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 XII: To His Grace the Duke of Grafton: 30 May 1769.

[38] Duke of GraftonMY LORD   

IF the measures in which you have been most successful had been supported by any tolerable appearance of argument, I should have thought my time not in employed in continuing to examine your conduct as a minister, and stating it fairly to the public; but when I see questions of the highest national importance carried as they have been, and the first principles of the constitution openly violated, without argument or decency, I confess I give up the cause in despair. The meanest of your predecessors had abilities sufficient to give a colour to their measures. If they invaded the rights of the people, they did not dare to offer a direct insult to their understanding; and, in former times, the most venal parliaments made it a condition, in their bargain with the minister, that he should furnish them with some plausible pretences for selling their country and themselves. You have had the merit of introducing a more compendious system of government and logic. You neither address yourself to the passions nor to the understanding, but simply to the touch. You apply yourself immediately to the feelings of your friends, who, contrary to the forms of parliament, never enter heartily into a debate until they have divided.

[39] Relinquishing, therefore, all idle views of amendment to your Grace, or of benefit to the public, let me be permitted to consider your character and conduct merely as a subject of curious speculation. There is something in both which distinguishes you, not only from all other ministers, but all other men. It is not that you do wrong by design, but that you should never do right by mistake. It is not that your indolence and your activity have been equally misapplied, but that the first uniform principle, or, if I may call it, the genius of your life, should have carried you through every possible change and contradiction of conduct, without the momentary imputation or colour of a virtue; and that the wildest spirit of inconsistency should never have once betrayed you into a wise or honourable action. This, I own, gives an air of singularity to your fortune, as well as to your disposition. Let us look back, together, to a scene, in which a mind like yours will find nothing to repent of. Let us try, my Lord, how well you have supported the various relations in which you stood to your sovereign, your country, your friends, and yourself. Give us, if it be possible, some excuse to posterity, and to ourselves, for submitting to your administration. If not the abilities of a great minister, if not the integrity of a patriot, or the fidelity of a friend, shew, us, at least, the firmness of a man. For the sake of your mistress, the lover shall be spared. I will not lead her into public as you have done; nor will I insult the memory of departed beauty. Her sex, which alone made her amiable in your eyes, makes her respectable in mine.

The character of the reputed ancestors of some men has made it possible for their descendants to be vicious in the extreme, without being degenerate. Those of your Grace, for instance, left no distressing examples of virtue even to their legitimate posterity; and you may look back with pleasure to an illustrious pedigree, in which heraldry has not left a single good quality upon record to insult or upbraid you. You have better proofs of your descent, my Lord, than the register of a marriage, or any troublesome inheritance of reputation. There are some hereditary strokes of character, by which a family may be as clearly distinguished as by the blackest features of the human face. Charles the First lived and died a hypocrite. Charles the Second was a hypocrite of another sort, and [40] should have died upon the same scaffold. At the distance of a century we see their different characters happily revived and blended in your Grace. Sullen and severe without religion, profligate without gaiety, you live like Charles the Second, without being an amiable companion; and, for aught I know, may die as his father did, without the reputation of a martyr.

You had already taken your degrees with credit, in those schools in which the English nobility are formed to virtue, when you were introduced to Lord Chatham's protection.* From Newmarket, White's, and the opposition, he gave you to the world with an air of popularity, which young men usually set out with and seldom preserve: grave and plausible enough to be thought fit for business; too young for treachery; and, in short, a patriot of no unpromising expectations. Lord Chatham was the earliest object of your political wonder and attachment; yet you deserted him, upon the first hopes that offered of all equal share of power with Lord Rockingham. When the late Duke of Cumberland's first negociation failed, and when the favourite was pushed to the last extremity, you saved him, by joining with an administration in which Lord Chatham had refused to engage. Still, however, he was your friend: and you are yet to explain to the world why you consented to act without him; or why, after uniting with Lord Rockingham, you deserted and betrayed him. You complained, that no measures were taken to satisfy your patron; and that your friend, Mr. Wilkes, who had suffered so much for the party, had been abandoned to his fate. They have since contributed not a little to your present plenitude of power; yet, I think, Lord Chatham has less reason than ever to be satisfied: and, as for Mr. Wilkes, it is, perhaps, the greatest misfortune of his life, that you should have so many compensations to make in the closet for your former friendship with him. Your gracious master understands your character, and makes you a persecutor, because you have been a friend.

Lord Chatham formed his last administration upon principles which you certainly concurred in, or you could

* To understand these passages, the reader is referred to a noted pamphlet, called The History of the Minority.

[41] never have been placed at the head of the treasury. By deserting those principles, and by acting in direct contradiction to them, in which he found you were secretly supported in the closet, you soon forced him to leave you to yourself, and to withdraw his name from an administration which had been formed on the credit of it. You had then a prospect of friendships better suited to your genius, and more likely to fix your disposition. Marriage is the point on which every rake is stationary at last: and truly, my Lord, you may well be weary of the circuit you have taken; for you have now fairly travelled through every sign in the political zodiac, from the scorpion, in which you stung Lord Chatham, to the hopes of a virgin* in the house of Bloomsbury. One would think that you had had sufficient experience of the frailty of nuptial engagements, or, at least, that such a friendship, as the Duke of Bedford's, might have been secured to you by the auspicious marriage of your late Duchess† with his nephew. But ties of this tender nature cannot be drawn too close; and it may possibly be a part of the Duke of Bedford's ambition, after making her an honest woman, to work a miracle of the same sort upon your Grace. This worthy nobleman has long dealt in virtue: there has been a large consumption of it in his own family: and, in the way of traffic, I dare say he has bought and sold more than half the representative integrity of the nation.

