Unseen Hand in British History - Ian D. Colvin




XIII. A Stalemate Peace

The Whigs were the party of commerce and manufactures: their rule was inspired by a national policy in which the protection of manufactures, the security of "vent," and the maintenance of sea-power were the cardinal points. In as far as they concerned themselves with religion they favored toleration for dissent on the not very high ground laid down by Sir William Petty "that the heterodox party of every country are, generally speaking, the most industrious, and contribute most to the riches of the nation." But the Roman Catholics were not admitted to this latitude on ground of much the same level because France was Catholic and France was the great trade rival.

The Tory party, representing Land and Church at that time one and the same thing had no such bitter feeling against France. The English squire liked his claret and his brandy, and found an occasional market in France for his surplus of corn. Torism and Trade can never Agree is the title of one of Davenant's pamphlets, and he scornfully quotes an alleged saying of Lord Castlemain's: "England can subsist without trade which is not at all necessary."

The more politic pamphleteers of the British Merchant strove to prove that rents depended on the treasure introduced by trade so as to persuade the landed interest that the war was being fought for its benefit.

"When trade was stopped with France," they argued, "rents soon advanced, and industry being encouraged, new manufactures were daily set up and there was a full employment for the poor. The price of cloth increased. . . . The gentleman and the farmer, the merchant and the manufacturer soon experienced the mighty benefit."

But the country gentleman was not easily to be persuaded by logic or rhetoric; what he perceived more clearly was that while his labor was being withdrawn he had to pay a land tax of several shillings in the pound. For this he was hardly consoled by the expensive and brilliant victories of Marlborough.

In these circumstances the High Tory Bolingbroke came into office, and after one "legitimate gamble" for the conquest of Canada resolved upon peace. Now the modern historian inclines to favor the Peace of Utrecht as wise and moderate statesmanship. The judicious if lymphatic Lecky, while he cannot but censure the means by which they were gained, is well satisfied with the terms both of the Treaty of Peace and the Treaty of Commerce.

"It is somewhat humiliating," he writes, "that the measure which most seriously injured the Tory Ministry of Anne was that which will now be almost universally regarded as their chief glory. The object of Bolingbroke was to establish a large measure of Free Trade between England and France; and had he succeeded he would have unquestionably added immensely both to the commercial prosperity of England and to the probabilities of a lasting peace."

The means, unfortunately, are not in question. England had entered into the Grand Alliance for certain purposes and upon certain conditions. One condition was that there should be no separate treaty. Yet Bolingbroke obtained separate negotiations with the enemy and made separate terms which were to be conditional upon a peace with the other allies. While he was assuring Holland that he would take no step without her consent, he was arranging his own terms with France. To this end he had replaced Marlborough by Ormonde, and had instructed Ormonde not to fight the enemy. Although Marlborough had the French beaten, Ormonde refused to press the victory home. The depth of degradation to which an English general was thus reduced by a politician may be gathered from Ormonde's first letter to Saint-John:

"Prince Eugene and the States having proposed to attack the enemy, or, if that be found too hazardous, to besiege Quesnoy, His Grace fears it will be very difficult for him to disguise the true reason of his opposing all proposals that shall be made for undertaking anything, having no excuse for delays, all the troops we expected and the heavy cannon being to be here on Saturday."

But worse was to follow. Ormonde entered into communications with Marshal Villars for the destruction of his ally, and when he heard that Eugene designed to surprise a town: "I am humbly of opinion some means should be found to give advice of it to Mareschal Villars, who may possibly think we owe him that good office."

Even the benefits of Free Trade could hardly have obliterated such a stain upon our national honor. The separate peace was concluded: our soldiers cursed Ormonde and Bolingbroke, and sat moodily in their camps ashamed to look the Allies in the face. "Some left their colors to serve among the Allies, and others afterwards withdrew, and whenever they recollected the Duke of Marlborough and the late glorious times their eyes filled with tears." But England was thought to be sick of the war, a sufficient justification in political eyes:

"The nation here are five hundred to one for peace," wrote the Lord Treasurer (Oxford). "The ferment begins to work, and it will be impossible to answer for the turn the House of Commons will take if these delays provoke them further. They all feel how many hundred thousand pounds this needless protraction costs them. . . . In the meantime the merchants lie off and will not come into port."

It is good to remember that in this great betrayal London had no hand: the merchants, as frequently, were stronger for the honor and interest of their country than the politicians.

What is the part of Honour in National Policy? It may be thought a sordid occupation to grub for the roots of a national policy in the loam of a British interest; but I do not ignore this fact also, that while the root is in the soil, the English rose that springs therefrom is in the sun. Interest alone should dictate the lines of a national policy; but honor must observe its fulfilment. For honor is the higher interest of a country: upon its honor depends the trust of its neighbors and the spirit of its subjects. If a nation departs from honor in one case it lowers the value of all its treaties and alliances both of the past and of the future; and it inflicts upon its nationals a lower status in the world. A nation's word is given usually in its immediate interest: it should be kept in its general interest. Thus from the root of interest grows the English rose of honor.

Bolingbroke hoped to keep his conduct of the peace secret. He calculated that weariness of war and his Parliamentary majority would carry him through; but there was one difficulty: the merchants would not "come into port." The merchants of England were then organized upon a national basis, and they were the leaders of the national industry. All the guilds and companies of merchants and weavers were dead against that Treaty of Commerce which Lecky regards as the chief glory of the reign of Anne.

