Page images
PDF
EPUB

WYNDHAM AND WALPOLE ON THE SEPTENNIAL ACT.

INTRODUCTION. The Septennial Act was passed in 1716, extending the daration of Parliaments from three to sever years By an extraordinary stretch of power, the Act was made applicable to the Parliament that possed u, whose members, by their own vote, tbus added four years to their tenure of office. This they did on the ground that the nation had just emerged from a dangerous rebellion, and that the public mind was sill in so agitated a state, as to render the exciting scenes of a general election hazardous to the public safety. Whatever may be thought of this plea (and perhaps most men at the present day would unite with Mr. Hallam in justifying the measure), no one can doubt that the provisions of the Septennial Act, in respect to subsequent Parliaments, were strictly legal.

This Act has now been in operation eighteen years; and Bolingbroke, who planned the leading meas. ures of the Opposition, saw that a motion to repeal it would embarrass the ministry, and gratify at once the landholders and the mob. The landholders, who were almost to a man Jacobites or Tories, would be zealous for the repeal, since they were not only indignant at the Act, as originally directed against themselves, but had found by experience, that it was greatly for their interest to have frequent elections. The influence they possessed over their tenantry, could be exerted at any moment, and cost them little or nothing. This influence the Whigs in power could overcome only at an enormous expense. Every gen. eral election was, therefore, a scene of general licentiousness and bribery, to which the common people looked forward as their harvest season; and so vast was the pecuniary sacrifice to which the Whigs were thus subjected, that they could never endure it if the elections were of frequent occurrence. Thus, according to Bolingbroke's calculations, if the Act was repealed, the Whigs would be driven from power ; if it was not repealed, they would be loaded with the resentment of all classes, from the highest to the kwest.

There was a part of the Opposition, however, who were delicately situated in respect to this Act. It was a measure of their own. They had argued and voted for it as essential to the public security. Such was the case with Pulteney and most of the disaffected Whigs; and it was a long time before Bolingbroke succeeded in wheedling or driving them into his plan. At last, however, party discipline and the desire of office prevailed. The motion was made on the 13th of March, 1734, and gave rise to one of the most selebrated debates in English history.

It was on this occasion that Sir William Wyndham, the leader of the Tories in the House, delivered what was undoubtedly liis master-piece of eloquence. This speech, however, is remembered with interest at the present day, only on account of the altercation to which it gave rise between him and Walpole. He closed with a bitter personal attack on the minister, and thus drew forth a reply of equal bitterness, which concluded the debate. In this reply, however, Walpole, instead of retaliating upon Wyndham, turned adroitly upon Bolingbroke as the real author of all the maneuvers against him; and while he thus threw contempt on Wyndham, by treating him as the mere mouth-piece of another, he inflicted a castigation upon Bolingbroke which, for stinging effect and perfect adherence to truth, has rarely been surpassed in the British Parliament. This, in connection with the attack of Wyndham, will now be given ; and the reader will observe bow dexterously Walpole, in going on, as he does, briefly to defend the Septen. gial Act, argues with the Tories on their own ground; showing that frequent Parliaments serve to extend and perpetuate the democratic principle in the English Constitution-a thing against which every true Tory must feel birpself bound to contend.

SIR WILLIAM WYNDHAM'S' ATTACK

ON SIR ROBERT WALPOLE, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON A MOTION FOR THE

REPEAL OF THE SEPTENNIAL ACT, MARCH 13, 1734. (Mr. Wyndham, after dwelling on a variety | tle interest at the present day, concluded in the of arguments (chiefly in reply to others), which, following manner :) from a change of circumstances, are of but lit- We have been told, sir, in this House, that ru

· Wyndham was born in 1687, of an ancient fam. faith is to be given to prophecies, therefore I ily, and was heir to we of the richest baronetcies shall not pretend to prophesy; but I may sup. in England. He entered Parliament at the age of pose a case, which, though it has not yet hap twenty-one, and immediately attached himself to pened, may possibly happen. Let us then sup Bolingbroke, under whose instruction he soon be pose, sir, a man abandoned to all notions of vir came expert in all the arts of oratory and intrigue. tue o honor, of no great family, and of but a

