Letters of Junius/Letter XXXV
TO THE PRINTER OF THE PUBLIC ADVERTISER.
19. December, 1769.
When the complaints of a brave and powerful people are observed to increase in proportion to the wrongs they have suffered; when, instead of sinking into submission, they are roused to resistance, the time will soon arrive at which every inferior consideration must yield to the security of the Sovereign, and to the general safety of the state. There is a moment of difficulty and danger, at which flattery and falsehood can no longer deceive, and simplicity itself can no longer be misled. Let us suppose it arrived. Let us suppose a gracious, well-intentioned prince, made sensible at last of the great duty he owes to his people, and of his own disgraceful situation; that he looks round him for assistance, and asks for no advice, but how to gratify the wishes, and secure the happiness of his subjects. In these circumstances, it may be matter of curious speculation to consider, if an honest man were permitted to approach a King, in what terms he would address himself to his Sovereign. Let it be imagined, no matter how improbable, that the first prejudice against his character is removed, that the ceremonious difficulties of an audience arc surmounted, that he feels himself animated by the purest and most honourable affections to his King and country, and that the great person, whom he addresses, has spirit enough to bid him speak freely, and understanding enough to listen to him with attention. Unacquainted with the vain impertinence of forms, he would deliver his sentiments with dignity and firmness, but not without respect.
IT is the misfortune of your life, and originally the cause of every reproach and distress, which has attended your government, that you should never have been acquainted with the language of truth, until you heard it in the complaints of your people. It is not, however, too late to correct the error of your education. We are still inclined to make an indulgent allowance for the pernicious lessons you received in your youth, and to form the most sanguine hopes from the natural benevolence of your disposition. We are far from thinking you capable of a direct, deliberate purpose to invade those original rights of your subjects, on which all their civil and political liberties depend. Had it been possible for us to entertain a suspicion so dishonourable to your character, we should long since have adopted a style of remonstrance very distant from the humility of complaint. The doctrine inculcated by our laws, That the King can do no wrong, is admitted without reluctance. We separate the amiable, good-natured prince, from the folly and treachery of his servants, and the private virtues of the man from the vices of his government. Were it not for this just distinction, I know not whether your Majesty's condition, or that of the English nation, would deserve most to be lamented. I would prepare your mind for a favourable reception of truth, by removing every painful, offensive idea of personal reproach. Your subjects, Sir, wish for nothing, but that, as they are reasonable and affectionate enough to separate your person from your government, so you, in your turn, should distinguish between the conduct which becomes the permanent dignity of a King, and that which serves only to promote the temporary interest and miserable ambition of a Minister.
You ascended the throne with a declared, and, I doubt not, a sincere resolution of giving universal satisfaction to your subjects. You found them pleased with the novelty of a young prince, whose countenance promised even more than his words, and loyal to you not only from principle, but passion. It was not a cold profession of allegiance to the first magistrate, but a partial,animated attachment to a favourite prince, the native of their country. They did not wait to examine your conduct, nor to be determined by experience, but gave you a generous credit for the future blessings of your reign, and paid you in advance the dearest tribute of their affections. Such, Sir, was once the disposition of a people, who now surround your throne with reproaches and complaints. Do justice to yourself. Banish from your mind those unworthy opinions, with which some interested persons have laboured to possess you. Distrust the men who tell you that the English are naturally light and inconstant;—that they complain without a cause. Withdraw your confidence equally from all parties: from ministers, favourites, and relations; and let there be one moment in your life, in which you have consulted your own understanding.
When you affectedly renounced the name of Englishman, believe me, Sir, you were persuaded to pay a very ill-judged compliment to one part of your subjects, at the expence of another. While the natives of Scotland are not in actual rebellion, they are undoubtedly intitled to protection: nor do I mean to condemn the policy of giving some encouragement to the novelty of their affections for the house of Hanover. I am ready to hope for every thing from their new-born zeal, and from the future steadiness of their allegiance. But hitherto they have no claim to your favour. To honour them with a determined predilection and confidence, in exclusion of your English subjects, who placed your family, and in spite of treachery and rebellion, have supported it upon the throne, is a mistake too gross, even for the unsuspecting generosity of youth. In this error, we see a capital violation of the most obvious rules of policy and prudence. We trace it, however, to an original bias in your education, and are ready to allow for your inexperience.
