queen Anne. Besides, there is a general rumor without doors, that the civil list is now greatly in arrear, which, if true, renders an inquiry absolutely necessary. For it is inconsistent with the honor and dignity of the Crown of these kingdoms to be in arrear to its tradesmen and servants; and it is the duty of this House to take care that the revenue which we have settled for supporting the honor and dignity of the Crown, shall not be squandered or misapplied. If former Parliaments have failed in this respect, they must be censured, though they can not be punished; but we ought now to atone for their neglect.
I come now, in course, to the Excise Scheme, which the honorable gentleman says ought to be forgiven, because it was easily given up.5 Sir, it was not easily given up. The promoter of that scheme did not easily give it up; he gave it up with sorrow, with tears in his eyes, when he saw, and not until he saw, it was impossible to carry it through the House. Did not his majority decrease upon every division? It was almost certain that if he had pushed it farther, his majority would have turned against him. His sorrow showed his disappointment; and his disappointment showed that his design was deeper than simply to prevent frauds in the customs. He was, at that time, sensible of the influence of the excise laws and excise men with regard to elections, and of the great occasion he should have for that sort of influence at the approaching general election. His attempt, sir, was most flagrant against the Constitution; and he deserved the treatment he met with from the people. It has been said that there were none but what gentlemen are pleased to call the mob concerned in burning him in effigy;6 but, as the mob consists chiefly of children, journeymen, and servants, who speak the sentiments of their parents and masters, we may thence judge of the sentiments of the higher classes of the people.
The honorable gentleman has said, these were all the measures of a domestic nature that could be found fault with, because none other have been mentioned in this debate. Sir, he has already heard one reason assigned why no other measures have been particularly mentioned and condemned in this debate. If it were necessary, many others might be mentioned and condemned. Is not the maintaining so numerous an army in time of peace to be condemned? Is not the fitting out so many expensive and useless squadrons to be condemned? Are not the encroachments made upon the Sinking Fund;7
the reviving the salt duty; the rejecting many useful bills and motions in Parliament, and many other domestic measures, to be condemned? The weakness or the wickedness of these measures has often been demonstrated. Their ill consequences were at the respective times foretold, and those consequences are now become visible by our distress.
Now, sir, with regard to the foreign measures which the honorable gentleman has attempted to justify. The Treaty of Hanover deserves to be first mentioned, because from thence springs the danger in which Europe is now exposed; and it is impossible to assign a reason for our entering into that treaty, without supposing that we then resolved to be revenged on the Emperor for refusing to grant us some favor in Germany. It is in vain now to insist upon the secret engagements entered into by the courts of Vienna and Madrid as the cause of that treaty. Time has fully shown that there never were any such engagements,8 and his late Majesty's speech from the throne can not here be admitted as any evidence of the fact. Every one knows that in Parliament the King's speech is considered as the speech of the minister; and surely a minister is not to be allowed to bring his own speech as an evidence of a fact in his own justification. If it be pretended that his late Majesty had some sort of information, that such engagements had been entered into, that very pretense furnishes an unanswerable argument for an inquiry. For, as the information now appears to have been groundless, we ought to inquire into it; because, if it appears to be such information as ought not to have been believed, that minister ought to be punished who advised his late Majesty to give credit to it, and who, in consequence, has precipitated the nation into the most pernicious measures.
At the time this treaty was entered into, we wanted nothing from the Emperor upon our own account. The abolition of the Ostend Company was a demand we had no right to make, nor was it essentially our interest to insist upon it, because that Company would have been more hostile to the interests both of the French and Dutch East India trades than to our own; and if it had been a point that concerned us much, we might probably have gained it by acceding to the Vienna treaty between the Emperor and Spain, or by guaranteeing the Pragmatic Sanction,9 which we afterward did in the most absolute manner, and without any conditions.10 We wanted nothing from Spain but a relinquishment of the pretense she had just begun, or, I believe, hardly begun, to set up, in an express manner, with regard to searching and seizing our ships in the American seas; and this we did not obtain, perhaps did not desire to obtain, by the Treaty of Seville.11 By that treaty we obtained nothing; but we advanced another step toward that danger in which Europe is now involved, by uniting the courts of France and Spain, and by laying a foundation for a new breach between the courts of Spain and Vienna.
