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active zeal by being appointed first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer, in the cabinet ostensibly led by his brother-in-law and early friend, Viscount Townshend. A severe illness followed his elevation, and the prosecution of the rebels, a task in which he had labori. ously aided.
In the interval of his absence the septennial bill was introduced into parliament; an act which has justly been looked on as one of the measures of his government, from his assistance in its preparation previous to his illness, and which is certainly strikingly characteristic of an administration which turned all its measures not on general principles of policy, but on the means of fortifying their party. On the visit of the king to his native country, the earl of Sun. derland, assisted by Sir William Wyndham, a tory, but the friend of Townshend and Walpole, began to rise in personal influence with the monarch, and the tories viewed with pleasure and expectation the balance almost equally held between two parties among their enemies. Townshend, when the power of his new opponents was fully established, quickly exchanged his premiership for the lord-lieutenancy of Ireland. Walpole, who might have remained ostensible head of the administration, preferred being powerful in opposition to being weak in the cabinet. On the 10th of March, 1717, he called on the king to deliver up the seals of office: his majesty, anxious to retain so useful a friend, is said to have thrown them into the minister's hat, and to have familiarly returned them ten times before he would finally accept the resignation.
After his resignation, Walpole brought before the house, as 'a country gentleman,' a plan for reducing the national debt by means of a sinking fund, a measure which deserves notice as having affected latter ages. A sinking fund has lately been shown to be mere borrowing from one to pay to another, and therefore in principle fallacious; but the very ignorance of its real power gave it in the hands of Walpole two beneficial practical effects. First, the debts of government were calculated at an average to bear seven per cent. interest, while a sinking fund could be borrowed at four; and secondly, the promised advantages of the system raised the credit of government securities, and enabled the nation to dictate terins to creditors not anxious for immediate repayment. There is reason to believe that the acuteness of Walpole afterwards pointed out to him fallacies in the system which he did not think fit to acknowledge. In 1733, in despite of a powerful and watchful opposition, he took from the sinking fund half a million for the current services, an act which Coxe and others have looked upon as the chief blot in his administration. “On this occasion,” says his biographer, " he advanced this remarkable position, that the situation of the country, and the case of the public creditors, was altered so much since the establishment of the sinking fund, that the competition among them was not who should be the first, but who should be the last to be paid ; an assertion which none of the opposition ventured to contradict, and therefore may be considered as true.” The minister may have hesitated to add, that since promulgating the scheme, he had found reason to doubt the supposed omnipotence of compound interest, on which it was founded. Walpole, on resigning, made a candid declaration that he
• Swin's Works, vol. xvi. 302.
would not impede the measures of a whig government; but either his passions or his interest forbade him to preserve his resolution, and he counteracted their measures in the purest spirit of an opposition ;' but among other such acts, it must be recorded to his honour, that he opposed the bill, patronised by the king from a jealousy to his son, for limiting the number of peers and making Britain an aristocracy.
When it was proposed to sell the irredeemable annuities to the South sea society, Walpole was one of those few members who had presence of mind sufficient to maintain that offers should be accepted from the other trading companies before the dazzling measure was adopted, and he finally objected to treating with the South sea company in preference to the bank, from the former body being unlimited in the price of their stock. In the meantime, finding either that his foresight and opposition were dangerous enemies to their measures, or that he might be a useful aid, the ministry, on the 6th of May, 1720, restored him to his old post of paymaster of the forces. On the sudden fall of the price of stock, and the consequent dread of a national bankruptcy, Walpole was appealed to by the nation and the monarch as the only man capable of restoring confidence; and on his announcing a plan for the adjustment of the claims, stock rose to a price somewhat beyond its natural value, though far beneath that at which the insane avarice of the nation had previously ranked it. An attempt, without the sanction of legislative authority, to retrieve the credit of the company, by the bank agreeing to circulate a specified amount of the company's bonds for one year, having failed, (the bank resiling from the contract on the ground that the minute was deficient in legal formalities,) Walpole secured the adoption of his proposals by a legislative act, which sanctioned an agreement unwillingly entered into by the bank and the East India company, to ingraft with their own a portion of the stock of the South sea company. The suggestion of this plan was owing to Jacombe, under-secretary at war, and in the excitement which the house of commons suffered on the subject, it required all the tact and influence of Walpole to put it in practice. The projectors of the scheme, and the ministers who fostered it, were the opponents of Walpole, and he displayed the moderation or the foresight of his disposition in shielding them from the popular rage which doomed them to destruction. With some temporary sacrifice of popularity, he obtained the acquittal of Sunderland, on whose ruin he afterwards rose ; and he was presently replaced, with his brother-in-law, at the head of the cabinet.