To the same early influence we attribute it, that you have descended to take a share, not only in the narrow views and interests of particular persons, but in the fatal malignity of their passions. At your accession to the throne, the whole system of government was altered, not from wisdom or deliberation, but because it had been adopted by your predecessor. A little personal motive of pique and resentment was sufficient to remove the ablest servants of the crown; but it is not in this country, Sir, that such men can be dishonoured by the frowns of a King. They were dismissed, but could not be disgraced. Without entering into a minuter discussion of the merits of the peace, we may observe, in the imprudent hurry with which the first overtures from France were accepted, in the conduct of the negotiation, and terms of the treaty, the strongest marks of that precipitate spirit of concession, with which a certain part of your subjects have been at all times ready to purchase a peace with the natural enemies of this country. On your part we are satisfied, that every thing was honourable and sincere; and, if England was sold to France, we doubt not that your Majesty was equally betrayed. The conditions of the peace were matter of grief and surprise to your subjects, but not the immediate cause of their present discontent.
Hitherto, Sir, you had been sacrificed to the prejudices and passions of others. With what firmness will you bear the mention of your own?
A man, not very honourably distinguished in the world, commences a formal attack upon your favourite, considering nothing, but how he might best expose his person and principles to detestation, and the national character of his countrymen to contempt. The natives of that country, Sir, are as much distinguished by a peculiar character as by your Majesty's favour. Like another chosen people, they have been conducted into the land of plenty, where they find themselves effectually marked, and divided from mankind. There is hardly a period, at which the most irregular character may not be redeemed. The mistakes of one sex find a retreat in patriotism, those of the other in devotion. Mr. Wilkes brought with him into politics the same liberal sentiments, by which his private conduct had been directed, and seemed to think, that, as there are few excesses, in which an English gentleman may not be permitted to indulge, the same latitude was allowed him in the choice of his political principles, and in the spirit of maintaining them.—I mean to state, not entirely to defend, his conduct. In the earnestness of his zeal, he suffered some unwarrantable insinuations to escape him. He said more than moderate men would justify; but not enough to entitle him to the honour of your Majesty's personal resentment. The rays of royal indignation, collected upon him, served only to illuminate, and could not consume. Animated by the favour of the people on the one side, and heated by persecution on the other, his views and sentiments changed with his situation. Hardly serious at first, he is now an enthusiast. The coldest bodies warm with opposition, the hardest sparkle in collision. There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics, as well as religion. By persuading others, we convince ourselves. The passions are engaged, and create a maternal affection in the mind, which forces us to love the cause for which we suffer.—Is this a contention worthy of a king? Are you not sensible how much the meanness of the cause gives an air of ridicule to the serious difficulties into which you have been betrayed? the destruction of one man has been now, for many years, the sole object of your government, and if there can be any thing still more disgraceful, we have seen, for such an object, the utmost influence of the executive power, and every ministerial artifice exerted without success. Nor can you ever succeed, unless he should be imprudent enough to forfeit the protection of those laws to which you owe your crown, or unless your minister should persuade you to make it a question of force alone, and try the whole strength of government in opposition to the people. The lessons he has received from experience, will probably guard him from such excess of folly; and, in your Majesty's virtues, we find an unquestionable assurance, that no illegal violence will be attempted.
Far from suspecting you of so horrible a design, we would attribute the continued violation of the laws, and even the last enormous attack upon the vital principles of the constitution, to an ill-advised, unworthy, personal resentment. From one false step, you have been betrayed into another; and, as the cause was unworthy of you, your ministers were determined that the prudence of the execution should correspond with the wisdom and dignity of the design. They have reduced you to the necessity of choosing out of a variety of difficulties;—to a situation so unhappy, that you can neither do wrong without ruin, or right without affliction. These worthy servants have undoubtedly given you many singular proofs of their abilities. Not contented with making Mr. Wilkes a man of importance, they have judiciously transferred the question from the rihts arid interests of one man, to the most important rights and interests of the people, and forced your subjects, from wishing well to the cause of an individual, to unite with him in their own. Let them proceed as they have begun, and your Majesty need not doubt that the catastrophe will do no dishonour to the conduct of the piece.
