The Pelham Ministry
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The ministry which was in office in England when the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed was that which had been nicknamed the Broad Bottomed Administration on account of its comprehensive character. Walpole had retained office on the outbreak of the war nine years before; but his position became so hopelessly untenable that even he was forced to resign at the beginning of 1742. The nominal chief who succeeded him was Wilmington, while the real head of the government was Carteret. But Carteret was absorbed in the game of European politics which rarely interests, or is understood by, the majority of Englishmen. He ignored the necessity of placating parliament and his own colleagues; his "Hanoverian" measures were easily held up to popular execration; he had no personal party; his position was undermined by the Pelhams, of whom the younger, Henry Pelham, was a master of the arts of conciliation, while the elder, Newcastle, thoroughly understood jobbery, and very little else.
Pelham managed to obtain the support of politicians whom no one else could reconcile; he silenced the most dangerous critics by giving them office,,and he clung to Walpole's principle of doing nothing in preference to arousing excited hostility. In fact he regarded it as his business not to carry out any particular policy, but merely to keep the machine running with as little friction as possible.
The Heritable Jurisdiction
To the Pelham administration, therefore, fell the important task of the pacfication of Scotland after the "Forty-five." The great insurrection had been made possible by the survival in the Highlands of the clan system, the Celtic equivalent of the feudalism which was bred from the contact of the Roman and the Teuton. As feudalism in Scotland had attained a completer development than in England, owing to the comparative weakness of the central authorities, so feudal law survived in the Scottish Lowlands and gave to the great landowners the Heritable Jurisdictions, legal powers over their tenants which overrode the ordinary law, and Sometimes even powers of life and death. But in the Highlands these legal powers were made very much more formidable, because the landowner was the chief of a clan bound to his service and to his obedience By the closest traditional ties of devotion.
The Heritable Jurisdiction recognised by the law was merely a partial recognition of the relations between the chief and the clansmen, which were rooted in custom and sentiment, which counted for much more than mere law. The abolition of these jurisdictions which, somewhat in despite of the Act of Union, followed the "Forty-five," put an end to the authority of the chief over his clansman so far as the law was concerned. But it was not after all the most important factor in the change which took place. Some of the chiefs lost their lands by forfeiture, others were driven by impoverishment to sell them; and there were no bonds which linked the clansmen to the new lords of the soil, who were objects not of devotion but of hostility.
The clan sentiment was weakened by the abolition of its outward and visible sign when the wearing of the tartan was prohibited. With vigorous disarmament, the improvement of roads, and the establishment of garrisons, it was no longer possible to carry on the old methods of freebooting. The Highlander who suffered what he regarded as an injury could now appeal for redress only to the law, not as in the old time to his own chief as his natural champion. In fact, the law at last penetrated into the Highlands, law with the sanction of physical force too strong for the resistance of the broken-up clan organisation; custom, hitherto more powerful than law, had lost its most vital sanction, loyalty to the chief, and so the strongest barrier which had hitherto kept the Highlanders as a people apart was broken down, and the way was made ready for their gradual amalgamation with the "Saxons."
Pelham's Economic Measures
Another measure followed after an interval of some years, which perhaps in the long run served still more effectively to create a sense of national unity: Not without hesitation on the part of the government, extension was given to an earlier experiment by which a regiment of Highlanders had been raised to form part of the regular army. The Highlanders, with the warrior tradition behind them, found a scope for their martial predilections in the new Highland regiments which were raised. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with Lowland Scots and English, they acquired a sense of comradeship on the one side, and on the other created a respect for their military qualities, which transformed the old hostility into a spirit of generous emulation.
Those results were not felt immediately, but they have made their mark in many a stricken field. Apart from the pacification of Scotland three measures stand to the credit of the Pelham administration. The first was the creation of the consolidated stock, which ever since has been known as "Consols." The high interest payable on the National Debt was reduced in respect of something over fifty millions to 3 1/2 and then to 3 per cent, and in the following year, 1751, a group of nine loans was consolidated into 3 per cent stock.
The success of the scheme was a demonstration of the prosperity of the country and of the credit of the government; though this latter must have been in part at least due to the fact that no one was any longer afraid of that possibility of a Stuart restoration, which for fifty years had acted as a deterrent, however slight, to investment in Government Stock. Not only was the reduced interest accepted by the stock-holders, but the stock itself stood at a premium.
The second measure was the reform of the Calendar. A century and a half before, the revised Gergorian Calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII, began to be adopted in Europe. It was observed that twenty-five leap years in the hundred were one too many, or all but one too many. To bring matters right it was necessary in the first place to cancel some days, and in the second place to omit the century year from the leap years; and in the third place it was held advisable to adopt the popular New Year's Day, January 1, in place of the ecclesiastical New Year's Day, the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25. The reformed Calendar was not adopted in England until 1752, when the eleven days between 2nd and 14th September were dropped; that is to say, 2nd September was the last day reckoned in the old style, the day following it being September 14th new style.
From thenceforth also we escape the confusion caused by the uncertainty whether dates upon documents in the first three months of the year followed the old or the new style. For instance, taking January 1 as New Year's Day, Charles I was beheaded on January 29, 1649 (N.S.). But taking March 25 as New Year's Day, he was beheaded on January 29,1648 (O.S.). Private practice varied, though officially "old style" was retained, so that it would be impossible to tell except from internal evidence whether a private paper dated January 29, 1649, was dated on the day of the beheading of Charles I or twelve months afterwards. After 1752 there was no more ambiguity. The carrying of the bill which brought Great Britain into line with nearly all Europe was largely due to Lord Chesterfield, a peer best known to posterity by the volume of Letters to his Son, which might be called a vade mecum for a young gentleman who was intended to pass through life with perfect manners and no morals. A higher but less remembered title to honour was derived from Lord Chesterfield's brief tenure of the Irish Deputyship, an office in which he distinguished himself by a complete disregard for the corrupting influences which generally at that time controlled the government of Ireland.
The last of Pelham's measures which deserves notice is Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Bill, which abolished in England the opportunities for surreptitious marriages by imposing heavy penalties on any clergyman who performed such ceremonies without either the publication of banns or the production of a licence. From this time Gretna Green assumed a romantic prominence as the refuge of young runaway couples; since once across the Border the fugitives might celebrate their marriage under Scots law. The object of course was to prevent young girls from being enticed into elopements by fortune-hunting adventurers. Pelham did what he was fit to do. He kept the machine running, not brilliantly, hardly even efficiently, but with a minimum of friction. But in 1754 he died. The storm-clouds were lowering, and Britain had great need of a strong and far-sighted leadership. Such leadership was not to be looked for in the man who succeeded Henry Pelham as the head of the administration, his brother Newcastle.