[ocr errors]

mean fortune, raised to be chief minister of state to be given to any but for the good of the pub by the concurrence of many whimsical events; lic. Upon this scandalous victory, let us sup. afraid or unwilling to trust any but creatures of pose this chief minister pluming himself in dcfi. his own making, and most of them equally aban- ances, because he Sinds he has got a Parliament, doned to all notions of virtue or honor; ignorant like a packed jury, ready to acquit him at all of the true interest of his country, and consult- adventures. Let us further suppose him arrived ing nothing but that of enriching and aggrand to that degree of insolence and arrogance, as to izing himself and his favorites; in foreign affairs, domineer over all the men of ancient families, trusting none but those whose education makes all the men of sense, figure, or fortune in the it impossible for them to have such knowledge nation, and as he has no virtue of his own, ridi. or such qualifications, as can either be of serv- culing it in others, and endeavoring to destroy ice to their country, or give any weight or credit or corrupt it in all. to their negotiations. Let us suppose the true I am still not prophesying, sir ; I am only interest of the nation, by such means, neglected supposing; and the case I am going to suppose or misunderstood; her honor and credit lost; I hope never will happen. But with such a her trade insulted; her merchants plundered; minister and such a Parliament, let us suppose a and her sailors murdered; and all these things prince upon the throne, either for want of true overlooked, only for fear his administration should information, or for some other reason, ignorant be endangered. Suppose him, next, possessed and unacquainted with the inclinations and the of great wealth, the plunder of the nation, with interest of his people; weak, and hurried away a Parliament of his own choosing, most of their by unbounded ambition and insatiablo avarice. seats purchased, and their votes bought at the This case, sir, has never yet happened in this expense of the public treasure. In such a Par- nation. I hope, I say, it will never exist. But liament, let us suppose attempts made to inquire as it is possible it may, could there any greater into his conduct, or to relieve the nation from the curse happen to a nation, than such a prince on distress he has brought upon it; and when lights the throne, advised, and solely advised, by such proper for attaining those ends are called for, a minister, and that minister supported by such not perhaps for the information of the particular a Parliament? The nature of mankind can not gentlemen who call for them, but because noth- be altered by human laws; the existence of such ing can be done in a parliamentary way, till a prince or such a minister we can not prevent these things be in a proper way laid before Par- by act of Parliament; but the existence of such liament; suppose these lights resused, these rea- a Parliament I think we may. And as such a sonable requests rejected by a corrupt majority Parliament is much more likely to exist, and may of his creatures, whom he retains in daily pay, do more mischief while the septennial law re or engages in his particular interest, by granting mains in force, than if it were repealed, thereforo them those posts and places which ought never I am most heartily for the repeal of it

SPEECH

OF SIR ROBERT WALPOLE ON A MOTION TO REPEAL THE SEPTENNIAL BILL, DELIVERED N

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, 1734, IN REPLY TO SIR WILLIAM WYNDHAM. Str, -I do assure you, I did not intend to have actuated only by motives of envy, and of resenttroubled you on this occasion. But such inci- ment against those who have disappointed them dents now generally happen toward the end of in their views, or may not perhaps have com. our debates, nothing at all relating to the sub- plied with all their desires. ject; and gentlemen make such suppositions But now, sir, let me too suppose, and the (meaning some person, or perhaps, as they say, House being cleared, I am sure no one that hears no person now in being), and talk so much of me can come within the description of tho perwicked ministers, domineering ministers, minis- son. I am to suppose. Let us suppose in this

, ters pluming themselves in defiances—which or in some other unfortunate country, an antiterms, and such like, have been of late so much minister, who thinks himself a person of so great made use of in this House—that if they really and extensive parts, and of so many eminent mean nobody eitner in the House or out of it, qualifications, that he looks upon himself as the yet it must be supposed they at least mean to call only person in the kingdom capable to conduct upon some gentleman in this House to make the public affairs of the nation; and therefore them a reply. I hope, therefore, I may be allow- christening every other gentleman who has the ed to draw a picture in my turn; and I may honor to be employed in the administration by likewise say, that I do not mean to give a de- the name of Blunderer. Suppose this fine gen. scription of any particular person now in being. tleman lucky enough to have gained over to his When gentlemen talk of ministers abandoned to party some persons really of fine parts, of an. all sense of virtue or honor, other gentlemen cient families, and of great fortunes, and others may, I am sure, with equal justice, and, I think, of desperate views, arising from disappointed and more justly, speak of anti-ministers and mock. malicious hearts; all these gentlemen, with re patriots, who never had either virtue or honor; spect to their political behavior, moved by him, bat in the whole course of their opprsition are and by him solely; all they say, either in private or public, being only a repetition of the words he Now, to be serious, and to talk really to the has put into their mouths, and a spitting out of subject in hand. Though the question has been

