Cato’s Letters (een selectie) door John Trenchard en Thomas Gordon (1720-23)
Cato’s Letter No. 31
Considerations on the Weakness and Inconsistencies of Human Nature
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, May 27, 1721)
It shews the violent bent of human nature to evil, that even the Christian religion has not been able to tame the restless appetites of men, always pushing them into enormities and violences, in direct opposition to the spirit and declarations of the gospel, which commands us to do unto all men what we would have all men do unto us. The general practice of the world is an open contradiction and contempt of this excellent, this divine rule; which alone, were it observed, would restore honesty and happiness to mankind, who, in their present state of corruption, are for ever dealing treacherously or outrageously with one another, out of an ill-judging fondness for themselves.
Nay, the peaceable, the beneficent, the forgiving Christian religion, is made the cause of perpetual hatred, animosity, quarrels, violence, devastation, and oppression; and the apostles, in spite of all their poverty, disinterestedness, and love of mankind, are made to justify their pretended successors of the Church of Rome, in engrossing to themselves the wealth and power of the earth; and in bringing mankind under a yoke of servitude, more terrible, more expensive, and more severe, than all the arts and delusions of paganism could ever bring them under: Of so much more force with the corrupt world are the destructive villainies and falsifications of men, than the benevolent and heavenly precepts of Jesus Christ.
The truth is, and it is a melancholy truth, that where human laws do not tie men’s hands from wickedness, religion too seldom does; and the most certain security which we have against violence, is the security of the laws. Hence it is, that the making of laws supposes all men naturally wicked; and the surest mark of virtue is, the observation of laws that are virtuous: If therefore we would look for virtue in a nation, we must look for it in the nature of government; the name and model of their religion being no certain symptom nor cause of their virtue. The Italians profess the Christian religion, and the Turks are all infidels; are the Italians therefore more virtuous than the Turks? I believe no body will say that they are; at least those of them that live under absolute princes: On the contrary, it is certain, that as the subjects of the Great Turk are not more miserable than those of the Pope, so neither are they more wicked.
Of all the passions which belong to human nature, self-love is the strongest, and the root of all the rest; or, rather, all the different passions are only several names for the several operations of self-love. Self-love, says the Duke of Rochefoucauld, is the love of one’s self, and of every thing else for one’s own sake: It makes a man the idolater of himself, and the tyrant of others. He observes, that man is a mixture of contrarieties; imperious and supple, sincere and false, fearful and bold, merciful and cruel: He can sacrifice every pleasure to the getting of riches, and all his riches to a pleasure: He is fond of his preservation, and yet sometimes eager after his own destruction: He can flatter those whom he hates, destroy those whom he loves.
This is a picture of mankind; and they who say it is a false one, ought to shew that they deserve a better. I have sometimes thought, that it was scarce possible to assert any thing concerning mankind, be it ever so good, or ever so evil, but it will prove true. They are naturally innocent, yet fall naturally into the practice of vice; the greatest instances of virtue and villainy are to be found in one and the same person; and perhaps one and the same motive produces both. The observance or non-observance of a few frivolous customs shall unite them in strict friendship and confederacy, or set them a cutting one another’s throats.
They never regard one another as men and rational beings, and upon the foot of their common humanity; but are cemented or divided by the force of words and habits. Considerations that are a disgrace to reason! The not being born in the same climate, or on this side such a river, or such a mountain, or the not wearing the like garments, or uttering the like sounds, or having the same thoughts or taste, are all so many causes of intense hatred, sometimes of mortal war. Whatever men think or do, especially if they have found a good name for it, be it ever so foolish or bad, is wisest and best in their own eyes: But this is not all; we will needs be plaguing our neighbours, if they do not quit upon our authority their own thoughts and practices for ours.
It fills me with concern, when I consider how men use one another; and how wretchedly their passions are employed: They scarce ever have proper objects for their passions; they will hate a man for what he cannot help, and what does them no harm; yet bless and pray for villains, that kill and oppress them. There never was such a dreadful tribunal under the sun as the Inquisition: A tribunal, against which the most innocent is not safe, to which the most virtuous men are most exposed; a tribunal, where all the malice, all the sagacious cruelty, all the bitterness, and all the fury and falsehood of devils are exerted, and all the tortures of hell are imitated and practised; yet this very tribunal is so dear to the people, though it terrifies them, enslaves them, and destroys them, that rather than part with it, they would part with all that is left them. Upon the surrender of Barcelona, in the late war, the inhabitants capitulated, that the Inquisition should not be taken from them: And even here in England, we may remember the time when men have been knocked down for saying that they had a right to defend their property by force, when a tyrant attempted to rob them of it against law. To such a pitch of stupidity and distraction are people to be brought by those who belie Almighty God, and falsify his word to satiate worldly pride; and such dupes and furies are men to one another!
Every thing is so perverted and abused, and the best things most, that a very wise man had but too much reason to say, that truth did not so much good in the world, as the appearance and pretence of it did evil. Thus the saving of men’s souls is so universally understood to be a great and glorious blessing, that for the sake of it men have suffered, and do suffer, the highest misery and bondage from the impostors who pretend to bestow it, in the dark parts of the world, which are by far the greatest parts of the world. And thus civil government is the defence and security of human society; yet Dr. Prideaux makes it a doubt, whether the benefit which the world receives from government be sufficient to make amends for the calamities which it suffers from the follies, mistakes, and mal-administration of those that manage it. And thus to come home to ourselves, a project to pay off the nation’s debts was so tempting; so popular and plausible, that almost every body came into it; and yet—the consequences speak themselves.
The Roman Senate could flatter and adore a Nero and a Caligula; the Roman soldiers could butcher a Piso and a Pertinax: It is hard to say which were the most guilty, the Senate while they worshipped tyranny, or the army while they destroyed virtue. So prone are men to propagate publick destruction for personal advantages and security! I can never think without horror and trembling upon that dismal, that bloody maxim of Philip II of Spain, that he would rather be master of a kingdom ruined, miserable, and quiet; than of a kingdom rich, powerful, and turbulent. In pursuance of this maxim, he made his kingdom a desert, by destroying and expelling the most industrious of its inhabitants, the Moors: But Philip was very devout, and would frequently wash a pilgrim’s feet; that is, he was very civil and charitable to an idle religious stroller, and a cruel enemy to the general happiness of mankind.
This puts me in mind of the history of John Basilowitz, Great Duke of Muscovy:
“No history of his time but speaks of the unheard-of cruelties exercised by him on all sorts of persons through his whole reign: They are so horrid, that never any tyrant did the like; and yet Bishop Paulus Jovius gives him the character of a good and devout Christian, though he deserves not to be numbered even amongst men: It is true, he would go often to church, say the service himself, sing, and be present at ecclesiastical ceremonies, and execute the functions of the monks: but he abused both God and man, and had no sentiments of humanity.” Ambassadors Travels, p. 73, 74.
What a medley is here of devotion and cruelty in the same men! Nor are these examples singular. Louis XI of France was a false, a wicked, and an oppressive prince, and one of the greatest bigots that ever lived; and some of the greatest saints in the Roman calendarwere pernicious villains, and bloody monsters. No sect of bigots, when they are uppermost, are willing to tolerate another; and all ground their ungodly severity upon their zeal for religion; though their want of charity is a demonstration that they have no religion. It is certain, that without universal charity and forebearance, a man cannot be a Christian.
It is wonderful and affecting, to behold how the ideas of good and evil are confounded! The Turks place great devotion in releasing captive birds from their cages, in feeding indigent and mangey dogs, and building hospitals for them, and in paying a religious reverence to camels: But at the same time that they thus use birds and beasts like men and Christians, they use men and Christians worse than they do beasts; and with them it is a lighter offence to deny bread to a poor Christian, who is famished in his chains, than to the dogs of the street, which are fit for nothing but to breed infection. They will load a poor Christian with irons, cover him with stripes, and think that they do well and religiously in it; yet make it a matter of conscience not to overload a beast of burden.
In popish countries, in cases where nature is left to itself, as much compassion is shewn for the distressed as in other places: Even thieves, robbers, and murderers, are accompanied to the gallows or the wheel with sighs and tears; especially of the tender sex: But when an unhappy innocent is going to be burned, to be cruelly and slowly burned, for his sincerity and piety in speaking truth, and reading the Bible himself, or teaching it to others; nothing is to be seen but a general joy, nor to be heard but loud cries of approbation and consent; and all piety, all sympathy, is denied in an instance which calls for the highest. Tell a Spanish lady of a popish priest hanged in England for sedition or murder, she instantly falls into tears and agonies: Tell her of a kinsman of hers burned for denying transubstantiation, she gives glory to God, and feels a sensible joy.
And, in Protestant countries, how many men are there, who cheat, starve, and oppress all their life long, to leave an estate at their death to religious uses? As if men were to be rogues for God’s sake. I have heard of a man, who having given half of his estate to mend highways, for the good of his country, said, that he would willingly give the other half, that England had never a ship, nor a merchant, nor a dissenter from the Church, belonging to it. Strange inconsistency! By one act of his, two or three miles of causeway were kept in good repair, which was only a kindness to horses’ hoofs; by another act of his, he would have made all England miserable and desolate!
The hardships and distresses of this year shew too manifestly the rogueries and depredations of the last: Villainy was let loose amongst us, and every man endeavoured to entrap and ruin another, to enrich himself. Honesty was brow-beaten and driven into corners; humanity was extinguished; all friendship was abolished; and even the distinction of kindred and ties of blood were discarded: A raging passion for immoderate gain had made men universally and intensely hard-hearted: They were every where devouring one another. And yet the directors and their accomplices, who were the acting instruments of all this outrageous madness and mischief, set up for wonderfully pious persons, while they were defying Almighty God, and plundering men; and they set apart a fund of subscriptions for charitable uses: That is, they mercilessly made a whole people beggars, and charitably supported a few necessitous and worthless favourites. I doubt not, but if the villainy had gone on with success, they would have had their names handed down to posterity with encomiums; as the names of other publick robbers have been! We have historians and ode-makers now living, very proper for such a task. It is certain, that most people did, at one time, believe the directors to be great and worthy persons: And an honest country clergyman told me last summer, upon the road, that Sir John was an excellent publick-spirited person, for that he had beautified his chancel.
Upon the whole, we must not judge of one another by our fair pretensions and best actions; since the worst men do some good, and all men make fine professions: But we must judge of men by the whole of their conduct, and the effects of it. Thorough honesty requires great and long proof; since many a man, long thought honest, has at length proved a knave. And it is from judging without proof, or too little, of false proof, that mankind continue unhappy.
G. I am, &c.
Cato’s Lettter No. 33
Cautions against the natural Encroachments of Power
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, June 17, 1721)
Men that are above all fear, soon grow above all shame. Rupto pudore ~ metu, suo tantum ingenio utebatur [“Finally, when all shame and fear had disappeared, he followed his own nature and descended into crime and into dishonor.”] says Tacitus of Tiberius. Even Nero had lived a great while inoffensively, and reigned virtuously: But finding at last that he might do what he would, he let loose his appetite for blood, and committed such mighty, such monstrous, such unnatural slaughters and outrages, as none but a heart bent on the study of cruelty could have devised. The good counsels of Seneca and Burrhus were, for some time, checks upon his wolfish nature; and doubtless he apprehended, that if he made direct and downright war upon his people, they would use resistance and make reprisals: But discovering, by degrees, that they would bear any thing, and his soldiers would execute every thing, he grew into an open defiance with mankind, and daily and wantonly wallowed in their blood. Having no other rival, he seemed to rival himself, and every day’s wickedness was blacker than another.
Yet Nero was not the worst of all men: There have been thousands as bad as he, and only wanted the same opportunity to shew it. And there actually have been many princes in the world who have shed more blood, and done more mischief to mankind, than Nero did. I could instance in a late one, who destroyed more lives than ever Nero destroyed, perhaps an hundred to one. It makes no difference, that Nero committed butcheries out of cruelty, and the other only for his glory: However the world may be deceived by the change of names into an abhorrence of the one, and an admiration of the other; it is all one to a nation, when they are to be slaughtered, whether they be slaughtered by the hangman or by dragoons, in prison or in the field; nor is ambition better than cruelty, when it begets mischief as great.
It is nothing strange, that men, who think themselves unaccountable, should act unaccountably, and that all men would be unaccountable if they could: Even those who have done nothing to displease, do not know but some time or other they may; and no man cares to be at the entire mercy of another. Hence it is, that if every man had his will, all men would exercise dominion, and no man would suffer it. It is therefore owing more to the necessities of men, than to their inclinations, that they have put themselves under the restraint of laws, and appointed certain persons, called magistrates, to execute them; otherwise they would never be executed, scarce any man having such a degree of virtue as willingly to execute the laws upon himself; but, on the contrary, most men thinking them a grievance, when they come to meddle with themselves and their property. Suarum legum auctor & eversor [“The author and transgressor of his own laws.”], was the character of Pompey: He made laws when they suited his occasions, and broke them when they thwarted his will. And it is the character of almost every man possessed of Pompey’s power: They intend them for a security to themselves, and for a terror to others. This shews the distrust that men have of men; and this made a great philosopher call the state of nature, a state of war; which definition is true in a restrained sense, since human societies and human laws are the effect of necessity and experience: Whereas were all men left to the boundless liberty which they claim from nature, every man would be interfering and quarrelling with another; every man would be plundering the acquisitions of another; the labour of one man would be the property of another; weakness would be the prey of force; and one man’s industry would be the cause of another man’s idleness.
Hence grew the necessity of government; which was the mutual contract of a number of men, agreeing upon certain terms of union and society, and putting themselves under penalties, if i they violated these terms, which were called laws, and put into the hands of one or more men to execute. And thus men quitted part of their natural liberty to acquire civil security. But frequently the remedy proved worse than the disease; and human society had often no enemies so great as their own magistrates; who, where-ever they were trusted with too much power, always abused it, and grew mischievous to those who made them what they were. Rome, while she was free (that is, while she kept her magistrates within due bounds) could defend herself against all the world, and conquer it: But being enslaved (that is, her magistrates having broke their bounds) she could not defend herself against her own single tyrants, nor could they defend her against her foreign foes and invaders; for by their madness and cruelties they had destroyed her virtue and spirit, and exhausted her strength. This shews that those magistrates that are at absolute defiance with a nation, either cannot subsist long, or will not suffer the nation to subsist long; and that mighty traitors, rather than fall themselves, will pull down their country.
What a dreadful spirit must that man possess, who can put a private appetite in balance against the universal good of his country, and of mankind! Alexander and Caesar were that sort of men; they would set the world on fire, and spill its blood, rather than not govern it. Caligula knew that he was hated, and deserved to be hated; but it did not mend him. Oderint dum metuant [“Let them hate, so long as they fear,”], was his by-word: All that the monster aimed at, was to be great and terrible. Most of these tyrants died as became them; and, as they had reigned, by violence: But that did not mend their successors, who generally earned the fate of those that went before them, before they were warm in their place. Invenit etiam aemulos infelix nequitia: Quid si floreat vigeatque?[“Even unfruitful wickedness finds imitators. What if it were to flourish and prosper?”] “If unfortunate villainy thus finds rivals, what shall we say, when it exalts its head and prospers?”
There is no evil under the sun but what is to be dreaded from men, who may do what they please with impunity: They seldom or never stop at certain degrees of mischief when they have power to go farther; but hurry on from wickedness to wickedness, as far and as fast as human malice can prompt human power. Ubi semel recto de erratum est. in praeceps pervenitur_a rectis in vitia, a vitiis in prava, a pravis in praecipitia, says a Roman historian; [“Whenever one wanders from the right, one quickly descends into danger_from propriety to depravity, from depravity to crime, from crime to the abyss.”] who in this speaks the truth, though in other instances he tells many lies; I mean that base flatterer of power, Velleius Paterculus. So that when we see any great mischief committed with safety, we may justly apprehend mischiefs still greater.
The world is governed by men, and men by their passions; which, being boundless and insatiable, are always terrible when they are not controuled. Who was ever satiated with riches, or surfeited with power, or tired with honours? There is a tradition concerning Alexander, that having penetrated to the Eastern Ocean, and ravaged as much of this world as he knew, he wept that there was never another world for him to conquer. This, whether true or no, shews the spirit of the man, and indeed of human nature, whose appetites are infinite.
People are ruined by their ignorance of human nature; which ignorance leads them to credulity, and too great a confidence in particular men. They fondly imagine that he, who, possessing a great deal by their favour, owes them great gratitude, and all good offices, will therefore return their kindness: But, alas! how often are they mistaken in their favourites and trustees; who, the more they have given them, are often the more incited to take all, and to return destruction for generous usage. The common people generally think that great men have great minds, and scorn base actions; which judgment is so false, that the basest and worst of all actions have been done by great men: Perhaps they have not picked private pockets, but they have done worse; they have often disturbed, deceived, and pillaged the world: And he who is capable of the highest mischief, is capable of the meanest: He who plunders a country of a million of money, would in suitable circumstances steal a silver spoon; and a conqueror, who steals and pillages a kingdom, would, in an humbler fortune, rifle a portmanteau, or rob an orchard.
Political jealousy, therefore, in the people, is a necessary and laudable passion. But in a chief magistrate, a jealousy of his people is not so justifiable, their ambition being only to preserve themselves; whereas it is natural for power to be striving to enlarge itself, and to be encroaching upon those that have none. The most laudable jealousy of a magistrate is to be jealous for his people; which will shew that he loves them, and has used them well: But to be jealous of them, would denote that he has evil designs against them, and has used them ill. The people’s jealousy tends to preserve liberty; and the prince’s to destroy it. Venice is a glorious instance of the former, and so is England; and all nations who have lost their liberty, are melancholy proofs of the latter.
Power is naturally active, vigilant, and distrustful; which qualities in it push it upon all means and expedients to fortify itself, and upon destroying all opposition, and even all seeds of opposition, and make it restless as long as any thing stands in its way. It would do what it pleases, and have no check. Now, because liberty chastises and shortens power, therefore power would extinguish liberty; and consequently liberty has too much cause to be exceeding jealous, and always upon her defence. Power has many advantages over her; it has generally numerous guards, many creatures, and much treasure; besides, it has more craft and experience, less honesty and innocence: And whereas power can, and for the most part does, subsist where liberty is not, liberty cannot subsist without power; so that she has, as it were, the enemy always at her gates.
Some have said, that magistrates being accountable to none but God, ought to know no other restraint. But this reasoning is as frivolous as it is wicked; for no good man cares how many punishments and penalties lie in his way to an offence which he does not intend to commit: A man who does not mean to commit murder, is not sorry that murder is punished with death. And as to wicked men, their being accountable to God, whom they do not fear, is no security to use against their folly and malice; and to say that we ought to have no security against them, is to insult common sense, and give the lie to the first law of nature, that of self-preservation. Human reason says, that there is no obedience, no regard due to those rulers, who govern by no rule but their lust. Such men are no rulers; they are outlaws; who, being at defiance with God and man, are protected by no law of God, or of reason. By what precept, moral or divine, are we forbid to kill a wolf, or burn an infected ship? Is it unlawful to prevent wickedness and misery, and to resist the authors of them? Are crimes sanctified by their greatness? And is he who robs a country, and murders ten thousand, less a criminal, then he who steals single guineas, and takes away single lives? Is there any sin in preventing, and restraining, or resisting the greatest sin that can be committed, that of oppressing and destroying mankind by wholesale? Sure there never were such open, such shameless, such selfish impostors, as the advocates for lawless power! It is a damnable sin to oppress them; yet it is a damnable sin to oppose them when they oppress, or gain by oppression of others! When they are hurt themselves ever so little, or but think themselves hurt, they are the loudest of all men in their complaints, and the most outrageous in their behaviour: But when others are plundered, oppressed, and butchered, complaints are sedition; and to seek redress, is damnation. Is not this to be the authors of all wickedness and falsehood?