The circumstances to which you are reduced, will not admit of a compromise with the English nation. Undecisive, qualifying measures, will disgrace your government still more than open violence; and, without satisfying the people, will excite their contempt. They have too much understanding and spirit to accept of an indirect satisfaction for a direct injury. Nothing less than a repeal, as formal as the resolution itself, can heal the wound, which has been given to the constitution, nor will any thing less be accepted. I can readily believe, that there is an influence sufficient to recall that pernicious vote. The house of commons undoubtedly consider their duty to the Crown, as paramount to all other obligations. To us they are only indebted for an accidental existence, and have justly transferred their gratitude from their parents to their benefactors;—from those who gave them birth, to the minister, from whose benevolence they derive the comforts and pleasures of their political life;—who has taken the tenderest care of their infancy, and relieves their necessities, without offending their delicacy. But, if it were possible for their integrity to be degraded to a condition so vile and abject, that, compared with it, the present estimation they stand in is a state of honour and respect, consider, Sir, in what manner you will afterwards proceed. Can you conceive that the peeple of this country will long submit to be governed by so flexible a house of commons? It is not in the nature of human society, that any form of government, in such circumstances, can long be preserved. In ours, the general contempt of the people is as fatal as their detestation. Such, I am persuaded, would be the necessary effect of any base concession made by the present house of commons, and, as a qualifying measure would not be accepted, it remains for you to decide whether you will, at any hazard, support a set of men who have reduced you to this unhappy dilemma, or whether you will gratify the united wishes of the whole people of England, by dissolving the parliament.
Taking it for granted, as I do very sincerely, that you have personally no design against the constitution, nor any view inconsistent with the good of your subjects, I think you cannot hesitate long upon the choice, which it equally concerns your interest, and your honour to adopt. On one side, you hazard the affection of all your English subjects; you relinquish every hope of repose to yourself, and you endanger the establishment of your family for ever. All this you venture for no object whatsoever; or, for such an object, as it would be an affront to you to name. Men of sense will examine your conduct with suspicion; while those who are incapable of comprehending to what degree they are injured, afflict you with clamours equally insolent and unmeaning. Supposing it possible that no fatal struggle should ensue, you determine, at once, to be unhappy, without the hope of a compensation either from interest or ambition. If an English king be hated or despised, he must be unhappy; and this perhaps is the only political truth which he ought to be convinced of without experiment. But if the English people should no longer confine their resentment to a submissive representation of their wrongs; if, following the glorious example of their ancestors, they should no longer appeal to the creature of the constitution, but to that high Being, who gave them the rights of humanity, whose gifts it were sacrilege to surrender, let me ask you, Sir, upon what part of your subjects would you rely for assistance?
The people of Ireland have been uniformly plundered and oppressed. In return, they give you every day fresh marks of their resentment. They despise the miserable governor you have sent them, because he is the creature of Lord Bute; nor is it from any natural confusion in their ideas, that they are so ready to confound the original of a king, with the disgraceful representation of him.
The distance of the colonies would make it impossible for them to take an active concern in your affairs, if they were as well affected to your government, as they once pretended to be to your person. They were ready enough to distinguish between you and your ministers. They complained of an act of the legislature, but traced the origin of it no higher than to the servants of the crown: they pleased themselves with the hope that their Sovereign, if not favourable to their cause, at least was impartial. The decisive, personal part you took against them, has effectually banished that first distinctiom from their minds. They consider you as united with your servants against America; and know how to distinguish the Sovereign and a venal parliament on one side, from the real sentiments of the English people on the other. Looking forward to independence, they might possibly receive you for their King; but, if ever you retire to America, they will give you such a covenant to digest, as the presbytery of Scotland would have been ashamed to offer to Charles the Second. They left their native land in search of freedom, and found it in a desart. Divided as they are into a thousand forms of policy and religion, there is one point in which they all agree:—they equally detest the pageantry of a king, and the supercilious hypocrisy of a bishop.
