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Church men had in the country--a fact which no one perceived more clearly than the Lord Treasurer.
Subordinate to the main subject, but closely connected with it, was also the question of the improvement of the national finances, a matter essentially attractive to Harley, who had throughout his parliamentary career been a keen critic of financial extravagance. No one can read the many letters on this subject addressed to him by De Foe without at once realising the attention given to it by Harley, and in all probability the source whence many of the politician's schemes and criticisms originated. Peace at any price and by any means was therefore essential to Harley's political salvation.
Great Britain, however, was not fighting alone against France; by her side were the Dutch and her German allies, who, no doubt, had often been troublesome and expensive partners. Yet an alliance such as existed demanded of each member that negotiations should not be made behind the back of the others. In those of 1709, and again in those at Gertruydenberg in the summer of 1710, during the existence of the Whig ministry, the Grand Alliance had worked openly together. It may be admitted that the primary object for which the war of the Spanish succession had been begun had been attained, that the power of France was broken, that Holland was safe, and that the question of the crown of Spain had been solved. It may also be admitted that the exorbitant demands put forward by Great Britain's continental allies had prevented peace from being made in the past, and would be the chief obstacles in the future. It is easy to see, therefore, that if the making of peace at any price was the object—as it certainly was-of Harley's ministry, it could be without doubt secured by a separate negotiation with Louis, who was as anxious as Harley or St. John that the war should come to a speedy conclusion. It is equally obvious that if Great Britain and France came to terms the allies could scarcely continue the war by themselves : then, as in the Napoleonic wars, the English taxpayer was the German paymaster. But the weakness and the fault of the methods of Harley and St. Jobn were that a separate and secret negotiation with France was unfair to the allies, and so was dishonourable, and it was unstatesmanlike because it necessarily weakened tbe position of Great Britain in the negotiations, and correspondingly strengthened Louis's hands. It would have been time enough to conclude a separate peace when England's allies should refuse satisfactory and reasonable terms of peace from France. Yet from the very beginning of the Tory negotiations with France St. John was treating with Louis behind the back of the Dutch. On July 1, 1711-it is unnecessary to refer to the still earlier and less formal negotiations through the Abbé Gaultier-Prior was sent to Paris. In the preceding month Drummond, in an interview with the Dutchmen Vander Dussen and Buys, had spoken strongly of the determination of the English ministers to act in concert with the Dutch:
'I am extremely glad,' he writes to Harley in June 1711, 'to find that the Queen is resolved to establish a firm alliance with us, which is to last in time of peace as well as of this heavy war. This word of heavy war gave me an opportunity to acquaint him with that paragraph of your Lordship's letter, in which you are pleased to say that you are willing to enter into methods with the Grand Pensionary for the common good of both nations, and that you hope the States will not neglect another opportunity of a good peace, or if they do they will have no one to blame but themselves. He desired me to say over this twice to him, though he understands English very well, and answered, “Nothing can be so acceptable to me as to hear my Lord Treasurer's opinion of the present circumstances of affairs, and what can be thought on to bring them into a better posture I dare not by my office," said he, “write to a foreign minister without the communication of the States, which is composed of 80 many different men and humours, that we would have it in the Paris Gazette next week, it would become so public, or I would write to his Lordship immediately, and entreat the continuance of his correspondence and assistance at this nice juncture, and express my congratulation and joy for the deserved honour and trust bestowed on his Lordship by so good a queen to so useful and valuable a subject;” and charged me to make his compliments, I can assure your Lordship, with much heartiness and sincerity. ...
The Grand Pensionary charged me once and again to acquaint you that you might depend upon it that no good or real opportunity should be lost of coming to a peace wbich, at this time, would be too great a blessing to neglect in any degree, but charged me to be secret, saying, "Be sure to merit the trust reposed in you by keeping sacredly secret these our inclinations to a speedy and reasonable peace, for if our enemy should discover our inclination they would certainly be very 'fier,' and stand upon such terms as perhaps it would be impracticable and impossible for us to accept of, besides that some of our allies, who have of late shown much self-interestedness, would make the best shifts for them. selves, and leave the Queen and us to deal with the enemy the best we could.” (Harley Papers, vol. iii. p. 8.)
On July 7 Drummond writes yet another letter, interesting as showing that he was still speaking mildly to the Dutch, who were clearly in a suspicious temper, in which he says:
* This State might now rest assured of a firm and lasting union and friendship with England while the Queen lived and your Lordship bad so large a share in the management of affairs.' (Harley Papers, vol. iii. p. 23.) At this very moment, however, Prior was treating on the closest terms with Torcy; he even had, before he returned, a personal interview with Louis himself. Of this mission we have now for the first time a description in Prior's own hand, and a statement of the words of the conversation with the French sovereign, though this, except in so far as it shows the friendly character of the negotiations, is rather a political curiosity than of historical value. From this paper the strong desire of the Tories and of the English ministry for peace is more than ever evident. Equally clear also is the wish of the Dutch to resume the thread of negotiations broken in the previous year; but perhaps clearest of all is the single-handedness of the treating, confined wholly to England and France. It is pretty, obvious, too that Torcy and Prior bad come to an agreement upon all points except that in regard to trade, Here is Prior's résumé of his last interview with the French minister :
*1711, July 21-August 1. Friday, nine at night.—Monsieur de Torci gave me the answer to the memorial I brought hither. I read it over with him, and upon it I observed that it was only an answer to the former part of my memorial as to what related to the allies in general, but that there was not a word in answer to what concerned Great Britain in particular. He answered that all that matter must be settled and agreed in England, that as he had said before the gentleman whom the King had named to go back with me, was fully instructed and apprized of his Majesty's mind upon those heads, that he wished it could be adjusted here, but since I had no power to recede from those positive demands which the King could not agree to, there were but two things remaining—one to break off the negotiation, which he said his Majesty and he hoped we were unwilling to do, the other to try if there were a possibility of accommodating in what we desired as to our trade; that this gentleman, whom he named Monsieur de Mesnager, would be at Fontainebleau on Monday to receive those orders which his Majesty had resolved on.' (Harley Papers, vol. iii. p. 40.) The result of this mission was the despatch of Mesnager to London and the signing on September 27 of preliminaries of peace, which were the beginnings of the open negotiations which ended in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht.
But during their course an episode occurred most characteristic of the manner of the ministry. In the beginning of May 1712 the chief point in dispute was as to the reVOL. CXCIII. NO. OCCXCVI.
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nouncement of the rights of the King of Spain to the crown of France. On May 9 came a letter from Louis, under. taking to lay before his nephewtwo alternatives : either a · public and immediate renouncement of his claim to be ' inserted in the treaty of peace, or else a transmigration,
as Gaultier called it, to Tunis. This letter was so favourably regarded by the ministry that St. John sent to Ormondwho had replaced Marlborough-one which contained the famous ‘restraining orders.' In other words, Ormond was directed not to engage in any siege or battle till further orders. But he was to disguise the receipt of this command, and to find pretences for his conduct. At the same time information of the order was, it was also stated, sent to the Maréchal de Villars-a fact which, becoming known, aroused the indignation, not only of the allies, but of the Whigs and some Tories in England, producing acrimonious debates, which only the assurance of Harley that no separate peace would be made turned in favour of the administration.
It is difficult to understand the issue of directions 80 contrary not only to national honour, but to political expediency, since, to use a modern and rather well-worn phrase, peace with honour' was what the country desired. How distasteful it was even to the Tories cannot be better shown than by a letter from Ormond himself, which has also a personal in-erest, throwing as it does some light on Harley's character and absence of direct intervention in foreign affairs. For Ormond was not only commander of the British forces, but one of the leading and most influential men in the party of which Harley was now the nominal chief, and yet he was unable to extract from the Lord Treasurer a reply to his repeated despatches :
"1712, [May 25-]June 4, N.S. The Camp at Solesmes. This is the fourth letter that I have done myself the honour to write to you without hearing from you, which I believe the multiplicity of business is the cause of.
I send this to let you know that I have done all I could to keep secret and to disguise the orders that I received from her Majesty by Mr. Secretary St. John, but it is above ten days since I received the Queen's pleasure, and now I can't make any more excuses for delaying entering into action. When I was pressed to it, I made my Lord Strafford's sudden journey to England my excuse, and desired that I might hear from England before I undertook anything. I have been again pressed this day by two of the deputies in their masters' names to know if I would undertake anything in conjunction with them. I still made the same answer, that I had not heard from England, but expected letters every moment. This would not satisfy, nor could
I give any other answer, being, as you know, obliged to keep secret the orders I have received. I will not trouble you with more of this subject, for Mr. Secretary St. John's letter will inform you of all this matter.
'I am very impatient to hear when I may own what I am to do, for the situation that I now am in is very disagreeable, as may easily be believed."* (Harley Papers, vol. iii. p. 176.)
The Treaty of Utrecht has often been severely criticised, and political faction took advantage of the country being again at peace to condemn it. Yet its conclusion was a great and substantial fulfilment of the policy of Harley and St. John, a policy from which St. John boped to gain as much party advantage as national good. Certainly the manner in which from time to time-indeed from their beginning-the negotiations were carried on is open to censure. But nothing could gainsay the impressive fact that the war had been successful and that peace was restored. Great Britain was more powerful, her territories were increased, and her trade was enlarged. And this brings us at once to Harley's financial policy.
The South Sea scheme was the chief feature of his control of the Exchequer. It was based on private enterprise and supported by government assistance. First of all came the South Sea Act, 'for making up deficiencies and
satisfying the public debt; and for erecting a corporation 'to carry out a trade in the South Seas; and for the
encouragement of the fishery and for liberty to trade ‘in immigration and to repeal the Acts for registering seamen.'
This legislation had two objects—the relief of the public credit and the enlarging of British commerce. There first resulted from it the company of merchants of Great • Britain trading to the South Seas and the other parts of ' America,' of which Harley became governor, and St. John and Benson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were two of the original directors. It came into being on September 7, 1711. The company being formed, the financial scheme ensued, the floating debt of ten millions being assigned to the new corporation, with a guaranteed interest at the rate of six per cent. To the company was also granted a nominal monopoly of the trade in the South Seas-nominal because the English statute could only give an exclusive
* A copy of this letter was published among several others from Ormond in Hist. MSS. Commission, 11th Rep. App., part iii. p. 208.