hal venom which he has infused into them; and already so fully and so handsomely opposed yet we may suppose this leader not really liked by my worthy friend under the gallery, by tho by any, even of those who so blindly follow him, learned gentleman near me, and by several othand hated by all the rest of mankind. We will ers, that there is no great occasion to say any suppose this anti-minister to be in a country thing further against it; yet, as some new matwhere he really ought not to be, and where he ter has been stated by some of the gentlemen could not have been but by an effect of too much who have since that time spoke upon the other goodness and mercy; yot endeavoring, with all side of the question, I hope the House will in. bis might and with all his art, to destroy the dulge me the liberty of giving some of those reafountain from whence that mercy firrei. In sons which induce me to be against the motion. that country suppose him continually contract- In general, I must take notice, that the nature ing friendships and familiarities with the em- of our constitution seems to be very much mis bassadors of those princes who at the time hap- taken by the gentlomen who have spoken in fa. pen to be most at enmity with his own; and vor of this motion. It is certain that ours is a if at any time it should happen to be for the in- mixed government; and the perfection of our terest of any of those foreign ministers to have a constitution consists in this, that the monarchic. secret divulged to them, which might be highly al, aristocratical, and democratical forms of govprejudicial to his native country, as well as to all ernment are mixed and interwoven in ours, so its friends; suppose this foreign minister apply- as to give us all the advantages of each, without ing to him, and he answering, “I will get it subjecting us to the dangers and inconveniences you; tell me but what you want, I will endeav- of either. The democratical form of government, or to procure it for you." Upon this he puts a which is the only one I have now occasion to speech or two in the mouths of some of his creat- take notice of, is liable to these inconveniences, ures, or some of his new converts. What he that they are generally too tedious in their com wants is moved for in Parliament, and when so ing to any resolution, and seldom brisk and ex very reasonable a request as this is refused, sup- peditious enough in carrying their resolutions pose him and his creatures and tools, by his ad- into execution. That they are always wavering vice, spreading the alarm over the whole nation, in their resolutions, and never steady in any of and crying out, “Gentlemen, our country is at the measures they resolve to pursue ; and that present involved in many dangerous difficulties, they are often involved in factions, seditions, and all which we would have extricated you from, insurrections, which expose them to be made but a wicked minister and a corrupt majority the tools, if not the prey of their neighbors. refcsed us the proper materials !" . And upon Therefore, in all the regulations we make with "this scandalous victory,” this minister became respect to our constitution, we are to guard so insolent as “ to plume himself in defiances !" against running too much into that form of govLet us further suppose this anti-minister to have ernment which is properly called democratical. traveled, and at every court where he was, think. This was, in my opinion, the effect of the triening himself the greatest minister, and making it nial law, and will again be the effect, if it should his trade to betray the secrets of every court cver be restored. where he had before been; void of all faith or That triennial elections would make our govhonor, and betraying every master he ever serv- ernment too tedious in all their resolves is evi. ed. I could carry my suppositions a great deal dent; because, in such case, no prudent admin. further, and I may say I mean no person now in | istration would ever resolve upon any measure being; but if we can suppose such a one, can of consequence till they had felt, not only the there be imagined a greater disgrace to human pulse of the Parliament, but the pulse of the peonature than such a wretch as this?

ple. The ministers of state would always labor

under this disadvantage, that as secrets of state ""How must Wyndham and Pulteney," says must not be immediately divulged, their enemies Lord Mabon, “ have quailed before this terrible in. (and enemies they will always have) would have rective! How must it have wring the haughty soul of Bolingbroke!" Every word of it was true.

a handle for exposing their measures, and renderWhile Secretary of State under Queen Anne, he ing them disagreeable to the people, and theremaintained a treasonable correspondence with the by carrying perhaps a new election against them, Pretender, though he contrived, at the time, to con before they could have an opportunity of justify. ceal the evidence, which has since been made pub-ing their measures, by divulging thoso facts and lic. On the accession of George I. he fled to France, circumstances from whence the justice and the and was made the Pretender's Secretary of State. wisdom of their measures would clearly appear. Having quarreled with his new master, after some years, such were his powers of insinuation, that he is called the populace of every country are apt to

