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Minister's expectations, and that some other tax was still required to make up the deficiency, then, said the Tory party, the precedent of the salt-tax would be followed ; and some other article of general consumption, probably sugar, would be excised. There was, however, another source of opposition to the Excise Bill, which had far more to do with its overthrow than any nice arithmetical calculations. Walpole having already reduced the land-tax to one shilling in the pound, promised the country gentlemen the entire abolition of it in return for their support of the Excise Bill. Now the land-tax in 1733 was still based on the assessment of 1692, which, as might have been expected, was largely affected by political considerations. In those parts of England where the new Government was popular, the assessment was high. In those counties where the Jacobite feeling was predominant, it was proportionably low. Thus in the southern and eastern counties the landowners would be paying more than their share. In the northern and some of the western counties they would be paying less. If the land-tax were abolished, it appeared to the country gentlemen that at the first financial pinch it was sure to be revived, and then what would happen? Of course there would be a fresh valuation, and in that case it was pretty certain that the gentlemen of Northumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, and many other counties besides, would find their assessment raised, and their last state worse than their first.
But there was more behind still. By the original Act of Parliament what was called the land-tax had been intended to embrace personal property as well as land. By the beginning of the reign of George II., however, personal property had slipped through the fingers of the law, and, owing to difficulties, analogous, it may be, to those which interfere with the assessment of personal property at the present day, it had escaped taxation altogether. Thus most of the residents in towns, including the whole trading and mercantile community, were interested in keeping matters as they were. Those who were now free feared that, if the Bill became law, they might ultimately be made to pay, and those who paid too little feared that, if a change took place, they might some day have to pay more. Every little shopkeeper in the kingdom, every merchant and manufacturer, large numbers of the professional classes, combined with nearly one-half of the landowners to defeat the Excise Bill on very practical and intelligible grounds. Selfish they might be, but they can hardly be considered stupid.
That the Excise Bill was a sound measure in itself, may readily be granted. The adverse figures which we have quoted above were probably much exaggerated; and if so large a saving
had not been effected as the Government professed to anticipate, it would probably have been much larger than the Opposition were willing to allow. Though the conversion of the tea-tax to an Excise duty had done little to stop smuggling, it had done something to increase the revenue. But the cry was too loud. Walpole persevered as long as he could, and, when he found the case hopeless, retired with his customary prudence. We quite agree with Mr. Morley, that he was perfectly in the right. He quotes the defence which Sir Robert Peel puts into the mouth of Walpole as against Macaulay's condemnation of him : *I, at least, tried the measure which I thought right. I did not abandon it till success was proved to be hopeless and opposition universal.' Exactly the defence of Lord Derby's abandonment of Protection in 1852, and Mr. Morley endorses it.
We have purposely given prominence to the Opposition case against Walpole for reasons that will presently be apparent. But we are sincerely of opinion that it has been rather too hastily condemned, and sneered at by many who “neither understood nor intended to understand it.' It was necessary to flavour the argument with so strong an infusion of nonsense to suit the popular palate, that its real character and significance are often undistinguishable under the heady protests against slavery, oppression, and the inquisitorial tyranny of excisemen, with which the speeches and essays on that side of the question are loaded. But we must remember, that one of the leading opponents of the Bill was a man not given to tawdry rhetoric or the cant of patriotism, and, so far from being a heated partisan, that he refused to attend the Committee appointed in 1742 to inquire into Walpole's administration. This was Sir John Barnard, the member for the City of London, one of the highest financial authorities in the House of Commons, and the only man in that House of whom Walpole confessed he was afraid.
If the conduct of foreign affairs by Walpole was more open to censure than his domestic administration, there is this to be said, that it was less exclusively his own; and that such parts of it as were exclusively his own are deserving of all praise. He had opposed the Treaty of Utrecht tooth and nail; but as soon as he came into power he adopted at once the two cardinal principles of the Tory system, namely the French alliance and Free-trade, and remained faithful to both throughout his long career. The French Alliance is the key 10 his whole foreign policy, but it divided the Whig party, end so far proved a source of weakness.
a source of weakness. Mr. Morley glances at this division, and observes truly that it lasted to the end of the century. But he seems to have considered that
Walpole Walpole was the originator of a policy which would have made King William's Whigs turn in their graves,' whereas it was the last Ministry of Queen Anne who were the first to recognize its necessity, and who were roundly abused by the Whig party in consequence. Walpole appropriated this article of the Tory creed, which was of course professed by Shelburne and the younger Pitt. When the latter was acting upon these Walpolean maxims,' he was recurring to the earlier principles of Toryism. Those who like may call him a Whig, when he was acting like a Tory, and a Tory when he was acting like a Whig. But they cannot change the facts of history. It was when Pitt exchanged the foreign policy of Bolingbroke, Walpole, and Shelburne, for that of Sunderland
Carteret, that he was truly acting as a Whig. It can only have been by a slip of the pen that Mr. Morley classes Shelburne with the Sunderland Whigs, who preferred the German system ; and Fox with the Walpole Whigs, who preferred the French. He says that this difference of opinion explains the quarrel between Fox and Shelburne. So it does. But not as Mr. Morley supposes. The two men undoubtedly did quarrel about the French Alliance. But it was because Shelburne was in favour of peace with France, and Fox in favour of war.