In a political view this union is not imprudent. The favour of princes is a perishable commodity. You have now a strength sufficient to command the closet, and if it be necessary to betray one friendship more, you may set even Lord Bute at defiance. Mr. Stewart M'Kenzie may possibly remember what use the Duke of Bedford usually makes of his power; and our gracious sovereign, I doubt not, rejoices at this first appearance of union among his servants. His late Majesty, under the happy influence of a family connection between his ministers, was relieved from the cares of the government. A more active prince may, perhaps, observe, with suspicion, by what degrees

*His Grace had lately married Miss Wrottesly, niece of the good Gertrude, Duchess of Bedford.
† Miss Liddel, after her divorce from the Duke, married Lord Upper Ossory.

[42] an artful servant grows upon his master, from the first unlimited professions of duty and attachment, to the painful representation of the necessity of the royal service, and soon, in regular progression, to the humble insolence of dictating in all the obsequious forms of peremptory submission. The interval is carefully employed in forming connections, creating interests, collecting a party, and laying the foundation of double marriages, until the deluded prince, who thought he had found a creature prostituted to his service, and insignificant enough to be always dependent upon his pleasure, finds him, at last, too strong to be commanded, and too formidable to be removed.

Your Grace's public conduct, as a minister, is but the counterpart of your private history; the same inconsistency, the same contradictions. In America we trace you, from the first opposition to the stamp act, on principles of convenience, to Mr. Pitt's surrender of the right; then forward to Lord Rockingham's surrender of the fact; then back again to Lord Rockingham's declaration of the right; then forward to taxation with Mr. Townshend; and, in the last instance, from the gentle Conway's undetermined discretion, to blood and compulsion with the Duke of Bedford: yet, if we may believe the simplicity of Lord North's eloquence, at the opening of the next session, you are once more to be the patron of America. Is this the wisdom of a great minister; or is it the ominous vibration of a pendulum? Had you no opinion of your own, my Lord? Or was it the gratification of betraying every party with which you have been united, and of deserting every political principle in which you had concurred?

Your enemies may turn their eyes without regret from this admirable system of provincial government. They will find gratification enough in the survey of your domestic and foreign policy.

If, instead of disowning Lord Shelburne, the British court had interposed with dignity and firmness, you know, my Lord, that Corsica would never have been invaded. The French saw the weakness of a distracted ministry, and were justified in treating you with contempt. They would probably have yielded, in the first instance, rather than hazard a rupture with this country; but, being once engaged, they cannot retreat without dishonour. [43] Common sense foresees consequences which have escaped your Grace's penetration. Either we suffer the French to make an acquisition, the importance of which you have probably no conception of; or we oppose them by all underhand management, which only disgraces us in the eyes of Europe, without answering any purpose of policy or prudence. From secret, indirect assistance, a transition to still more open, decisive measures, becomes unavoidable; till, at last, we find ourselves principal in the war, and are obliged to hazard every thing for an object, which might have originally been obtained without expence or danger. I am not versed in the politics of the north; but this, I believe, is certain, that half the money yon have distributed to carry the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes, or even your secretary's share in the last subscription, would have kept the Turks at your devotion. Was it economy, my Lord? Or, did the coy resistance you have constantly met with in the British senate, make you despair of corrupting the divan? Your friends, indeed, have the first claim upon your bounty: but if £500 a year can be spared in pension to Sir John Moore, it would not have disgraced you to have allowed something to the secret service of the public.

You will say, perhaps, that the situation of affairs at home demanded and engrossed the whole of your attention. Here, I confess, you have been active. An amiable accomplished prince ascends the throne, under the happiest of all auspices—the acclamations and united affections of his subjects. The first measures of his reign, and even the odium of a favourite, were not able to shake their attachment. Your services, my Lord, have been more successful. Since you were permitted to take the lead, we have seen the natural effects of a system of government at once both odious and contemptible. We have seen the laws sometimes scandalously relaxed, sometimes violently stretched, beyond their tone. We have seen the person of the sovereign insulted; and, in profound peace, and with an undisputed title, the fidelity of his subjects brought, by his own servants, into public question.*   Without abilities, resolution, or interest, you

* The wise Duke, about this time, exerted all the influence of government to procure addresses to satisfy the King of the fidelity of his subjects. They came in very thick from Scotland; but, after the appearance of this letter, we heard no more of them.

[44] have done more than Lord Bute could accomplish, with all Scotland at his heels.

Your Grace, little anxious, perhaps, either for present or future reputation, will not desire to be handed down in these colours to posterity. You have reason to flatter yourself, that the memory of your administration will survive, even the forms of a constitution which our ancestors vainly hoped would be immortal; and, as for your personal character, I will not, for the honour of human nature, suppose that you can wish to have it remembered. The condition of the present times is desperate indeed; but there is a debt due to those who come after us; and it is the historian's office to punish, though he cannot correct. I do not give you to posterity as a pattern to imitate, but as an example to deter; and as your conduct comprehends every thing that a wise or honest minister should avoid, I mean to make you a negative instruction to your successors for ever.


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