Then it is by experience well known, that what obtained a pardon from George I., and was thus restored to a country " where he could not have been, anderstood that this speech of Walpole drove him but by the effect of too much goodness and mercy.” from the country. Lord Mahon has indeed shown Here he did the very things described by Walpole : that he had other reasons for going; but this does kis friends did not deny it, or attempt his defense. not prove that Walpole's invective was not one iin. As he soon after gave ap the contest, and announced portant cause, by destroying all his hopes of future is intention to quit England forever, it has been siccess

С

But I am per

be too mach elated with success, and too much As to bribery and corruption, if it were pos dejected with every misfortune. This makes sible to influence, by such base means, the maihem wavering in their opinions about affairs of jority of the electors of Great Britain, to choose state, and never long of the same mind. And such men as would probably give up their lihas this House is chosen by the free and unbiased erties—if it were possible to influence, by such voice of the people in general, if this choice were means, a majority of the members of this House so often renewed, we might expect that this to consent to the establishment of arbitrary powHouse would be as wavering and as unsteady er-I should readily allow, that the calculations as the people usually are. And it being impos- made by the gentlemen of the other side were sible to carry on the public affairs of the nation just, and their inference true. without the concurrence of this House, the min- suaded that neither of these is possible. As the isters would always be obliged to comply, and members of this House generally are, and must conseqnently would be obliged to change their always be, gentlemen of fortune and figure in mcasures as often as the people changed their their country, is it possible to suppose that any minds.

of them could, by a pension or a post, be influWith septennial Parliaments we are not ex- enced to consent to the overthrow of our constiposed to either of these misfortunes, because, if tution, by which the enjoyment, not only of what ihe ministers, after having felt the pulse of the he got, but of what he before had, would be renParliament (which they can always soon do), re- dered altogether precarious ? I will allow, that solve upon any measures, they have generally with respect to bribery, the price must be hightime enough, before the new election comes on, er or lower, generally in proportion to the virtue to give the people proper information, in order of the man who is to be bribed; but it must liketo show them the justice and the wisdom of the wise be granted that the humor he happens to measures they have pursued. And if the people be in at the time, and the spirit he happens to should at any time be too much elated or too be endowed with, adds a great deal to his virtue. much dejected, or should, without a cause, change When no encroachments are made upon the their minds, those at the helm of affairs have time rights of the people, when the people do not to set them right before a new election comes on. think themselves in any danger, there may be

As to faction and sedition, I will grant, that many of the electors who, by a bribe of ten guinin monarchical and aristocratical governments, eas, might be induced to vote for one candidate it generally arises from violence and oppression ; rather than another. But if tha court were makbut in popular or mixed governments, it always ing any encroachments upon the rights of the arises from the people's having too great a share people, a proper spirit would, without doubt, in the government. For in all countries, and in arise in the nation; and in such a case I am per: all governments, there always will be many fac-suaded that none, or very few, aven of such elect tious and unquiet spirits, who can never be at ors, could be induced to vote for a court candirest, either in power or out of power. When in date-no, not for ten times the sum. power they are never easy, unless every man There may be some bribery and corruption submits entirely to their directions; and when in the nation; I am afraid there will always be out of power, they are always working and in- some. But it is no proof of it that strangers triguing against those that are in, without any [i. e., non-residents) are sometimes chosen; for regard to justice, or to the interest of their coun- a man may have so much natural influence over try. In popular governments such men have a borough in his neighborhood, as to be able to too much game. They have too many oppor- prevail with them to choose any person he pleas. tunities for working upon and corrupting the es to recommend. And if upon such recom. minds of the people, in order to give them a bad mendation they choose one or two of his friends, impression of, and to raise discontents against who are perhaps strangers to them, it is not from those that have the management of the public thence to be inferred that the two strangers were affairs for the time; and these discontents often chosen their representatives by the means of bribbreak out into seditions and insurrections. This ery and corruption. would, in my opinion, be our misfortune, if our To insinuate that money may be issued from Parliaments were either annual or triennial. By the public treasury for bribing elections, is really such frequent elections, there would be so much something very extraordinary, especially in those power thrown into the hands of the people, as gentlemen who know how many checks are upon would destroy that equal mixture, which is the every shilling that can be issued from thence; beauty of our constitution. In short, our gov- and how regularly the money granted in one ernment would really become a democratical year for the service of the nation must always government, and might from thence very prob- be accounted for the very next session in this ably diverge into a tyrannical. Therefore, in House, and likewise in the other, if they have a order to preserve our constitution, in order to mind to call for any such account. And as to prevent our falling under tyranny and arbitrary gentlemen in office, if they have any advantage power, we cught to preserve this law, which I over country gentlemen, in having something really think Sas brought our constitution to a else to depend on besides their own private for more equal mixture, and consequently to a greater perfection, than it was ever in before that law Walpole's notorious system of bribery was cer took place

tainly not conducted in so bungling a manner

Rines, they have likewise many disadvantages. I far from having entirely ceased. Can gentlemen They are obliged to live here at London with imagine, that in the spirit raised in the natioe their families, by which they are put to a much (against the Excise Bill