It is not then from the alienated affections of Ireland or America, that you can reasonably look for assistance; still less from the people of England, who are actually contending for their rights, and in this great question, are parties against you. You are not however, destitute of every appearance of support: you have all the Jacobites, Non-jurors, Roman Catholics, and Tories of this country, and all Scotland, without exception. Considering from what family you are descended, the choice of your friends has been singularly directed; and truly, Sir, if you had not lost the Whig interest of England, I should admire your dexterity in turning the hearts of your enemies. Is it possible for you to place any confidence in men, who, before they are faithful to you, must renounce every opinion, and betray every principle, both in church and state, which they inherit from their ancestors, and are confirmed in by their education? whose numbers are so inconsiderable, that they have long since been obliged to give up the principles and language which distinguish them as a party, and to fight under the banners of their enemies? Their zeal begins with hypocrisy, and must conclude in treachery. At first they deceive at last they betray.
As to the Scotch, I must suppose your heart and understanding so biased, from your earliest infancy, in their favour, that nothing less than your own misfortunes can undeceive you. You will not accept of the uniform experience of your ancestors; and, when once a man is determined to believe, the very absurdity of the doctrine confirms him in his faith. A bigoted understanding can draw a proof of attachment to the House of Hanover from a notorious zeal for the House of Stuart, and find an earnest of future loyalty in former rebellions. Appearances are, however, in their favour; so strongly, indeed, that one would think they had forgotten that you are their lawful King, and had mistaken you for a Pretender to the crown. Let it be admitted then that the Scotch are as sincere in their present professions, as if you were in reality not an Englishman, but a Briton of the North. You would not be the first prince, of their native country, against whom they have rebelled, nor the first whom they have basely betrayed. Have you forgotten, Sir, or has your favourite concealed from you that part of our history, when the unhappy Charles (and he too had private virtues) fled from the open, avowed indignation of his English subjects, and surrendered himself at discretion to the good faith of his own countrymen? Without looking for support in their affections as subjects, he applied only to their honour as gentlemen, for protection. They received him as they would your Majesty, with bows, and smiles, and falshood, and kept him until they had settled their bargain with the English parliament; then basely sold their native King to the vengeance of his enemies. This, Sir, was not the act of a few traitors, but the deliberate treachery of a Scotch parliament, representing the nation. A wise prince might draw from it two lessons of equal utility to himself. On one side, he might learn to dread the undisguised resentment of a generous people, who dare openly assert their rights, and who, in a just cause are ready to meet their Sovereign in the field. On the other side, he would be taught to apprehend something far more formidable;—a fawning treachery, against which no prudence can guard, no courage can defend. The insidious smile upon the cheek would warn him of the canker in the heart.
From the uses, to which one part of the army has been too frequently applied, you have some reason to expect that there are no services they would refuse. Here too we trace the partiality of your understanding. You take the sense of the army from the conduct of the guards, with the same justice with which you collect the sense of the people from the representation of the Ministry. Your marching regiments, Sir, will not make the guards their example either as soldiers or subjects. They feel and resent, as they ought to do, that invariable, undistinguishing favour with which the guards are treated; while those gallant troops, by whom every hazardous, every laborious service, is performed, are left to perish in garrisons abroad, or pine in quarters at home, neglected and forgotten. If they had no sense of the great original duty they owe their country, their resentment would operate like patriotism, and leave your cause to be defended by those, on whom you have lavished the rewards and honours of their profession. The Prætorian Bands, enervated and debauched as they were, had still strength enough to awe the Roman populace; but when the distant legions took the alarm, they marched to Rome, and gave away the empire.
