Friday, March 18, 2011

Robert Walpole

The unofficial first Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Robert Walpole, died on March 18, 1745. His “ministership” began in 1721, and he gained notoriety and influence by stopping a Jacobite plot to capture King George I, and restore King James Stewart to the throne. The plot was named for a leading conspirator, Francis Atterbury. Walpole became important to the Hanovers, and Sir Walter Scott wrote about this period in history in his "Tales of a Grandfather":

'George, the first of his family who had ascended the British throne, had transmitted the important acquisition to his son, George II. Both sovereigns were men of honour, courage, and good sense; but, being born and educated foreigners, they were strangers to the peculiar character, no less than to the very complieated form of government, of the country over which they were called by Providence to reign. They were successively under the necessity of placing the administration in the hands of a man of distinguished talent, the celebrated Sir Robert Walpole. Unfortunately, this great statesman was a man of a coarse mind, who, altogether disbelieving in the very existence of patriotism, held the opinion that every man had his price, and might be bought, if his services were worth the value at which he rated them. His creed was as unfavourable to the probity of public men, as that of a leader who should disbelieve in the existence of military honour would be degrading to the character of a soldier. The venality of Sir Robert Walpole's administration became a shame and reproach to the British nation, which was also burdened with the means of supplying the wages of the national corruption.

The Kings also, George I and II, under whom Sir Robert Walpole conducted public affairs, were themselves unpopular from a very natural reason. They loved with fond partiality their paternal dominions of Hanover, and the manners and customs of the country in which they had been born and bred. Their intimacy and confidence were chiefly imparted to those of their own nation; and so far, though the preference might be disagreeable to their British subjects, the error flowed from a laudable motive. But both the royal father and sot suffered themselves to be hurried farther than this. Regard for their German territories was the principle which regulated their political movements, and both alliances and hostilities were engaged in for interests and disputes which were of a nature exclusively German, and with which the British nation had nothing to do. Out of this undue partiality for their native dominions arose a great clamour against the two first kings of the House of Guelph, that, called to the government of so fair and ample a kingdom as Britain, they neglected or sacrificed its interests for those of the petty and subaltern concerns of their electorate of Hanover.

Besides other causes of unpopularity, the length of Sir Robert Walpole's administration was alone sufficient to render it odious to a people so fickle as the English, who soon become weary of one class of measures, and still sooner of the administration of any one minister. For these various reasons, the government of Sir Robert Walpole, especially towards its close, was highly unpopular in England, and the Opposition attacked it with a degree of fury which made those who watched the strife from a distance imagine, that language so outrageous was that of men in the act of revolt. The foreign nations, whose ideas of our constitution were as imperfect formerly as they are at this moment, listened like men who hear what they conceive to be the bursting of a steam-engine, when the noise only announces the action of the safetyvalves....'

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