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CHAP. his want of support.* The Jacobites could no XI.
longer fix their station, or conduct their intrigues, 1720. on the neighbouring coasts; an edict for their total
banishment from France had been granted to Stanhope at Paris.f The Pretender had not left him a single great power to afford him aid or countenance, and was reduced to vague hopes and empty promises — to the prophecies of monks or the dreams of exiles ! Thus, therefore, the exertions of Stanhope had happily restored peace throughout Europe ; and it was by pursuing his policy, and treading in his footsteps, that Walpole afterwards preserved this blessing for so many years.
At home, the prospect for Stanhope was not less cheeting. He had risen to much the highest place in the Royal confidence; a fact so well understood, that we find it publicly mentioned in some foreign State Papers of this period. The defeat on the Peerage Bill had not shaken him or Sunderland; they were not less strong with Parliament; they were not less trusted by the King; and the party of Walpole, hopeless of overthrowing, consented to join them. This junction was on far from equal terms. It made no change at all in the measures, and but little in the men. Walpole received no higher place than Paymaster of the Forces (out of the Cabinet), nor Townshend than CHAP. President of the Council ; while Methuen was
* The Peace of Nystad between Russia and Sweden was signed August, 1721. (Dumont, Suppl. Corps Diplom. vol. viii. part 2. p. 36.)
+ In March, 1720. See St. Simon, Mem. vol. xviii. p. 153. ed. 1829.
I Abbé Dubois to M. Landi, Jan. 19. 1720. (Hist. Regist. p. 76, &c.)
XI. satisfied with an office in the Royal Household. * 1720. Their support, accordingly, was by no means warm and willing; they were treated as inferiors, and, of course, behaved as malecontents; but at all events their opposition was disarmed, and their connection with the Tories broken. Another great advantage attending their accession was, healing the breach in the Royal Family Walpole, who had lately ingratiated himself with the Prince of Wales, induced him to write a submissive letter to the King; Stanhope induced His Majesty to receive it favour, ably: a meeting ensued, and a reconciliation was effected. This union, both of Statesmen and of Princes, dashed the best hopes of Jacobitism, Bishop Atterbury writes to James, that, though the reconciliation is far from sincere, it will by degrees become so, or that at least the appearances and consequences of it will be the same as if it really were. “ I think myself obliged," he adds, "to represent this melancholy truth, that there
may be no expectation of any thing from hence, " which will certainly not happen." +
Such, then, was the prosperous aspect of affairs,
* The vacancies were made by the Duke of Kent, the Earl of Lincoln, and Mr. Boscawen. The latter was rewarded with the title of Viscount Falmouth. Lord Lincoln was a personal friend of Stanhope, had taken office only at his solicitation, and readily relinquished it.
+ Bishop Atterbury to James, May 6. 1720, Appendix. See also the Marchmont Papers, vol. ii. p. 409.
CHA P. when in June the King, attended by Stanhope, set XI.
out for his German dominions. But the happy 1720. calm was not of long continuance. It is now for
me to relate how that glittering and hollow bubble, the South Sea Scheme, rising to the surface, broke the tranquillity and troubled the clearness of the waters.
The South Sea Company was first formed by Harley in 1711, his object being to improve public credit, and to provide for the floating debts, which at that period amounted to nearly 10,000,0001. The Lord Treasurer, therefore, established a fund for that sum.
He secured the interest by making permanent the duties on wine, vinegar, tobacco, and several others; he allured the creditors by promising them the monopoly of trade to the Spanish coasts in America ; and the project was sanctioned both by Royal Charter and by Act of Parliament. Nor were the merchants slow in swal. lowing this gilded bait; and the fancied Eldorado which shone before them dazzled even their discerning eyes. The exploits of Drake were quoted, and the dreams of Raleigh renewed. This spirit spread throughout the whole nation, and many, who scarcely knew whereabouts America lies, felt nevertheless quite certain of its being strewed with gold
Meanwhile the partisans of Harley zealously forwarded this illusion, as tending to raise the reputation and secure the power of their chief; and they loudly vaunted the South Sea Scheme as the Earl of Oxford's master-piece, and as not unworthy of Sully or of Colbert.
The negotiations of Utrecht, however, in this as CHAP. in other matters, fell far short of the ministerial
XI. promises and of the public expectation. Instead
1720. of a free trade, or any approach to a free trade, with the American colonies, the Court of Madrid granted only, besides the shameful Asiento for negro slaves, the privilege of settling some factories, and sending one annual ship; and even this single ship was not unrestricted: it was to be under 500 tons burthen, and a considerable share of its profits to revert to the King of Spain. This shadow of a trade was bestowed by the British Government on the South Sea Company, but it was very soon disturbed. Their first annual ship, the Royal Prince, did not sail till 1717, and next year broke out the war with Spain ; when, as I have already had occa. sion to relate, Alberoni, in defiance of the treaty, seized all the British goods and vessels in the Spanish ports. Still, however, the South Sea Com- . pany continued, from its other resources, a flourishing and wealthy corporation : its funds were high, its influence considerable, and it was considered on every occasion the rival and competitor of the Bank of England.
At the close of 1719, when the King returned from Hanover, this aspiring Company availed itself of the wish of Ministers to lessen the public debts, by consolidating all the funds into one. Sir John Blunt, once a scrivener, and then a leading South Sea Director, laid before Stanhope, as chief minister, a proposal for this object. He was re
CHAP. ferred by Stanhope to Sunderland, as First Lord of XI.
the Treasury, and to Aislabie, as Chancellor of the 1720. Exchequer. Several conferences ensued with the
latter; several alterations were made in the scheme; and it was at length so far adjusted to the satisfaction of Ministers, that the subject was recommended to Parliament in the King's Speech. The great object was to reduce the irredeemable Annuities granted in the two last reigns, for the term, mostly, of 99 years, and amounting at this time to nearly 800,000l. a year. But when the question came on in the House of Commons, a wish was expressed by Mr. Brodrick and many more, that every other company should be at liberty to make offers. This, exclaims the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was like setting the nation to auction ; and the only point on which all parties concurred was one which experience has proved to be totally wrong “ I quite agreed with Ministers," says Mr. Brodrick, " that till the national debt was “ discharged, or at least in a fair way of being
so, we were not to expect to make the figure we * formerly had! Nay, further, I said, till this was “ done, we could not, properly speaking, call our"selves a nation !” At length, after some violent
* Our best authorities for this negotiation, and the subsequent debate in the House of Commons, are, Mr. Brodrick's Letter to Lord Midleton, Jan. 24. 1720; and Mr. Aislabie's Second Speech before the House of Lords, July, 1721. The latter seems to be overlooked by Coxe. Both, however, require to be read with much suspicion ; Aislabie being then on his defence, and Brodrick a violent partisan on the other side.