] not above a twelve. greater expense, than gentlemen of equal fortune month since, Jacobitism and disaffection to the who live in the country. This lays them under present government had no share ? Perhaps e very great disadvantage in supporting their in- some who might wish well to the present estabterest in the country. The country gentleman, lishment, did co-operate ; nay, I do not know but by living among the electors, and purchasing the they were the first movers of that spirit; but it necessaries for his family from them, keeps up can not be supposed that the spirit then raised an acquaintance and correspondence with them, should have grown up to such a ferment, merely without putting himself to any extraordinary from a proposition which was honestly and faircharge. Whereas a gentleman who lives in ly laid before the Parliament, and left entirely to London has no other way of keeping up an ac- their determination! No; the spirit was perquaintance and correspondence among his friends haps begun by those who are truly friends to the in the country, but by going down once or twice illustrious family we have now upon the throne. a year, at a very extraordinary expense, and oft- But it was raised to a much greater height than, en without any other business; so that we may I believe, even they designed, by Jacobites, and conclude, a gentleman in office can not, even in such as are enemies to our present establishment; seven years, save much for distributing in ready who thought they never had a fairer opportunity money at the time of an election. And I really of bringing about what they had so long and so believe, if the fact were narrowly inquired into, unsuccessfully wished for, than that which had it would appear, that the gentlemen in office are been furnished them by those who first raised as little guilty of bribing their electors with ready that spirit. I hope the people have now in & money, as any other set of gentlemen in the king- great measure come to themselves; and therefore dom.

I doubt not but the next elections will show, thai That there are ferments often raised among when they are left to judge coolly, they can disthe people without any just cause, is what I am tinguish between the real and the pretended surprised to hear controverted, since very late friends to the government. But I must say, if experience may convince us of the contrary, the ferment then raised in the nation had not alDo not we know what a ferment was raised ready greatly subsided, I should have thought in the nation toward the latter end of the late a new election a very dangerous experiment. Queen's reign? And it is well known what a And as such ferments may hereafter often hapfatal change in the affairs of this nation was in- pen, I must think that frequent elections will altroduced, or at least confirmed, by an election ways be dangerous ; for which reason, in so far coming on while the nation was in that serment. as I can see at present, I shall, I believe, at all Do not we know what a ferment was raised in times think it a very dangerous experiment to the nation soon after his late Majesty's acces- repeal the Septennial Bill. sion? And if an election had then been allowed to come on while the nation was in that ferment, it might perbaps have had as fatal effects as the The motion for repeal was rejected by a largo former. But, thank God, this was wisely pro- majority, and the bill has remained untouched vided against by the very law which is now down to the present time. Most reflecting men sought to be repealed.

will agree with Mr. Macaulay, that “the repeal It has, indeed, been said, that the chief mo- of the Septennial Act, unaccompanied by a comtime for enacting that law now no longer exists. plete reform of the constitution of the elective I can not admit that the motive they mean, was body, would have been an unmixed curse to the the chief motive; but even that motive is very country.”

SPEECH OF SIR ROBERT WALPOLE ON A MOTION FOR ADDRESSING THE KING FOR HIS REMOVAL, DR

LIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEBRUARY, 174L.

INTRODUCTION. The unpopularity of Walpole was greatly increased by the disasters of the Spanish war, all of whicb were ascribed to his bad management or want of preparation. The Opposition, therefore, decided, early in 1741, on the extreme measure of proposing an address to the King for his removal. Accordingly, Nr. Sandys, who was designated to take the lead, gave notice of a motion to that effect on the 11th of Febmary, 1741. Walpole rose immediately and thanked him for the information. He went on with great calmness and dignity, to assure the House that he was ready to meet every charge that could be brought

; Allusion is here made to the ferment created | Peace of Utrecht, by which the English gained far by the trial of Sacheverell, and the fall of the Whig less, and their opponents more, than had been administration of Godolphin, Somers, &c., conse- generally expected under the Whig administraquent thereon. This change of ministry led to the tion.

« PreviousContinue »