I grant, sir, that our ministers appear to have been forward and diligent enough in negotiating, and writing letters and memorials to the court of Spain; but, from all my inquiries, it appears that they never rightly understood (perhaps they would not understand) the point respecting which they were negotiating. They suffered themselves to be amused with fair promises for ten long years; and our merchants plundered, our trade interrupted, now call aloud for inquiry. If it should appear that ministers allowed themselves to be amused with answers which no man of honor, no man of common sense, in such circumstances, would take, surely, sir, they must have had some secret motive for being thus grossly imposed on. This secret motive we may perhaps discover by an inquiry; and as it must be a wicked one, if it can be discovered, the parties ought to be severely punished.
But, in excuse for their conduct, it is said that our ministers had a laudable repugnance to involving their country in a war. Sir, this repugnance could not proceed from any regard to their country. It was involved in a war. Spain was carrying on a war against our trade, and that in the most insulting manner, during the whole time of their negotiations. It was this very repugnance, at least it was the knowledge of it which Spain possessed, that at length made it absolutely necessary for us to commence the war. If ministers had at first insisted properly and peremptorily upon an explicit answer, Spain would have expressly abandoned her new and insolent claims and pretensions. But by the long experience we allowed her, she found the fruits of those pretensions so plentiful and so gratifying, that she thought them worth the hazard of a war. Sir, the damage we had sustained became so considerable, that it really was worth that hazard. Besides, the court of Spain was convinced, while we were under such an administration, that either nothing could provoke us to commence the war, or, that if we did, it would be conducted in a weak and miserable manner. Have we not, sir, since found that their opinion was correct? Nothing, sir, ever more demanded a parliamentary inquiry than our conduct in the war. The only branch into which we have inquired we have already censured and condemned. Is not this a good reason for inquiring into every other branch? Disappointment and ill success have always, till now, occasioned a parliamentary inquiry. Inactivity, of itself, is a sufficient cause for inquiry. We now have all these reasons combined. Our admirals abroad desire nothing more; because they are conscious that our inactivity and ill success will appear to proceed, not from their own misconduct, but from the misconduct of those by whom they were employed.
I can not conclude, sir, without taking notice of the two other foreign measures mentioned by the honorable gentleman. Our conduct in the year 1734, with regard to the war between the Emperor and France, may be easily accounted for, though not easily excused. Ever since the last accession of our late minister to power, we seem to have had an enmity to the house of Austria. Our guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction was an effect of that enmity, because we entered into it when, as hath since appeared, we had no intention to perform our engagement; and by that false guarantee we induced the Emperor to admit the introduction of the Spanish troops into Italy, which he would not otherwise have done.12 The preparations we made in that year, the armies we raised, and the fleet we fitted out, were not to guard against the event of the war abroad, but against the event of the ensuing elections at home. The new commissions, the promotions, and the money laid out in these preparations, were of admirable use at the time of a general election, and in some measure atoned for the loss of the excise scheme. But France and her allies were well convinced, that we would in no event declare against them, otherwise they would not then have dared to attack the Emperor; for Muscovy, Poland, Germany, and Britain would have been by much an over-match for them. It was not our preparations that set bounds to the ambition of France, but her getting all she wanted at that time for herself, and all she desired for her allies. Her own prudence suggested that it was not then a proper time to push her views further; because she did not know but that the spirit of this nation might overcome (as it since has with regard to Spain) the spirit of our administration; and should this have happened, the house of Austria was then in such a condition, that our assistance, even though late, would have been of effectual service.
