Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 59.djvu/190

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whigs a period of apprehension, aroused by the queen's visible leaning to the Pretender and the suspected intrigues of Bolingbroke [see St. John, Henry]. On 15 April 1714 the whigs raised a debate upon the question ‘whether the protestant succession in the house of Hanover be in danger under her majesty's government.’ Walpole replied with much spirit to the defence made by Bromley, then secretary of state. With that strong sense of constitutional propriety which distinguished him, he insisted that the responsibility was not, as the tories endeavoured to put it, upon the queen, but on the queen's ministers (Parl. Hist. vi. 1346).

Swift, writing on 18 Dec. 1711, prophesied of Walpole, ‘He is to be secretary of state if the ministry changes.’ Nevertheless it is remarkable that when George I formed his first ministry, Walpole was not only without a seat in the cabinet, but was forced to content himself with the lucrative post of paymaster of the forces and treasurer of Chelsea Hospital. The fact is that Bothmar, George's agent in London, by whose advice he was guided, disliked Walpole (see Coxe, ii. 119, 125), and suggested no better place for him than a junior lordship of the treasury (Bothmar to Bernstorff, 6 Aug. (O.S.) 1714, Macpherson Papers, ii. 640). He was sworn a privy councillor on 1 Oct. 1714. The new parliament was summoned for 17 March 1715. ‘Before the opening of the session Mr. Walpole was in full power,’ wrote Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu [q. v.] His brother-in-law, Lord Townshend, was nominally at the head of the government, but the same acute observer writes, ‘Walpole is already looked upon as chief minister.’ He was certainly recognised as leader of the House of Commons, and moved the address attacking the late government. To a house now consisting of a large majority of whigs he announced the intention of the ministers ‘to bring to condign punishment’ those responsible for recent intrigues for the restoration of the Pretender. A committee of secrecy was appointed, and Walpole was chosen chairman on 6 April. On the following day he was taken ill, and on 3 May was ‘in a very bad way’ (anon. letter in Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. p. 59 a). Despite his illness, he received full information of the committee's proceedings, and on 9 June was sufficiently recovered to present to the House of Commons a report which he had himself prepared with indefatigable industry—‘a masterpiece of party strategy’ (Ranke, Hist. Engl. v. 368). It consisted of ten articles (see Tindal, iv. 426) charging the late ministry with treasonable misconduct in the negotiations for the peace of Utrecht. It was so voluminous and detailed that its first and second reading occupied from one to half-past eight o'clock on 9 June, and from eleven to four o'clock on 10 June. At the conclusion of the reading Walpole impeached Bolingbroke of high treason (Parl. Hist. vii. 66). The conduct of the impeachment, as well as of that of the Duke of Ormonde and the Earl of Stafford, was entrusted to Walpole. On 4 Aug. 1715 he laid the articles of the impeachment of Bolingbroke before the House of Commons (State Trials, xv. 993), on the following day those against the Duke of Ormonde, and on 31 Aug. those against the Earl of Stafford. A doubt had arisen whether the conduct of Harley, earl of Oxford, amounted to treason. Walpole, who had prepared the articles against him, vigorously maintained the affirmative, and the continuance of proceedings against him was consequently resolved upon (7 July).

It has been said that these proceedings were unjust because the conduct of the late ministers could only be brought within the law of treason by a strained interpretation (Stanhope, Hist. i. 191). What Bolingbroke and Ormonde thought of the justice of the case was shown by their flight. Oxford had no apprehension that a fair trial would be denied him, and remained. It is true that Walpole pushed these measures with determination. But malice bore no part in his action. By the universal consent of friend and foe he was, as Burke said, ‘of the greatest possible lenity in his character and in his politics’ (‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,’ Works, iv. 437). Lord Chesterfield, a political opponent whom he had disgraced, admitted that he was ‘very placable to those who had injured him most’ (Letters, iii. 1418). Bolingbroke could never have returned to England without his consent, and, when he returned, Walpole invited him to dine with him at Chelsea. Walpole's justification lies in the events which followed. In the following autumn the rising of 1715 broke out. He knew that if the protestant succession, which he had at heart, was to be preserved, the time had come to strike.

In recognition of these services Walpole was on 11 Oct. 1715 appointed by Townshend first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. The suppression of the rebellion was accompanied by unprecedented clemency so far as the rank and file were concerned, but of the rebel lords he determined to make an example. Efforts were made to bribe him. Sixty thousand pounds, he told the House of Commons, had been