The Second Tory Party, 1714-1832

By Keith Grahame Feiling | Go to book overview

III
SIR ROBERT

WALPOLE consolidated the supremacy which he had so hardly won under George I by a mutually advantageous alliance with Queen Caroline, the drudge and the brain of George II. Not only was this supremacy to continue fourteen years, a much longer stretch of power than that of any party leader before, but its character deeply affected all future party development. 'In Whig principles I have lived, and in Whig principles I will die', said Sir Robert, the first minister (for we can ignore Bolingbroke's midsummer madness) who, possessing all the Crown's confidence, claimed it for the very reason that he represented a party. Now was finally elaborated that admixture of royal and ministerial influence which one government after another employed for the next hundred years; the exploiting of patronage in Britain, Ireland, and the Indies, of local magistracy, military command, bribes to members and constituencies, press subsidies, peerages, and pensions.

Not that this influence, or the consequent hardening of party, in themselves maintained Sir Robert in power. He survived by a clear superiority to his rivals, by courage, masterfulness in debate, tactical restraint. Much might be said against his foreign policy of 'after me the deluge', but thirty years of peace make a solid asset; 'fifty thousand men killed in Europe this year, Madam,' he said to the Queen, 'and not one Englishman'. His financial expedients were hand-to-mouth, cynical, short-range, yet the 4s. land tax climbed down to 1s., the tariff was lightened, the volume of trade increased, rates of interest came down, and real wages went up. And while he refused to touch awkward or fundamental controversy, to rake into the South Sea, to repeal the Test, or to tax America, party passion waned. In this genial unprincipled thaw Jacobitism melted away, as Puritan fervour had cooled in the disillusioned twilight of Charles II.

-24-

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