I am surprised, sir, to hear the honorable gentleman now say, that we gave up nothing, or that we acquired any thing, by the infamous Convention with Spain. Did we not give up the freedom of our trade and navigation, by submitting it to be regulated by plenipotentiaries? Can freedom be regulated without being confined, and consequently in some part destroyed? Did we not give up Georgia, or some part of it, by submitting to have new limits settled by plenipotentiaries? Did we not give up all the reparation of the damage we had suffered, amounting to five or six hundred thousand pounds, for the paltry sum of twenty-seven thousand pounds? This was all that Spain promised to pay, after deducting the sixty-eight thousand pounds which we, by the declaration annexed to that treaty, allowed her to insist on having from our South Sea Company, under the penalty of stripping them of the Assiento Contract, and all the privileges to which they were thereby entitled. Even this sum of twenty-seven thousand pounds, or more, they had before acknowledged to be due on account of ships they allowed to have been unjustly taken, and for the restitution of which they had actually sent orders: so that by this infamous treaty we acquired nothing, while we gave up every thing. Therefore, in my opinion, the honor of this nation can never be retrieved unless the advisers and authors of it be censured and punished. This, sir, can not regularly be done without a parliamentary inquiry.
By these, and similar weak, pusillanimous, and wicked measures, we are become the ridicule of every court in Europe, and have lost the confidence of all our ancient allies. By these measures we have encouraged France to extend her ambitious views, and now at last to attempt carrying them into execution. By bad economy, by extravagance in our domestic measures, we have involved ourselves in such distress at home, that we are almost wholly incapable of entering into a war; while by weakness or wickedness in our foreign measures, we have brought the affairs of Europe into such distress that it is almost impossible for us to avoid it. Sir, we have been brought upon a dangerous precipice. Here we now find ourselves; and shall we trust to be led safely off by the same guide who has led us on? Sir, it is impossible for him to lead us off. Sir, it is impossible for us to get off, without first recovering that confidence with our ancient allies which formerly we possessed. This we can not do, so long as they suppose that our councils are influenced by our late minister; and this they will suppose so long as he has access to the King's closet--so long as his conduct remains uninquired into and uncensured. It is not, therefore, in revenge for our past disasters, but from a desire to prevent them in future, that I am now so zealous for this inquiry. The punishment of the minister, be it ever so severe, will be but a small atonement for the past. But his impunity will be the source of many future miseries to Europe, as well as to his country. Let us be as merciful as we will, as merciful as any man can reasonably desire, when we come to pronounce sentence; but sentence we must pronounce. For this purpose, unless we are resolved to sacrifice out own liberties, and the liberties of Europe, to the preservation of one guilty man, we must make the inquiry.
The motion was rejected by a majority of two. A second motion was made a fortnight after, for an inquiry into the last ten years of Walpole's administration, which gave rise to another speech of Mr. Pitt. This will next be given.
1. See Parl. Hist. vol. v., p. 896 and 900.
2. Ibid., vol. vii., p. 53.
3. Ibid., p. 685
4. Sir Robert and Mr. Horatio Walpole.
5. The Excise Scheme of Sir Robert Walpole was simply a warehousing system, under which the duties on tobacco and wine were payable, not when the articles were imported, but when they were taken out to be consumed. It was computed, that, in consequence of the check which this change in the mode of collecting the duties on these articles would give to smuggling, the revenue would derive an increase which, with the continuance of the salt tax (revived the preceding year), would be amply sufficient to compensate for the total abolition of the land tax. The political opponents of Sir Robert Walpole, by representing his proposition as a scheme for a general excise, succeeded in raising so violent a clamor against it, and in rendering it so unpopular, that, much against his own inclination, he was obliged to abandon it. It was subsequently approved of by Adam Smith; and Lord Chatham, at a later period of his life, candidly acknowledged, that his opposition to it was founded in misconception. For an interesting account of the proceedings relative to the Excise Scheme, see Lord Hervey's Memoirs of the Court of George II., chaps. viii. and ix.
