In England the Stanhope administration carried out the traditional Whig policy by repealing the Schism Act and the Occasional Conformity Act which the Tories had at length passed during their period of power in the last years of Queen Anne's reign. Walpole, in Opposition, did not scruple to criticise the repeal, although no man had more energetically denounced those measures when they were introduced. In other respects, however, the divisions of the party were destined to have beneficial result and in fact to confirm the Whig domination instead of wrecking it as at one time they seemed in danger of doing.

Whig Ideals
The revolutionary Whigs were not in the slightest degree democrats. They represented in the main two principles, parliamentary supremacy and religious toleration; but the supremacy of parliament did not for them mean popular government. The steady strength of the Whig party lay in the House of Lords; all the more since the addition to their numbers of the Scottish peers and of former Tories who had repudiated all connection with their party to escape the Jacobite taint. A bill was brought in by Sunderland which would have transformed the House of Peers into a permanent oligarchy. The whole number of peers was to be limited to six more than there were at that time. Peerages which lapsed on the failure of male heirs might be replaced. The Crown was to nominate twenty-five Scottish peers, instead of the sixteen whom the body of Scottish peers now elected from their own number.

Scottish Peerages
This increase was by way of compensation for the arrangement under the Act of Union by which Scottish peers might be made peers of Great Britain, when they would not longer be included among the sixteen, but would sit in the House each in his own right. The avowed object of the bill was to prevent a repetition of the party move by which the Tories had procured the creation of twelve peers in order to obtain a majority for the passing of a particular measure. But the power to create peers was the only means of preventing a standing majority in the Upper House from exercising a practical sovereignty. A House so constituted could not indeed directly force its own measures through the House of Commons, but its veto would be permanent. It would be a close hereditary body into which no new blood could be introduced except on the actual lapse of a peerage. The commoner could no longer look forward to a peerage as the prize of public service.

The Scottish peers could no longer acquire the status of peers of the realm. From Scotland arose a clamour that the bill was a breach of the Treaty of Union, and that if it were carried the Union itself would be challenged. Walpole appealed to the ambitions of the members of the House of Commons, excluded for ever from the prospect of being enrolled among the aristocracy. Sutherland's Peerage Bill was defeated, and the House of Lords remained an open body. In modern times such a defeat would involve the resignation of ministers but the modern theory was then unknown. Both Walpole and Townshend accepted office under the very ministers whom they had just opposed with all their might, and defeated. The fall of the Stanhope ministry was due to another cause.

[Ed. This short section of A History of the British Nation merely serves as an aptiser for what is to come - the South Sea Bubble Scandal and the rise of Robert Walpole]

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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