This treaty was for what was then called "a Free Trade" with France. It put the two countries on the most favored nation basis, and it restored the French tariff of 1664. Or it appeared to do so, for while Lecky says that "some classes of goods" were exempt for future negotiation, he omits to mention that among them was English cloth, by far the greatest of all English exports. Moreover the effect of the measure was to abolish the Methuen Treaty, and it needs more than even Mr. Lecky's assertion to prove that "the enormous market which the English woolen manufacture would have received in France immeasurably outweighed any advantages England could have received from the Portuguese trade."

France at the time was the rival of England as a manufacturing Power. The French were believed to live largely on chestnuts, and French wages were lower than English. The English manufacturers produced ample statistics to prove their case, and if there is now any reason to doubt their conclusion, it is because the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the development of machinery in England were in a way of producing industrial results in both countries which at that time it was impossible to foresee.

The campaign against the treaty was carried on in the street and in Parliament. The Press controversy is readable even now. On the one side the British Merchant was the organ of the London companies; on the other the Mercator, written largely, as most people supposed, by Defoe, represented the views of Bolingbroke and Arthur Moore.

The British Merchant is not content to argue merely the case of the treaty: it goes to the root of the matter and sets forth the principles of a national commerce. It lays down the whole doctrine of Protection: "The first and best market of England are the natives and inhabitants of England."

The debate inside the House began on June 9, 1713, when a Grand Committee considered a Bill to make effectual the 8th and 9th articles of the treaty. Bolingbroke's spokesman in the House was Arthur Moore, "the only man whom he seems to have consulted on the question, and who was suspected of corrupt motives and had little personal weight."

And we may agree with the House, not for the popular reason that Moore was "the son of a Monaghan gaoler," but from a candid consideration of his interest in the matter. The unseen hand was the Assiento Contract which gave the South Sea Company certain trading privileges in the Spanish Indies, and this contract was part of the treaty. Moore was a director of the South Sea Company, and a little while afterwards was censured by the company for carrying on a clandestine trade to its prejudice. Altogether, the "advanced views" of this enterprising Irishman, however much they may impress the modern Free Trader, were hardly likely to convince the bigoted and cynical British public of his own day.

On the other side was the organized commerce of England.

"The Turkey Company, those that traded to Portugal and Italy, and all who were concerned in the woolen and silk manufactures, appeared before both Houses, and set forth the great mischief that a commerce with France on the foot of the treaty would bring upon the nation; while none appeared on the other side to answer their arguments, or to set forth the advantage of such a commerce. It was manifest that none of the trading bodies had been consulted in it."

Tindal, who is here quoted, adds that when it came before the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations, "Arthur Moore, who had risen up from being a footman without any education to be a great dealer in trade, and was the person of that Board in whom the Lord Treasurer confided most . . . took it away and never brought it back to them, but gave it to the Lord Bolingbroke, who carried it to Paris, and there it was settled."

According to Hansard, the House first heard "Mr. Cooke, a merchant, who, in behalf of the Levant Company, made a long speech, wherein, with great solidity of reason and argument, he showed how detrimental the opening a trade with France would be to the British woolen and silk manufactures and to all the branches of our trade." On June 10, "the Spanish, Italian, and Portugal merchants, and the weavers of London" presented petitions. One of them speaking rather freely, "some Court members" proposed to censure him.

"But General Stanhope, Mr. Lechmere, Sir Peter King, and Mr. John Smith said, 'that unless they gave the merchants full liberty of speech, the House would never be able to form a right judgment on that important affair; and they hoped that no man should be reprimanded for standing up for the trade of Great Britain.' This, together with a noble spirit that appeared in the House on behalf of the merchants, by the great number of members, both Tory and Whig, who, all at once, stood up to defend Mr. Torriano, made the courtiers drop that matter; and so Mr. Wyat spoke for the Italian merchants; Mr. Milner for the Portugal trade, and Col. Lekeux for the London weavers."

Arthur Moore was the only member who put up a real fight for the Bill, "but his arguments being strained and precarious," even his own party rejected them.

The Bill was lost when Sir Thomas Hanmer, who led the Tory Jacobites, confessed that he had been converted by the arguments of the traders and manufacturers, and that the passing of the Bill:

". . . would be of great prejudice to the woolen and silk manufacturers of this kingdom, consequently increase the number of poor, and in the end affect the land."

The merchants, in fact, had captured the landed interest by sheer weight of argument, for none doubted Hanmer's honesty***; the Bill was defeated by 194 against 185 most of the Court and the Scotch members voting for the Bill. The Government had already taken alarm; Oxford had even proposed to drop the Bill, judging that it was certain to be rejected in the Lords.

"Be that as it will," says Boyer, "the London drapers, mercers, and weavers were overjoyed at the rejecting of the Bill, and on Friday night, the 19th of June, expressed their satisfaction by bonfires and illuminations."

[*** Editor's note: Ha ha ha! ho ho ho! This is absurd. The London 'Merchants' bribed and blackmailed every public figure in Britain. This was an orchestrated take down of the Tory opposition.]

The defeat of the Bill was the beginning of the end of Bolingbroke. Although he was probably the greatest orator and the cleverest politician of his time; although he knew how to appeal to the patriotic and monarchical sentiment, then, and perhaps still, the strongest in the British breast, he had failed in honor and in loyalty. And as England then valued character before eloquence a prejudice from which she has since shaken herself free, Bolingbroke never again recovered his position. He escaped impeachment by fleeing to France, and Walpole, who had completed his downfall, in course of time reigned in his stead.

The long administration of Walpole rested upon the understanding between the agricultural and the mercantile interests, which the fight over the Treaty of Commerce had helped to bring about.