To conclude: Power, without control, appertains to God alone; and no man ought to be trusted with what no man is equal to. In truth there are so many passions, and inconsistencies, and so much selfishness, belonging to human nature, that we can scarce be too much upon our guard against each other. The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.
I am, &c.,
P. S. This letter is the sequel of that upon human nature; [*] and both are intended for an introduction to a paper which I intend to write upon the restraints which all wise nations put upon their magistrates.
[*]. See Letter No. 31 (May 27, 1721).
Cato’s Letter No. 37
Character of a Good and of an Evil Magistrate, Quoted from Algernon Sidney, Esq.
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, July 15, 1721)
“The good magistrate seeks the good of the people committed to his care, that he may perform the end of his institution: and knowing that chiefly to consist in justice and virtue, he endeavours to plant and propagate them; and by doing this he procures his own good, as well as that of the publick. He knows there is no safety where there is no strength, no strength without union, no union without justice, no justice where faith and truth in accomplishing publick and private engagements is wanting. This he perpetually inculcates; and thinks it a great part of his duty, by precept and example to educate the youth in a love of virtue and truth, that they may be seasoned with them, and filled with an abhorrence of vice and falsehood, before they attain that age which is exposed to the most violent temptations, and in which they may by their crimes bring the greatest mischiefs upon the publick. Me would do all this, though it were to his own prejudice. But as good actions always carry a reward with them, these contribute in a high measure to his advantage. By preferring the interest of the people before his own, he gains their affection, and all that is in their power comes with it; while he unites them to one another, he unites all to himself. In leading them to virtue, he increases their strength, and by that means provides for his own safety, glory, and power.
“On the other side, such as seek different ends must take different ways. When a magistrate fancies he is not made for the people, but the people for him; that he does not govern for them, but for himself; that the people live only to increase his glory, or to furnish matter for his pleasure; he does not enquire what he may do for them, but what he may draw from them: By this means he sets up an interest of profit, pleasure, or pomp in himself, repugnant to the good of the publick, for which he is made to be what he is. These contrary ends certainly divide the nation into parties; and while every one endeavours to advance that to which he is addicted, occasions of hatred, for injuries every day done, or thought to be done, and received, must necessarily arise. This creates a most fierce and irreconcilable enmity; because the occasions are frequent, important, and universal, and the causes thought to be most just. The people think it to be the greatest of all crimes to convert that power to their hurt, which was instituted for their good; and that the injustice is aggravated by perjury and ingratitude, which comprehend all manner of ill; and the magistrate gives the name of sedition and rebellion to whatsoever they do for the preservation of themselves and their own rights. When men’s spirits are thus prepared, a small matter sets them on fire; but if no accident happens to blow them into a flame, the course ofjustice is certainly interrupted, the publick affairs are neglected; and when any occasion, whether foreign or domestick, arises, in which the magistrate stands in need of the people’s assistance, they whose affections are alienated, not only shew an unwillingness to serve him with their persons and estates, but fear that by delivering him from his distress, they strengthen their enemy, and enable him to oppress them; and he, fancying his will to be unjustly opposed, or his due more unjustly denied, is filled with a dislike of what he sees, and a fear of worse for the future. Whilst he endeavours to ease himself of the one, and to provide against the other, he usually increases the evils of both; and jealousies are on both sides multiplied. Every man knows that the governed are in a great measure under the power of the governor; but as no man, or number of men, is willingly subject to those that seek their ruin, such as fall into so great a misfortune, continue no longer under it than force, fear, or necessity may be able to oblige them. But such a necessity can hardly lie longer upon a great people, than till the evil be fully discovered and comprehended, and their virtue, strength, and power be united to expel it: The ill magistrate looks upon all things that may conduce to that end as so many preparatives to his ruin; and by the help of those who are of his party, will endeavour to prevent that union, and diminish that strength, virtue, power and courage, which he knows to be bent against him. And as truth, faithful dealing, and integrity of manners, are bonds of union, and helps to good, he will always, by tricks, artifices, cavils, and all means possible, endeavour to establish falsehood and dishonesty; whilst other emissaries and instruments of iniquity, by corrupting the youth, and such as can be brought to lewdness and debauchery, bring the people to such a pass, that they may neither care nor dare to vindicate their rights; and that those who would do it may so far suspect each other, as not to confer upon, much less to join in, any action tending to the publick deliverance.
“This distinguishes the good from the bad magistrate; the faithful from the unfaithful; and those that adhere to either, living in the same principle, must walk in the same ways. They who uphold the rightful power of a just magistracy, encourage virtue and justice, and teach men what they ought to do, suffer, or expect from others; they fix them upon principles of honesty, and generally advance every thing that tends to the increase of the valour, strength, greatness, and happiness of the nation, creating a good union among them, and bringing every man to an exact understanding of his own and the publick rights. On the other side he that would introduce an ill magistrate, make one evil who was good, or preserve him in the administration of injustice when he is corrupted, must always open the way for him by vitiating the people, corrupting their manners, destroying the validity of oaths, teaching such evasions, equivocations, and frauds, as are 1ncons1s- tent with the thoughts that become men of virtue and courage; and overthrowing the confidence they ought to have in each other, make it impossible for them to unite amongst themselves. The like arts must be used with the magistrate: He cannot be for their turns, till he is persuaded to believe he has no dependence upon, and owes no duty to, the people; that he is of himself, and not by their institution; that no man ought to enquire into, nor be judge of, his actions; that all obedience is due to him, whether he be good or bad, wise or foolish, a father or an enemy to his country. This being calculated for his personal interest, he must pursue the same designs, or his kingdom is divided within itself, and cannot subsist. By this means, those who flatter his humour come to be accounted his friends, and the only men that are thought worthy of great trusts; while such as are of another mind are exposed to all persecution. These are always such as excel in virtue, wisdom, and greatness of spirit: They have eyes, and they will always see the way they go; and leaving fools to be guided by implicit faith, will distinguish between good and evil, and choose that which is best; they will judge of men by their actions, and by them discovering whose servant every man is, know whether he is to be obeyed or not. Those who are ignorant of all good, careless, or enemies to it, take a more compendious way: Their slavish, vicious, and base natures, inclining them to seek only private and present advantage, they easily slide into a blind dependence upon one who has wealth and power; and desiring only to know his will, care not what injustice they do, if they may be rewarded. They worship what they find in the temple, though it be the vilest of idols; and always like that best which is worst, because it agrees with their inclinations and principles. When a party comes to be erected upon such a foundation, debauchery, lewdness, and dishonesty are the true badges of it; such as wear them are cherished; but the principal marks of favour are reserved for them who are the most industrious in mischief, either by seducing the people with the allurements of sensual pleasures, or corrupting their understandings with false and slavish doctrines.”
I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 38
The Right and Capacity of the People to Judge of Government
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, July 22, 1721)
In most parts of the earth there is neither light nor liberty; and even in the best parts of it they are but little encouraged, and coldly maintained; there being, in all places, many engaged, through interest, in a perpetual conspiracy against them. They are the two greatest civil blessings, inseparable in their interests, and the mutual support of each other; and whoever would destroy one of them, must destroy both. Hence it is, that we every where find tyranny and imposture, ignorance and slavery, joined together; and oppressors and deceivers mutually aiding and paying constant court to each other. Where-ever truth is dangerous, liberty is precarious.
Of all the sciences that I know in the world, that of government concerns us most, and is the easiest to be known, and yet is the least understood. Most of those who manage it would make the lower world believe that there is I know not what difficulty and mystery in it, far above vulgar understandings; which proceeding of theirs is direct craft and imposture: Every ploughman knows a good government from a bad one, from the effects of it: he knows whether the fruits of his labour be his own, and whether he enjoy them in peace and security: And if he do not know the principles of government, it is for want of thinking and enquiry, for they lie open to common sense; but people are generally taught not to think of them at all, or to think wrong of them.
What is government, but a trust committed by all, or the most, to one, or a few, who are to attend upon the affairs of all, that every one may, with the more security, attend upon his own? A great and honourable trust; but too seldom honourably executed; those who possess it having it often more at heart to increase their power, than to make it useful; and to be terrible, rather than beneficent. It is therefore a trust, which ought to be bounded with many and strong restraints, because power renders men wanton, insolent to others, and fond of themselves. Every violation therefore of this trust, where such violation is considerable, ought to meet with proportionable punishment; and the smallest violation of it ought to meet with some, because indulgence to the least faults of magistrates may be cruelty to a whole people.
Honesty, diligence, and plain sense, are the only talents necessary for the executing of this trust; and the public good is its only end: As to refinements and finesses, they are often only the false appearances of wisdom and parts, and oftener tricks to hide guilt and emptiness; and they are generally mean and dishonest: they are the arts of jobbers in politicks, who, playing their own game under the publick cover, subsist upon poor shifts and expedients; starved politicians, who live from hand to mouth, from day to day, and following the little views of ambition, avarice, revenge, and the like personal passions, are ashamed to avow them, yet want souls great enough to forsake them; small wicked statesmen, who make a private market of the publick, and deceive it, in order to sell it.
These are the poor parts which great and good governors scorn to play, and cannot play; their designs, like their stations, being purely publick, are open and undisguised. They do not consider their people as their prey, nor lie in ambush for their subjects; nor dread, and treat and surprize them like enemies, as all ill magistrates do; who are not governors, but jailers and sponges, who chain them and squeeze them, and yet take it very ill if they do but murmur; which is yet much less than a people so abused ought to do. There have been times and countries, when publick ministers and publick enemies have been the same individual men. What a melancholy reflection is this, that the most terrible and mischievous foes to a nation should be its own magistrates! And yet in every enslaved country, which is almost every country, this is their woeful case.
Honesty and plainness go always together, and the makers and multipliers of mysteries, in the political way, are shrewdly to be suspected of dark designs. Cincinnatus was taken from the plough to save and defend the Roman state; an office which he executed honestly and successfully, without the grimace and gains of a statesman. Nor did he afterwards continue obstinately at the head of affairs, to form a party, raise a fortune, and settle himself in power: As he came into it with universal consent, he resigned it with universal applause.
It seems that government was not in those days become a trade, at least a gainful trade. Honest Cincinnatus was but a farmer: And happy had it been for the Romans, if, when they were enslaved, they could have taken the administration out of the hands of the emperors, and their refined politicians, and committed it to such farmers, or any farmers. It is certain, that many of their imperial governors acted more ridiculously than a board of ploughmen would have done, and more barbarously than a club of butchers could have done.
But some have said, It is not the business of private man to meddle with government. A bold, false, and dishonest saying; and whoever says it, either knows not what he says, or cares not, or slavishly speaks the sense of others. It is a cant now almost forgot in England, and which never prevailed but when liberty and the constitution were attacked, and never can prevail but upon the like occasion.
It is a vexation to be obliged to answer nonsense, and confute absurdities: But since it is and has been the great design of this paper to maintain and explain the glorious principles of liberty, and to expose the arts of those who would darken or destroy them; I shall here particularly shew the wickedness and stupidity of the above saying; which is fit to come from no mouth but that of a tyrant or a slave, and can never be heard by any man of an honest and free soul, without horror and indignation: It is, in short, a saying, which ought to render the man who utters it for ever incapable of place or credit in a free country, as it shews the malignity of his heart, and the baseness of his nature, and as it is the pronouncing of a doom upon our constitution. A crime, or rather a complication of crimes, for which a lasting infamy ought to be but part of the punishment.
But to the falsehood of the thing: Publick truths ought never to be kept secrets; and they who do it, are guilty of a solecism, and a contradiction: Every man ought to know what it concerns all to know. Now, nothing upon earth is of a more universal nature than government; and every private man upon earth has a concern in it, because in it is concerned, and nearly and immediately concerned, his virtue, his property, and the security of his person: And where all these are best preserved and advanced, the government is best administered; and where they are not, the government is impotent, wicked, or unfortunate; and where the government is so, the people will be so, there being always and every where a certain sympathy and analogy between the nature of the government and the nature of the people. This holds true in every instance. Public men are the patterns of private; and the virtues and vices of the governors become quickiy the virtues and vices of the governed.
Regis ad exemplum totus componitur orbis.
Nor is it example alone that does it. Ill governments, subsisting by vice and rapine, are jealous of private virtue, and enemies to private property. Opes pro crimine; & ob virtutes certissimum exitium. They must be wicked and mischievous to be what they are; nor are they secure while any thing good or valuable is secure. Hence it is, that to drain, worry, and debauch their subjects, are the steady maxims of their politicks, their favourite arts of reigning. In this wretched situation the people, to be safe, must be poor and lewd: There will be but little industry where property is precarious; small honesty where virtue is dangerous.
Profuseness or frugality, and the like virtues or vices, which affect the publick, will be practised in the City, if they be practised in the court; and in the country, if they be in the City. Even Nero (that royal monster in man’s shape) was adored by the common herd at Rome, as much as he was flattered by the great; and both the little and the great admired, or pretended to admire, his manners, and many to imitate them. Tacitus tells us, that those sort of people long lamented him, and rejoiced in the choice of a successor that resembled him, even the profligate Otho.
Good government does, on the contrary, produce great virtue, much happiness, and many people. Greece and Italy, while they continued free, were each of them, for the number of inhabitants, like one continued city; for virtue, knowledge, and great men, they were the standards of the world; and that age and country that could come nearest to them, has ever since been reckoned the happiest. Their government, their free government, was the root of all these advantages, and of all this felicity and renown; and in these great and fortunate states the people were the principals in the government; laws were made by their judgment and authority, and by their voice and commands were magistrates created and condemned. The city of Rome could conquer the world; nor could the great Persian monarch, the greatest then upon earth, stand before the face of one Greek city.
But what are Greece and Italy now? Rome has in it a herd of pampered monks, and a few starving lay inhabitants; the Campania of Rome, the finest spot of earth in Europe, is a desert. And for the modern Greeks, they are a few abject contemptible slaves, kept under ignorance, chains, and vileness, by the Turkish monarch, who keeps a great part of the globe intensely miserable, that he may seem great without being so.
Such is the difference between one government and another, and of such important concernment is the nature and administration of government to a people. And to say that private men have nothing to do with government, is to say that private men have nothing to do with their own happiness and misery.
What is the publick, but the collective body of private men, as every private man is a member of the publick? And as the whole ought to be concerned for the preservation of every private individual, it is the duty of every individual to be concerned for the whole, in which himself is included.
One man, or a few men, have often pretended the publick, and meant themselves, and consulted their own personal interest, in iristances essential to its well-being; but the whole people, by consulting their own interest, consult the publick, and act for the publick by acting for themselves: This is particularly the spirit of our constitution, in which the whole nation is represented; and our records afford instances, where the House of Commons have declined entering upon a question of importance, till they had gone into the country, and consulted their principals, the people: So far were they from thinking that private men had no right to meddle with government. In truth, our whole worldly happiness and misery (abating for accidents and diseases) are owing to the order or mismanagement of government; and he who says that private men have no concern with government, does wisely and modestly tell us, that men have no concern in that which concerns them most; it is saying that people ought not to concern themselves whether they be naked or clothed, fed or starved, deceived or instructed, and whether they be protected or destroyed: What nonsense and servitude in a free and wise nation!
For myself, who have thought pretty much of these matters, I am of opinion, that a whole nation are like to be as much attached to themselves, as one man or a few men are like to be, who may by many means be detached from the interest of a nation. It is certain that one man, and several men, may be bribed into an interest opposite to that of the publick; but it is as certain that a whole country can never find an equivalent for itself, and consequently a whole country can never be bribed. It is the eternal interest of every nation, that their government should be good; but they who direct it frequently reason a contrary way and find their own account in plunder and oppression; and while the publick voice is pretended to be declared, by one or a few, for vile and private ends, the publick know nothing of what is done, till they feel the terrible effects of it.
By the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement, at the Revolution; a right is asserted to the people applying to the King and to the Parliament, by petition and address, for a redress of publick grievances and mismanagements, when such there are, of which they are left to judge; and the difference between free and enslaved countries lies principally here, that in the former, their magistrates must consult the voice and interest of the people; but in the latter, the private will, interest, and pleasure of the governors, are the sole end and motives of their administration.
Such is the difference between England and Turkey; which difference they who say that private men have no right to concern themselves with government, would absolutely destroy; they would convert magistrates into bashaws, and introduce popery into politicks. The late Revolution stands upon the very opposite maxim; and that any man dares to contradict it since the Revolution, would be amazing, did we not know that there are, in every country, hirelings who would betray it for a sop.
G. I am,&c.
Cato’s Letter No. 42
Considerations on the Nature of Laws
John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon (August 26, 1721)
SIR, The mischiefs that are daily done, and the evils that are daily suffered in the world, are sad proofs, how much human malice exceeds human wisdom. Law only provides against the evils which it knows or foresees; but when laws fail, we must have recourse to reason and nature, which are the only guides in the making of laws. Stirpem juris a natura repertam, says Cicero [“The foundation of the law was uncovered from nature itself.”]; there never would have been any law against any crime, if crimes might have been safely committed, against which there was no law: For every law supposes some evil, and can only punish or restrain the evils which already exist.
But as positive laws, let them be ever so full and perspicuous, can never entirely prevent the arts of crafty men to evade them, or the power of great ones to violate them; hence new laws are daily making, and new occasions for more are daily arising: So that the utmost that wisdom, virtue, and law can do, is to lessen or qualify, but never totally abolish, vice and enormity. Law is therefore a sign of the corruption of man; and many laws are signs of the corruption of a state.
Positive laws deriving their force from the law of nature, by which we are directed to make occasional rules, which we call laws, according to the exigencies of times, places, and persons, grow obsolete, or cease to be, as soon as they cease to be necessary. And it is as much against the law of nature to execute laws, when the first cause of them ceases, as it is to make laws, for which there is no cause, or a bad cause. This would be to subject reason to force, and to apply a penalty where there is no crime. Law is right reason, commanding things that are good, and forbidding things that are bad; it is a distinction and declaration of things just and unjust, and of the penalties or advantages annexed to them.
The violation therefore of law does not constitute a crime where the law is bad; but the violation of what ought to be law, is a crime even where there is no law. The essence of right and wrong does not depend upon words and clauses inserted in a code or a statute-book, much less upon the conclusions and explications of lawyers; but upon reason and the nature of things, antecedent to all laws. In all countries reason is or ought to be consulted, before laws are enacted; and they are always worse than none, where it is not consulted. Reason is in some degree given to all men; and Cicero says, that whoever has reason, has right reason; that virtue is but perfect reason; and that all nations having reason for their guide, all nations are capable of arriving at virtue.
From this reasoning of his it would follow, that every people are capable of making laws, and good laws; and that laws, where they are bad, are gained by corruption, faction, fear, or surprize; and are rather their misfortune, than the effects of their folly. The acts of Caesar were confirmed by the Senate and the people; but the Senate was awed, and the tribunes and people were bribed: Arms and money procured him a law to declare him lawless. But, as the most pompous power can never unsettle the everlasting land-marks between good and evil, no more than those between pleasure and pain; Caesar remained still a rebel to his country, and his acts remained wicked and tyrannical.