6. See Lord Hervey's Memoirs of the Court of George II., vol. i., p. 203.
7. In the year 1717, the surplus of the public income over the public expenditure, was converted into what was called The Sinking Fund, for the purpose of liquidating the national debt. During the whole reign of George I., this fund was invariably appropriated to the object for which it had been created; and, rather than encroach upon it, money was borrowed upon new taxes, when the supplies in general might have been raised by dedicating the surplus of the old taxes to the current services of the year. The first direct encroachment upon the Sinking Fund took place in the year 1729, when the interest of a sum of £1,250,000, required for the current service of the year, was charged on that fund, instead of any new taxes being imposed upon the people to meet it. The second encroachment took place in the year 1731, when the income arising from certain duties which had been imposed in the reign of William III., for paying the interest due to the East India Company, and which were now no longer required for that purpose, in consequence of their interest being reduced, was made use of in order to raise a sum of £1,200,000, instead of throwing such income into the Sinking Fund, as ought properly to have been done. A third perversion of this fund took place in the year 1733, before the introduction of the Excise Scheme. In the previous year the land tax had been reduced to one shilling in the pound; and, in order to maintain it at the same rate, the sum of £500,000 was taken from the Sinking Fund and applied to the services of the year. In 1734 the sum of £1,200,000, the whole produce of the Sinking Fund, was taken from it; and in 1735 and 1736, it was anticipated and alienated.-- Sinclair's Hist. of the Revenue, vol. i., p. 484, et seq. Coxe's Walpole, chap. xl.
8. Here Lord Chatham was mistaken. It is now certainly known that secret engagements did exist, and there is no reason to doubt that the most important of them were correctly stated by Walpole. They were said to have been to the effect that the Emperor should give in marriage his daughters, the two arch-duchesses, to Don Carlos and Don Philip, the two Infants of Spain; that he should assist the King of Spain in obtaining by force the restitution of Gibraltar, if good offices would not avail; and that the two courts should adopt measures to place the Pretender on the throne of Great Britain. The fact of there having been a secret treaty, was placed beyond doubt by the Austrian embassador at the court of London having shown the article relating to Gibraltar in that treaty, in order to clear the Emperor of having promised any more than his good offices and mediation upon that head. (Coxe's History of the House of Austria, chap. xxxvii.) With reference to the stipulation for placing the Pretender on the throne of Great Britain, Mr. J. W. Croker, in a note to Lord Hervey's Memoirs of the Court of George II., vol. i., p. 78, says that its existence "is very probable;" but that it is observable that Lord Hervey, who revised his Memoirs some years after the 29th of March, 1734, when Sir Robert Walpole asserted in the House of Commons that there was such a document, and who was so long in the full confidence of Walpole, speaks very doubtfully of it.
9. On the 2d of August, 1718, the Emperor Charles VI. promulgated a new law of succession for the inheritance of the house of Austria, under the name of the Pragmatic Sanction. In this he ordained that, in the event of his having no male issue, his own daughters should succeed to the Austrian throne, in preference to the daughters of his elder brother, as previously provided; and that such succession should be regulated according to the order of primogeniture, so that the elder should be preferred to the younger, and that she should inherit his entire dominions.
10. By the second Treaty of Vienna, concluded on the 16th of March, 1731, England guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction on the condition of the suppression of the Ostend Company, and that the arch-duchess who succeeded to the Austrian dominions should not be married to a prince of the house of Bourbon, or to a prince so powerful as to endanger the balance of Europe.--Coxe's House of Austria, chap. lxxxviii.
11. By the Treaty of Seville, concluded between Great Britain, France, and Spain, on the 9th of September, 1729, and shortly after acceded to by Holland, all former treaties were confirmed, and the several contracting parties agreed to assist each other in case of attack. The King of Spain revoked the privileges of trade which he had granted to the subjects of Austria by the Treaty of Vienna, and commissioners were to be appointed for the final adjustment of all commercial difficulties between Spain and Great Britain. In order to secure the succession of Parma and Tuscany to the Infant Don Carlos, it was agreed that 6000 Spanish troops should be allowed to garrison Leghorn, Porto Ferrajo, Parma, and Placentia. This treaty passed over in total silence the claim of Spain to Gibraltar.
12. See Walpole's explanation of his reason for remaining neutral in his speech, page 39. Although England remained neutral during the progress of these hostilities, she augmented her naval and military forces, "in order," said Mr. Pelham, in the course of the debate, "to be ready to put a stop to the arms of the victorious side, in case their ambition should lead them to push their conquests further than was consonant with the balance of power in Europe."-- Parl. Hist., vol. xii., p. 479.
*Scanned for Classicpersuasion.org from the first edition of Select British Eloquence, edited with notes by Chauncey A. Goodrich (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1852)
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