Political Tracts (Johnson)/The Patriot

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Addreſſed to the


They bawl for Freedom in their ſenſeleſs mood,
Yet ſtill revolt when Truth would ſet them free,
Licence they mean, when they cry Liberty,
For who loves that muſt firſt be wiſe and good.



[ 1774. ]



To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life. Many wants are ſuffered, which might once have been ſupplied; and much time is loſt in regretting the time which had been loſt before.

At the end of every ſeven years comes the Saturnalian ſeaſon, when the freemen of Great Britain may pleaſe themſelves with the choice of their repreſentatives. This happy day has now arrived, ſomewhat ſooner than it could be claimed.

To ſelect and depute thoſe, by whom laws are to be made, and taxes to be granted, is a high dignity and an important truſt: and it is the buſineſs of every elector to conſider, how this dignity may be well ſuſtained, and this truſt faithfully diſcharged.

It ought to be deeply impreſſed on the minds of all who have voices in this national deliberation, that no man can deſerve a ſeat in parliament who is not a Patriot. No other man will protect our rights, no other man can merit our confidence.

A patriot is he whoſe public conduct is regulated by one ſingle motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has for himſelf neither hope nor fear, neither kindneſs nor reſentment, but refers every thing to the common intereſt.

That of five hundred men, ſuch as this degenerate age affords, a majority can be found thus virtuouſly abſtracted, who will affirm? Yet there is no good in deſpondence: vigilance and activity often effect more than was expected. Let us take a Patriot where we can meet him; and that we may not flatter ourſelves by falſe appearances, diſtinguiſh thoſe marks which are certain, from thoſe which may deceive: for a man may have the external appearance of a Patriot, without the conſtituent qualities; as falſe coins have often luſtre, tho’ they want weight.

Some claim a place in the liſt of Patriots by an acrimonious and unremitting oppoſition to the Court.

This mark is by no means infallible. Patriotiſm is not neceſſarily included in rebellion. A man may hate his King, yet not love his Country. He that has been refuſed a reaſonable or unreaſonable requeſt, who thinks his merit under-rated, and ſees his influence declining, begins ſoon to talk of natural equality, the abſurdity of many made for one, the original compact, the foundation of authority, and the majeſty of the people. As his political melancholy increaſes, he tells, and perhaps dreams of the advances of the prerogative, and the dangers of arbitrary power; yet his deſign in all his declamation is not to benefit his country, but to gratify his malice.

Theſe, however, are the moſt honeſt of the opponents of government; their patriotiſm is a ſpecies of diſeaſe; and they feel ſome part of what they expreſs. But the greater, far the greater number of thoſe who rave and rail, and inquire and accuſe, neither ſuſpect nor fear, nor care for the Public; but hope to force their way to riches by virulence and invective, and are vehement and clamorous, only that they may be ſooner hired to be ſilent.

A man ſometimes ſtarts up a Patriot, only by diſſeminating diſcontent and propagating reports of ſecret influence, of dangerous counſels, of violated rights, and encroaching uſurpation.

This practice is no certain note of Patriotiſm. To inſtigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation, is to ſuſpend public happineſs, if not to deſtroy it. He is no lover of his country, that unneceſſarily diſturbs its peace. Few errors, and few faults of government can juſtify an appeal to the rabble; who ought not to judge of what they cannot underſtand, and whoſe opinions are not propagated by reaſon, but caught by contagion.

The fallaciouſneſs of this note of patriotiſm is particularly apparent, when the clamour continues after the evil is paſt. They who are ſtill filling our ears with Mr. Wilkes, and the Freeholders of Middleſex, lament a grievance, that is now at an end. Mr. Wilkes may be choſen, if any will chooſe him, and the precedent of his excluſion makes not any honeſt, or any decent man, think himſelf in danger.

It may be doubted whether the name of a Patriot can be fairly given as the reward of ſecret ſatire, or open outrage. To fill the news-papers with ſly hints of corruption and intrigue, to circulate the Middleſex Journal and London Pacquet, may indeed be zeal; but it may likewiſe be intereſt and malice. To offer a petition, not expected to be granted; to inſult a King with a rude remonſtrance, only becauſe there is no puniſhment for legal inſolence, is not courage, for there is no danger; nor patriotiſm, for it tends the ſubverſion of order, and lets wickedneſs looſe upon the land, by deſtroying the reverence due to ſovereign authority.