Let this stand for an instance, that laws are not always the measure of right and wrong. And as positive laws often speak when the law of nature is silent, the law of nature sometimes speaks when positive laws say nothing: Neque opinione, sed natura constitutum esse jus [“Law is based, not on men’s opinions, but on nature.”]. That brave Roman, Horatius Cocles, was bound by no written law to defend the wooden bridge over the Tiber, against a whole army of Tuscans; nor was there any law, that I know of, in Rome, against adultery, when the younger Tarquin ravished Lucretia: And yet the virtue of Horatius was justly rewarded, and the vileness of Tarquin justly punished, by the Romans.
It is impossible to devise laws sufficient to regulate and manage every occurrence and circumstance of life, because they are often produced and diversified by causes that do not appear; and in every condition of life men must have, and will have, great allowances made to their own natural liberty and discretion: But every man, who consents to the necessary terms of society, will also consent to this proposition, that every man should do all the good, and prevent all the evil, that he can. This is the voice of the law of nature; and all men would be happy by it, if all men would practice it. This law leads us to see, that the establishment of falsehood and tyranny (by which I mean the privilege of one or a few to mislead and oppress all) cannot be justly called law, which is the impartial rule of good and evil, and can never be the sanction of evil alone.
It has been often said, that virtue is its own reward; and it is very true, not only from the pleasure that attends the consciousness of doing well, and the fame that follows it, but in a more extensive sense, from the felicity which would accrue to every man, if all men would pursue virtue: But as this truth may appear too general to allure and engage particular men, who will have always their own single selves most at heart, abstracted from all the rest; therefore in the making of laws, the pleasures and fears of particular men, being the great engines by which they are to be governed, must be consulted: Vice must be rendered detestable and dangerous; virtue amiable and advantageous. Their shame and emulation must be raised; their private profit and glory, peril and infamy, laid before them. This is the meaning of Tully, when he says, Vitiorum emendatricem legem esse oportet, commendatricemque virtutum. [“Law ought to be a reformer of vice and an incentive to virtue.”]
Rewards and punishments therefore constitute the whole strength of laws; and the promulgation of laws, without which they are none, is an appeal to the sense and interest of men, which of the two they will choose.
The two great laws of human society, from whence all the rest derive their course and obligation, are those of equity and self- preservation: By the first all men are bound alike not to hurt one another; by the second all men have a right alike to defend themselves: Nam jure hoc evenit, ut quod quisque ob tutelam corporis suifecerit, jure fecisse existimetur [“For this comes from the law: that which someone does for the safety of his body, let it be regarded as having been done legally.”], says the civil law; that is, “It is a maxim of the law, that whatever we do in the way and for the ends of self defence, we lawfully do.” All the laws of society are entirely reciprocal, and no man ought to be exempt from their force; and whoever violates this primary law of nature, ought by the law of nature to be destroyed. He who observes no law, forfeits all title to the protection of law. It is wickedness not to destroy a destroyer; and all the ill consequences of self-defence are chargeable upon him who occasioned them.
Many mischiefs are prevented, by destroying one who shews a certain disposition to commit many. To allow a licence to any man to do evil with impunity, is to make vice triumph over virtue, and innocence the prey of the guilty. If men be obliged to bear great and publick evils, when they can upon better terms oppose and remove them; they are obliged, by the same logick, to bear the total destruction of mankind. If any man may destroy whom he pleases without resistance, he may extinguish the human race without resistance. For, if you settle the bounds of resistance, you allow it; and if you do not fix its bounds, you leave property at the mercy of rapine, and life in the hands of cruelty.
It is said, that the doctrine of resistance would destroy the peace of the world: But it may be more truly said, that the contrary doctrine would destroy the world itself, as it has already some of the best countries in it. I must indeed own, that if one man may destroy all, there would be great and lasting peace when nobody was left to break it.
The law of nature does not only allow us, but oblige us, to defend ourselves. It is our duty, not only to ourselves, but to the society; Vitam tibi ipsi si negas, multis negas, says Seneca:[“If one denies life to oneself, one denies it to many.”] If we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our property and fortunes, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom. And Cicero says, “He who does not resist mischief when he may, is guilty of the same crime, as if he had deserted his parents, his friends, and his country.”
So that the conduct of men, who, when they are ill treated, use words rather than arms, and practice submission rather than resistance, is owing to a prudential cause, because there is hazard in quarrels and war, and their cause may be made worse by an endeavour to mend it; and not to any confession of right in those that do them wrong. When men begin to be wicked, we cannot tell where that wickedness will end; we have reason to fear the worst, and provide against it.
Such is the provision made by laws: They are checks upon the unruly and partial appetites of men, and intended for terror and protection. But as there are already laws sufficient every where to preserve peace between private particulars, the great difficulty has hitherto been to find proper checks for those who are to check and administer the laws. To settle therefore a thorough impartiality in the laws, both as to their end and execution, is a task worthy of human wisdom, as it would be the cause and standard of civil felicity. In the theory nothing is more easy than this task: Yet who is able to perform it, if they who can will not?
No man in society ought to have any privilege above the rest, without giving the society some equivalent for such his privilege. Thus legislators, who compile good laws, and good magistrates, who execute them, do, by their honest attendance upon the publick, deserve the privileges and pay which the publick allows them; and place and power are the wages paid by the people to their own deputies and agents. Hence it has been well said, that a chief magistrate is major singulis, omnibus minor: [“Above individuals, less than the whole.”] “He is above the private members of the community; but the community itself is above him.”
Where-ever, therefore, the laws are honestly intended, and equally executed, so as to comprehend in their penalties and operation the great as well and as much as the small, and hold in awe the magistrates as much as the subject, that government is good, that people are happy.
Cato’s Letter No. 59
Liberty proved to be the unalienable Right of all Mankind
John Trenchard (Saturday, December 30, 1721)
All governments, under whatsoever form they are administered, ought to be administered for the good of the society; when they are otherwise administered, they cease to be government, and become usurpation. This being the end of all government, even the most despotick have this limitation to their authority: In this respect, the only difference between the most absolute princes and limited magistrates, is, that in free governments there are checks and restraints appointed and expressed in the constitution itself: In despotick governments, the people submit themselves to the prudence and discretion of the prince alone: But there is still this tacit condition annexed to his power, that he must act by the unwritten laws of discretion and prudence, and employ it for the sole interest of the people, who give it to him, or suffer him to enjoy it, which they ever do for their own sakes.
Even in the most free governments, single men are often trusted with discretionary power: But they must answer for that discretion to those that trust them. Generals of armies and admirals of fleets have often unlimited commissions; and yet are they not answerable for the prudent execution of those commissions? The Council of Ten, in Venice, have absolute power over the liberty and life of every man in the state: But if they should make use of that power to slaughter, abolish, or enslave the senate; and, like the Decemviri of Rome, to set up themselves; would it not be lawful for those, who gave them that authority for other ends, to put those ten unlimited traitors to death, any way that they could? The crown of England has been for the most part entrusted with the sole disposal of the money given for the Civil List, often with the application of great sums raised for other publick uses; yet, if the lord-treasurer had applied this money to the dishonour of the King, and ruin of the people (though by the private direction of the crown itself) will any man say that he ought not to have compensated for his crime, by the loss of his head and his estate?
I have said thus much, to shew that no government can be absolute in the sense, or rather nonsense, of our modern dogmatizers, and indeed in the sense too commonly practised. No barbarous conquest; no extorted consent of miserable people, submitting to the chain to escape the sword; no repeated and hereditary acts of cruelty, though called succession, no continuation of violence, though named prescription; can alter, much less abrogate, these fundamental principles of government itself, or make the means of preservation the means of destruction, and render the condition of mankind infinitely more miserable than that of the beasts of the field, by the sole privilege of that reason which distinguishes them from the brute creation.
Force can give no title but to revenge, and to the use of force again; nor could it ever enter into the heart of any man, to give to another power over him, for any other end but to be exercised for his own advantage: And if there are any men mad or foolish enough to pretend to do otherwise, they ought to be treated as idiots or lunaticks; and the reason of their conduct must be derived from their folly and frenzy.
All men are born free; liberty is a gift which they receive from God himself; nor can they alienate the same by consent, though possibly they may forfeit it by crimes. No man has power over his own life, or to dispose of his own religion; and cannot consequently transfer the power of either to any body else: Much less can he give away the lives and liberties, religion or acquired property of his posterity, who will be born as free as he himself was born, and can never be bound by his wicked and ridiculous bargain.
The right of the magistrate arises only from the right of private men to defend themselves, to repel injuries, and to punish those who commit them: That right being conveyed by the society to their publick representative, he can execute the same no further than the benefit and security of that society requires he should. When he exceeds his commission, his acts are as extrajudicial as are those of any private officer usurping an unlawful authority, that is, they are void; and every man is answerable for the wrong which he does. A power to do good can never become a warrant for doing evil.
But here arises a grand question, which has perplexed and puzzled the greatest part of mankind: Yet, I think, the answer to it easy and obvious. The question is, who shall be judge whether the magistrate acts justly, and pursues his trust? To this it is justly said, that if those who complain of him are to judge him, then there is a settled authority above the chief magistrate, which authority must be itself the chief magistrate; which is contrary to the supposition; and the same question and difficulty will recur again upon this new magistracy. All this I own to be absurd; and I aver it to be at least as absurd to affirm, that the person accused is to be the decisive judge of his own actions, when it is certain that he will always judge and determine in his own favour; and thus the whole race of mankind will be left helpless under the heaviest injustice, oppression, and misery, that can afflict human nature.
But if neither magistrates, nor they who complain of magistrates, and are aggrieved by them, have a right to determine decisively, the one for the other; and if there be no common established power, to which both are subject; then every man interested in the success of the contest, must act according to the light and dictates of his own conscience, and inform it as well as he can. Where no judge is nor can be appointed, every man must be his own; that is, when there is no stated judge upon earth, we must have recourse to heaven, and obey the will of heaven, by declaring ourselves on that which we think the juster side.
If the Senate and people of Rome had differed irreconcilably, there could have been no common judge in the world between them; and consequently no remedy but the last: For that government consisting in the union of the nobles and the people, when they differed, no man could determine between them; and therefore every man must have been at liberty to provide for his own security, and the general good, in the best manner he was able. In that case the common judge ceasing, every one was his own: The government becoming incapable of acting, suffered a political demise: The constitution was dissolved; and there being no government in being, the people were in the state of nature again.
The same must be true, where two absolute princes, governing a country, come to quarrel, as sometimes two Caesars in partnership did, especially towards the latter end of the Roman empire; or where a sovereign council govern a country, and their votes come equally to be divided. In such a circumstance, every man must take that side which he thinks most for the publick good, or choose any proper measures for his own security: For, if I owe my allegiance to two princes agreeing, or to the majority of a council; when between these princes there is no longer any union, nor in that council any majority, no submission can be due to that which is not; and the laws of nature and self-preservation must take place, where there are no other.
The case is still the same, when there is any dispute about the titles of absolute princes, who govern independently on the states of a country, and call none. Here too every man must judge for himself what party he will take, to which of the titles he will adhere; and the like private judgment must guide him, whenever a question arises whether the said prince be an idiot or a lunatick, and consequently whether he be capable or incapable of government. Where there are no states, there can be no other way of judging; but by the judgment of private men the capacity of the prince must be judged, and his fate determined. Lunacy and idiotism are, I think, allowed by all to be certain disqualifications for government; indeed they are as much so, as if he were deaf, blind, and dumb, or even dead. He who can neither execute an office, nor appoint a deputy, is not fit for one.
Now I would fain know, why private men may not as well use their judgment in an instance that concerns them more; I mean that of a tyrannical government, of which they hourly feel the sad effects, and sorrowful proofs; whereas they have not by far the equal means of coming to a certainty about the natural incapacity of their governor. The persons of great princes are known but to few of their subjects, and their parts to much fewer; and several princes have, by the management of their wives, or ministers, or murderers, reigned a good while after they were dead. In truth, I think it is as much the business and right of the people to judge whether their prince be good or bad, whether a father or an enemy, as to judge whether he be dead or alive; unless it be said (as many such wise things have been said) that they may judge whether he can govern them, but not whether he does; and that it behoves them to put the administration in wiser hands, if he be a harmless fool, but it is impious to do it, if he be only a destructive tyrant; that want of speech is a disqualification, but want of humanity, none.
That subjects were not to judge of their governors, or rather for themselves in the business of government, which of all human things concerns them most, was an absurdity that never entered into the imagination of the wise and honest ancients: Who, following for their guide that everlasting reason, which is the best and only guide in human affairs, carried liberty, and human happiness, the legitimate offspring and work of liberty, to the highest pitch that they were capable of arriving at. But the above absurdity, with many others as monstrous and mischievous, were reserved for the discovery of a few wretched and dreaming Mahometan and Christian monks, who, ignorant of all things, were made, or made themselves, the directors of all things; and bewitching the world with holy lies and unaccountable ravings, dressed up in barbarous words and uncouth phrases, bent all their fairy force against common sense and common liberty and truth, and founded a pernicious, absurd, and visionary empire upon their ruins. Systems without sense, propositions without truth, religion without reason, a rampant church without charity, severity without justice, and government without liberty or mercy, were all the blessed handy-works of these religious mad-men, and godly pedants; who, by pretending to know the other world, cheated and confounded this. Their enmity to common sense, and want of it, were their warrants for governing the sense of all mankind: By lying, they were thought the champions of the truth; and by their fooleries, impieties, and cruelty, were esteemed the favourites and confidents of the God of wisdom, mercy, and peace.
These were the men, who, having demolished all sense and human judgment, first made it a principle, that people were not to judge of their governor and government, nor to meddle with it; nor to preserve themselves from publick destroyers, falsely calling themselves governors: Yet these men, who thus set up for the support and defenders of government, without the common honesty of distinguishing the good from the bad, and protection from murder and depredation, were at the same time themselves the constant and avowed troublers of every government which they could not direct and command; and every government, however excellent, which did not make their reveries its own rules, and themselves alone its peculiar care, has been honoured with their professed hatred; whilst tyrants and publick butchers, who flattered them, have been deified. This was the poor state of Christendom before the Reformation; and I wish I could say, of no parts of it since.
This barbarous anarchy in reasoning and politicks, has made it necessary to prove propositions which the light of nature had demonstrated. And, as the apostles were forced to prove to the misled Gentiles, that they were no gods which were made with hands; I am put to prove, that the people have a right to judge, whether their governors were made for them, or they for their governors? Whether their governors have necessary and natural qualifications? Whether they have any governors or no? And whether, when they have none, every man must not be his own? I therefore return to instances and illustrations from facts which cannot be denied; though propositions as true as facts may, by those especially who are defective in point of modesty or discernment.
In Poland, according to the constitution of that country, it is necessary, we are told, that, in their diets, the consent of every man present must be had to make a resolve effectual: And therefore, to prevent the cutting of people’s throats, they have no remedy but to cut the throats of one another; that is, they must pull out their sabres, and force the refractory members (who are always the minority) to submit. And amongst us in England, where a jury cannot agree, there can be no verdict; and so they must fast till they do, or till one of them is dead, and then the jury is dissolved.
This, from the nature of things themselves, must be the constant case in all disputes between dominion and property. Where the interest of the governors and that of the governed clash, there can be no stated judge between them: To appeal to a foreign power, is to give up the sovereignty; for either side to submit, is to give up the question: And therefore, if they themselves do not amicably determine the dispute between themselves, heaven alone must. In such case, recourse must be had to the first principles of government itself; which being a departure from the state of nature, and a union of many families forming themselves into a political machine for mutual protection and defence, it is evident, that this formed relation can continue no longer than the machine subsists and can act; and when it does not, the individuals must return to their former state again. No constitution can provide against what will happen, when that constitution is dissolved. Government is only an appointment of one or more persons, to do certain actions for the good and emolument of the society; and if the persons thus interested will not act at all, or act contrary to their trust, their power must return of course to those who gave it.
Suppose, for example, the Grand Monarch, as he was called, had bought a neighbouring kingdom, and all the lands in it, from the courtiers, and the majority of the people’s deputies; and amongst the rest, the church-lands, into the bargain, with the consent of their convocation or synod, or by what other name that assembly was called; would the people and clergy have thought themselves obliged to have made good this bargain, if they could have helped it? I dare say that neither would; but, on the contrary, that the people would have had the countenance of these reverend patriots to have told their representatives in round terms, that they were chosen to act for the interest of those that sent them, and not for their own; that their power was given them to protect and defend their country, and not to sell and enslave it.
This supposition, as wild as it seems, yet is not absolutely and universally impossible. King John actually sold the kingdom of England to his Holiness: And there are people in all nations ready to sell their country at home; and such can never have any principles to with-hold them from selling it abroad.
It is foolish to say, that this doctrine can be mischievous to society, at least in any proportion to the wild ruin and fatal calamities which must befall, and do befall the world, where the contrary doctrine is maintained: For, all bodies of men subsisting upon their own substance, or upon the profits of their trade and industry, find their account so much in ease and peace, and have justly such terrible apprehensions of civil disorders, which destroy every thing that they enjoy; that they always bear a thousand injuries before they return one, and stand under the burdens as long as they can bear them; as I have in another letter observed.
What with the force of education, and the reverence which people are taught, and have been always used to pay to princes; what with the perpetual harangues of flatterers, the gaudy pageantry and outside of power, and its gilded ensigns, always glittering in their eyes; what with the execution of the laws in the sole power of the prince; what with all the regular magistrates, pompous guards and standing troops, with the fortified towns, the artillery, and all the magazines of war, at his disposal; besides large revenues, and multitudes of followers and dependants, to support and abet all that he does: Obedience to authority is so well secured, that it is wild to imagine, that any number of men, formidable enough to disturb a settled state, can unite together and hope to overturn it, till the publick grievances are so enormous, the oppression so great, and the disaffection so universal, that there can be no question remaining, whether their calamities be real or imaginary, and whether the magistrate has protected or endeavoured to destroy his people.
This was the case of Richard II, Edward II, and James II and will ever be the case under the same circumstances. No society of men will groan under oppressions longer than they know how to throw them off; whatever unnatural whimsies and fairy notions idle and sedentary babblers may utter from colleges and cloisters; and teach to others, for vile self-ends, doctrines, which they themselves are famous for not practising.
Upon this principle of people’s judging for themselves, and resisting lawless force, stands our late happy Revolution, and with it the just and rightful title of our most excellent sovereign King George, to the scepter of these realms; a scepter which he has, and I doubt not will ever sway, to his own honour, and the honour, protection, and prosperity of us his people.
T I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 60
All Government proved to be instituted by Men, and only to intend the general Good of Men
John Trenchard (Saturday, January 6, 1722)
So that to know the jurisdiction of governors, and its limits, we must have recourse to the institution of government, and ascertain those limits by the measure of power, which men in the state of nature have over themselves and one another: And as no man can take from many, who are stronger than him, what they have no mind to give him; and he who has not consent must have force, which is itself the consent of the stronger; so no man can give to another either what is none of his own, or what in its own nature is inseparable from himself; as his religion particularly is.
Every man’s religion is his own; nor can the religion of any man, of what nature or figure soever, be the religion of another man, unless he also chooses it; which action utterly excludes all force, power, or government. Religion can never come without conviction, nor can conviction come from civil authority; religion, which is the fear of God, cannot be subject to power, which is the fear of man. It is a relation between God and our own souls only, and consists in a disposition of mind to obey the will of our great Creator, in the manner which we think most acceptable to him. It is independent upon all human directions, and superior to them; and consequently uncontrollable by external force, which cannot reach the free faculties of the mind, or inform the understanding, much less convince it. Religion therefore, which can never be subject to the jurisdiction of another, can never be alienated to another, or put in his power.
Nor has any man in the state of nature power over his own life, or to take away the life of another, unless to defend his own, or what is as much his own, namely, his property. This power therefore, which no man has, no man can transfer to another.