On this side, then, which ever way you turn your eyes, you see nothing but perplexity and distress. You may determine to support the very Ministry who have reduced your affairs to this deplorable situation: you may shelter yourself under the forms of a parliament, and set the people at defiance. But be assured, Sir, that such a resolution would be as imprudent as it would be odious. If it did not immediately shake your establishment, it would rob you of your peace of mind for ever.
On the other, how different is the prospect! How easy, how safe and honourable is the path before you! The English nation declare they are grossly injured by their representatives, and solicit your Majesty to exert your lawful prerogative, and give them an opportunity of recalling a trust, which, they find, has been scandalously abused. You are not to be told that the power of the house of commons is not original, but delegated to them for the welfare of the people, from whom they received it. A question of right arises between the constituent and the representative body. By what authority shall it be decided? Will your Majesty interfere in a question in which you have properly no immediate concern.—It would be a step equally odious and unnecessary. Shall the lords be called upon to determine the rights and privileges of the commons?—They cannot do it without a flagrant breach of the constitution. Or will you refer it to the judges?—They have often told your ancestors, that the law of parliament is above them. What party then remains, but to leave it to the people to determine for themselves? They alone are injured; and since there is no superior power, to which the cause can be referred, they alone ought to determine.
I do not mean to perplex you with a tedious argument upon a subject already so discussed, that inspiration could hardly throw a new light upon it. There are, however, two points of view, in which it particularly imports your Majesty to consider, the late proceedings of the house of commons. By depriving a subject of his birthright, they have attributed to their own vote an authority equal to an act of the whole legislature; and tho' perhaps, not with the same motives, have strictly followed the example of the long parliament, which first declared the regal office useless, and soon after, with as little ceremony, dissolved the house of lords. The same pretended power, which robs an English subject of his birth-right, may rob an English King of his Crown. In another view, the resolution of the house of commons, apparently not so dangerous to your Majesty, is still more alarming to your people. Not contented with divesting one man of his right, they have arbitrarily conveyed that right to another. They have set aside a return as illegal, without daring to censure those officers, who were particularly apprized of Mr. Wilkes's incapacity, not only by the declaration of the house, but expressly by the writ directed to them, and who, nevertheless returned him as duly elected. They have rejected the majority of votes, the only criterion, by whick our laws judge of the sense of the people; they have transferred the right of election from the collective to the representative body; and by these acts, taken separately or together, they have essentially altered the original constitution of the house of commons. Versed, as your Majesty undoubtedly is, in the English history, it cannot easily escape you, how much it is your interest, as well as your duty to prevent one of the three estates from encroaching upon the province of the other two, or assuming the authority of them all. When once they have departed from the great constitutional line by which all their proceedings should he directed, who will answer for their future moderation? Or what assurance will they give you, that, when they have trampled upon their equals, they will submit to a superior? Your Majesty may learn hereafter, how nearly the slave and tyrant are allied.
Some of your council, more candid than the rest, admit the abandoned profligacy of the present house of commons, but oppose their dissolution upon an opinion, I confess not very unwarrantable, that their successors, would be equally at the disposal of the treasury. I cannot persuade myself that the nation will have profited so little by experience. But, if that opinion were well founded, you might then gratify our wishes at an easy rate, and appease the present clamour against your government, without offering any material injury to the favourite cause of corruption.
You have still an honourable part to act. The affections of your subjects may still be recovered. But, before you subdue their hearts, you must gain a noble victory over your own. Discard those little, personal resentments, which have too long directed your public conduct. Pardon this man the remainder of his punishment, and if resentment still prevails, make it, what it should have been long since, an act, not of mercy, but of contempt. He will soon fall back into his natural station,—a silent senator, and hardly supporting the weekly eloquence of a news paper. The gentle breath of peace would leave him on the surface, neglected and unremoved. It is only the tempest, that lifts him from his place.