However, there is no doubt about the system which Walpole would have preferred had he been able to have his own way. But he was not. During the whole term of his administration, the King was pulling in one direction and the Minister in another. This divided policy produced its natural effect. England could not serve both France and Austria ; and in trying to do so naturally satisfied neither. It was necessary to keep well with France for fear of the Pretender, and it was necessary to keep well with Austria for the sake of two German provinces, of which it was the darling object of the Elector of Hanover to be placed in formal possession. These had been handed over to Sweden by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, wrested from her in 1712 by Frederick IV. of Denmark, and by him ceded to Hanover in 1715, on condition that the Elector paid him 150,0001. down, and joined in the coalition against Sweden. This was the beginning of troubles. As the Duchies of Bremen and Verden were fiefs of the Empire, the title of the new owner was not complete till he had received investiture from the Emperor of Germany; and to obtain this without paying the large fines which the Emperor demanded,* was for sixteen years the ruling motive of the English Court,
Of the long train of Continental entanglements, more or less costly, in which England was involved by it, the history must be sought elsewhere. But an outline of the principal facts may be given in a tolerably short compass, and is required for the purpose of this article. In the first place it was always necessary to keep the Emperor in good humour, and therefore to side with him in all his quarrels, whether they concerned us or not. In the second place, to secure the co-operation of the smaller States—Denmark, Sweden, Hesse, and several othersin the defence of his new acquisition, the King was from time to time compelled to subsidise them largely, besides taking their troops into his pay. When war broke out between Spain and Austria in 1718, we were dragged into the fray, and in April of that year a battle was fought between the English and Spanish fleets off the coast of Sicily, in which the latter were totally defeated. Spain was justly incensed, and to appease her George I. wrote a secret letter to Philip V. with his own hand, promising the restitution of Gibraltar. This letter was written in 1721, and had nothing to do with an earlier one written before the battle of Passaro, in which the same promise was made on condition that Spain abandoned her Sicilian expedition. The letter of 1721 was unconditional, and the only one with which Walpole was concerned, as in 1718 he was out of office. As the King, however, found himself unable to keep his word, Spain resolved to try other means, and in April 1725 a treaty of peace was signed with Austria—who did not hesitate to throw us over when it suited her purpose-consisting of four parts, two of which were secret, one binding the allies to demand the surrender of Gibraltar, the other pledging them, in case of the King's refusal, to adopt the cause of the Pretender, The terms of this agreeinent did not long remain a secret, and England's reply was the Treaty of Hanover, concluded in the following September, by which she secured the alliance of France and Prussia, besides other minor Powers, we need hardly say at the usual cost.
In reliance apparently on assistance from the Emperor, Spain now proceeded to open hostilities, and laid siege to Gibraltar. She also seized · Prince Frederick,' an English ship belonging to the South Sea Company, in the West Indies. Much as we may sympathise with Walpole’s peace policy, it is difficult to understand how he could avoid treating these demonstrations as a casus belli. But he did. In April 1726, Admiral Hosier, with seven ships of the line, was despatched to the West Indies with orders to blockade the port of Porto Bello, in which the Spanish treasure-ships had taken refuge, and to seize them, if they attempted to escape. This the Spaniards were too wise to do, and the Admiral lay inactive within sight of them, till he himself and nearly half his officers and men had perished of disease. The object of the English Government was to prevent the Spanish galleons from arriving in Europe with the money which was required for helping the Pretender back to England. Walpole thought this might be managed without any open
act of war. But when Spain was at war with England, it seems to have been idle to pretend that England was not at war with Spain : besides being a very doubtful question whether the blockade of a port is not just as much an act of war as the seizure of the ships inside it, provided that these are held as hostages only, to be restored if the dispute is settled. It would have been as easy to restore the captured vessels, as to release the imprisoned ones. At length, by the Treaty of Seville in 1729, and the Treaty of Vienna in 1731, by which George II. obtained the long-coveted investiture of the two Duchies, England was delivered from the toils; and the long train of troubles which followed from
our engagements with the Emperor came to an end. But the price of the investiture was our guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction, which ten years afterwards involved us in fresh entanglements, ending in the inglorious war of the Austrian Succession, and adding thirty millions to our debt.
In looking back over the preceding ten years—that is to say, from April 1721, when Walpole's Ministry began, to March 1731, when the Treaty of Vienna was signed—we shall see that for the blunders and calamities most loudly complained of in the interval, Walpole was only partially responsible. He was not accountable in any way for the first of the two Gibraltar Letters, which was written in 1718; and though the second was written three months after his appointment to the Treasury, he had not yet obtained that position of paramount authority which we are accustomed to associate with the office of Prime Minister, and which makes him answerable for the action of his colleagues as well as for his own. Yet this did not justify him in denying, as he did in 1727, that any such letter had been written. He could hardly have been ignorant of its existence; and his knowledge of it was probably an additional reason why he shrank from making the siege of Gibraltar by the Spaniards a casus belli.
Again, he may be said to have been only partially responsible for the Treaty of Hanover, which was negociated by Townsend in 1725, and of which he strongly disapproved. At the same time he was now in a position to have protested with