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the mistake of the Opposition was a natural one, and we have no doubt that the majority of them honestly believed Walpole to be a flagrant criminal, using to violate the Constitution the power he had acquired by corrupting its natural protectors.
This was, so far, the Tory case against Walpole; and we are not at all prepared to say with Mr. Morley that there was nothing in it. Mr. Morley laughs at it. Walpole, he thinks, did nothing more than the necessities of the position called for. The Constitution was in real danger, and extraordinary measures were required to protect it. The proscription of the Tories, the National Debt, the acquiescence of Walpole in the mischievous foreign policy of the Guelphs, the bribery of the House of Commons, are all to be justified on this ground. We believe in the reality of the danger, if it does not excuse all the sins which Mr. Morley tries to make it cover. There was a widespread and deeply laid conspiracy for the restoration of the Stuarts in the earlier part of the reign of George II., of which the insurrection of 1745 was the explosion of a fragment only. Whether Walpole and the Whig party took. the best possible means of averting the danger, and whether, but for the errors they committed at an earlier period, it need ever have existed, are separate questions. But given the situation as he found it, from 1720 to 1740, Walpole is entitled to the same favourable consideration as we extend to all public men who, placed in difficult or dangerous situations, and called upon to cope with treason, either hidden or avowed, honestly do the best they can for the safety and honour of the commonwealth, Their enemies invariably either deny the danger or declare that the Government are the cause of it. They did so in the caseof Walpole, they did so in the case of Mr. Pitt, they did so in. the case of Lord Castlereagh, they did so in the case of Lord Grey; and they do so in the case of Lord Salisbury. That is. part of the game, and deceives nobody who understands it. It is unnecessary to say that Mr. Morley is one of the initiated, and that it can never have deceived him in any of the cases we have mentioned.
These remarks, be it remembered, are not intended to embrace the whole circle of foreign and domestic politics of which Walpole was the centre, and of which a different account must be rendered. πολλά μέν έσθλα μεμίγμενα, πολλά δε λυγρά. They apply only to the first part of the indictment to which we have addressed ourselves, embracing the five general heads, of Bribery, Taxation, Autocracy, proscription of his political opponents, and neglect of legislative reform.
We must now pass on to the second part, the more specific and particular
delinquencies. delinquencies which were the immediate cause of the popular outcry against Walpole. For the former the great body of the people cared but little. For the latter they cared a great deal: and, in justice to the political party by which he was opposed, we must endeavour to look at his career as nearly as possible through the eyes of his contemporaries, and not in the additional light thrown upon it by the experience of another century and a half. That the leaders of the Opposition were actuated by selfish or dishonest motives is one of those propositions which it is equally difficult either to prove or to disprove. In all political parties a great variety of motives will usually be found at work. But we see no reason to believe that the Tory Opposition in the reigns of the first two Georges were worse than any other Opposition, or that they can with any show of justice or propriety be described as pre-eminently factious. The Tory party of that era has suffered from being associated in the public mind with the name of Lord Bolingbroke, who did not, however, possess that absolute authority in its councils which has been often imputed to him. But even in his case, though his leading motive may have been the thirst for vengeance, the evils to which he directed public attention were none the less real. Macaulay, in writing of the Treaty of Utrecht, acknowledges that though he was a brilliant knave,' Bolingbroke was still in the right; and whoever will take the trouble to unravel the tangled skein of foreign affairs in which England was implicated from 1721 to 1739, will be compelled to admit that, on the whole, the complaints of the Tory party were only too well founded.
Let us begin with those charges against Walpole, which were either purely groundless and factious, or else based on facts which his assailants distorted or misconstrued. With his Free-trade measures the Tories at least could find no fault, because a Tory Ministry—this much is allowed by Mr. Morley —had set the first example of Free-trade ; and Walpole's plans for the development of Colonial commerce, conceived in a thoroughly wise and statesmanlike spirit, seem to have been accepted with little hesitation. Most of these were accomplished during the early days of his administration, from 1721 to 1724, when the opposition to him in Parliament was less powerful and less venomous than it subsequently became. He repealed the import duties on a great variety of articles of Colonial produce, of which a list is given in Dowell's History of Taxation;' and all export duties on goods and merchandise of the product or manufacture of Great Britain. Here we see the principle of “Free-trade with the Colonies, and Protection
against the rest of the world,' cropping out. He next turned his attention to the possibility of increasing the revenue by placing some check upon smuggling, which the Customs ' duties imposed since the Revolution had fostered to an alarming height. He began with tea, making compulsory the warehouse system, which in 1711 had been established as optional.
*All tea on importation was to be warehoused, and a duty of 14 per cent. on its value was to be paid immediately. Subsequently an inland duty of four shillings the pound was payable, on taking the tea out of warehouse for home consumption. In order to secure the tax, the traders were placed under the Excise system of permit, account and survey, of which the principal features were- —that no tea could be removed from one place to another, by land or water, in any quantity exceeding six pounds in weight, without an accompanying Excise ticket of permission, termed a "permit;” and that every seller of and dealer in tea was required to keep, in one book, an account of all sales of tea in any quantity exceeding six pounds, and in another, an account of all sales of tea in any less quantity than six pounds; while the Excise officers had general powers of inspection and survey of his stock.'