On the discovery of the machinations of the Jacobites in 1722, he had an opportunity of showing his moderation, when a leader of the councils, by merely giving additional protection to the Hanoverian dynasty, and driving from the country the factious priest who had lent the aid of his great talents to the conspiracy. Of the opposition over which Walpole had triumphed at the fall of the South sea scheme a remnant remained, from which arose a powerful and vigilant body of opponents who never permitted him to perform a ministerial act uncanvassed, and after the most protracted and bitter warfare ever known in political history, finally drove him from the helm. Carteret, who considered himself as the successor to the fallen interest of Sunderland and Stanhope, divided the cabinet against Walpole and Townshend; but
after a first unsuccessful attempt, through the influence of the mistresses of the king and the Hanoverian favourites, he sunk before their superior influence. Walpole, now in the height of his influence, having previously declined a peerage, which was bestowed on his son, was, iust after the termination of the parliament in 1724, created a knight of the order of the bath, and in 1726 he was installed a knight of the garter, an ornament which had before been only conferred on one com
With some inconsistency, Walpole encouraged the return of Bolingbroke in 1725, and moved for the repeal of the bill of attainder which he had himself brought in in 1716.
Whatever were his expectations from this measure he was disappointed; the brilliant Jacobite, chagrined at not being restored to the influence and rank of his lost peerage, became fretful and turbulent,—he joined in intrigues against the ministers, which they had power just sufficient to overcome,—and uniting the honesty he could assume, with that which was possessed by his coadjutor, Schippen, headed a party, which, without much prospect of overcoming without the aid of a rebellion, was still powerful enough to sting.
In the meantime danger was threatened to Walpole from a more distant quarter, which he dexterously parried. A new coinage of halfpence was requisite for Ireland, and the necessities of the province were made the medium of conferring a favour on the friend of a royal mistress. William Wood, a miner and proprietor of iron-works, obtained a patent to coin halfpence and farthings to the extent of £100,000 sterling. There is no doubt that the patentee would have performed the contract with honesty ; but the national pride was roused at the kingly right over it as a conquered nation being put into the hands of a mechanic; and Swift, in the renowned · Drapier's Letters,' roused tlie nation against the insult by representing the halfpence as deficient in value, turning gradually, after he had thus roused the feelings of the common people, to the real cause of grievance, the putting into the hands of foreigners the exercise of every description of influence in Ireland. The underlings of the government threatened in the name of their leader; but Swift shows a disposition to be courteous to Walpole, and allows so powerful a man to avoid the consequences, by personally acquitting him of connection with the act. Walpole appears to have understood the hint, for he was not a man who would brave a nation for the defence of a dependant on his ministry. He approached the abolition of the patent by degrees, reducing the issue to £40,000, and finally contrived to send his rival Carteret, who had watched with pleasure the fomenting of disturbances, which might shake the stability of the minister, to settle the matter as lord-lieutenant of Ireland. The good opinion of Swift towards Walpole was of short continuance; he had an interview with him, of which he has left a full account, in which he endeavoured to lay before him the injustice and folly of treating Ireland in every respect as a conquered kingdom. The information was coldly and haughtily received,- ,-a circumstance which has been accounted for on the authority of Sir Edward Walpole, by the minis
• Drapier's Letters, No. 4.
• Scott's Life of Swift, p. 295. 10'See a Letter to the Earl of Peterborough, Works, chap. xvii. p. 67.