Nor could any man in the state of nature, have a right to violate the property of another; that is, what another had acquired by his art or labour; or to interrupt him in his industry and enjoyments, as long as he himself was not injured by that industry and those enjoyments. No man therefore could transfer to the magistrate that right which he had not himself.
No man in his senses was ever so wild as to give an unlimited power to another to take away his life, or the means of living, according to the caprice, passion, and unreasonable pleasure of that other: But if any man restrained himself from any part of his pleasures, or parted with any portion of his acquisitions, he did it with the honest purpose of enjoying the rest with the greater security, and always in subserviency to his own happiness, which no man will or can willingly and intentionally give away to any other whatsoever.
And if any one, through his own inadvertence, or by the fraud or violence of another, can be drawn into so foolish a contract, he is relievable by the eternal laws of God and reason. No engagement that is wicked and unjust can be executed without injustice and wickedness: This is so true, that I question whether there be a constitution in the world which does not afford, or pretend to afford, a remedy for relieving ignorant, distressed, and unwary men, trepanned into such engagements by artful knaves, or frightened into them by imperious ones. So that here the laws of nature and general reason supersede the municipal and positive laws of nations; and no where oftener than in England. What else was the design, and ought to be the business, of our courts of equity? And I hope whole countries and societies are no more exempted from the privileges and protection of reason and equity, than are private particulars.
Here then is the natural limitation of the magistrate’s authority: He ought not to take what no man ought to give; nor exact what no man ought to perform: All he has is given him, and those that gave it must judge of the application. In government there is no such relation as lord and slave, lawless will and blind submission; nor ought to be amongst men: But the only relation is that of father and children, patron and client, protection and allegiance, benefaction and gratitude, mutual affection and mutual assistance.
So that the nature of government does not alter the natural right of men to liberty, which in all political societies is alike their due: But some governments provide better than others for the security and impartial distribution of that right. There has been always such a constant and certain fund of corruption and malignity in human nature, that it has been rare to find that man, whose views and happiness did not center in the gratification of his appetites, and worst appetites, his luxury, his pride, his avarice, and lust of power; and who considered any publick trust reposed in him, with any other view, than as the means to satiate such unruly and dangerous desires! And this has been most eminently true of great men, and those who aspired to dominion. They were first made great for the sake of the publick, and afterwards at its expence. And if they had been content to have been moderate traitors, mankind would have been still moderately happy; but their ambition and treason observing no degrees, there was no degree of vileness and misery which the poor people did not often feel.
The appetites therefore of men, especially of great men, are carefully to be observed and stayed, or else they will never stay themselves. The experience of every age convinces us, that we must not judge of men by what they ought to do, but by what they will do; and all history affords but few instances of men trusted with great power without abusing it, when with security they could. The servants of society, that is to say, its magistrates, did almost universally serve it by seizing it, selling it, or plundering it; especially when they were left by the society unlimited as to their duty and wages. In that case these faithful stewards generally took all; and, being servants, made slaves of their masters.
For these reasons, and convinced by woeful and eternal experience, societies found it necessary to lay restraints upon their magistrates or publick servants, and to put checks upon those who would otherwise put chains upon them; and therefore these societies set themselves to model and form national constitutions with such wisdom and art, that the publick interest should be consulted and carried at the same time, when those entrusted with the administration of it were consulting and pursuing their own.
Hence grew the distinction between arbitrary and free governments: Not that more or less power was vested in the one than in the other; nor that either of them lay under less or more obligations, in justice, to protect their subjects, and study their ease, prosperity, and security, and to watch for the same. But the power and sovereignty of magistrates in free countries was so qualified, and so divided into different channels, and committed to the direction of so many different men, with different interests and views, that the majority of them could seldom or never find their account in betraying their trust in fundamental instances. Their emulation, envy, fear, or interest, always made them spies and checks upon one another. By all which means the people have often come at the heads of those who forfeited their heads, by betraying the people.
In despotick governments things went far otherwise, those governments having been framed otherwise; if the same could be called governments, where the rules of publick power were dictated by private and lawless lust; where folly and madness often swayed the scepter, and blind rage wielded the sword. The whole weath of the state, with its civil or military power, being in the prince, the people could have no remedy but death and patience, while he oppressed them by the lump, and butchered them by thousands: Unless perhaps the ambition or personal resentments of some of the instruments of his tyranny procured a revolt, which rarely mended their condition.
The only secret therefore in forming a free government, is to make the interests of the governors and of the governed the same, as far as human policy can contrive. Liberty cannot be preserved any other way. Men have long found, from the weakness and depravity of themselves and one another, that most men will act for interest against duty, as often as they dare. So that to engage them to their duty, interest must be linked to the observance of it, and danger to the breach of it. Personal advantages and security, must be the rewards of duty and obedience; and disgrace, torture, and death, the punishment of treachery and corruption.
Human wisdom has yet found out but one certain expedient to effect this; and that is, to have the concerns of all directed by all, as far as possibly can be: And where the persons interested are too numerous, or live too distant to meet together on all emergencies, they must moderate necessity by prudence, and act by deputies, whose interest is the same with their own, and whose property is so intermingled with theirs, and so engaged upon the same bottom, that principals and deputies must stand and fall together. When the deputies thus act for their own interest, by acting for the interest of their principals; when they can make no law but what they themselves, and their posterity, must be subject to; when they can give no money, but what they must pay their share of; when they can do no mischief, but what must fall upon their own heads in common with their countrymen; their principals may then expect good laws, little mischief, and much frugality.
Here therefore lies the great point of nicety and care in forming the constitution, that the persons entrusted and representing, shall either never have any interest detached from the persons entrusting and represented, or never the means to pursue it. Now to compass this great point effectually, no other way is left, but one of these two, or rather both; namely, to make the deputies so numerous, that there may be no possibility of corrupting the majority; or, by changing them so often, that there is no sufficient time to corrupt them, and to carry the ends of that corruption. The people may be very sure, that the major part of their deputies being honest, will keep the rest so; and that they will all be honest, when they have no temptations to be knaves.
We have some sketch of this policy in the constitution of our several great companies, where the general court, composed of all its members, constitutes the legislature, and the consent of that court is the sanction of their laws; and where the administration of their affairs is put under the conduct of a certain number chosen by the whole. Here every man concerned saw the necessity of securing part of their property, by putting the persons entrusted under proper regulations; however remiss they may be in taking care of the whole. And if provision had been made, that, as a third part of the directors are to go out every year, so none should stay in above three (as I am told was at first promised), all juggling with courtiers, and raising great estates by confederacy, at the expence of the company, had, in a great measure, been prevented; though there were still wanting other limitations, which might have effectually obviated all those evils.
This was the ancient constitution of England: Our kings had neither revenues large enough, nor offices gainful and numerous enough in their disposal, to corrupt any considerable number of members; nor any force to frighten them. Besides, the same Parliament seldom or never met twice: For, the serving in it being found an office of burden, and not of profit, it was thought reasonable that all men qualified should, in their turns, leave their families and domestick concerns, to serve the publick; and their boroughs bore their charges. The only grievance then was, that they were not called together often enough, to redress the grievances which the people suffered from the court during their intermission: And therefore a law was made in Edward III’s time, that Parliaments should be holden once a year.
But this law, like the late Queen’s Peace, did not execute itself; and therefore the court seldom convened them, but when they wanted money, or had other purposes of their own to serve; and sometimes raised money without them: Which arbitrary proceeding brought upon the publick numerous mischiefs; and, in the reign of King Charles I, a long and bloody civil war. In that reign an act was passed, that they should meet of themselves, if they were not called according to the direction of that law; which was worthily repealed upon the restoration of King Charles II: And in the same kind fit, a great revenue was given him for life, and continued to his brother. By which means these princes were enabled to keep standing troops, to corrupt Parliaments, or to live without them; and to commit such acts of power as brought about, and indeed forced the people upon the late happy Revolution. Soon after which a new act was passed, that Parliaments should be rechosen once in three years: Which law was also repealed, upon his Majesty’s accession to the throne, that the present Parliament might have time to rectify those abuses which we labour under, and to make regulations proper to prevent them all for the future. All which has since been happily effected; and, I bless God, we are told, that the people will have the opportunity to thank them, in another election, for their great services to their country. I shall be always ready, on my part, to do them honour, and pay them my acknowledgments, in the most effectual manner in my power. But more of this in the succeeding papers.
T I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 61
How free Governments are to be framed so as to last, and how they differ from such as are arbitrary
John Trenchard (Saturday, January 13, 1722)
Great bodies of men have seldom judged what they ought to do, by any other rule than what they could do. What nation is there that has not oppressed any other, when the same could be done with advantage and security? What party has ever had regard to the principles which they professed, or ever reformed the errors which they condemned? What company, or particular society of merchants or tradesmen, has ever acted for the interest of general trade, though it always filled their mouths in private conversation?
And yet men, thus formed and qualified, are the materials for government. For the sake of men it is instituted, by the prudence of men it must be conducted; and the art of political mechanism’ is, to erect a firm building with such crazy and corrupt materials. The strongest cables are made out of loose hemp and flax; the world itself may, with the help of proper machines, be moved by the force of a single hair; and so may the government of the world, as well as the world itself. But whatever discourses I shall hereafter make upon this great and useful subject, I shall confine myself in this letter to free monarchical constitutions alone, and to the application of some of the principles laid down in my last.
It is there said, that when the society consists of too many, or when they live too far apart to be able to meet together, to take care of their own affairs, they can not otherwise preserve their liberties, than by choosing deputies to represent them, and to act for them; and that these deputies must be either so numerous, that there can be no means of corrupting the majority; or so often changed, that there shall be no time to do it so as to answer any end by doing it. Without one of these regulations, or both, I lay it down as a certain maxim in politicks, that it is impossible to preserve a free government long.
I think I may with great modesty affirm, that in former reigns the people of England found no sufficient security in the number of their representatives. What with the crowd of offices in the gift of the crown, which were possessed by men of no other merit, nor held by any other tenure, but merely a capacity to get into the House of Commons, and the disservice which they could and would do their country there: What with the promises and expectations given to others, who by court-influence, and often by court-money, carried their elections: What by artful caresses, and the familiar and deceitful addresses of great men to weak men: What with luxurious dinners, and rivers of Burgundy, Champaign, and Tokay, thrown down the throats of gluttons; and what with pensions, and other personal gratifications, bestowed where wind and smoke would not pass for current coin: What with party watch-words and imaginary terrors, spread amongst the drunken ’squires, and the deluded and enthusiastick bigots, of dreadful designs in embryo, to blow up the Church, and the Protestant interest; and sometimes with the dread of mighty invasions just ready to break upon us from the man in the moon: I say, by all these corrupt arts, the representatives of the English people, in former reigns, have been brought to betray the people, and to join with their oppressors. So much are men governed by artful applications to their private passions and interest. And it is evident to me, that if ever we have a weak or an ambitious prince, with a ministry like him, we must find out some other resources, or acquiesce in the loss of our liberties. The course and transiency of human affairs will not suffer us to live always under the present righteous administration.
So that I can see no means in human policy to preserve the publick liberty and a monarchical form of government together, but by the frequent fresh elections of the people’s deputies: This is what the writers in politicks call rotation of magistracy. Men, when they first enter into magistracy, have often their former condition before their eyes: They remember what they themselves suffered, with their fellow-subjects, from the abuse of power, and how much they blamed it; and so their first purposes are to be humble, modest, and just; and probably, for some time, they continue so. But the possession of power soon alters and vitiates their hearts, which are at the same time sure to be leavened, and puffed up to an unnatural size, by the deceitful incense of false friends, and by the prostrate submission of parasites. First, they grow indifferent to all their good designs, then drop them: Next, they lose their moderation; afterwards, they renounce all measures with their old acquaintance and old principles; and seeing themselves in magnifying glasses, grow, in conceit, a different species from their fellowsubjects; and so by too sudden degrees become insolent, rapacious and tyrannical, ready to catch at all means, often the vilest and most oppressive, to raise their fortunes as high as their imaginary greatness. So that the only way to put them in mind of their former condition, and consequently of the condition of other people, is often to reduce them to it; and to let others of equal capacities share of power in their turn: This also is the only way to qualify men, and make them equally fit for dominion and subjection.
A rotation therefore, in power and magistracy, is essentially necessary to a free government: It is indeed the thing itself; and constitutes, animates, and informs it, as much as the soul constitutes the man. It is a thing sacred and inviolable, where-ever liberty is thought sacred; nor can it ever be committed to the disposal of those who are trusted with the preservation of national constitutions: For though they may have the power to model it for the publick advantage, and for the more effectual security of that right; yet they can have none to give it up, or, which is the same thing, to make it useless.
The constitution of a limited monarchy, is the joint concurrence of the crown and of the nobles (without whom it cannot subsist) and of the body of the people, to make laws for the common benefit of the subject; and where the people, through number or distance, cannot meet, they must send deputies to speak in their names, and to attend upon their interest: These deputies therefore act by, under, and in subserviency to the constitution, and have not a power above it and over it.
In Holland, and some other free countries, the states are often obliged to consult their principals; and, in some instances, our own Parliaments have declined entering upon questions of importance, till they had gone into the country, and known the sentiments of those that sent them; as in all cases they ought to consult their inclinations as well as their interest. Who will say, that the Rump, or fag-end of the Long Parliament of forty-one, had any right to expel such members as they did not like? Or to watch for their absence, that they might seize to themselves, or give up to any body else, the right of those from whose confidence and credulity they derived the authority which they acted by?
With thanks to God, I own, that we have a prince so sensible of this right, and who owes his crown so entirely to the principles laid down, and I think fully proved in these letters; that it is impossible to suspect, either from his inclinations, his interest, or his known justice, that he should ever fall into any measures to destroy that people, who have given him his crown, and supported him in it with so much generosity and expense; or that he should undermine, by that means, the ground upon which he stands. I do therefore the less regard the idle suspicions and calumnies of disaffected men, who would surmise, that a design is yet on foot to continue this Parliament; a reflection the most impudent and invidious that can be thrown upon his Majesty, his ministers, or his two houses; and a reflection that can come from none but professed, or at least from concealed, Jacobites.
It is no less than an insinuation, that our most excellent sovereign King George has a distrust of his faithful subjects; that he will refuse them the means of their own preservation, and the preservation of that constitution which they chose him to preserve; that he will shut his ears against their modest, just, and dutiful complaints; and that he apprehends danger from meeting them in a new and free-chosen Parliament. This is contrary to the tenor of his whole life and actions; who, as he has received three crowns from their gift, so he lies under all the ties of generosity, gratitude, and duty, to cherish and protect them, and to make them always great, free, and happy.
It is a most scandalous calumny upon his faithful servants, to suggest that any of them, conscious of guilt and crimes, feared any thing from the most strict and rigorous inspection into their proceedings. Some of them have already stood the fiery trial, and come off triumphant with general approbation. They have, besides, the advantage of his Majesty’s most gracious pardon, which they did not want, and which was not passed for their sakes. Who therefore can suspect, that patriots so uncorrupt, so prudent, and so popular, will dishonour their master, give up the constitution, ruin their country, and render themselves the objects of universal scorn, detestation, and cursing, by advising the most odious, dangerous, and destructive measures, that ever counsellors gave a prince?
It is a most ungrateful return to our illustrious representatives, to suggest, that men who have left their domestick concerns to serve their country at their own expence, and without any personal advantages, and have bestowed their labours upon the pub- lick for a much longer time than their principals had at first a right to expect from them; and have, during all that time, been rectifying the abuses which have crept into our constitution; and have assisted his Majesty in going through two very useful and necessary wars, and have regulated our finances, and the expence of our guards and garrisons, and corrected many abuses in the fleet and the civil administration; and have taken effectual vengeance of all those who were concerned in promoting, procuring, aiding, or assisting the late dreadful South-Sea project: I say, after so many things done by them for the publick honour and prosperity, it is the basest ingratitude to surmise, that any of them would give up that constitution which they were chosen, and have taken so much pains, to preserve.
I do indeed confess, if any invasion were to be feared from Muscovy, Mecklenburg, Spain, or Civita Vecchia; if new provinces were to be obtained abroad, new armies to be raised, or new fleets to be equipped, upon warlike expeditions; if new provision were wanting for the Civil List, and new taxes to be levied, or new companies to be erected to pay off the publick debts; if the universities were to be farther regulated, or any inspection were necessary into the increase of fees and exactions of civil officers; if there were the least ground to suspect bribery or corruption in a place where it should not be; or if there were any new project on foot to banish tyrannical and popish principles far out of the land: I say, that in such a scene of affairs, I dare not be altogether so positive in my assertion, that we ought to venture, and at all events to leave to chance, that which we are in possession of already. But as we are at present in the happy state of indolence and security, at peace with all the world and our own consciences; as little more money can be raised from the people, most of it being already in hand, which, according to the rules of good policy, unite dominion and property; as our benefactors too are generous and honourable, our boroughs not insensible or ungrateful, nor the counties themselves inexorable to shining merit; So it is much to be hoped, that another Parliament may be chosen equally deserving, and as zealous for the publick interest; or, at worst, there are honest and tried measures at hand, which will undoubtedly make them so. And I offer this as a conclusive, and I think a most convincing, argument, that the kingdom will be obliged with a new election.
T. I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 62
An Enquiry into the Nature and Extent of Liberty; with its Loveliness and Advantages, and the vile Effects of Slavery
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, January 20, 1722)
By liberty, I understand the power which every man has over his own actions, and his right to enjoy the fruit of his labour, art, and industry, as far as by it he hurts not the society, or any members of it, by taking from any member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys. The fruits of a man’s honest industry are the just rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal equity, as is his title to use them in the manner which he thinks fit: And thus, with the above limitations, every man is sole lord and arbiter of his own private actions and property. A character of which no man living can divest him but by usurpation, or his own consent.
The entering into political society, is so far from a departure from his natural right, that to preserve it was the sole reason why men did so; and mutual protection and assistance is the only reasonable purpose of all reasonable societies. To make such protection practicable, magistracy was formed, with power to defend the innocent from violence, and to punish those that offered it; nor can there be any other pretence for magistracy in the world. In order to this good end, the magistrate is entrusted with conducting and applying the united force of the community; and with exacting such a share of every man’s property, as is necessary to preserve the whole, and to defend every man and his property from foreign and domestick injuries. These are the boundaries of the power of the magistrate, who deserts his function whenever he breaks them. By the laws of society, he is more limited and restrained than any man amongst them; since, while they are absolutely free in all their actions, which purely concern themselves; all his actions, as a publick person, being for the sake of society, must refer to it, and answer the ends of it.
It is a mistaken notion in government, that the interest of the majority is only to be consulted, since in society every man has a right to every man’s assistance in the enjoyment and defence of his private property; otherwise the greater number may sell the lesser, and divide their estates amongst themselves; and so, instead of a society, where all peaceable men are protected, become a conspiracy of the many against the minority. With as much equity may one man wantonly dispose of all, and violence may be sanctified by mere power.
And it is as foolish to say, that government is concerned to meddle with the private thoughts and actions of men, while they injure neither the society, nor any of its members. Every man is, in nature and reason, the judge and disposer of his own domestick affairs; and, according to the rules of religion and equity, every man must carry his own conscience. So that neither has the magistrate a right to direct the private behaviour of men; nor has the magistrate, or any body else, any manner of power to model people’s speculations, no more than their dreams. Government being intended to protect men from the injuries of one another, and not to direct them in their own affairs, in which no one is interested but themselves; it is plain, that their thoughts and domestick concerns are exempted entirely from its jurisdiction: In truth, men’s thoughts are not subject to their own jurisdiction.
