CHAPTER VI. THE REGENCY IN FRANCE. - ALBERONI IN SPAIN. - POLICIES Of WALPOLE AND FLEURI. - WAR OF The POLISH SUCCESSION. - ENGLISH CONTRABAND TRADE IN SPANISH AMERICA. - GREAT BRITAIN DECLARES WAR AGAINST SPAIN. - 1715-1739.
During the same period Walpole, relying upon Fleuri's co-operation, resolutely set his face against open war between England and Spain. The difficulties caused by the threatening and exasperating action of the latter country, and of such allies as she from time to time could raise, were met, and for a while successfully met, by naval demonstrations, - reminders of that sea power which one nation after another had felt and yielded to. In 1725, the Spanish king and the emperor agreed to sink their long-standing feud, and signed a treaty at Vienna, in which there was a secret clause providing that the emperor would support the claim of Spain to Gibraltar and Port Mahon, by arms if necessary. Russia also showed a disposition to join this confederacy. A counter-alliance was formed between England, France, and Prussia; and English fleets were sent, one to the Baltic to awe the czarina, another to the coast of Spain to check that government and protect Gibraltar, and a third to Porto Bello, on the Spanish Main, to blockade the fleet of galleons there assembled, and by cutting off the supplies remind the Spanish king at once of his dependence upon the specie of America, and of England's control of the highway by which it reached him. Walpole's aversion to war was marked by giving the admiral at Porto Bello the strictest orders not to fight, only to blockade; the consequence of which, through the long delay of the squadron upon the sickly coast, was a mortality among the crews that shocked the nation, and led, among other causes, to the minister's overthrow many years later. Between three and four thousand officers and men, including Admiral Rosier himself, died there. Walpole's aim, however, was reached; though Spain made a foolish attack by land upon Gibraltar, the presence of the English fleet assured its supplies and provisions and averted the formal outbreak of war. The emperor withdrew from the alliance, and under English pressure also revoked the charter of an East India company which he had authorized in the Austrian Netherlands, and which took its name from the port of Ostend. English merchants demanded the removal of this competitor, and also of a similar rival established in Denmark; both which concessions the English ministry, backed by Holland, obtained. So long as commerce was not seriously disturbed, Walpole's peace policy, accompanied as it naturally was by years of plenty and general content, was easily maintained, even though Spain continued threatening and arrogant in her demands for Gibraltar; but unfortunately she now entered more deeply upon a course of annoyance to English trade. The concessions of the Asiento, or slave-trade, and of the annual ship to South America have been mentioned; but these privileges were but a part of the English commerce in those regions. The system of Spain with regard to the trade of her colonies was of the narrowest and most exclusive character; but, while attempting to shut them out from foreign traffic, she neglected to provide for their wants herself. The consequence was that a great smuggling or contraband trade arose throughout her American possessions, carried on mainly by the English, who made their lawful traffic by the Asiento and the yearly ship subserve also the unlawful, or at least unauthorized, trade. This system was doubtless advantageous to the great body of the Spanish colonists, and was encouraged by them, while colonial governors connived at it, sometimes for money, sometimes swayed by local public opinion and their own knowledge of the hardships of the case; but there were Spanish subjects who saw their own business injured by the use and abuse of English privileges, and the national government suffered both in pocket and in pride by these evasions of the revenue. It now began to pull the strings tighter. Obsolete regulations were revived and enforced. Words in which the action of Spain in this old controversy have been described are curiously applicable to certain recent disputes to which the United States has been a party. "The letter of the treaty was now followed, though the spirit which dictated it was abandoned. Although English ships still enjoyed the liberty of putting into Spanish harbors for the purpose of refitting and provisioning, yet they were far from enjoying the same advantages of carrying on a friendly and commercial intercourse. They were now watched with a scrupulous jealousy, strictly visited by guarda-costas, and every efficient means adopted to prevent any commerce with the colonies, except what was allowed by the annual ship." If Spain could have confined herself to closer watchfulness and to enforcing in her own waters vexatious customs regulations, not essentially different from those sanctioned by the general commercial ideas of that day, perhaps no further harm would nave resulted; but the condition of things and the temper of her government would not let her stop there. It was not possible to guard and effectually seal a sea-coast extending over hundreds of miles, with innumerable inlets; nor would traders and seamen, in pursuit of gain which they had come to consider their right, be deterred by fears of penalties nor consideration for Spanish susceptibilities. The power of Spain was not great enough to enforce on the English ministry any regulation of their shipping, or stoppage of the abuse of the treaty privileges, in face of the feelings of the merchants; and so the weaker State, wronged and harassed, was goaded into the use of wholly unlawful means. Ships-of-war and guarda-costas were instructed, or at least permitted, to stop and search English ships on the high seas, outside of Spanish jurisdiction; and the arrogant Spanish temper, unrestrained by the weak central government, made many of these visits, both the lawful and the unlawful, scenes of insult and even violence.