It is the quality of Patriotiſm to be jealous and watchful, to obſerve all ſecret machinations, and to ſee public dangers at a diſtance. The true Lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears and to ſound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of miſchief. But he ſounds no alarm, when there is no enemy: he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himſelf. The patriotiſm therefore may be juſtly doubted of him, who profeſſes to be diſturbed by incredibilities; who tells, that the laſt peace was obtained by bribing the Princeſs of Wales; that the King is graſping at arbitrary power; and that becauſe the French in the new conqueſts enjoy their own laws, there is a deſign at court of aboliſhing in England the trial by juries.

Still leſs does the true Patriot circulate opinions which he knows to be falſe. No man, who loves his country, fills the nation with clamorous complaints, that the Proteſtant religion is in danger, becauſe Popery is eſtabliſhed in the extenſive province of Quebec, a falſehood ſo open and ſhameleſs, that it can need no confutation among thole who know that of which it is almoſt impoſſible for the moſt unenlightened zealot to be ignorant.

That Quebec is on the other ſide of the Atlantic, at too great a diſtance to do much good or harm to the European world:

That the inhabitants, being French, were always Papiſts, who are certainly more dangerous as enemies, than as ſubjects:

That though the province be wide, the people are few, probably not ſo many as may be found in one of the larger Engliſh counties:

That perſecution is not more virtuous in a Proteſtant than a Papiſt; and that while we blame Lewis the Fourteenth, for his dragoons and his gallies, we ought, when power comes into our hands, to uſe it with greater equity:

That when Canada with its inhabitants was yielded, the free enjoyment of their religion was ſtipulated; a condition, of which King William, who was no propagator of Popery, gave an example nearer home, at the ſurrender of Limerick:

That in an age, where every mouth is open for liberty of conſcience, it is equitable to ſhew ſome regard to the conſcience of a Papiſt, who may be ſuppoſed, like other men, to think himſelf ſafeſt in his own religion and that thoſe at leaſt, who enjoy a toleration, ought not to deny it to our new ſubjects.

If liberty of conſcience be a natural right, we have no power to with-hold it; if it be an indulgence, it may be allowed to Papiſts, while it is not denied to other ſects.

A patriot is neceſſarily and invariably a lover of the people. But even this mark may ſometimes deceive us.

The people is a very heterogeneous and confuſed maſs of the wealthy and the poor, the wiſe and the fooliſh, the good and the bad. Before we confer on a man, who careſſes the people, the title of Patriot, we muſt examine to what part of the people he directs his notice. It is proverbially ſaid, that he who diſſembles his own character, may be known by that of his companions. If the candidate of Patriotiſm endeavours to infuſe right opinions into the higher ranks, and by their influence to regulate the lower; if he conſorts chiefly with the wiſe, the temperate, the regular, and the virtuous, his love of the people may be rational and honeſt. But if his firſt or principal application be to the indigent, who are always inflammable; to the weak, who are naturally ſuſpicious; to the ignorant, who are eaſily miſled; and to the profligate, who have no hope but from miſchief and confuſion; let his love of the people be no longer boaſted. No man can reaſonably be thought a lover of his country, for roaſting an ox, or burning a boot, or attending the meeting at Mile-End, or regiſtering his name in the Lumber-Troop. He may, among the drunkards be a hearty fellow, and among ſober handicraftſmen, a free-ſpoken gentleman; but he muſt have ſome better diſtinction before he is a Patriot.

A patriot is always ready to countenance the juſt claims, and animate the reaſonable hopes of the people; he reminds them frequently of their rights, and ſtimulates them to reſent encroachments, and to multiply ſecurities.

But all this may be done in appearance, without real patriotiſm. He that raiſes falſe hopes to ſerve a preſent purpoſe, only makes a way for diſappointment and diſcontent. He who promiſes to endeavour, what he knows his endeavours unable to effect, means only to delude his followers by an empty clamour of ineffectual zeal.

A true Patriot is no laviſh promiſer: he undertakes not to ſhorten parliaments; to repeal laws; or to change the mode of repreſentation, tranſmitted by our anceſtors: he knows that futurity is not in his power, and that all times are not alike favourable to change.

