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CHAP. Walpole undoubtedly deserves great praise through
all his administration for placability and personal 1720. forbearance, yet I can scarcely think the present
case an instance of it. In this case the line of interest exactly coincided with the line of duty. Would not the King have shut out Walpole for eyer from his confidence had Walpole headed. this attack on his colleagues? Would not a large section, at least, of the Whigs, have adhered to their other chiefs ? Was it not his evident policy, instead of hurling down the objects of popular outcry, to befriend them in their inevitable fall, and then quietly to step into their places, with the consent, perhaps even with the thanks, of their personal adherents ?
Meanwhile the German ministers and mistresses, full of fear for themselves, and in utter ignorance of England, were whispering, it is said, the wildest schemes. One spoke of a pretended resignation to the Prince of Wales; another wished to sound the officers of the army, and try to proclaim absolute power; another again advised to apply to the Emperor for troops. But such mad proposals, if, indeed, they were ever seriously made, were counteracted by the English ministers, and still more, no doubt, by, the King's own good sense and right feeling
On the 8th of December Parliament met in a mood like the people's, terror-stricken, bewildered,
volume (p. 194.) from Pulteney, then a friend of Walpole, confirms the view I have taken.
and thirsting for vengeance. In the House of CHA P.
XI. Commons parties were strangely mixed; some men, who had dipped in dishonest practices, hoped by 1720. an affected severity to disarm suspicion ; others, smarting under their personal losses, were estranged from their political attachments. Whigs and Tories crossed
while the Jacobites, enjoying and augmenting the general confusion, hoped to turn it in their own behalf. The King's opening speech lamented the unhappy turn of affairs, and urged the seeking a remedy. This passed quietly in the Lords; but when Pulteney moved the Address in the Commons, Shippen proposed an angry amendment, and produced a violent debate. “ Miscreants” “ scum of the people”.
"L" enemies of their country;" such were the names given to the South Sea Directors. One member complained that the Ministry had put a stop to all the little bubbles, only in order to deepen the water for the great one. Lord Molesworth admitted that the Directors could not be reached by any known laws; “but extra
ordinary crimes," he exclaimed, “ call for extra“ ordinary remedies. The Roman lawgivers had not “foreseen the possible existence of a parricide ; but
as soon as the first monster appeared, he was sewn “ in a sack, and cast headlong into the Tiber; and “ as I think the contrivers of the South Sea “ Scheme to be the parricides of their country, “I shall willingly see them undergo the same
punishment !” Such was the temper of the times! On this occasion, Walpole spoke with his
CHAP. usual judgment, and with unwonted ascendency.
He said that if the city of London were on fire, 1720. wise men would be for extinguishing the flames
before they inquired after the incendiaries, and that he had already bestowed his thoughts on a proposal to restore Public Credit, which, at a proper season, he would submit to the wisdom of the House. Through his influence, chiefly, the amendment of Shippen was rejected by 261 against 103 ; but next day on the Report no one ventured to oppose the insertion of words “to punish the authors of our
present misfortunes.” Three days afterwards it was carried that the Directors should forthwith lay before the House an account of all their proceedings *, and a Bill was introduced against “ the “ infamous practice of Stock-Jobbing.”
It was amidst this general storm that Walpole, on the 21st of December, brought forward his remedy. He had first desired the House to decide whether or not the public contracts with the South Sea Company should be preserved inviolate. This being carried by a large majority, Walpole then unfolded his scheme; it was in substance to engraft nine millions of Stock into the Bank of England,
* “ Governor Pitt moved that the Directors should attend on “ Thursday with their Myrmidons, the secretary, and treasurer, “ and, if they pleased, with their great Scanderbeg : who he “ meant by that I know not; but the epithet denotes somebody “ of consideration !” Mr. Brodrick to Lord Midleton, December 10. 1720. Compare with this letter the Parl. Hist. vol. vii.
and the same sum into the East India Company, on CHAP.
XI. certain conditions, leaving twenty millions to the South Sea. This measure, framed with great 1720. financial ability, and supported by consummate powers of debate, met with no small opposition, especially from all the three Companies, not one of which would gain by it; and though it passed both Houses, it was never carried into execution, being only permissive, and not found necessary, in consequence, as will be seen hereafter, of another law.
A short Christmas recess had no effect in allay. 1721. ing animosities. Immediately afterwards, a Bill was brought in by Sir Joseph Jekyll, restraining the South Sea Directors from going out of the kingdom, obliging them to deliver upon oath the strict value of their estates, and offering rewards to discoverers or informers against them. * The Di. rectors petitioned to be heard by counsel in their defence, the common right, they said, of British subjects - - as if a South Sea man had been still entitled to justice! Their request was rejected, and the Bill was hurried through both Houses. A Secret Committee of Inquiry was next appointed by the Commons, consisting chiefly of the most vehement opponents of the South Sea Scheme, such as Molesworth, Jekyll, and Brodrick, the latter of whom they selected for their Chairman.
This Committee proceeded to examine Mr.
* This last clause is mentioned by Brodrick to Lord Midleton, Jan, 19. 1721.
CHAP. Knight, the cashier of the Company, and the agent XI.
of its most secret transactions. But this person, 1721. dreading the consequences, soon after his first ex
amination escaped to France, connived at, as was
and carrying with him the register of the Company. His escape was reported to the House on the 23d of January, when a strange scene of violence ensued. The Commons ordered the doors to be locked, and the keys to be laid on the table. General Ross then stated that the Committee, of which he was a member, had “discovered a train of the deepest
villany and fraud that hell ever contrived to “ ruin a nation.” No proof beyond this vague assertion was required: four of the Directors, members of the Parliament, were immediately expelled the House, taken into custody, and their papers seized! *
Meanwhile the Lords had been examining other Directors at their Bar, and on the 24th they also ordered five to be taken into custody. Some of the answers indicated that large sums in South Sea Stock had been given to procure the passing of the Act last year; upon which Lord Stanhope immediately rose, and expressing his indignation at such practices, moved a resolution, that any transfer of Stock, without a valuable consideration, for the use of any person in the administration, during the pen
“ Several of the Directors were so far innocent as to be “ found poorer at the breaking up of the scheme than when it “ began." (Macpherson's Hist. of Commerce, vol. iii. p. 112.)