This increased the revenue in the course of seven years by 120,0001. per annum.
It may seem strange that a principle, which provoked so little opposition when applied to tea, should have roused such a tempest of indignation when applied to wine and tobacco. The popular preference for the last-mentioned articles had nothing to do with the clamour. It was the principle that was assailed ; and no one Act of Walpole's administration so nearly proved fatal to him as what was, in truth, one of its most creditable efforts—the famous, or, as it was then called, the infamous Excise Bill.
There are three reasons to be given in explanation of this seeming inconsistency. In the first place, the Tea Bill had not been called an Excise Bill. The duties, as we have seen, were still called Customs. Now the word Excise had always been hateful in English ears ever since the days of the Long Parliament, when it was first introduced by Pym. As long before as the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Crown had been advised not to lay a tax on beer, since it was sure to be stigmatized as an excise,' and breed great popular discontent. Consequently the very name was sufficient to create a violent prejudice against the Bill, even before the scope of it was known. In the second place, there was in 1733, what there was not in 1723, a regular and well-organized Opposition burning to overthrow the administration, and largely under the influence
of leaders, who scrupled at nothing to effect their object. They set to work at once, therefore, to fan the flame into a general conflagration which should consume at once both the measure and its author. But, thirdly, we must understand that the opposition to the Excise Bill was not altogether that senseless and factious clamour which it has been the fashion to represent it. After his successful treatment of the duties we have already mentioned, including the Repeal of the Salt-tax in 1730, Walpole next turned his attention to the land-tax, an impost peculiarly distasteful to the country gentlemen whom it was policy to conciliate. In 1731 he reduced it from two shillings in the pound to one shilling, involving a loss to the Revenue of 500,0001. In 1732, when the land-tax was again to be levied at the rate of only one shilling, it became necessary to find a substitute to make up the deficiency, and Walpole was obliged to reimpose the salt-tax, which only two years before he had himself condemned as burdensome and impolitic, and a great discouragement to our manufactures and fisheries. The salt-tax, however, only produced one-third of the sum wanted, and the remaining two-thirds it was now proposed to raise by changing the Customs duties on wine and tobacco into an Excise duty. The principle has already been explained in our preceding remarks on the tea duty. And Walpole's contention was that the sums saved by the prevention of smuggling and other frauds would equal the amount required.
As far, however, as this particular calculation was concerned, Walpole appears to have been mistaken. When the question came to be examined in Parliament, it was asserted by the Opposition that the entire duties upon tobacco did not much exceed 200,0001, a year, and that the value of the smuggled tobacco seized by the revenue officers did not exceed 14001. a year. The wine duties amounted to about half a million, and the value of the seizures to about 7001. a year. Thus the frauds discovered in both branches of the Revenue accounted for little more than 2,0001, a year; and in order to bear out the ministerial statement, the value of the duties, of which the Government was annually defrauded in these two departments, must have amounted to between 300,0001. and 400,0001. The Opposition, not without some show of reason, inquired whether this was likely to be the case. If anybody will take the trouble just to read for himself the articles in the “Craftsman’ upon the subject, he will find that many of them, so far from being mere empty declamation, are written in a thoroughly business-like style, with perfect knowledge of the subject, and with great closeness of reasoning. They may be right or wrong, but they cannot be brushed on one side as mere froth and foam. To speak of them in that manner is simply ridiculous. When Mr. Morley wrote that the Excise Bill was a subject which the writers in the “Craftsman'neither understood nor intended to understand,' he could not have read at least half-a-dozen of the papers which appeared between October 1732 and April 1733. Unfortunately they are mixed up with a great deal of high heroic bombast on the political aspects of the question, though even in this there is a meaning. When the Opposition speak of the Excise Bill as intended to reduce the country to slavery, it sounds like nonsense to ourselves. But what they meant was that, as in all the seaport boroughs, the Government possessed immense influence through the patronage of the Custom House ; so if the influence were extended to the inland towns by means of the Excise, they would be simply irresistible; and if we would understand how the question presented itself to plain men of business at that time, we must not shrink from the trouble of separating the grain from the chaff. In No. 335, the Craftsman' writes with great good sense :
I am ready to allow that these complaints of fraud and smuggling are too just; but I cannot agree with the letter-writer concerning either the cause or the cure of these evils, which are not so much owing to the payment of duties on importation, and the allowance of drawbacks on exportation, as to the height of these duties themselves on all such foreign commodities as are wanted for consumption in this kingdom; for till the multiplicity of impositions and additional duties were laid on those commodities the practice of running goods was of no great consequence, as will appear by comparing the seizures made in former times with those of late years. If, therefore, the same duties are to be continued, or greater duties should be aid on the commodities consumed in this kingdom, an alteration in the method of collecting them will not prevent the clandestine running of goods; which can be effected only by the reduction of the duties to such a degree that it will not be the interest of any persons to engage in a traffic so hazardous to themselves, as well as prejudicial to the fair trader.'
The justice of this view was confirmed by the fact that the conversion of the tea-duty into an Excise duty only very partially affected smuggling, and that in a few years it was as bad as ever. A Parliamentary Committee in 1744 endorsed the · Craftsman's' view, that it was the amount of the duty and not the manner of collecting it which determined the extent of smuggling. Now, supposing that the Excise Bill did not answer the