Much leſs does he make a vague and indefinite promiſe of obeying the mandates of his conſtituents. He knows the prejudices of faction, and the inconſtancy of the multitude. He would firſt inquire, how the opinion of his conſtituents ſhall be taken. Popular inſtructions are commonly the work, not of the wiſe and ſteady, but the violent and raſh; meetings held for directing repreſentatives are ſeldom attended but by the idle and the diſſolute; and he is not without ſuſpicion, that of his conſtituents, as of other numbers of men, the ſmaller part may often be the wiſer.

He confiders himſelf as deputed to promote the publick good, and to preſerve his conſtituents, with the reſt of his countrymen, not only from being hurt by others, but from hurting themſelves.

The common marks of patriotiſm having been examined, and ſhewn to be ſuch as artifice may counterfeit, or folly miſapply, it cannot be improper to conſider, whether there are not ſome characteriſtical modes of ſpeaking or acting, which may prove a man to be not a Patriot.

In this inquiry, perhaps clearer evidence may be diſcovered, and firmer perſuaſion attained; for it is commonly eaſier to know what is wrong than what is right; to find what we ſhould avoid, than what we ſhould purſue.

As war is one of the heavieſt of national evils, a calamity, in which every ſpecies of miſery is involved; as it ſets the general ſafety to hazard, ſuſpends commerce, and deſolates the country; as it expoſes great numbers to hardſhips, dangers, captivity, and death; no man, who deſires the publick proſperity, will inflame general reſentment by aggravating minute injuries, or enforcing diſputable rights of little importance.

It may therefore be ſafely pronounced, that thoſe men are no Patriots, who when the national honour was vindicated in the fight of Europe, and the Spaniards having invaded what they call their own, had ſhrunk to a diſavowal of their attempt and a relaxation of their claim, would ſtill have have inſtigated us to a war for a bleak and barren ſpot in the Magellanic ocean, of which no uſe could be made unleſs it were a place of exile for the hypocrites of patriotiſm.

Yet let it not be forgotten, that by the howling violence of patriotic rage, the nation was for a time exaſperated to ſuch madneſs, that for a barren rock, under a ſtormy ſky, we might have now been fighting and dying, had not our competitors been wiſer than ourſelves; and thoſe who are now courting the favour of the people by noiſy profeſſions of public ſpirit, would, while they were counting the profits of their artifice, have enjoyed the patriotic pleaſure of hearing ſometimes, that thouſands had been ſlaughtered in a battle, and ſometimes that a navy had been diſpeopled by poiſoned air and corrupted food.

He that wiſhes to ſee his country robbed of its rights, cannot be a Patriot.

That man therefore is no Patriot, who juſtifies the ridiculous claims of American uſurpation; who endeavours to deprive the nation of its natural and lawful authority over its own colonies; thoſe colonies, which were ſettled under Engliſh protection; were conſtituted by an Engliſh charter; and have been defended by Engliſh arms.

To ſuppoſe, that by ſending out a colony, the nation eſtabliſhed an independent power; that when, by indulgence and favour, emigrants are become rich, they ſhall not contribute to their own defence, but at their own pleaſure; and that they ſhall not be included, like millions of their fellow-ſubjects, in the general ſyſtem of repreſentation; involves ſuch an accumulation of abſurdity, as nothing but the ſhew of patriotiſm could palliate.

He that accepts protection, ſtipulates obedience. We have always protected the Americans; we may therefore ſubject them to government.

The leſs is included in the greater. That power which can take away life, may ſeize upon property. The parliament may enact for America a law of capital puniſhment; it may therefore eſtabliſh a mode and proportion of taxation.

But there are ſome who lament the ſtate of the poor Boſtonians, becauſe they cannot all be ſuppoſed to have committed acts of rebellion, yet all are involved in the penalty impoſed. This, they ſay, is to violate the firſt rule of juſtice, by condemning the innocent to ſuffer with the guilty.

This deſerves ſome notice, as it ſeems dictated by equity and humanity, however it may raiſe contempt, by the ignorance which it betrays of the ſtate of man, and the ſyſtem of things. That the innocent ſhould be confounded with the guilty, is undoubtedly an evil; but it is an evil which no care or caution can prevent. National crimes require national puniſhments, of which many muſt neceſſarily have their part, who have not incurred them by perſonal guilt. If rebels ſhould fortify a town, the cannon of lawful authority will endanger equally the harmleſs burghers and the criminal garriſon.