Idiots and lunaticks indeed, who cannot take care of themselves, must be taken care of by others: But whilst men have their five senses, I cannot see what the magistrate has to do with actions by which the society cannot be affected; and where he meddles with such, he meddles impertinently or tyrannically. Must the magistrate tie up every man’s legs, because some men fall into ditches? Or, must he put out their eyes, because with them they see lying vanities? Or, would it become the wisdom and care of governors to establish a travelling society, to prevent people, by a proper confinement, from throwing themselves into wells, or over precipices; or to endow a fraternity of physicians and surgeons all over the nation, to take care of their subjects’ health, without being consulted; and to vomit, bleed, purge, and scarify them at pleasure, whether they would or no, just as these established judges of health should think fit? If this were the case, what a stir and hubbub should we soon see kept about the established potions and lancets? Every man, woman, or child, though ever so healthy, must be a patient, or woe be to them! The best diet and medicines would soon grow pernicious from any other hand; and their pills alone, however ridiculous, insufficient, or distasteful, would be attended with a blessing.
Let people alone, and they will take care of themselves, and do it best; and if they do not, a sufficient punishment will follow their neglect, without the magistrate’s interposition and penalties. It is plain, that such busy care and officious intrusion into the personal affairs, or private actions, thoughts, and imaginations of men, has in it more craft than kindness; and is only a device to mislead people, and pick their pockets, under the false pretence of the publick and their private good. To quarrel with any man for his opinions, humours, or the fashion of his clothes, is an offence taken without being given. What is it to a magistrate how I wash my hands, or cut my corns; what fashion or colours I wear, or what notions I entertain, or what gestures I use, or what words I pronounce, when they please me, and do him and my neighbour no hurt? As well may he determine the colour of my hair, and control my shape and features.
True and impartial liberty is therefore the right of every man to pursue the natural, reasonable, and religious dictates of his own mind; to think what he will, and act as he thinks, provided he acts not to the prejudice of another; to spend his own money himself, and lay out the produce of his labour his own way; and to labour for his own pleasure and profit, and not for others who are idle, and would live and riot by pillaging and oppressing him, and those that are like him.
So that civil government is only a partial restraint put by the laws of agreement and society upon natural and absolute liberty, which might otherwise grow licentious: And tyranny is an unlimited restraint put upon natural liberty, by the will of one or a few. Magistracy, amongst a free people, is the exercise of power for the sake of the people; and tyrants abuse the people, for the sake of power. Free government is the protecting the people in their liberties by stated rules: Tyranny is a brutish struggle for unlimited liberty to one or a few, who would rob all others of their liberty, and act by no rule but lawless lust.
So much for an idea of civil liberty. I will now add a word or two, to shew how much it is the delight and passion of mankind; and then shew its advantages.
The love of liberty is an appetite so strongly implanted in the nature of all living creatures, that even the appetite of self-preservation, which is allowed to be the strongest, seems to be contained in it; since by the means of liberty they enjoy the means of preserving themselves, and of satisfying their desires in the manner which they themselves choose and like best. Many animals can never be tamed, but feel the bitterness of restraint in the midst of the kindest usage; and rather than bear it, grieve and starve themselves to death; and some beat out their brains against their prisons.
Where liberty is lost, life grows precarious, always miserable, often intolerable. Liberty is, to live upon one’s own terms; slavery is, to live at the mere mercy of another; and a life of slavery is, to those who can bear it, a continual state of uncertainty and wretchedness, often an apprehension of violence, often the lingering dread of a violent death: But by others, when no other remedy is to be had, death is reckoned a good one. And thus, to many men, and to many other creatures, as well as men, the love of liberty is beyond the love of life.
This passion for liberty in men, and their possession of it, is of that efficacy and importance, that it seems the parent of all the virtues: And therefore in free countries there seems to be another species of mankind, than is to be found under tyrants. Small armies of Greeks and Romans despised the greatest hosts of slaves; and a million of slaves have been sometimes beaten and conquered by a few thousand freemen. Insomuch that the difference seemed greater between them than between men and sheep. It was therefore well said by Lucullus, when, being about to engage the great King Tigranes’s army, he was told by some of his officers, how prodigious great the same was, consisting of between three and four hundred thousand men: “No matter,” said that brave Roman, drawing up his little army of fourteen thousand, but fourteen thousand Romans: “No matter; the lion never enquires into the number of the sheep.” And these royal troops proved no better; for the Romans had little else to do but to kill and pursue; which yet they could scarce do for laughing; so much more were they diverted than animated by the ridiculous dread and sudden flight of these imperial slaves and royal cowards.
Men eternally cowed and oppressed by haughty and insolent governors, made base themselves by the baseness of that sort of government, and become slaves by ruling over slaves, want spirit and souls to meet in the field freemen, who scorn oppressors, and are their own governors, or at least measure and direct the power of their governors.
Education alters nature, and becomes stronger. Slavery, while it continues, being a perpetual awe upon the spirits, depresses them, and sinks natural courage; and want and fear, the concomitants of bondage, always produce despondency and baseness; nor will men in bonds ever fight bravely, but to be free. Indeed, what else should they fight for; since every victory that they gain for a tyrant, makes them poorer and fewer; and, increasing his pride, increases his cruelty, with their own misery and chains?
Those, who, from terror and delusion, the frequent causes and certain effects of servitude, come to think their governors greater than men, as they find them worse, will be as apt to think themselves less: And when the head and the heart are thus both gone, the hands will signify little. They who are used like beasts, will be apt to degenerate into beasts. But those, on the contrary, who, by the freedom of their government and education, are taught and accustomed to think freely of men and things, find, by comparing one man with another, that all men are naturally alike; and that their governors, as they have the same face, constitution, and shape with themselves, and are subject to the same sickness, accidents, and death, with the meanest of their people; so they possess the same passions and faculties of the mind which their subjects possess, and not better. They therefore scorn to degrade and prostrate themselves, to adore those of their own species, however covered with titles, and disguised by power: They consider them as their own creatures; and, as far as they surmount themselves, the work of their own hands, and only the chief servants of the state, who have no more power to do evil than one of themselves, and are void of every privilege and superiority, but to serve them and the state. They know it to be a contradiction in religion and reason, for any man to have a right to do evil; that not to resist any man’s wickedness, is to encourage it; and that they have the least reason to bear evil and oppression from their governors, who of all men are the most obliged to do them good. They therefore detest slavery, and despise or pity slaves; and, adoring liberty alone, as they who see its beauty and feel its advantages always will, it is no wonder that they are brave for it.
Indeed liberty is the divine source of all human happiness. To possess, in security, the effects of our industry, is the most powerful and reasonable incitement to be industrious: And to be able to provide for our children, and to leave them all that we have, is the best motive to beget them. But where property is precarious, labour will languish. The privileges of thinking, saying, and doing what we please, and of growing as rich as we can, without any other restriction, than that by all this we hurt not the publick, nor one another, are the glorious privileges of liberty; and its effects, to live in freedom, plenty, and safety.
These are privileges that increase mankind, and the happiness of mankind. And therefore countries are generally peopled in proportion as they are free, and are certainly happy in that proportion: And upon the same tract of land that would maintain a hundred thousand freemen in plenty, five thousand slaves would starve. In Italy, fertile Italy, men die sometimes of hunger amongst the sheaves, and in a plentiful harvest; for what they sow and reap is none of their own; and their cruel and greedy governors, who live by the labour of their wretched vassals, do not suffer them to eat the bread of their own earning, nor to sustain their lives with their own hands.
Liberty naturally draws new people to it, as well as increases the old stock; and men as naturally run when they dare from slavery and wretchedness, whithersoever they can help themselves. Hence great cities losing their liberty become deserts, and little towns by liberty grow great cities; as will be fully proved before I have gone through this argument. I will not deny, but that there are some great cities of slaves: But such are only imperial cities, and the seats of great princes, who draw the wealth of a continent to their capital, the center of their treasure and luxury. Babylon, Antioch, Seleucia, and Alexandria, were great cities peopled by tyrants; but peopled partly by force, partly by the above reason, and partly by grants and indulgencies. Their power, great and boundless as it was, could not alone people their cities; but they were forced to soften authority by kindness; and having brought the inhabitants together by force, and by driving them captive like cattle, could not keep them together, without bestowing on them many privileges, to encourage the first inhabitants to stay, and to invite more to come.
This was a confession in those tyrants, that their power was mischievous and unjust; since they could not erect one great city, and make it flourish, without renouncing in a great measure their power over it; which, by granting it these privileges, in effect they did. These privileges were fixed laws, by which the trade and industry of the citizens were encouraged, and their lives and properties ascertained and protected, and no longer subjected to the laws of mere will and pleasure: And therefore, while these free cities, enjoying their own liberties and laws, flourished under them, the provinces were miserably harrassed, pillaged, dispeopled, and impoverished, and the inhabitants exhausted, starved, butchered, and carried away captive.
This shews that all civil happiness and prosperity is inseparable from liberty; and that tyranny cannot make men, or societies of men, happy, without departing from its nature, and giving them privileges inconsistent with tyranny. And here is an unanswerable argument, amongst a thousand others, against absolute power in a single man. Nor is there one way in the world to give happiness to communities, but by sheltering them under certain and express laws, irrevocable at any man’s pleasure.
There is not, nor can be, any security for a people to trust to the mere will of one, who, while his will is his law, cannot protect them if he would. The number of sycophants and wicked counsellors, that he will always and necessarily have about him, will defeat all his good intentions, by representing things falsely, and persons maliciously; by suggesting danger where it is not, and urging necessity where there is none; by filling their own coffers, under colour of filling his, and by raising money for themselves, pretending the publick exigencies of the state; by sacrificing particular men to their own revenge, under pretence of publick security; and by engaging him and his people in dangerous and destructive wars, for their own profit or fame; by throwing publick affairs into perpetual confusion, to prevent an enquiry into their own behaviour; and by making him jealous of his people, and his people of him, on purpose to manage and mislead both sides.
By all these, and many more wicked arts, they will be constantly leading him into cruel and oppressive measures, destructive to his people, scandalous and dangerous to himself; but entirely agreeable to their own spirit and designs. Thus will they commit all wickedness by their master’s authority, against his inclinations, and grow rich by the people’s poverty, without his knowledge; and the royal authority will be first a warrant for oppression, afterwards a protection from the punishment due to it. For, in short, the power of princes is often little else but a stalking-horse to the intrigues and ambition of their minister.
But if the disposition of such a prince be evil, what must be the forlorn condition of his people, and what door of hope can remain for common protection! The best princes have often evil counsellors, the bad will have no other: And in such a case, what bounds can be set to their fury, and to the havock they will make? The instruments and advisers of tyranny and depredation always thrive best and are nearest their ends, when depredation and tyranny run highest: When most is plundered from the people, their share is greatest; we may therefore suppose every evil will befall such a people, without supposing extravagantly. No happiness, no security, but certain misery, and a vile and precarious life, are the blessed terms of such a government—a government which necessarily introduces all evils, and from the same necessity neither must nor can redress any.
The nature of his education, bred up as he ever is in perpetual flattery, makes him haughty and ignorant; and the nature of his government, which subsists by brutish severity and oppression, makes him cruel. He is inaccessible, but by his ministers, whose study and interest will be to keep him from knowing or helping the state of his miserable people. Their master’s knowledge in his own affairs, would break in upon their scheme and power; they are not likely to lay before him representations of grievances caused by themselves; nor, if they be the effects of his own barbarity and command, will he hear them.
Even where absolute princes are not tyrants, there ministers will be tyrants. But it is indeed impossible for an arbitrary prince to be otherwise, since oppression is absolutely necessary to his being so. Without giving his people liberty, he cannot make them happy; and by giving them liberty, he gives up his own power. So that to be and continue arbitrary, he is doomed to be a tyrant in his own defence. The oppression of the people, corruption, wicked counsellors, and pernicious maxims in the court, and every where baseness, ignorance, and chains, must support tyranny, or it cannot be supported. So that in such governments there are inevitable grievances, without possible redress; misery, without mitigation or remedy; whatever is good for the people, is bad for their governors; and what is good for the governors, is pernicious to the people.
G I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 63
Civil Liberty produces all Civil Blessings, and how; with the baneful Nature of Tyranny
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, January 27, 1722)
By the establishment of liberty, a due distribution of property and an equal distribution of justice is established and secured. As rapine is the child of oppression, justice is the offspring of liberty, and her handmaid; it is the guardian of innocence, and the terror of vice: And when fame, honour, and advantages, are rewards of virtue, she will be courted for the dower which she brings; otherwise, like beauty without wealth, she may be praised, but more probably will be calumniated, envied, and very often persecuted; while vice, when it is gainful, like rich deformity and prosperous folly, will be admired and pursued. Where virtue is all its own reward, she will be seldom thought any; and few will buy that for a great price, which will sell for none. So that virtue, to be followed, must be endowed, and her credit is best secured by her interest; that is, she must be strengthened and recommended by the publick laws, and embellished by publick encouragements, or else she will be slighted and shunned.
Now the laws which encourage and increase virtue, are the fixed laws of general and impartial liberty; laws, which being the rule of every man’s actions, and the measures of every man’s power, make honesty and equity their interest. Where liberty is thoroughly established, and its laws equally executed, every man will find his account in doing as he would be done unto, and no man will take from another what he would not part with himself: Honour and advantage will follow the upright, punishment overtake the oppressor. The property of the poor will be as sacred as the privileges of the prince, and the law will be the only bulwark of both. Every man’s honest industry and useful talents, while they are employed for the publick, will be employed for himself; and while he serves himself, he will serve the publick: Publick and private interest will secure each other; all will cheerfully give a part to secure the whole, and be brave to defend it.
These certain laws therefore are the only certain beginnings and causes of honesty and virtue amongst men. There may be other motives, I own; but such as only sway particular men, few enough, God knows: And universal experience has shewn us, that they are not generally prevailing, and never to be depended upon. Now these laws are to be produced by liberty alone, and only by such laws can liberty be secured and increased: And to make laws certainly good, they must be made by mutual agreement, and have for their end the general interest.
But tyranny must stand upon force; and the laws of tyranny being only the fickle will and unsteady appetite of one man, which may vary every hour; there can be no settled rule of right or wrong in the variable humours and sudden passions of a tyrant, who, though he may sometimes punish crimes, perhaps more out of rage than justice, will be much more likely to persecute and oppress innocence, and to destroy thousands cruelly, for one that he protects justly. There are instances of princes, who, being out of humour with a favourite, have put to death all that spoke well of him, and afterwards all that did not: Of princes, who put some of their ministers to death, for using one or two of their barbers and buffoons ill; as they did others of their ministers, for using a whole country well: Of princes, who have destroyed, a whole people, for the crimes or virtues of one man; and who, having killed a minion in a passion, have, to revenge themselves upon those who had not provoked them, destroyed in the same unreasonable fury, a hundred of their servants who had no hand in it, as well as all that had; who yet would have been destroyed, had they not done it: Of princes, who have destroyed millions in single mad projects and expeditions: Of princes, who have given up cities and provinces to the revenge or avarice of a vile woman or eunuch, to be plundered, or massacred, or burned, as he or she thought fit to direct: Of princes, who, to gratify the ambition and rapine of a few sorry servants, have lost the hearts of their whole people, and detached themselves from their good subjects, to protect these men in their iniquity, who yet had done them no other service, but that of destroying their reputation, and shaking their throne.
Such are arbitrary princes, whose laws are nothing but sudden fury, or lasting folly and wickedness in uncertain shapes. Hopeful rules these, for the governing of mankind, and making them happy! Rules which are none, since they cannot be depended upon for a moment; and generally change for the worse, if that can be. A subject worth twenty thousand pounds today, may, by a sudden edict issued by the dark counsel of a traitor, be a beggar tomorrow, and lose his life without forfeiting the same. The property of the whole kingdom shall be great, or little, or none, just at the mercy of a secretary’s pen, guided by a child, or a dotard, or a foolish woman, or a favourite buffoon, or a gamester, or whoever is uppermost for the day; the next day shall alter entirely the yesterday’s scheme, though not for the better; and the same men, in different humours, shall be the authors of both. Thus in arbitrary countries, a law aged two days is an old law; and no law is suffered to be a standing law, but such as are found by long experience to be so very bad, and so thoroughly destructive, that human malice, and all the arts of a tyrant’s court, cannot make them worse. A court which never ceaseth to squeeze, kill, and oppress, till it has wound up human misery so high, that it will go no further. This is so much fact, that I appeal to all history and travels, and to those that read them, whether in arbitrary countries, both in Europe and out of it, the people do not grow daily thinner, and their misery greater; and whether countries are not peopled and rich, in proportion to the liberty which they enjoy and allow.
It has been long my opinion, and is more and more so, that in slavish countries the people must either throw off their cruel and destroying government, and set up another in its room, or in some ages the race of mankind there will be extinct. Indeed, if it had not been for free states, that have repaired and prevented in many places the mischiefs done by tyrants, the earth had been long since a desert, as the finest countries in it are at this day by that means. The gardens of the world, the fruitful and lovely countries of the lower Asia, filled formerly by liberty with people, politeness, and plenty, are now gloriously peopled with owls and grasshoppers; and perhaps here and there, at vast distances, with inhabitants not more valuable, and less happy; a few dirty huts of slaves groaning, starving, and perishing, under the fatherly protection of the Sultan, a prince of the most orthodox standard.
The laws therefore of tyrants are not laws, but wild acts of will, counselled by rage or folly, and executed by dragoons. And as these laws are evil, all sorts of evil must concur to support them. While the people have common-sense left, they will easily see whether they are justly governed, and well or ill used; whether they are protected or plundered: They will know that no man ought to be the director of the affairs of all, without their consent; that no consent can give him unlimited power over their bodies and minds; and that the laws of nature can never be entirely abrogated by positive laws; but that, on the contrary, the entering into society, and becoming subject to government, is only the parting with natural liberty, in some instances, to be protected in the enjoyment of it in others.
So that for any man to have arbitrary power, he must have it without consent; or if it be unadvisedly given at first, they who gave it soon repent when they find its effects. In truth, all those princes that have such power, by keeping up great armies in time of peace, effectually confess that they rule without consent, and dread their people, whose worst enemies they undoubtedly are. An arbitrary prince therefore must preserve and execute his power by force and terror; which yet will not do, without calling in the auxiliary aids and strict allies of tyranny, imposture, and constant oppression. Let this people be ever so low and miserable, if they be not also blind, he is not safe. He must have established deceivers to mislead them with lies, to terrify them with the wrath of God, in case they stir hand or foot, or so much as a thought, to mend their doleful condition; as if the good God was the sanctifier of all villainy, the patron of the worst of all villains! He must have a band of standing cut-throats to murder all men who would sacrilegiously defend their own. And both his cut-throats and his deceivers must go shares with him in his tyranny.
Men will naturally see their interests, feel their condition; will quickly find that the sword, the rack, and the sponge, are not government, but the height of cruelty and robbery; and will never submit to them, but by the united powers of violence and delusion: Their bodies must be chained, their minds enchanted and deceived; the sword kept constantly over their heads, and their spirits kept low with poverty, before they can be brought to be used at the wanton and brutish pleasure of the most dignified and lofty oppressor. So that God must be belied, his creatures must be fettered, frightened, deceived, and starved, and mankind made base and undone, that one of the worst of them may live riotously and safely amongst his whores, butchers, and buffoons.
