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the peace of Utrecht had been carried, and was opposed by no prominent whig peer except Lord Cowper (cf. Parl. Hist. vii. 590). The motive of its introduction was generally thought to be a desire to restrain the future power of the Prince of Wales, whom the present ministers had made their enemy. The bill encountered strong opposition from Robert Walpole, and, after it had passed the lords, was withdrawn at the second-reading stage in the commons. Sunderland, however, determined to revive it, and advocated its merits to Middleton, lord chancellor of Ireland, in so strenuous a manner that the blood is said to have gushed from his nose. Addison defended the measure in the ‘Old Whig,’ while Steele attacked it in the ‘Plebeian.’ On 25 Nov. 1719 the bill was reintroduced in the upper house, and was sent down to the commons on 1 Dec. On the 18th it was read a second time, but was opposed by Walpole in a powerful speech at the committee stage, and thrown out by 269 to 177. Walpole next year was given a subordinate post in the government. On 25 April 1720 Sunderland had a ‘reconciliation dinner’ of six old and six new ministers (Lady Cowper's Diary).

In 1720 Sunderland revived an old scheme of Harley's for paying off part of the national debt by means of the formation of a company—the South Sea Company—who were to have a monopoly of the trade in the South Pacific. In spite of the opposition of Walpole, the measure passed. The company were to pay a premium of seven millions and to receive at first five, and afterwards four, per cent. interest, instead of eight per cent., which was the rate the debt then carried, and were to take up thirty-two millions of government stock. Some months after the passing of the measure a speculative mania caused a gigantic rise in the price of the stock. A panic followed, the stock fell rapidly, and many people were ruined. On 9 Jan. 1721, when indirectly attacked, Sunderland avowed his responsibility for the scheme, admitted that no act of parliament had ever been so much abused as the South Sea Act, and expressed himself ready to go as far as any one in punishing the offenders, but later in the debate defended the appointment of some of the directors as managers of the treasury (Parl. Hist. vii. 697–8). In February Robert Walpole was appointed chancellor of the exchequer in place of Aislabie, who was implicated. When the secret committee reported that Sunderland had been assigned, before the passing of the bill, 50,000l. fictitious stock without giving payment or security, Walpole obtained the adjournment of the debate till 15 March on the plea of obtaining further evidence, and, probably by the use of profuse bribery, obtained his rival's acquittal by 233 to 172 votes. The public voice held Sunderland guilty, but the evidence against him was inconclusive, and mainly rested on the statement of a fraudulent director; it is certain that neither he nor his immediate friends enriched themselves. Even Brodrick, one of the committee, who had the strongest prejudice against him, represents him merely as a dupe of the directors (Coxe, Walpole, ii. 192–6). Sunderland, however, was forced by popular clamour to resign, and on 3 April 1721 Walpole took his place as first lord of the treasury.

Nevertheless, as groom of the stole and first gentleman of the bedchamber, Sunderland continued to have great influence with George I. He obtained the appointment of Lord Carleton as president of the council, though Walpole had put forward the Duke of Devonshire; and Carteret's nomination as secretary of state in place of Craggs was also due to his suggestion. He even made some overtures to the tories, who seem to have had great hopes of him; but both Hallam and Lord Stanhope refuse to credit the story related in Horace Walpole's ‘Reminiscences,’ that he and Sir R. Walpole consulted to bring in the Pretender. Stanhope prints a letter from the Pretender to Lockhart of 31 Jan. 1722, in which James says categorically that he had never heard directly from him and was far from being convinced of his sincerity (History from Utrecht to Aix-la-Chapelle, ii., Appendix; cf. Lockhart Papers, ii. 68, 70; Hist. of Engl. 2nd ed. ii. 657). Pope stated that he had ‘strong dealings with the Pretender;’ but this and the quite incredible charge made by the poet that Sunderland used to betray all the whig schemes to Harley, are to be accepted only as evidences of his general reputation for intrigue (Spence, Anecdotes, p. 237). Sunderland died on 19 April 1722. A post-mortem examination conducted by Goodman and Mead, with the help of three French surgeons, removed the suspicion of poison. His death is said to have disconcerted the court. The seals put by his executors on his drawers were broken by order of the ministers, and all papers relating to political affairs were examined, in spite of the protest of the Duchess of Marlborough (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. p. 190, 10th Rep. iv. 344; Stanhope, Hist. ii. 41).

As a politician Sunderland was a singularly unattractive personage. To the love for crooked ways which characterised his father,