Banner

The Age of George III

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.


The Letters of Junius

Letter XI: To His Grace the Duke of Grafton: 24 April 1769

[34] MY LORD,

The system Duke of Graftonyou seemed to have adopted, when Lord Chatham, unexpectedly, left you at the head of affairs, gave us no promise of that uncommon exertion of vigour which has since illustrated your character, and distinguished your administration. Far from discovering a spirit bold enough to invade the first rights of the people, and the first principles of the constitution, you were scrupulous of exercising even those powers with which the executive branch of the legislature is legally invested. We have not yet forgotten how long Mr. Wilkes was suffered to appear at large, nor how long he was at liberty to canvas for the city and county, with all the terrors of an outlawry hanging over him. Our gracious sovereign has not yet forgotten the extraordinary care you took of his dignity, and of the safety of his person, when, at a crisis which courtiers affected to call alarming, you left the metropolis exposed, for two nights together, to every species of riot and disorder. The security of the royal residence from insult was then sufficiently provided for in Mr. Conway's firmness, and Lord Weymouth's discretion; while the prime minister of Great Britain, in a rural retirement, [35] and in the arms of faded beauty, had lost all memory of his sovereign, his country, and himself. In these instances you might have acted with vigour, for you would have had the sanction of the laws to support you. The friends of government might have defended you without shame; and moderate men, who wish well to the peace and good order of society, might have had a pretence for applauding your conduct. But these, it seems, were not occasions worthy of your Grace's interposition. You reserved the proofs of your intrepid spirit for trials of greater hazard and importance; and now, as if the most disgraceful relaxation of the executive authority had given you a claim of credit to indulge in excesses still more dangerous, you seem determined to compensate amply for your former negligence, and to balance the non-execution of the laws with a breach of the constitution. From one extreme you suddenly start to the other, without leaving, between the weakness and the fury of the passions, one moment's interval for the firmness of the understanding.

These observations, general as they are, might easily be extended into a faithful history of your Grace's administration, and, perhaps, may be the employment of a future hour. But the business of the present moment will not suffer me to look back to a series of events, which cease to be interesting or important, because they are succeeded by a measure so singularly daring, that it excites all our attention and engrosses all our resentment.

Your patronage of Mr. Luttrell has been crowned with success. With this precedent before you, with the principles on which it was established, and with a future house of commons, perhaps less virtuous than the present, every county in England, under the auspices of the treasury, may be represented as completely as the county of Middlesex. Posterity will be indebted to your Grace for not contenting yourself with a temporary expedient, but entailing upon them the immediate blessings of your administration. Boroughs were already too much at the mercy of government. Counties could neither be purchased nor intimidated. But their solemn determined election may be rejected; and the man they detest may be appointed, by another choice, to represent them in parliament. Yet it is admitted, that the sheriffs obeyed the [36] laws, and performed their duty.* The return they made must have been legal and valid, or, undoubtedly, they would have been censured for making it. With every good-natured allowance for your Grace's youth and inexperience, there are some things which you cannot but know. Yon cannot but know, that the right of the freeholders to adhere to their choice, (even supposing it improperly exerted,) was as clear and indisputable as that of the house of commons to exclude one of their own members. Nor is it possible for you not to see the wide distance there is between the negative power of rejecting one man, and the positive power of appointing another. The right of expulsion, in the most favourable sense, is no more than the custom of parliament. The right of election is the very essence of the constitution. To violate that right, and much more to transfer it to any other set of men, is a step leading immediately to the dissolution of all government. So far forth as it operates, it constitutes a house of commons which does not represent the people. A house of commons, so formed, would involve a contradiction, and the grossest confusion of ideas: but there are some ministers, my Lord, whose views can only be answered by reconciling absurdities, and making the same proposition, which is false and absurd in argument, true in fact.

This measure, my Lord, is, however, attended with one consequence favourable to the people, which I am persuaded you did not foresee.† While the contest lay between the ministry and Mr. Wilkes, his situation and private character gave you advantages over him, which common candour, if not the memory of your former friendship, should have forbidden you to make use of. To religious men you had an opportunity of exaggerating the irregularities of his past life; to moderate men, you held forth the pernicious consequences of faction. Men who, with this character, looked no farther than to the object before them, were not dissatisfied at seeing Mr. Wilkes excluded from parliament. You have now taken care to

* Sir Fletcher Norton, when it was proposed to punish the sheriffs, declared, in the house of commons, that they, in returning Mr. Wilkes, had done no more than their duty.
† The reader is desired to mark this prophecy.

[37] shift the question; or rather, you have created a new one, in which Mr. Wilkes is no more concerned than any other English gentleman. You have united this country against you on one grand constitutional point, on the decision of which our existence, as a free people, absolutely depends. You have asserted, not in words, but in fact, that the representation in parliament does not depend upon the choice of the freeholders. If such a case can possibly happen once, it may happen frequently; it may happen always; and if three hundred votes, by any mode of reasoning whatever, can prevail against twelve hundred, the same reasoning would equally have given Mr. Luttrell his seat with ten votes, or even with one. The consequences of this attack upon the constitution are too plain and palpable, not to alarm the dullest apprehension. I trust you will find that the people of England are neither deficient its spirit or understanding; though you have treated them as if they had neither sense to feel, nor spirit to resent. We have reason to thank God, and our ancestors, that there never yet was a minister in this country who could stand the issue of such a conflict; and, with every prejudice in favour of your intentions, I see no such abilities in your Grace as should enable you to succeed in an enterprise, in which the ablest and basest of your predecessors have found their destruction. You may continue to deceive your gracious master with false representations of the temper and condition of his subjects. You may command a venal vote, because it is the common established appendage of your office. But never hope that the freeholders will make a tame surrender of their rights; or, that an English army will join with you in overturning the liberties of their country. They know, that their first duty, as citizens, is paramount to all subsequent engagements; nor will they prefer the discipline or even the honours of their profession, to those sacred original rights which belonged to them before they were soldiers, and which they claim and possess as the birthright of Englishmen.

Return, my Lord, before it be too late, to that easy insipid system which you first set out with. Take back your mistress.* The name of friend may be fatal to her,

*The Duke, about this time, had separated himself from Anne Parsons; but proposed to continue united with her on some platonic terms of friendship, which she rejected with contempt. His baseness to this woman is beyond description, or belief.

[38] for it leads to treachery and persecution. Indulge the people. Attend Newmarket. Mr. Luttrell may again vacate his seat; and Mr. Wilkes, if not persecuted, will soon be forgotten. To be weak and inactive, is safer than to be daring and criminal; and wide is the distance between a riot of the populace and a convulsion of the whole kingdom. You may live to make the experiment, but no honest man call wish you should survive it.

JUNIUS.
Table of Contents Previous Next

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 23 April, 2017

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
1789-1850
 
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind