[See larger version] On the death of Stanhope, Sir Robert Walpole was left without a rival, and he received his commission of First Lord of the Treasury on the 2nd of April, and from this period down to 1742 he continued to direct the government of Great Britain. His chief anxiety now was to restore the public credit. He drew up, as Chairman of the Committee of the Commons, a report of all that had been lost in the late excitements, and of the measures that had been adopted to remedy the costs incurred. Amongst these were the resolutions of the House respecting the seven and a half millions the directors of the South Sea Company had agreed to pay to Government; more than five had been remitted, and we may add that on the clamorous complaints of the Company the remainder was afterwards remitted too. The forfeited estates had been made to clear off a large amount of encumbrance, the credit of the Company's bonds had been maintained, and thirty-three per cent. of the capital paid to the proprietors. Such were the[49] measures adopted by the Commons, and these being stated in the report to the king, a Bill was brought in embodying them all. Many of the proprietors, however, were not satisfied. They were very willing to forget their own folly and greediness, and charge the blame on the Government. On the second reading of Walpole's Bill they thronged the lobby of the House of Commons. The next day the Bill was carried, and gradually produced quiet; but Walpole himself did not escape without severe animadversions. He was accused of having framed his measures in collusion with the Bank, and with a clear eye to his own interest; but he had been strenuously vindicated from the charge, and on the whole the vigour and boldness with which he encountered the storm and quelled it deserve the highest praise, and may well cover a certain amount of self-interest, from which few Ministers are free.

These defeats, which were gradually hemming Napoleon round by his enemies in Dresden, were the direct result of the active aid of Great Britain to the Allies. Sir Charles Stewart, the brother of Lord Castlereagh, had been dispatched to the headquarters of the Allies. By means of the abundant supplies of arms and money, the population of Hanover was raised; Bernadotte was kept firm to his support of the Coalition; and, by Sir Charles, he was also urged to march on Leipsic, and be present at the final conflict. Brigadier-General Lyon was sent to head the troops in Hanover; and the Duke of Cambridge to conduct the civil government of the country. Money was supplied in abundance, in addition to military stores. Two millions were advanced to the Crown Prince of Sweden for his army, two millions more to the Russians and Prussians, and another half million to Russia to equip its fleet in the Baltic. Without these vast supplies the combined armies could not have kept their ground. Peel has been even more severely censured than the Duke of Wellington for the part he took on this memorable occasion. He wrote a long letter to the Duke, in which he earnestly[283] protested against taking charge of the Emancipation Bill in the House of Commons, offering, at the same time, to give it his earnest support. He also offered to resign, as a means of removing one obstacle to the adjustment which the interests of the country demanded. The letter concluded as follows: "I do not merely volunteer my retirement at whatever may be the most convenient time, I do not merely give you the promise that out of office (be the sacrifices that I foresee, private and public, what they may) I will cordially co-operate with you in the settlement of this question, and cordially support your Government; but I add to this my decided and deliberate opinion that it will tend to the satisfactory adjustment of the question if the originating of it in the House of Commons and the general superintendence of its progress be committed to other hands than mine." And in his "Memoirs" he remarks: "Twenty years have elapsed since the above letter was written. I read it now with the full testimony of my own heart and conscience to the perfect sincerity of the advice which I then gave, and the declarations which I then made; with the same testimony, also, to the fact that that letter was written with a clear foresight of the penalties to which the course I resolved to take would expose methe rage of party, the rejection by the University of Oxford, the alienation of private friends, the interruption of family affections. Other penalties, such as the loss of office and of royal favour, I would not condescend to notice if they were not the heaviest in the estimation of vulgar and low-minded men, incapable of appreciating higher motives of public conduct. My judgment may be erroneous. From the deep interest I have in the result (though now only so far as future fame is concerned), it cannot be impartial; yet, surely, I do not err in believing that when the various circumstances on which my decision was taken are calmly and dispassionately consideredthe state of political partiesthe recent discussions in Parliamentthe result of the Clare election, and the prospects which it openedthe earnest representations and emphatic warnings of the chief governor of Irelandthe evils, rapidly increasing, of divided counsels in the Cabinet, and of conflicting decisions in the two Houses of Parliamentthe necessity for some systematic and vigorous course of policy in respect to Irelandthe impossibility, even if it were wise, that that policy should be one of coercionsurely, I do not err in believing that I shall not hereafter be condemned for having heedlessly and precipitously, still less for having dishonestly and treacherously, counselled the attempt to adjust the long litigated question, that had for so many years precluded the cordial co-operation of public men, and had left Ireland the arena for fierce political conflicts, annually renewed, without the means of authoritative interposition on the part of the Crown."

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The repulse of the French in their attack on Holland, and their repeated defeats in Belgium, which will be mentioned in the next chapter, induced the French Government to make overtures for peace with Britain, but in a secret and most singular way. Instead of an open proposal through some duly-accredited envoy, the proposals came through a Mr. John Salter, a public notary of Poplar. This notary delivered to Lord Grenville two letters from Lebrun the French Foreign Minister, dated the 2nd of April, stating that France was desirous to accommodate its differences with Britain, and, provided the idea was accepted, M. Marat should be sent over with full powers, on passports being duly forwarded. A Mr. John Matthews, of Biggin House, Surrey, attested that these notes were perfectly genuine, and had been signed in the presence of himself and Mr. John Salter. Lord Grenville, suspecting a correspondence coming through so extraordinary a medium, and believing that the design of the French was only to gain time, in order to recover their losses, took no notice of the letters. Moreover, as the Jacobins were then following up their attacks on the Girondists from day to day, he saw no prospect of any permanence of this party in power. In fact, they were expelled by the 2nd of June, and on the 22nd of that month Lebrun was in flight to avoid arrest. Marat arrived, but held no communications with Grenville, and very shortly returned to France. Soon afterwards came indirect overtures through Dumouriez to our ambassador, Lord Auckland, but they were too late. War had been declared.

By these violent and arbitrary means was passed on the 4th July, 1776, the famous Declaration of Independence. The original motion for such a Declaration, on the 8th of June, had been supported by a bare majority of seven States to six; and now the whole thirteen States were said to have assented, though it is perfectly well known that several signatures were not supplied till months afterwards by newly chosen delegates. The Declaration contained the following assertions of freedom:1. That all men are born equally free, possessing certain natural rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive their posterity; 2. That all power is vested in the people, from whom it is derived [but it was voted in Congress that the blacks made no part of the people]; 3. That they have an inalienable, indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish their form of government at pleasure; 4. That the idea of an hereditary first magistrate is unnatural and absurd.