Without consulting your Minister, call together your whole council. Let it appear to the public that you can determine and act for yourself. Come forward to your people. Lay aside the wretched formalities of a King, and speak to your subjects with the spirit of a man, and in the language of a gentleman. Tell them you have been fatally deceived. The acknowledgment will be no disgrace, but rather an honour to your understanding. Tell them you are determined to remove every cause of complaint against your government; that you will give your confidence to no man, who does not possess the confidence of your subjects; and leave it to themselves to determine, by their conduct at a future election, whether or no it be in reality the general sense of the nation, that their rights have been arbitrarily invaded by the present house of commons, and the constitution betrayed. They will then do justice to their representatives and to themselves.
These sentiments, Sir, and the style they are conveyed in, may be offensive, perhaps, because they are new to you. Accustomed to the language of courtiers, you measure their affections by the vehemence of their expressions; and when they only praise you indifferently, you admire their sincerity. But this is not a time to trifle with your fortune. They deceive you, Sir, who tell you that you have many friends, whose affections are founded upon a principle of personal attachment. The first foundation of friendship is not the power of conferring benefits, but the equality with which they are received, and may be returned. The fortune, which made you a King, forbad you to have a friend. It is a law of nature, which cannot be violated with impunity. The mistaken prince, who looks for friendship, will find a favourite, and in that favourite the ruin of his affairs.
The people of England are loyal to the House of Hanover, not from a vain preference of one family to another, but from a conviction that the establishment of that family was necessary to the support of their civil and religious liberties. This, Sir, is a principle of allegiance equally solid and rational;—fit for Englishmen to adopt, and well worthy of your Majesty's encouragement. We cannot long be deluded by nominal distinctions. The name of Stuart, of itself, is only contemptible;—armed with the sovereign authority, their principles are formidable. The Prince, who imitates their conduct, should be warned by their example; and, while he plumes himself upon the security of his title to the crown, should remember that, as it was acquired by one revolution, it may be lost by another.
- The plan of the tutelage and future dominion over the heir apparent, laid many years ago, at Carlton-house, between the Princess Dowager, and her favourite the Earl of Bute, was as gross and palpable as that which was concerted between Ann of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin, to govern Louis the Fourteenth, and in effect to prolong his minority until the end of their lives. That prince had strong natural parts, and used frequently to blush for his own ignorance and want of education, which had been wilfully neglected by his mother and her minion. A little experience however soon shewed him how shamefully he had been treated, and for what infamous purposes he had been kept in ignorance. Our great Edward too, at an early period, had sense enough to understand the nature of the connexion between his abandoned mother, and the detested Mortimer. But, since that time, human nature, we may observe, is greatly altered for the better. Dowagers may be chaste, and minions may be honest. When it was proposed to settle the present King's household, a Prince of Wales, it is well known, that the Earl of Bute was forced into it, in direct contradiction to the late King's inclination. That was the salient point, from which all the mischiefs and disgraces of the present reign, took life and motion. From that moment, Lord Bute never suffered the Prince of Wales to be an instant out of his sight.—We need not look farther.
- One of the first acts of the present reign was to dismiss Mr. Legge, because he had some years before, refused to yield his interest in Hampshire to a Scotchman, recommended by Lord Bute. This was the reason publicly assigned by his Lordship
- Viscount Townshend, sent over on the plan of being resident Governor. The history of his ridiculous administration shall not be lost to the public.
- In the King's speech of November 8th, 1768, it was declared, "That the spirit of faction had broken out a fresh in some of the colonies, and, in one of them, proceeded to acts of violence and resistance to the execution of the laws; that Boston was in a state of disobedience to all laws and government, and had proceeded to measures subversive of the constitution, and attended with circumstances that manifested a disposition to throw off their dependence on Great Britain."
- The number of commissioned officers in the guards are to the marching regiments as one to eleven:—the number of regiments given to the guards, compared with those given to the line, is about three to one, at a moderate computation; consequently, the partiality in favour of the guards is as thirty-three to one.—So much for the officers.—The private men have four-pence a-day to subsist on;and five hundred lashes if they desert. Under this punishment they frequently expire. With these encouragements, it is supposed, they may be depended upon, whenever a certain person thinks it necessary to butcher his fellow-subjects.