Men, therefore, must cease to be men, and in stupidity and tameness grow cattle, before they can become quiet subjects to such a government; which is a complication of all the villainies, falsehood, oppression, cruelty, and depredation, upon the face of the earth: Nor can there be a more provoking, impudent, shocking, and blasphemous position, than to assert all this group of horrors, or the author of them, to be of God’s appointment.
If such kings are by God appointed,
Satan may be the Lord’s anointed.
And whoever scatters such doctrine, ought, by all the laws of God, reason, and self-preservation, to be put to death as a general poisoner, and advocate for publick destruction.
All men own, that it is the duty of a prince to protect his people; And some have said, that it is their duty to obey him, when he butchers them. An admirable consequence, and full of sweet consolation! His whole business and office is to defend them, and to do them good; therefore they are bound to let him destroy them. Was ever such impudence in an enlightened country? It is perfectly agreeable to the doctrines and followers of Mahomet: But shall Englishmen, who make their own laws, be told, that they have no right to the common air, to the life and fortune which God has given them, but by the permission of an officer of their own making; who is what he is only for their sakes and security, and has no more right to these blessings, nor to do evil, than one of themselves? And shall we be told this by men, who are eternally the first to violate their own doctrines? Or shall they after this have the front to teach us any doctrine, or to recommend to us any one virtue, when they have thus given up all virtue and truth, and every blessing that life affords? For there is no evil, misery, and wickedness, which arbitrary monarchies do not produce, and must produce; nor do they, nor can they, produce any certain, general, or diffusive good.
I have shewn, in my last, that an arbitrary prince cannot protect his people if he would; and I add here, that he dares not. It would disgust the instruments of his power, and the sharers in his oppression, who will consider the property of the people as the perquisites of their office, and claim a privilege of being little tyrants, for making him a great one: So that every kindness to his subjects will be a grievance to his servants; and he must assert and exercise his tyranny to the height for their sakes, or they will do it for him. And the instances are rare, if any, of any absolute monarch’s protecting in earnest his people against the depredations of his ministers and soldiers, but it has cost him his life; as may be shewn by many examples in the Roman history: For this the emperor Pertinax was murdered, and so was Galba.
Machiavel has told us, that it is impossible for such a prince to please both the people and his soldiers: The one will not be satisfied without protection, nor the other without rapine: To comply with the people, he must give up his power; to comply with his soldiers, he must give up his people. So that to continue what he is, and to preserve himself from the violence of his followers, he must countenance all their villainies and oppression, and be himself no more than an imperial thief at the head of a band of thieves; for which character he is generally well qualified by the base and cruel maxims of that sort of power, and by the vile education almost always given to such a prince by the worst and most infamous of all men, their supple and lying sycophants.
Even the Christian religion can do but little or no good in lands of tyranny, since miracles have ceased; but is made to do infinite harm, by being corrupted and perverted into a deadly engine in the hands of a tyrant and his impostors, to rivet his subjects’ chains, and to confirm them thorough wretches, slaves, and ignorants. I cannot indeed say, that they have the Christian religion at all amongst them, but only use its amiable name to countenance abominable falsehoods, nonsense, and heavy oppression; to defend furious and implacable bigotry, which is the direct characteristick and spirit of Mahometism, and destroys the very genius and first principles of Christianity. All this will be further shewn hereafter. I shall conclude with observing, that arbitrary monarchy is a constant war upon heaven and earth, against the souls as well as bodies and properties of men.
G I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 75
Of the Restraints which ought to be laid upon publick Rulers
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, May 5, 1722)
No wise nation in the world ever trusted to the sole management, mere mercy, and absolute discretion of its own magistrates, when it could help doing it; and no series of magistrates ever had absolute power over any nation, but they turned the same to its ruin, and their own wild gratifications and ill-judged profit. As long as the passions of men govern them, they will always govern by their passions, and their passions will always increase with their power. And therefore, whenever a whole people, or any part of them, cross the passions of any man that governs them, he will turn his passions against a whole people, or any number of them that offend him, and will destroy a whole people, rather than stifle his passions. This is evident in ten thousand instances; and the publick will ever, and certainly, be sacrified to private lust, when private lust governs the publick. Nothing but fear and selfish considerations can keep men within any reasonable bounds; and nothing but the absence of fear can set men at defiance with society, and prompt them to oppress it. It was therefore well judged of the Spartan Ephori, when they erected an altar to Fear, as the most proper divinity to restrain the wild ambition of men, and to keep their kings within the confines of their duty.
A nation has but two sorts of usurpation to fear; one from their neighbours, and another from their own magistrates: Nor is a foreign usurpation more formidable than a domestick, which is the most dangerous of the two, by being hardest to remove; and generally stealing upon the people by degrees, is fixed before it is scarce felt or apprehended: Like wild beasts in a wood, beset with toils as yet unseen by them, they think themselves free; but striving to escape, find themselves caught in the chains, which had long been preparing for them, and stealing upon them. Besides, for one people undone by foreign invaders, ten have been undone by their own native rogues, who were entrusted to defend them; but instead of it, either betrayed them to these invaders, or seized traitorously for themselves those rights which they were sworn to preserve for others; and then, by oppression and cruelty, and the other consequences of their treachery, reduced them to an utter disability of defending themselves against any invasion whatsoever.
What has made Italy and Asia deserts, and their remaining inhabitants starving and contemptible cowards? Not the inundation of barbarous nations; though that inundation was owing to the weakness of the inhabitants, weakened and undone by their base and tyrannical governors: But they have been made deserts by the continued depredations of their execrable princes, who have acted as if they had been scythes in the hand of Satan to mow down the race of men. There is a certain old Italian tyrant, now living, who, though he has by studied rapine converted into a wilderness a country which nature has made a paradise, yet is not weary nor ashamed of his rapine, but goes on to suck and squeeze the remaining blood of his ghostly subjects; and next to his visiting seven altars a day (a way which he has of compounding with God for being a pestilent tyrant to his creatures), I say, his only employment, besides this his devout and impudent mockery of God, is to sit contriving with his faithful ministry, which of his subjects may probably be worth a hundred pounds, and how to cheat him or rob him of that hundred pounds.
This same grand prince has now scarce any other business for his soldiers, but that of employing them directly against his own people; nor are they fit for any other employment; for one English regiment would beat seven of his. So that his paltry forces, many of them, are placed upon his frontiers, not to defend him from an invasion, a task which they are not equal to, but to keep his wretched subjects from running away from famine and his government. A relief which is however barbarously denied them by this old polite tyrant! They must stay and perish under him; nor will he suffer them to seek elsewhere that support of life, of which his diabolical government deprives them at home; as if when he had robbed them of their labour and their life, he also wanted their skins.
There is not upon earth a nation, which having had unaccountable magistrates, has not felt them to have been crying and consuming mischiefs. In truth, where they are most limited, it has been often as much as a whole people could do to restrain them to their trust, and to keep them from violence; and such frequently has been their propensity to be lawless, that nothing but violence, and sometimes nothing but a violent death, could cure them of their violence. This evil has its root in human nature; men will never think they have enough, whilst they can take more; nor be content with a part, when they can seize the whole. We are, indeed told of some absolute princes, who have been very good men and no oppressors. But the nature of their power rendered their good qualities almost useless, and gave to others an opportunity of doing in their name, and by their authority, mischiefs which perhaps they themselves abhorred. Besides, in any series of arbitrary princes upon earth, scarce out of ten can one be named who was tolerable, and who either did not himself prove an inhuman tyrant, or suffered his ministers to be so: And when an absolute prince has had great parts, they generally went to his grave with him, and scarce ever proved hereditary. In truth, the children of great princes have almost always proved very unlike them.
I own, the first of the line has sometimes acted plausibly, and gained, by doing so, dangerous credit and popularity. But if he were an angel, he is never to be forgiven, because it is out of his power what his successor shall prove. The crocodile’s egg does no mischief whilst it continues an egg; but out of it is hatched a crocodile, and by it the cursed race of destroyers is continued. D. Heinsius says very justly, Nec unquam servitus, ne speciosa quidem, legit quibus serviat, sed accipit. “The most plausible slavery is attended with this eternal misfortune, that it has no choice of a master, but must accept of a master, such a chance sends.” Vespasian left to the Romans for their prince the beneficent Titus; but he also left them the raging and bloody Domitian.
If Julius Caesar and Augustus had been really gods, as their flatterers made them; yet their leaving behind them such a race of successors (who proved a race of daemons) entitles them to the characters of detestable tyrants to all eternity. Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, were the precious and bloody blessings which these beneficent princes left! Names universally abhorred, whilst those of Caesar and Augustus are generally adored: And yet to Caesar and Augustus were mankind indebted for these pests of mankind: Nor were they so great pests as were Caesar and Augustus, who did much more mischief, and destroyed the world more than either Nero or Caligula, besides leaving them to destroy it still further.
People rarely think of this, but it is literally true. What! will some say, the generous Caesar and the mild Augustus do more mischief than the wild Caligula and the savage Nero! Yes, fifty to one: Nero destroyed his twenties, Caesar and Augustus their twenty thousands; and for Nero, we may thank Julius and Augustus. Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, took Rome chiefly for the scene of their cruelty, and destroyed many great and good men, some out of wantonness, and more out of jealousy: But Caesar and Augustus made Rome and the world their slaughterhouse, and destroyed more great and good men by far than the other four, as butchering monsters as they were: And as to publick rapine and general depopulation, they exceeded them still further. Indeed, as to heroick and diffusive mischief and villainy, the difference between them was as great as between Jack Straw and a late Grand Monarque. The truth is, Caesar and Augustus had art and great qualities, which are far from excusing the evils which they did; and their successors, having all their ambition, but wanting their great qualities and discretion, took the direct road to hatred.
An unrestrained power in one man, or in a few, over all, is such an extravagant deviation from reason and nature, that neither Briareus with his many hands, nor the Hydra with its numerous heads, nor the Centaurs, half man and half beast, were things more unshapen, monstrous, and frightful: Nor would these fictions appear more fabulous and improbable, than such power would be to a free people, who never had heard of it before. What could seem to common sense a wilder chimera, than that one man, not created with features and endowments different from other men, should have a lasting right from his blood, or his pride, or his madness, to domineer over all men, and to rule, kill, starve, famish, banish, and imprison, as many as he pleased?
This power is indeed so monstrous, that it turns men that have it into monsters; and therefore the most amiable and unexceptionable man upon earth is not to be trusted with it. Men change with their stations, and power of any sort rarely alters them for the better; but, on the contrary, has often turned a very good man into a very bad. This shews that men forbear evil, chiefly to avoid the ill consequence of it to themselves, and for want of opportunity and protection; and finding both in power, they prove, by making use of them, that their virtue was only self-love, and fear of punishment. Thus men of the best and brightest characters have often done most mischief, and by well serving their country, have been enabled to destroy it: And they were good and evil from one and the same motive; a passion for themselves, and their own security or glory.
Thus the house of the Medicis, by being very good commonwealth-men, and by serving and obliging almost every family in Florence, gained credit enough by this their generous behaviour, to enslave that great and powerful city. Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, quod pars servitutis erat. Pericles administered the government of Athens with great sufficiency; but he broke down the fences of its liberty, and ruled arbitrarily all his days. Agathocles fought successfully for the city of Syracuse, and as successfully against it; and having defended the citizens against their enemies, he afterwards shewed himself their greatest, by killing in one great massacre all the chief and best of them, and by crowning himself tyrant over all the rest. Marius and Sulla, Pompey and Caesar, were great and excellent commanders, and conquered many great kings and nations: But they made all the fruits of their victories their own; and from being very good soldiers, made themselves most pernicious and arbitrary magistrates.
Now all these great men derived, from the good which they did, a capacity to do much more evil: So that as a power to do great good, does naturally include in it an opportunity of doing much evil; so those who are in the possession of power, as all magistrates are, ought, above all other men, to be narrowly watched, and checked with restraints stronger than their temptations to break them; and every crime of theirs ought to be more penal, as it is evidently more pernicious, than the same crime in any other sort of men. For, besides that quales in republica principes essent, tales reliquos solere esse cives; that is, that people are generally virtuous or corrupt as their magistrates are; there is something exceeding solemn and important in the nature of this great trust; and accordingly as it is observed or betrayed, a country is happy or miserable: And when any one breach of it passes once off with impunity, another will soon follow it; and in time it will be considered no longer as a trust, but an estate.
So dangerous a thing is an ill precedent, which is often an inlet to an endless train of mischiefs; and so depraved is the nature of man, that we justify ourselves in wickedness by examples that cannot be justified. An action at first reckoned dishonest, by being practised once or twice, becomes unblameable; and that which was at first accounted an extortion, grows by use to be thought but a perquisite. Thus evil is mitigated, nay, cancelled, by repetition, which is a real aggravation of evil; and there are certain rogueries in office, which being long practised, and by many, are at last reckoned as sacred as the trust against which they are committed: A sufficient reason for providing, by great and certain penalties, that none be committed.
G I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 76
The same Subject continued
Thomas Gordon (Saturday, May 12, 1722)
Cicero, mentioning the condition of Cilicia, of which he was proconsul, in a letter to Appius Pulcher, says, that he was “moved by pity, as well as justice, to relieve from their miseries the undone provincial cities; undone chiefly by their own magistrates.” It seems Cicero was that sort of whimsical man, that he had really at heart to do good to the people whom he governed: An odd and impracticable character; which, had he lived since, would have rendered him utterly unfit for any manner of preferment. He did not so much as know that he was to make the most of his place and his power, let what would become of the people. A lesson which other governors have amply learned.
Aristotle makes it the great argument and proof of liberty, that they who command do also obey; and indeed all legal and just power being but a trust, whoever executes the same, does an act of obedience as well as command: And every trust is best executed, where those who have it are answerable for it, else it never will be executed; but, where it is great and publick, is much more likely to be abused, violated, and turned to the destruction of those, who, for their own preservation, gave it. Nor is a people to be told, that such as want to be trusted with extraordinary power of any kind, have always been enemies to arbitrary power; for so are all men when they have it not, and expect no advantage from it. Who was a greater patriot than Sir Thomas Wentworth? And who was a more arbitrary minister than Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford? All men are for confining power when it is over them; and for extending it when they are in it. Oliver Cromwell was once heartily in the principles of liberty, and afterwards more heartily in those of tyranny: And I could name two great parties in England, who, when they were out of power, seemed to place the sum of publick spirit, in intrenching upon the royal authority; and when they were in power, to know no other law but the prerogative royal. So unlike is the same man to himself in different situations; and yet still very consistent with the genius of human nature!
Men sometimes do actually good, in order to do evil, Sejanus, incipiente adhuc potestate, bonis consiliis notescere volebat: “Sejanus, in the beginning of his administration, would found the reputation of a good minister in laudable measures.” But there never proved a worse minister than Sejanus. Solyman, the Turkish emperor, used to say, that a prince, to be well served by any minister, must never use any minister above once: And this saying is thus far true generally, that men, the longer they grow in power, the worse they grow. I think it is Tacitus who says, Superbire homines etiam annua designatione; quid si honorem per quinquennium agitent? “If an annual election to power make men insolent; what must be their pitch of insolence, if they hold it five or seven years?” Aristotle finds great fault with the senate of Sparta, for being perpetual; and I think he says, that an unchanged or an hereditary senate falls into dotage.
Many of the ecclesiasticks have been for trusting their favourite princes (and no other) with unlimited power over others: But in every thing that regarded themselves and their interest, they have never failed to stipulate for the strictest limitations upon all princes, even upon those whom over the rest of the world they wished arbitrary, and endeavoured by every means to make so. Nor did ever any man give up the freedom of his country, but he meant to preserve his own; and hoped to continue a freeman; as a reward of his helping to make other people slaves; and no man ever set up a tyrant, but in hopes of going shares in his tyranny: And upon these terms and expectations alone it is, that any body of men, or indeed any army, is brought to aid and establish any usurper. Passive obedience was always intended for other people than those who preached it. Interest cannot lie; though he does, who says that he will submit to servitude, when he can avoid it.
Who would establish a bank in an arbitrary country, or trust his money constantly there? In Denmark, the ministers and minions of the prince, think their money safest out of his dominions, and generally transmit the same to Hamburgh, and other free cities, where the magistrates have no divine right to lay violent hands upon what is none of theirs. Even what we gain by rapine in a land of oppression, we are willing to save by the just laws of liberty, in a country of liberty. In England itself, and in our own free constitution; if the Bank of England were put under the absolute direction and power of the court, I doubt stock would soon grow very cheap, and sellers multiply very fast. Or if the government of the Bank, which is purely republican, were improved into monarchical; I fancy our highest monarchy-men would rail at the change, and hasten to sell out, notwithstanding their inviolable attachment to the divine right of monarchy: Unless perhaps they think that absolute monarchy does best protect their power, but a free state their money. I am indeed of opinion, that upon such a change, the Bank would be broke, and shut up in three days.
All this shews, that even men who are against liberty in general, contend for it in particulars, and in all particulars which affect themselves. Even Lauderdale, a Tyrconnel, or a Jefferies, who were all for making the crown absolute, as long as they could be as they were, the absolute ministers of oppression under it, would none of them, I dare say, have encouraged the maxim of the prince’s rewarding his ministers and faithful oppressors with the bow-string; as well as they themselves were entitled to that reward, and as much as the Turkish genius of government did in other instances suit their own!
When we hear any sort of men complain, as some sort of men do frequently complain, that the crown wants power; we should ask them, whether they mean over themselves? And if they answer, no; as certainly they will, if they speak truth; we may further ask them, Why should they judge for themselves any more than others; or claim to themselves a liberty and an exemption which they will not allow to others? The truth is, they who complain thus, only want to increase the power of the crown, because by it their own would be increased, and other advantages acquired.
The fox in the fable, wanting to rob a hen-roost, or do some such prank, humbly besought admittance and house-room only for his head; but when he got in his head, his whole body presently followed: And courts, more crafty, as well as more craving, than that designing animal, have scarce ever gained an inch of power, but they have stretched it to an ell; and when they have got in but a finger, their whole train has followed. Pisistratus, having procured from the city of Athens fifty fellows armed only with cudgels, for the security of his person from false and lying dangers, improved them into an army, and by it enslaved that free state. And I have read somewhere, of the States of a country, who having wildly granted to their prince a power of raising money by his own authority, in cases of great necessity; every case, ever afterwards, was a case of great necessity; and his necessities multiplied so fast, that the whole wealth of the country was swallowed up to supply them: As it always will be in every country, where those who ask are suffered to judge what ought to be given. A practice contrary to common sense, and which renders liberty and property perfectly precarious; and where it is continued, will end in taking without asking.
I have heard of a court somewhere abroad, which having asked upon a particular occasion four hundred thousand pounds of the States, found ways and means of stretching that sum to two millions. It was observed of the same court, that it had the art of raising mole-hills into mountains, and of sinking mountains into mole-hills; of disbanding armies without breaking them; of increasing debts by the means of paying them; of being engaged in an expensive war during a profound peace; of gaining for the country at a vast charge, advantages which the country never reaped, nor saw; of employing money obviously against the interest of that nation, and yet getting the nation to pay it; of purchasing other countries at the expence of their own, and against its interest; of procuring from the country at one time a great sum, without telling why it was wanted, but promising to tell, and yet never telling; and, in fine, after many other the like feats, of obtaining, by an arret of security, remission for all their past faults, without owning any, and yet going on to commit more: For as Tully well observes, Qui semel verecundiae fines transierit, eum bene & naviter oportet esse impudentem. Cicer. epist. ad Lucceium, Quinti fil.
But these things concern not us; and I only bring them for examples, like other old stories of Greece and Rome. I hope that we shall never fall into the like misfortunes and mismanagements ourselves.
