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THE FOUR LAST YEARS
THE House of Commons seemed resolved, from the beginning of the session, to enquire strictly, not only into all abuses relating to the accounts of the army, but likewise into the several treaties between us and our allies, upon what articles and conditions they were first agreed to, and how these had been since observed. In the first week of their sitting, they sent an address to the queen, to desire that the treaty, whereby her majesty was obliged to furnish forty thousand men, to act in conjunction with the forces of her allies in the Low Countries, might be laid before the House. To which the secretary of state brought an answer, "That search had been made, but no footsteps could be found of any treaty or convention for that purpose." It was this unaccountable neglect in the former ministry, which first gave a
pretence to the allies for lessening their quotas, so much to the disadvantage of her majesty, her kingdoms, and the common cause, in the course of the war. It had been stipulated by the grand alliance between the emperor, Britain, and the States, "That those three states should assist each other with their whole force; and that the several proportions should be specified in a particular convention." But if But if any such convention were made, it was never ratified; only the parties agreed by common consent, to take each a certain share of the burden upon themselves, which the late king William communicated to the House of Commons by his secretary of state; and which afterwards, the other two powers, observing the mighty zeal in our ministry for prolonging the war, eluded as they pleased.
The commissioners for stating the public accompts of the kingdom, had, in executing their office the preceding summer, discovered several practices relating to the affairs of the army; which they drew up in a report, and delivered to the House.
The commons began their examination of the report with a member of their own, Mr Robert Walpole, already mentioned p. 188.; who, during his being secretary at war, had received five hundred guineas, and taken a note for five hundred pounds more, on account of two contracts for forage of the queen's troops quartered in Scotland. He endeavoured to excuse the first contract; but had nothing to say about the second. The first appeared so plain and so scandalous to the commons, that they voted the author of it guilty of a high breach of trust, and notorious corruption, committed him prisoner to the Tower, where he continued to the end of the session, and expelled
him the House. He was a person much caressed by the opposers of the queen and ministry; having been first drawn into their party, by his indifference to any principles, and afterwards kept steady by the loss of his place. His bold, forward countenance, altogether a stranger to that infirmity which makes men bashful, joined to a readiness of speaking in public, has justly entitled him, among those of his faction, to be a sort of leader in the second form. The reader must excuse me for being so particular about one, who is otherwise altogether obscure. *
Another part of the report concerned the duke of Marlborough, who had received large sums of money, by way of gratuity, from those who were the undertakers for providing the army with bread. This the duke excused, in a letter to the commissioners, from the like practice of other generals: but that excuse appeared to be of little weight, and the mischievous consequences of such a corruption were visible enough; since the money given by these undertakers, were but bribes for connivance at their indirect dealings with the army. And, as frauds that begin at the top are apt to spread through all the subordinate ranks of those who have any share in the management, and to increase as they circulate; so, in this case, for every thousand pounds given to the general, the soldiers at least suffered fourfold.
Another article of this report, relating to the duke, was yet of more importance. The greatest part of her majesty's forces in Flanders, were mer
It is singular, that Swift, correcting the History in 1736, should have left this passage unaltered; for whatever else he might have thought proper to say of Sir Robert Walpole, the term obscure was totally inapplicable to him.
cenary troops, hired from several princes of Europe. It was found that the queen's general subtracted two-and-half per cent. out of the pay of those troops, for his own use, which amounted to a great annual sum. The duke of Marlborough, in his letter already mentioned, endeavouring to extenuate the matter, told the commissioners, "That this deduction was a free gift from the foreign troops, which he had negotiated with them by the late king's orders, and had obtained the queen's warrant for reserving and receiving it: That it was intended for secret service, the ten thousand pounds a year given by parliament not proving sufficient; and had all been laid out that way. The commissioners observed, in answer, "That the warrant was kept dormant for nine years, aș indeed no entry of it appeared in the secretary of state's books, and the deduction of it concealed all that time from the knowledge of parliament: That if it had been a free gift from the foreign troops, it would not have been stipulated by agreement, as the duke's letter confessed, and as his warrant declared; which latter affirmed this stoppage to be intended for defraying extraordinary contingent expences of the troops, and therefore should not have been applied to secret services." They submitted to the House, whether the warrant itself were legal, or duly countersigned. The commissioners added, "That no receipt was ever given for this deducted money; nor was it mentioned in any receipts from the foreign troops, which were always taken in full. And lastly, That the whole sum, on computation, amounted to near three hundred thousand pounds."
The House, after a long debate, resolved, "That the taking several sums from the contractors for bread for the duke of Marlborough, was unwar
rantable and illegal; and that the two and a half per cent. deducted from the foreign troops, was public money, and ought to be accounted for:" which resolutions were laid before the queen by the whole House, and her majesty promised to do her part in redressing what was complained of. The duke and his friends had, about the beginning of the war, by their credit with the queen, procured a warrant from her majesty for this perquisite of two and a half per cent. The warrant was directed to the duke of Marlborough, and countersigned by sir Charles Hedges, then secretary of state; by virtue of which, the paymaster-general of the army was to pay the said deducted money to the general, and take a receipt in full from the foreign troops.
It was observed, as very commendable and becoming the dignity of such an assembly, that this debate was managed with great temper, and with few personal reflections upon the duke of Marlborough. They seemed only desirous to come at the truth, without which they could not answer the trust reposed in them by those whom they represented; and left the rest to her majesty's prudence. The attorney-general was ordered to commence an action against the duke for the subtracted money; which would have amounted to a great sum, enough to ruin any private person, except himself. This process is still depending, although very moderately pursued, either by the queen's indulgence to one whom she had formerly so much trusted; or, perhaps, to be revived or slackened, according to the future demeanour of the defendant.
Some time after, Mr Cardonnell,* a member of
James Cardonnell, Esq. secretary to the duke of Marlborough, shared in his disgrace.