In ſome caſes, thoſe ſuffer moſt who are leaſt intended to be hurt. If the French in the late war had taken an Engliſh city, and permitted the natives to keep their dwellings, how could it have been recovered, but by the ſlaughter of our friends? A bomb might as well deſtroy an Engliſhman as a Frenchman; and by famine we know that the inhabitants would be the firſt that ſhould periſh.

This infliction of promiſcuous evil may therefore be lamented, but cannot be blamed. The power of lawful government muſt be maintained; and the miſeries which rebellion produces, can be charged only on the rebels.

That man likewiſe is not a Patriot, who denies his governors their due praiſe, and who conceals from the people the benefits which they receive. Thoſe therefore can lay no claim to this illuſtrious appellation, who impute want of public ſpirit to the late parliament; an aſſembly of men, whom, notwithstanding ſome fluctuation of counſel, and ſome weakneſs of agency, the nation muſt always remember with gratitude, ſince it is indebted to them for a very ample conceſſion in the reſignation of protections, and a wife and honeſt attempt to improve the conſtitution, in the new judicature inſtituted for the trial of elections.

The right of protection, which might be neceſſary when it was firſt claimed, and was very conſiſtent with that liberality of immunities in which the feudal conſtitution delighted, was by its nature liable to abuſe, and had in reality been ſometimes miſapplied, to the evaſion of the law and the defeat of juſtice. The evil was perhaps not adequate to the clamour; nor is it very certain, that the poſſible good of this privilege was not more than equal to the poſſible evil. It is however plain, that whether they gave any thing or not to the Public, they at leaſt loſt ſomething from themſelves. They diverted their dignity of a very ſplendid diſtinction, and ſhewed that they were more willing than their predeceſſors to ſtand on a level with their fellow ſubjects.

The new mode of trying elections, if it be found effectual, will diffuſe its conſequences further than ſeems yet to be foreſeen. It is, I believe, generally conſidered as advantageous only to thoſe who claim ſeats in parliament; but, if to chuſe repreſentatives be one of the moſt valuable rights of Engliſhmen, every voter muſt confider that law as adding to his happineſs, which makes his ſuffrage efficacious; ſince it was vain to chuſe, while the election could be controlled by any other power.

With what imperious contempt of ancient rights, and what audaciouſneſs of arbitrary authority, former parliaments have judged the diſputes about elections, it is not neceſſary to relate. The claim of a candidate, and the right of electors are ſaid ſcarcely to have been, even in appearance, referred to conſcience; but to have been decided by party, by paſſion, by prejudice, or by frolic. To have friends in the borough was of little uſe to him, who wanted friends in the houſe; a pretence was eaſily found to evade a majority, and the ſeat was at laſt his, that was choſen not by his electors, but his fellow-ſenators.

Thus the nation was inſulted with a mock election, and the parliament was filled with ſpurious repreſentatives; one of the moſt important claims, that of a right to ſit in the ſupreme council of the kingdom, was debated in jeſt, and no man could be confident of ſucceſs from the juſtice of his cauſe.

A diſputed election is now tried with the ſame ſcrupulouſneſs and ſolemnity, as any other title. The candidate that has deſerved well of his neighbours, may now be certain of enjoying the effect of their approbation; and the elector, who has voted honeſtly for known merit, may be certain that he has not voted in vain.

Such was the parliament, which ſome of thoſe, who are now aſpiring to ſit in another, have taught the rabble to conſider as an unlawful convention of men, worthleſs, venal, and proſtitute, ſlaves of the court, and tyrants of the people.

That the next Houſe of Commons may act upon the principles of the laſt, with more conſtancy and higher ſpirit, muſt be the wiſh of all who wiſh well to the Publick; and it is ſurely not too much to expect, that the nation will recover from its deluſion, and unite in a general abhorrence of thoſe who, by deceiving the credulous with fictitious miſchiefs, overbearing the weak by audacity of falſehood, by appealing to the judgment of ignorance, and flattering the vanity of meanneſs, by ſlandering honeſty and inſulting dignity, have gathered round them whatever the kingdom can ſupply of baſe, and groſs, and profligate; and raiſed by merit to this bad eminence, arrogate to themſelves the name of Patriots.