G I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 81
The Established Church of England in no Danger from Dissenters
John Trenchard (Saturday, June 16, 1722)
I have wondered, therefore, to hear some men of good understanding and unquestionable integrity apprehend any danger to the legal constitution of the Church, and cannot guess from what quarter they can fear it. The Independents, Anabaptists, and Quakers, are no candidates for ecclesiastical power, but are by principle against all church establishments amongst themselves. The Quakers have no clergy at all; and the two former allow their ministers no superiority above the rest of their congregations; and it is certain, that all of them have much more favourable opinions of the national clergy than of the Presbyterians (the only rivals for church-power), from whom they apprehend, and have always found, much worse usage than from the Church. They desire nothing but liberty of conscience, and do not envy other preferments which they cannot enjoy themselves. It is true, the Presbyterians are candidates for church-dominion; and without doubt their priests have hawks’ eyes at the church preferments, and wish often for them, if wishes would get them; but what facility, or, indeed, possibility, have they of obtaining them? They are an inconsiderable body as to their number; and as to their figure less; and as they grow rich, and leave estates behind them, their sons (for the most part) desert their congregations and interest: Besides, they are divided now into two parties, viz. the Subscribers, and Nonsubscribers; the latter of which, much the most considerable for fortune and understanding, are come, for the most part, into the principles of general liberty and independency, nor will ever trust their clergy with the power which they pretend to, and which they claim from scripture; and by degrees many of these, in all probability, will come into the Church.
No prince can ever be in the interest of Presbytery; and I believe that there never was one in the world who was a true Presbyterian: for, as that government is purely democratical, so it is calculated only for a popular state; and, in fact, subsists no-where else in the world, unless in Scotland, where there have been frequent struggles between the crown and them. King James I was so plagued with them, that he was visibly partial to the papists against them: Charles I, by violence, destroyed their establishment; and King Charles II, though called in by them, and supported by them against his Parliament, yet immediately turned upon them: For, though they would have been glad to have had a king modelled to serve their purposes, yet that king had more wit than to have them. For the same reasons, the nobility and gentry of few countries, who by their births, fortunes, and near access to the throne, claim and enjoy a distinction above the inferior rank of mankind, can never be heartily in the interest of that sort of government; and it is certain, that many of the nobility and gentry in Scotland have never been favourable to it. And this is the true, perhaps the chief, reason why so many of them now are Jacobites.
The Presbyterian clergy claim a right, from scripture, to be independent of the civil power in all things which relate to spirituals, of which they pretend to be judges; and, in fact, their synods in Scotland, whatever they do now, formerly did not allow the crown power to adjourn or dissolve them, though they were forced to submit to it; and I am told, at present, they always adjourn by their own authority, though they take especial care it shall be to the same time that the crown appoints; which still keeps up their claim against a proper occasion. I do not avouch the truth of this, and hope that it is not true. Now it is certain, that the nobility and gentry of England, who have actually the power of governing their clergy, will never be governed by them, whatever visions weak men of any denomination may flatter themselves with; nor will ever submit to the Presbyterian discipline, and to let monks and cynics govern their families, turn the heads of their wives, children, and servants, and control their own actions. Nor will the other sectaries, as has been said, who are already possessed of a free liberty of conscience, endeavor to put power into the hands of those who will be sure to take it away; as they did in New-England, though they went there to get it for themselves. So that the danger of settling Presbytery in England is a mere chimera; and when, by the chance of a long Civil War, they were actually got in possession of a power, which during the continuance of it they disclaimed, they could not hold it even for a few years.
The only ball of contention which seems to be now amongst churchmen, is the Sacramental Test, which excludes dissenters from offices; which they think they have a right to in common with their fellow-subjects, having done nothing to forfeit it: But this seems to me to be a dispute only about a non-entity: for it is certain, that no one dissenter in England would be in any office of value, if that law was repealed, more than there are now; for they always qualify themselves, if they can get good places, and take advantage of the law to keep themselves out of chargeable ones: so that the churchmen alone suffer by the statute. The king, by act of Parliament, as well as interest and education, will be of the established Church; and the nobility are all, or almost all, so too, and no doubt but they will give the preference in all preferments to those of their own opinions: nor can it ever happen but that men, who can have qualifications to fill any considerable employments, will have wit enough to find out that there is no religious difference between the Church and Presbyterian establishments, except in the interests of their clergy; which no wise man will think considerable enough to differ about, and to separate upon that score from the national discipline, very few excepted, who will find their account in setting themselves at the head of a faction, and selling it. So that this question appears to me only to be a party puncto, and scarce worth asking on the one side, or denying on the other. Those amongst the Whigs, who most desire it, would not have the appearance of persecution stand in a law, when in effect there is no real persecution; and it is certainly the interest of the clergy to gratify and oblige their dissenting brethren in what costs them nothing: for one act of kindness will make more converts in a year, than they can make by preaching at them in twenty; however, till they see the advantage in doing it themselves, I think that no prudent man will give them any cause of jealousy, by doing it against their consent.
This being, as I conceive, the true state of our church differences, I shall conclude this letter, by application to our national clergy. It is not to be wondered at, that so many of their predecessors regretted the diminution which they suffered of their former revenues and grandeur at the Reformation; and that they often looked back with wishing eyes, and could not easily lose sight of so agreeable a prospect, without weighing enough the impossibility of recovering their lost power from the crown, and their lands from the nobility and gentry, who had got possession of them: Indeed it would have been a wonder if they had done otherwise. But now almost two hundred years’ experience may convince them of the impossibility of succeeding in such a design. They have once lost all, by endeavouring to recover a part; and lately had like to have lost their possessions and religion too, by attempting to give the crown a power, which they intended should be employed for their own benefit, but was actually used against them; and I hope they are now pretty generally of opinon, that it is their interest to stand to their present establishment, and be contented with the same security for their own possessions as the rest of their fellow-subjects have, and to join with them in the defence of liberty, and the laws of the land.
I see, with a great deal of pleasure, many of them falling into these opinions; and hope, that it will soon be the opinion of the greatest part of them; and then I dare boldly affirm, that all religious distinctions will soon be at an end, which are now kept up more by party animosities, than any essential difference of opinion: for men will always fly from the sentiments of those whose persons they hate, and whose oppression they fear; and such as are little concerned about metaphysical, and, as they think, useless, notions in divinity, will support any party against those who would oppress all; and therefore the most laudable, and indeed only way of the clergy’s being safe themselves, is to make other people safe; and then they will have the good wishes, the respect, and protection of every honest man in England; and multitudes of the dissenters, who will not be frightened or bullied out of their opinions, will insensibly quit them of their own accord, if it be only to save the charge of paying separate ministers, and to be in the fashion, when they can once give themselves leave to consider coolly, that they differ about nothing, or nothing that is essential to religion, or their own interests. The heat of the sun made the traveller immediately quit his cloak, when the blustering of the north wind had made him wrap it closer about him.
T I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 94
Against Standing Armies.
John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon (Saturday, September 15, 1722)
But that gentleman and his followers were soon taught to speak other language: They were removed from the capacity of perplexing publick affairs any more: The nation shewed a spirit that would not submit to slavery; and their unhappy and betrayed master, from being the most popular prince who ever sat upon the English throne, became, through the treachery of his servants, suspected by many of his best subjects, and was rendered unable by their jealousies, to defend himself and them; and so considerable a faction was formed against his administration, that no good man can recollect, without concern and horror, on the difficulties which that great and good King was reduced to grapple with during the remainder of his troublesome reign.
I have lately met with some creatures and tools of power, who speak the same language now: They tell us that matters are come to that pass, that we must either receive the Pretender, or keep him out with bribes and standing armies; that the nation is so corrupt, that there is no governing it by any other means; and, in short, that we must submit to this great evil, to prevent a greater: As if any mischief could be more terrible than the highest and most terrible of all mischiefs, universal corruption, and a military government. It is indeed impossible for the subtlety of traitors, the malice of devils, or for the cunning and cruelty of our most implacable enemies, to suggest stronger motives for the undermining and overthrow of our excellent establishment, which is built upon the destruction of tyranny, and can stand upon no other bottom. It is madness in extremity, to hope that a government founded upon liberty, and the free choice of the assertors of it, can be supported by other principles; and whoever would maintain it by contrary ones, intends to blow it up, let him allege what he will. This gives me every day new reasons to believe what I have long suspected; for if ever a question should arise, whether a nation shall submit to certain rules, or struggle for a remedy? these gentlemen well know which side they will choose, and certainly intend that which they must choose.
I am willing to think, that these impotent babblers speak not the sense of their superiors, but would make servile court to them from topics which they abhor. Their superiors must know, that it is raving and frenzy to affirm, that a free people can be long governed by impotent terrors; that millions will consent to be ruined by the corruptions of a few; or that those few will join in their ruin any longer than the corruption lasts: That every day new and greater demands will rise upon the corrupters; that no revenue, how great soever, will feed the voraciousness of the corrupted; and that every disappointment will make them turn upon the oppressors of their country, and fall into its true interest and their own: That there is no way in nature to preserve a revolution in government, but by making the people easy under it, and shewing them their interest in it, and that corruption, bribery, and terrors, will make no lasting friends, but infinite and implacable enemies; and that the best security of a prince amongst a free people, is the affections of his people; which he can always gain, by making their interest his own, and by shewing that all his views tend to their good. They will then, as they love themselves, love him, and defend him who defends them. Upon this faithful basis his safety will be better established than upon the ambitious and variable leaders of a few legions, who may be corrupted, disobliged, or surprised, and often have been so; and hence great revolutions have been brought about, and great nations undone, only by the revolt of single regiments.
Shew a nation their interest, and they will certainly fall into it: A whole people can have no ambition but to be governed justly; and when they are so, the intrigues and dissatisfactions of particulars will fall upon their own heads. What has any of our former courts ever got by corruption, but to disaffect the people, and weaken themselves? Let us now think of other methods, if it be only for the sake of the experiment. The ways of corruption have been tried long enough in past administrations: Let us try in this what publick honesty will do; and not condemn it before we have fully proved it, and found it ineffectual; and it will be time enough to try other methods when this fails.
That we must either receive the Pretender, or keep up great armies to keep him out, is frightful and unnatural language to English ears. It is an odd way of dealing with us, that of offering us, or forcing upon us, an alternative, where the side which they would recommend is full as formidable as the side from which they would terrify us. If we to be governed by armies, it is all one to us, whether they be Protestant or popish armies; the distinction is ridiculous, like that between a good and a bad tyranny. We see, in effect, that it is the power and arms of a country that form and direct the religion of a country; and I have before shewn, that true religion cannot subsist where true liberty does not. It was chiefly, if not wholly, King James’s usurped power, and his many forces, and not his being a papist, that rendered him dreadful to his people. Military governments are all alike; nor does the liberty and property of the subject fare a bit the better or the worse for the faith and opinion of the soldiery. Nor does an arbitrary Protestant prince use his people better than an arbitrary popish prince; and we have seen both sorts of them changing the religion of their country according to their lust.
They are therefore stupid politicians, who would derive advantages from a distinction which is manifestly without a difference: It is like, however, that they may improve in their subtleties, and come, in time, to distinguish between corrupt corruption and uncorrupt corruption, between a good ill administration and an ill good administration, between oppressive oppression and unoppressive oppression, and between French dragooning, and English dragooning; for there is scarce any other new pitch of nonsense and contradiction left to such men in their reasonings upon publick affairs, and in the part which they act in them.
Of a piece with the rest is the stupid cunning of some sort of statesmen, and practised by most foreign courts, to blame the poor people for the misery which they bring upon them. They say, that they are extremely corrupt; and so keep them starving and enslaved by way of protection. They corrupt them by all manner of ways and inventions, and then reproach them for being corrupt. A whole nation cannot be bribed; and if its representatives are, it is not the fault, but the misfortune, of the nation: And if the corrupt save themselves by corrupting others, the people, who suffer by the corruptions of both, are to be pitied, and not abused. Nothing can be more shameless and provoking, than to bring a nation, by execrable frauds and extortions, against its daily protestations and remonstrances, into a miserable pass, and then father all those villainies upon the people, who would have gladly hanged the authors of them. At Rome the whole people could be entertained, feasted, and bribed; but it is not so elsewhere, where the people are too numerous, and too far spread, to be debauched, cajoled, and purchased; and if any of their leaders are, it is without the people’s consent.
There is scarce such a thing under the sun as a corrupt people, where the government is uncorrupt: it is that, and that alone, which makes them so; and to calumniate them for what they do not seek, but suffer by, is as great impudence as it would be to knock a man down and then rail at him for hurting himself. In what instances do the people of any country in the world throw away their money by millions, unless by trusting it to those who do so? Where do the people send great fleets, at a great charge, to be frozen up in one climate, or to be eaten out by worms in another, unless for their trade and advantage? Where do the people enter into mad wars against their interest, or, after victorious ones, make peace without stipulating for one new advantage to themselves; but, on the contrary, pay the enemy for having beaten them? Where do the people plant colonies, or purchase provinces, at a vast expence, without reaping, or expecting to reap, one farthing from them; and yet still defend them at a farther expence? Where do the people make distracted bargains, to get imaginary millions; and, after having lost by such bargains almost all the real millions which they had, yet give more millions to get rid of them? What wise or dutiful people consent to be without the influence of the presence of their prince, and of his virtues; or of those of his family, who are to come after him? No, these things are never done by any people; but whereever they are done, they are done without their consent; and yet all these things have been done in former ages, and in neighbouring kingdoms.
For such guilty and corrupt men, therefore, to charge the people with corruption, whom either they have corrupted, or cannot corrupt, and, having brought great misery upon them, to threaten them with more; is in effect, to tell them plainly, “Gentlemen, we have used you very ill, for which you, who are innocent of it, are to blame; we therefore find it necessary, for your good, to use you no better, or rather worse: And, if you will not accept of this our kindness, which, however, we will force upon you, if we can, we will give you up into the terrible hands of raw-head and bloody-bones; who, being your enemy, may do you as much mischief as we, who are your friends, have done you.” I appeal to common sense, whether this be not the sum of such threats and reasonings in their native colours.
The partizans of Oliver Cromwell, when he was meditating tyranny over the three nations, gave out, that it was the only expedient to balance factions, and to keep out Charles Stuart; and so they did worse things to keep him out, than he could have done if they had let him in. And, after the king’s restoration, when there was an attempt made to make him absolute, by enabling him to raise money without Parliament (an attempt which every courtier, except Lord Clarendon, came into), it was alleged to be the only expedient to keep the nation from falling back into a commonwealth: as if any commonwealth upon earth were not better than any absolute monarchy. His courtiers foresaw, that by their mad and extravagant measures they should make the nation mad, and were willing to save themselves by the final destruction of the nation: They therefore employed their creatures to whisper abroad stupid and villainous reasons, why people should be content to be finally undone, lest something not near so bad should befall them.
Those who have, by abusing a nation, forfeited its affections, will never be for trusting a people, who, they know, justly detest them; but, having procured their aversion and enmity, will be for fortifying themselves against it by all proper ways: and the ways of corruption, depredation, and force, being the only proper ones, they will not fail to be practised; and those who practise them, when they can no longer deny them, will be finding reasons to justify them; and, because they dare not avow the true reasons, they must find such false ones as are most likely to amuse and terrify. And hence so much nonsense and improbability uttered in that reign, and sometimes since, to vindicate guilty men, and vilify an innocent people, who were so extravagantly fond of that prince, that their liberties were almost gone, before they would believe them in danger.
It is as certain, that King James II wanted no army to help him to preserve the constitution, nor to reconcile the people to their own interest: But, as he intended to invade and destroy both, nothing but corruption and a standing army could enable him to do it; and (thank God) even his army failed him, when he brought in Irish troops to help them. This therefore was his true design, but his pretences were very different: He pleaded the necessity of his affairs, nay, of publick affairs; and of keeping up a good standing force to preserve his kingdoms, forsooth, from insults at home and from abroad. This was the bait; but his people, who had no longer any faith in him, and to whom the hook appeared threatening and bare, would not believe him, nor swallow it; and if they were jealous of him, restless under him, and ready to rise against him, he gave them sufficient cause. He was under no hardship nor necessity, but what he created to himself; nor did his people withdraw their affections from him, till he had withdrawn his right to those affections. Those who have used you ill will never forgive you; and it is no new thing wantonly to make an enemy, and then calumniate and destroy him for being so.
When people, through continual ill usage, grow weary with their present ill condition, they will be so far from being frightened with a change, that they will wish for one; and, instead of terrifying them, by threatening them with one, you do but please them, even in instances where they have no reason to be pleased. Make them happy, and they will dread any change; but while they are ill used, they will not fear the worst. The authors of publick misery and plunder may seek their own safety in general desolation; but to the people nothing can be worse than ruin, from what hand soever it comes: A Protestant musket kills as sure as a popish one; and an oppressor is an oppressor, to whatever church he belongs: The sword and the gun are of every church, and so are the instruments of oppression. The late directors were all staunch Protestants; and Cromwell had a violent aversion to popery.
We are, doubtless, under great necessities in our present circumstances; but to increase them, in order to cure them, would be a preposterous remedy, worthy only of them who brought them upon us; and who, if they had common shame in them, would conceal, as far as they could, under silence, the heavy evils, which, though they lie upon every man’s shoulders, yet lie only at the doors of a few. The plea of necessity, if it can be taken, will justify any mischief, and the worst mischiefs. Private necessity makes men thieves and robbers; but publick necessity requires that robbers of all sizes should be hanged. Publick necessity therefore, and the necessity of such pedant politicians, are different and opposite things. There is no doubt, but men guilty of great crimes would be glad of an enormous power to protect them in the greatest; and then tell us that there is a necessity for it. Those against whom justice is armed will ever talk thus, and ever think it necessary to disarm her. But whatever sincere services they may mean to themselves by it, they can mean none to his Majesty, who would be undone with his subjects by such treacherous and ruinous services: And therefore it is fit that mankind should know, and they themselves should know, that his Majesty can and will be defended against them and their Pretender, without standing armies; which would make him formidable only to his people, and contemptible to his foes, who take justly the measure of his power from his credit with his subjects.
But I shall consider what present occasion there is of keeping up more troops than the usual guards and garrisons; and shall a little further animadvert upon the arts and frivolous pretences made use of, in former reigns, to reduce this government to the condition and model of the pretended jure divino monarchies, where millions must be miserable and undone, to make one and a few of his creatures lawless, rampant, and unsafe.
T and G I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 95
Further Reasonings against Standing Armies.
John Trenchard (Saturday, September 22, 1722)
However, I confess, that custom, from time immemorial, is against me, and the same custom has made most of mankind slaves. Agathocles saved the Syracusans, and afterwards destroyed them: Pisistratus, pretending to be wounded for protecting the people, prevailed with them to allow him a guard for the defence of his person; and by the help of that guard usurped the sovereignty: Caesar and Marius delivered the commons of Rome from the tyranny of the nobles, and made themselves masters of both commons and nobles: Sulla delivered the Senate from the insolence of the people, and did them more mischief than the rabble could have done in a thousand years: Gustavus Ericson delivered the Swedes from the oppression of the Danes, and made large steps towards enslaving them himself: The Antwerpians called in the Duke of Alençon to defend them against the Spaniards; but he was no sooner got, as he thought, in full possession of their town, but he fell upon them himself with the forces which he brought for their defence: but the townsmen happened to be too many for him, and drove these their new protectors home again: Which disappointment, and just disgrace, broke that good duke’s heart. Oliver Cromwell headed an army which pretended to fight for liberty; and by that army became a bloody tyrant: As I once saw a hawk very generously rescue a turtle dove from the persecution of two crows, and then eat him up himself.