ters having intercepted a letter of the dean to Dr Arbuthnot, mentioning the means he was to use for gaining his end, and observing that he knew
no flattery was too gross for Walpole.” The treaty of Vienna, supposed to have been so dangerous to the peace of Britain, involved Townshend and Walpole in much odium from the opposition; but the burden chiefly fell on the former, who better understood, and generally managed the foreign department. But a greater danger threatened the stability of Walpole's ascendancy froin the death of George the First. As that monarch's prime minister, he was compelled to oppose the prince, and is said to have volunteered some expressions of contempt towards him, which were duly retailed and exaggerated. For several days in the opening of the new reign, he incurred the neglect of a discharged minister. But his powers in supporting a civil list were known to the king, and he had obtained a firm friend in the person of the queen, to whom, among his other means of recommending himself, it must not be forgot that he offered a jointure of £100,000 a-year, while his rival, Sir Spencer Compton, could not venture to offer more than £60,000. Sir Spencer yielded the post to the superior powers of his rival, and Walpole was once more at the head of the treasury. From the accession of George the Second, Walpole, from his personal influence at court, was virtually the sole prime minister, and the power of Townshend gradually decreasing, jealousies and contentions originated between the two brothers. An unministerial scene which took place during a dinner party at the house of Colonel Selwyn—in which a remark by Walpole, hinting a distrust of the sincerity of Townshend, roused that fiery nobleman to a threat of personal violence-finally terminated their intercourse. Townshend left the cabinet with an honour almost unsullied, and never condescended to indulge in opposition. From the period when Walpole ruled the cabinet to his resignation, his acts are so entirely the events of history, and so well known as leading features of the times, that a brief biographical notice can only glance at such as are most broadly shaded by his personal character, and the principles with which he governed. In 1733 he formed the celebrated plan of extending the method of collecting revenue by excise, to the duties on wine and tobacco. Sir William Wyndham, and Pulteney, who, by his vast wealth and his talents as a party-debater, now stood foremost and greatest in the opposition, became aware of his views, and sounded the trumpet of alarm through the land ; the various speakers of the opposition obscurely hinted at a plan devised, and about to be produced, for the secret destruction of British liberty, and Walpole was compelled to divulge his plan before he was prepared to attempt a legislative measure on its principles. The great leading causes for the alteration he maintained to be the partiality of the existent system, the opportunities of evasion, and the necessary venality of the public officers. The whole oratory of the opposition was thundered forth in denunciation of the scheme,—the clamours without were loud and ominous,—and it was finally dropped: the minister, for the purpose of keeping himself in office, making a practical admission of the great principle, that even a system which the propounders of it may consider unexceptionably excellent, must not be enforced
" Letters and Miscellanevus Papers of Barre Charles Roberts, pp. 20, 21.
against the general voice of a people. Along with the financial measure, one which can more unhesitatingly be pronounced salutary to the commercial interests of the country, was lost for a period—the system of bonding imported goods for payment of the duties; and in the full enjoyment of this great facility to commerce, the British public have at this day to thank Sir Robert Walpole for the best gift he has left to posterity. It was generally the object of the opposition to propose motions, the rejection of which would involve the minister in odium or unpopularity,--and in admitting or opposing them, the minister had to choose whichever side was most conducive to the government in being, and at the same time sure of a majority. “ It will be advisable,” says a memorandum by one who bitterly opposed the minister, “to propose easy whig points, to bring off honest well-meaning people,--and render others inexcusable, such as a reasonable place-bill to exclude those of lower ranks in the treasury and revenue, such as clerks, &c. from sitting in the house of commons. A bill to make the officers of the arny for life, or quamdiu se bene gesserint, or broke by a council of war. These patriotic principles were diligently pursued and opposed in a corresponding spirit. To have admitted either the place or the pensionbill to pass, would have struck a deadly blow at that system of influence which Walpole had so adroitly framed to succeed the arbitrary power of the crown. The pension-bill passed the commons in 1730, but was thrown out by the lords ; and the minister finding such a plan likely to save a share of his popularity, the place-bill, when introduced in a later period of his administration, “ was not opposed, because out of decency it is generally suffered to pass the commons, but is thrown out in the lords.” 1 The attempt to deprive government of the power of dismissing officers in the army he likewise resisted, for he had made use of the power, and had not hesitated to discharge those who opposed him. To the repeal of the test act-a measure attempted not only by the opposition whigs, but in the very purest spirit of party, and by the tories also—he appears to have had no other objection but the danger of offending the church, and is said to have been personally partial to the measure. He was in the habit of telling the dissenters, that whatever were his private inclinations on the matter, the attempt was improper, and the time was not yet arrived. “ You have so repeatedly returned this answer,” replied Dr Chandler, principal of a depu. tation of the dissenters, “ that I trust you will give me leave to ask you when the time will come ?" “ If you require a specific answer," said the minister, “ I will give it you in a word,-never." His inge. nuity enabled him, however, by the annual act of indemnity, to save the dissenters from oppression, and to preserve the church of England from a dangerous odium, while its supremacy was fully admitted.
At length, after bathed efforts and repeated disappointments, the opposition began gradually to undermine the great power so long assailed in vain. The death of Queen Caroline, in 1737, struck the first sure blow at Walpole's influence, and the enmity of the prince regent served as a marked rallying point to his opponents. In 1738, when the alleged outrages of the Spaniards on British ships roused the popular feeling of
" Memorandum in the handwriting of Alexander, Eail of Jlarchmont. Marchmont Papers, vol. ii. p. 14.
13 Horace Walpole to Horace Mann.