Almost all men desire power, and few lose any opportunity to get it; and all who are like to suffer under it ought to be strictly upon their guard, in such conjunctures as are most likely to increase and make it uncontrollable. There are but two ways in nature to enslave a people, and to continue that slavery over them; the first is superstition, and the last is force: By the one we are persuaded that it is our duty to be undone; and the other undoes us whether we will or no. I take it, that we are pretty much out of danger of the first, at present; and, I think, we cannot be too much upon our guard against the other: for, though we have nothing to fear from the best prince in the world; yet we have every thing to fear from those who would give him a power inconsistent with liberty, and with a constitution which has lasted almost a thousand years without such a power, which will never be asked with an intention to make no use of it.
The nation was so mad upon the restoration of King Charles II that they gave him all that he asked, and more than he asked: They complimented him with a vast revenue for life, and almost with our liberties and religion too; and if unforeseen accidents had not happened to prevent it, without doubt we had lost both; and if his successor could have had a little patience, and had used no rogues but his old rogues, he might have accomplished the business, and popery and arbitrary power had been of divine institution at this day: But he made too much haste to be at the end of his journey, and his priests were in too much haste to be on horseback too; and so the beast grew skittish, and overthrew them both.
Then a new set of deliverers arose, who had saved us from King James’s army, and would have given us a bigger in the room of it, and some of them foreigners. They told us that the King longed for them, and it was a pity that so good a prince should lose his longing, and miscarry: but he did lose it, and miscarried no otherwise than by losing a great part of the confidence which many of his best subjects before had in his moderation; which loss made the remainder of his reign uneasy to him, and to every good man who saw it. I remember that all men then declared against a standing army, and the courtiers amongst the rest, who were only for a land force, to be kept up no longer than till the King of France disbanded his, and till the kingdom was settled, and the people better satisfied with the administration; and then there was nothing left to do, in order to perpetuate them, but to take care that the people should never be satisfied: An art often practised with an amazing success!
The reasons then given for keeping up an army were, the great number of Jacobites, the disaffection of the clergy and universities, the power and enmity of France, and the necessity of preserving so excellent a body of troops to maintain the Treaty of Partition, which they had newly and wisely made. But notwithstanding that the army was disbanded, no plot, conspiracy, or rebellion, happened by their disbanding. The Partition Treaty was broke; a new army was raised, which won ten times as many victories as the former; and Europe, at last, is settled upon a much better foot than it would have been by the Partition Treaty. The Emperor is as strong as he ought to be. The Dutch have a good barrier. Another power is raised in Europe to keep the balance even, which neither can nor will be formidable to us without our own fault; France is undone, and the Regent must be our friend, and have dependence upon our protection: So that some few of these reasons are to do now, what all together could not do then, though we are not the tenth part so well able to maintain them as we were then.
I should be glad to know in what situation of our affairs it can be safe to reduce our troops to the usual guards and garrisons, if it cannot be done now. There is no power in Europe considerable enough to threaten us, who can have any motives to do so, if we pursue the old maxims and natural interest of Great Britain; which is, to meddle no farther with foreign squabbles, than to keep the balance even between France and Spain. And this is less necessary too for us to do now than formerly; because the Emperor and Holland are able to do it, and must and will do it, without us, or at least with but little of our assistance; but if we unnecessarily engage against the interests of either, we must thank ourselves, if they endeavour to prevent the effects of it, by finding us work at home.
When the army was disbanding in King William’s reign, a prince was in being who was personally known to many of his former subjects, had obliged great numbers of them, was supported by one of the most powerful monarchs in the world, that had won numerous victories, and had almost always defeated his enemies, and who still preserved his power and his animosity: His pretended son was then an infant, and, for any thing that then appeared, might have proved an active and a dangerous enemy; and it was to be feared, that his tutors might have educated him a half Protestant, or at least have taught him to have disguised his true religion. At that time the Revolution and revolution principles were in their infancy; and most of the bishops and dignified clergy, as well as many others in employment, owed their preferments and principles to the abdicated family; and the reverse of this is our case now.
France has been torn to pieces by numerous defeats, its people and manufactures destroyed by war, famine, the plague, and their Mississippi Company; and they are so divided at home, that they will find enough to do to save themselves, without troubling their neighbours, especially a neighbour from whom the governing powers there hope for protection. The prince who pretended to the thrones of these kingdoms is dead; and he who calls himself his heir is a bigoted papist, and has given but little cause to fear any thing from his abilities or his prowess. The principles of liberty are now well understood, and few people in this age are romantick enough to venture their lives and estates for the personal interests of one whom they knew nothing of, or nothing to his advantage; and we ought to take care that they shall not find their own interest in doing it; and, I conceive, nothing is necessary to effect this, but to resolve upon it. Almost all the dignified clergy, and all the civil and military officers in the kingdom, owe their preferments to the Revolution, and are as loyal to his Majesty as he himself can wish. A very great part of the property of the kingdom stands upon the same bottom with the Revolution. Every day’s experience shews us how devoted the nobility are to gratify their King’s just desires and inclinations; and nothing can be more certain, than that the present House of Commons are most dutifully and affectionately inclined to the true interest of the crown, and to the principles to which his Majesty owes it. And besides all this security, a new conspiracy has been discovered and defeated; which gives all occasion and opportunity to prevent any such attempts for the future; which can never be done, but by punishing the present conspirators, and giving no provocation to new ones: In both which, I hope, we shall have the hearty concurrence of those who have the honour to be employed by his Majesty; by which they will shew, that they are as zealous to prevent the necessity of standing armies, as I doubt not but the Parliament will be.
I presume, no man will be audacious enough to propose, that we should make a standing army part of our constitution; and if not, when can we reduce them to a competent number better than at this time? Shall we wait till France has recovered its present difficulties; till its king is grown to full age and ripeness of judgment; till he has dissipated all factions and discontents at home, and is fallen into the natural interests of his kingdom, or perhaps aspires to empire again? Or, shall we wait till the Emperor and King of Spain have divided the bear’s skin, and possibly become good friends, as their predecessors have been for the greatest part of two centuries; and perhaps cement that friendship, by uniting for the common interests of their religion? Or, till Madam Sobiesky’s heir is at age, who may have wit enough to think, that the popish religion is dearly bought at the price of three kingdoms? Or, are we never to disband, till Europe is settled according to some modern schemes? Or, till there are no malcontents in England, and no people out of employments who desire to be in them?
It is certain, that all parts of Europe which are enslaved, have been enslaved by armies; and it is absolutely impossible, that any nation which keeps them amongst themselves can long preserve their liberties; nor can any nation perfectly lose their liberties who are without such guests: And yet, though all men see this, and at times confess it, yet all have joined in their turns, to bring this heavy evil upon themselves and their country. Charles II formed his guards into a little army, and his successor increased them to three or four times their number; and without doubt these kingdoms had been enslaved, if known events had not prevented it. We had no sooner escaped these dangers, than King William’s ministry formed designs for an army again, and neglected Ireland (which might have been reduced by a message) till the enemy was so strong, that a great army was necessary to recover it; and when all was done abroad that an army was wanted for, they thought it convenient to find some employment for them at home. However, the nation happened not to be of their mind, and disbanded the greatest part of them, without finding any of these dangers which they were threatened with from their disbanding. A new army was raised again when it became necessary, and disbanded again when there was no more need of them; and his present Majesty came peaceably to his crown, by the laws alone, notwithstanding all his endeavours to keep him out, by long measures concerted to that purpose.
It could not be expected, from the nature of human affairs, that those who had formed a design for restoring the Pretender, had taken such large steps towards it, and were sure to be supported in it by so powerful an assistance as France was then capable of giving, should immediately lose sight of so agreeable a prospect of wealth and power, as they had before enjoyed in imagination: Yet it seems very plain to me, that all the disturbance which afterwards happened might have been prevented by a few timely remedies; and when at last it was defeated with a vast charge and hazard, we had the means in our hands of rooting out all seeds of faction and future rebellions, without doing any thing to provoke them; and it is certain, that his Majesty was ready to do every thing on his part for that purpose, which others over and over promised us; and what they have done, besides obliging the nation with a Septennial Parliament, increasing the publick debts a great many millions, and by the South-Sea project paying them off, I leave to themselves to declare.
However, I confess, an army at last became necessary; and an army was raised time enough to beat all who opposed it: Some of them have been knocked on the head, many carried in triumph, some hanged, and others confiscated, as they well deserved. And, I presume, the nation would scarce have been in the humour to have kept up an army to fight their ghosts, if a terrible invasion had not threatned from Sweden; which, however, was at last frightened into a fleet of colliers, or naval stores, indeed I have forgot which. This danger being over, another succeeded, and had like to have stole upon us from Cadiz, notwithstanding all the intelligence that we could possibly get from Gibraltar, which lies just by it; and this shews, by the way, the little use of that place: But we have miraculously escaped that danger too; the greatest part of their fleet was dispersed in a storm, and our troops have actually defeated in the highlands some hundreds of the enemy, before many people would believe they were there. Since this we have been in great fear of the Czar; and last year one reason given by many for continuing the army was, to preserve us against the plague.
But now the King of Sweden is dead, the Czar is gone a Sophi-hunting, the plague is ceased, and the King of Spain’s best troops have taken up their quarters in Italy, where (if I guess right) they will have employment enough; and what are we to keep up the army now to do, unless to keep out the small-pox? Oh! but there is a better reason than that, namely, a plot is discovered, and we cannot find out yet all who are concerned in it; but we have pretty good assurance, that all the Jacobites are for the Pretender; and therefore we ought to keep in readiness a great number of troops (which are to sleep on horseback, or lie in their jack-boots) which may be sufficient to beat them all together, if they had a twelve-month’s time given them to beat up for volunteers, to buy horses and arms, to form themselves into regiments, and exercise them; lest, instead of lurking in corners, and prating in taverns, and at cock-matches, they should surprize ten or twelve thousand armed men in their quarters. I dare appeal to any unprejudiced person, whether this be not the sum of some men’s reasonings upon this subject.
But I desire to know of these sagacious gentlemen, in what respect shall we be in a worse state of defence than we are now, if the army were reduced to the same number as in King William’s time, and in the latter end of the Queen’s reign; and that it consisted of the same proportion of horse and foot, that every regiment had its complete number of troops and companies, and every troop and company had its complement of private men. It is certain, that, upon any sudden exigency, his Majesty would have as many men at command as he has now, and, I presume, more common soldiers, who are most difficult to be got upon such occasions; for officers will never be wanting, and all that are now regimented will be in half-pay, and ready at call to beat up and raise new regiments, and fast as the others could be filled up, and they may change any of the old men into them, which reduces it to the same thing. By this we shall save the charge of double or treble officering our troops, and the terror of keeping up the corps of thirty or forty thousand men, though they are called only thirteen or fourteen; and sure it is high time to save all which can be saved, and, by removing all causes of jealousy, to unite all, who, for the cause of liberty, are zealous for the present establishment, in order to oppose effectually those who would destroy it.
I will suppose, for once, what I will not grant, that those called Whigs are the only men amongst us who are heartily attached to his Majesty’s interest; for I believe the greatest part of the Tories, and the clergy too, would tremble at the thought of popery and arbitrary power, which must come in with the Pretender: But taking it to be otherwise, it is certain that the body of the Whigs, and indeed I may say almost all, except the possessors and candidates for employments or pensions, have as terrible apprehensions of a standing army, as the Tories themselves. And dare any man lay his hand upon his heart, and say, that his Majesty will find greater security in a few thousand more men already regimented, than in the steady affections of so many hundred thousands who will be always ready to be regimented? When the people are easy and satisfied, the whole kingdom is his army; and King James found what dependence there was upon his troops, when his people deserted him. Would not any wise and honest minister desire, during his administration, that the publick affairs should run glibly, and find the hearty concurrence of the states of the kingdom, rather than to carry their measures by perpetual struggles and intrigues, to waste the Civil List by constant and needless pensions and gratuities, be always asking for new supplies, and rendering themselves, and all who assist them, odious to their countrymen?
In short, there can be but two ways in nature to govern a nation: One is by their own consent; the other by force: One gains their hearts; the other holds their hands. The first is always chosen by those who design to govern the people for the people’s interest; the other by those who design to oppress them for their own: for, whoever desires only to protect them, will covet no useless power to injure them. There is no fear of a people’s acting against their own interest, when they know what it is; and when, through ill conduct, or unfortunate accidents, they become dissatisfied with their present condition, the only effectual way to avoid the threatening evil is, to remove their grievances.
When Charles, Duke of Burgundy, with most of the princes of France, at the head of an hundred thousand men, took up arms against Lewis XI this prince sent an embassy to Sforza, Duke of Milan, desiring that he would lend him some of his veteran troops; and the duke returned him for answer, that he could not be content to have them cut to pieces (as they would assuredly have been) but told him at the same time, that he would send him some advice which would be worth ten times as many troops as he had; namely, that he should give satisfaction to the princes, and then they would disperse of course. The King improved so well upon the advice, that he diverted the storm, by giving but little satisfaction to the princes, and none at all to those who followed them. The body of the people in all countries are so desirous to live in quiet, that a few good words, and a little good usage from their governors, will at any time pacify them, and make them very often turn upon those benefactors, who, by their pains, expence, and hazard, have obtained those advantages for them. Indeed, when they are not outrageously oppressed and starved, they are almost as ready to part with their liberties as others are to ask for them.
By what I have before said I would not be understood to declare absolutely against continuing our present forces, or increasing them, if the importance of the occasion requires either, and the evils threatened be not yet dissipated: But I could wish, that if such an occasion appear, those who think them at this time necessary, would declare effectually, and in the fullest manner, that they design to keep them no longer than during the present emergency; and that, when it is over, they will be as ready to break them, as I believe the nation will be to give them, when just reasons offer themselves for doing so.
T I am, &c.
Cato’s Letter No. 115
The encroaching Nature of Power, ever to be watched and checked.
John Trenchard (Saturday, February 9, 1723)
Unlimited power is so wild and monstrous a thing, that however natural it be to desire it, it is as natural to oppose it; nor ought it to be trusted with any mortal man, be his intentions ever so upright: For, besides that he will never care to part with it, he will rarely dare. In spite of himself he will make many enemies, against whom he will be protected only by his power, or at least think himself best protected by it. The frequent and unforeseen necessities of his affairs, and frequent difficulties and opposition, will force him for his own preservation, or for the preservation of his power, to try expedients, to tempt dangers, and to do things which he did not foresee, nor intend, and perhaps, in the beginning, abhorred.
We know, by infinite examples and experience, that men possessed of power, rather than part with it, will do any thing, even the worst and the blackest, to keep it; and scarce ever any man upon earth went out of it as long as he could carry every thing his own way in it; and when he could not, he resigned. I doubt that there is not one exception in the world to this rule; and that Dioclesian, Charles V, and even Sulla, laid down their power out of pique and discontent, and from opposition and disappointment. This seems certain, that the good of the world, or of their people, was not one of their motives either for continuing in power, or for quitting it.
It is the nature of power to be ever encroaching, and converting every extraordinary power, granted at particular times, and upon particular occasions, into an ordinary power, to be used at all times, and when there is no occasion; nor does it ever part willingly with any advantage. From this spirit it is, that occasional commissions have grown sometimes perpetual; that three years have been improved into seven, and one into twenty; and that when the people have done with their magistrates, their magistrates will not have done with the people.
The Romans, who knew this evil, having suffered by it, provided wise remedies against it; and when one ordinary power grew too great, checked it with another. Thus the office and power of the tribunes was set up to balance that of the consuls, and to protect the populace against the insolence, pride, and intrenchments of the nobility: And when the authority of the tribunes grew too formidable, a good expedient was found out to restrain it; for in any turbulent or factious design of the tribunes, the protest or dissent of any one of them made void the purposes and proceedings of all the rest. And both the consuls and tribunes were chosen only for a year.
Thus the Romans preserved their liberty by limiting the time and power of their magistrates, and by making them answerable afterwards for their behaviour in it: And besides all this, there lay from the magistrates an appeal to the people; a power which, however great, they generally used with eminent modesty and mercy; and, like the people of other nations, sinned much seldomer than their governors. Indeed, in any publick disorder, or misfortune, the people are scarce ever in the fault; but far on the other side, suffer often, with a criminal patience, the sore evils brought wantonly or foolishly upon them by others, whom they pay dear to prevent them.
This sacred right of appealing to the people, was secured to them by a very good and very severe law, which is found in Livy in these words:
Aliam deinde consularem legem de provocatione, unicum praesidium libertatis, decemvirali potestate eversam, non restituunt modo, sed etiam muniunt, sanciendo novam legem, ne quis ullum magistratum sine provocatione crearet: Qui creasset, eum jus fasque esset occidi: Neve caedes capitalis noxae haberetur.
The former consular law for appealing to the people (the first and only great support of liberty), having been overturned by the usurpation of the Decemviri, was now not only restored, but fortified by a new law, which forbad the creating of any magistrate without appeal, and made it lawful to kill any man that did so, without subjecting the killer to a capital penalty.
The Romans had but too good reason for these laws; for the Decemviri, from whom there was no appeal, had enslaved them.
And because the being frequently chosen into power, might have effects as bad as the long continuance in it, Cicero, in his book De Legibus, tells us, that there was an express law, Eundem magistratum, ni interfuerint decem anni, ne quis capito; “That no man should bear the same magistracy which he had borne before, but after an interval of ten years.” This law was afterwards strengthened with severe penalties. Hence Rutilius Censorius blamed the people in a publick speech for creating him twice censor: And Fabius Maximus would have hindered them from choosing his son consul, though possessed of every virtue proper for one, because the chief magistracies had been too long and too often in the Fabian family. And there are many instances in the Roman history, of magistrates, chief magistrates, being degraded for their pride, avarice, and maladministration; and those who were thus degraded, were by law disabled, like our late directors, from ever enjoying again any post or power. Nor were the Romans less careful to oblige their magistrates as soon as they came out of their offices and governments, to make up their accounts, and to give a strict account of their good behaviour; and for an ill one they were often condemned, and their estates confiscated. Besides all which, to be a Senator, or a magistrate, a certain qualification in point of fortune was required; and those who had run through their fortunes were degraded from the dignity of Senators. A reasonable precaution, that they who were entrusted with the interest of their country, should have some interest of their own in it.
In this manner did the Roman people check power, and those who had it; and when any power was grown quite ungovernable, they abolished it. Thus they expelled Tarquin, and the kingly government, having first suffered much by it; and they prospered as eminently without it. That government too had been extremely limited: The first Roman kings were little more than generals for life: They had no negative vote in the Senate, and could neither make war nor peace; and even in the execution of justice, an appeal lay from them to the people, as is manifest in the case of the surviving Horatius, who slew his sister. Servius Tullius made laws, says Tacitus, which even the kings were to obey. By confining the power of the crown within proper bounds, he gained power without bounds in the affections of the people. But the insolent Tarquin broke through all bounds, and acted so openly against law, and the people of Rome, that they had no remedy left but to expel him and his race; which they did with glorious success.
The dictatorial power was afterwards given occasionally, and found of great use; but still it was limited to so many months; and there are instances where even the dictator could not do what he pleased, but was over-ruled by the judgment of the people. Besides, when the Romans came to have great and distant territories, and great armies, they thought the dictatorial power too great and too dangerous to be trusted with any subject, and laid it quite aside; nor was it ever afterwards used, till it was violently usurped, first by Sulla, afterwards by Caesar, and then Rome lost its liberty.
T I am, &c.
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