The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XXX: Junius to the Printer of the Public Advertiser: 17 October 1769.

[106] SIR,

IT is not wonderful that the great cause in which this country is engaged, should have roused and engrossed the whole attention of the people. I rather admire the generous spirit with which they feel and assert their interest in this important question, than blame them for their [107] indifference about any other. When the constitution is openly invaded, when the first original right of the people, from which all laws derive their authority, is directly attacked, inferior grievances naturally lose their force, and are suffered to pass by without punishment or observation. The present Ministry are as singularly marked by their fortune, as by their crimes. Instead of atoning for their former conduct, by any wise or popular measure, they have found, in the enormity of one fact, a cover and defence for a series of measures, which must have been fatal to any other administration. I fear we are too remiss in observing the whole of their proceedings. Struck with the principal figure, we do not sufficiently mark in what manner the canvas is filled up. Yet surely it is not a less crime, nor less fatal in its consequences, to encourage a flagrant breach of the law, by a military force, than to make use of the forms of Parliament to destroy the constitution. The Ministry seem determined to give us a choice of difficulties, and, if possible, to perplex us with the multitude of their offences. The expedient is worthy of the Duke of GraftonDuke of Grafton. But though he has preserved a gradation and variety in his measures, we should remember that the principle is uniform. Dictated by the same spirit, they deserve the same attention. The following fact, though of the most alarming nature, has not yet been clearly stated to the public; nor have the consequences of it been sufficiently understood. Had I taken it up at an earlier period, I should have been accused of an uncandid, malignant precipitation, as if I watched for an unfair advantage against the Ministry, and would not allow them a reasonable time to do their duty. They now stand without excuse. Instead of employing the leisure they have had, in a strict examination of the offence, and punishing the offenders, they seem to have considered that indulgence as a security to them; that, with a little time and management, the whole affair might be buried in silence and utterly forgotten.

A major general * of the army is arrested by the sheriff's officers for a considerable debt. He persuades them to conduct him to the Tilt-yard, in St. James's Park, under some pretence of business, which it imported him

*Major-General Gansel

[108] to settle before he was confined. He applies to a serjeant, not immediately on duty, to assist, with some of his companions, in favouring his escape. He attempts it. A bustle ensues. The bailiffs claim their prisoner.

An officer of the guards,* not then on duty, takes part in the affair, applies to the lieutenant† commanding the Tilt-yard guard, and urges him to turn out his guard to relieve a general officer. The lieutenant declines interfering in person, but stands at a distance, and suffers the business to be done. The officer takes upon himself to order out the guard. In a moment they are in arms, quit their guard, march, rescue the general, drive away the sheriff's officers, who, in vain, represent their right to the prisoner, and the nature of the arrest. The soldiers first conduct the general into the guard-room, then escort him to a place of safety, with bayonets fixed, and in all the forms of military triumph. I will not enlarge upon the various circumstances, which attended this atrocious proceeding. The personal injury received by the officers of the law, in the execution of their duty, may, perhaps, be atoned for by some private compensation. I consider nothing but the wound which has been given to the law itself, to which no remedy has been applied, no satisfaction made. Neither is it my design to dwell upon the misconduct of the parties concerned, any farther than is necessary to shew the behaviour of the Ministry in its true light. I would make every compassionate allowance for the infatuation of the prisoner, the false and criminal discretion of one officer, and the madness of another, I would leave the ignorant soldiers entirely out of the question. They are certainly the least guilty; though they are the only persons who have yet suffered, even in the appearance of punishment.‡ The fact itself, however atrocious, is not the principal point to be considered. It might have happened under a more regular government, and with guards better disciplined than ours. The main question is, In what manner have the Ministry acted on this extraordinary occasion? A general officer calls upon the king's own guard, then actually on duty, to rescue him from the laws of his country: yet, at this moment,

* Lieut.Dodd
† Lieut. Garth
‡ A few of them were confined.

[109] he is in a situation no worse than if he had not committed an offence equally enormous in a civil and military view. A lieutenant upon duty, designedly quits his guard, and suffers it to be drawn out by another officer, for a purpose, which he well knew (as we may collect from an appearance of caution, which only makes his behaviour the more criminal) to be in the highest degree illegal. Has this gentleman been called to a courtmartial to answer for his conduct? No. Has it been censured? No. Has it been in any shape enquired into? No. Another lieutenant, not upon duty, nor even in his regimentals, is daring enough to order out the king's guard, over which he had properly no command, and engages them in a violation of the laws of his country, perhaps the most singular and extravagant that ever was attempted. What punishment has he suffered ? Literally none. Supposing he should be prosecuted at common law for the rescue; will that circumstance, from which the Ministry can derive no merit, excuse or justify their suffering so flagrant a breach of military discipline to pass by unpunished and unnoticed? Are they aware of the outrage offered to their Sovereign, when his own proper guard is ordered out to stop, by main force, the execution of his laws? What are we to conclude from so scandalous a neglect of their duty, but that they have other views, which can only be answered by securing the attachment of the guards? The Minister would hardly be so cautious of offending them, if he did not mean, in due time, to call for their assistance.

With respect to the parties themselves, let it be observed, that these gentlemen are neither young officers, nor very young men. Had they belonged to the unfledged race of ensigns, who infest our streets, and dishonour our public places, it might, perhaps, be sufficient to send them back to that discipline from which their parents, judging lightly from the maturity of their vices, had removed them too soon. In this case, I am sorry to see, not so much the folly of youths, as the spirit of the corps, and the connivance of government. I do not question that there are many brave and worthy officers in the regiments of guards. But considering them as corps, I fear, it will be found, that they are neither good soldiers nor good subjects. Far be it from me to insinuate the most distant [110] reflection upon the army. On the contrary, I honour and esteem the profession; and, if these gentlemen were better soldiers, I am sure they would be better subjects. It is not that there is any internal vice or defect in the profession itself, as regulated in this country, but that it is the spirit of this particular corps to despise their profession: and that, while they vainly assume the lead of the army, they make it matter of impertinent comparison, and triumph over the bravest troops in the world (I mean our marching regiments) that they, indeed, stand upon higher ground, and are privileged to neglect the laborious forms of military discipline and duty. Without dwelling longer upon a most invidious subject, I shall leave it to military men, who have seen a service more active than the parade, to determine whether or no I speak truth.

How far this dangerous spirit has been encouraged by government, and to what pernicious purposes it may be applied hereafter, well deserves our most serious consideration. I know, indeed, that, when this affair happened, an affectation of alarm ran through the Ministry. Something must be done to save appearances. The case was too flagrant to be passed by absolutely without notice. But how have they acted? Instead of ordering the officers concerned (and who, strictly speaking are alone guilty), to be put under arrest, and brought to trial, they would have it understood, that they did their duty completely, in confining a serjeant and four private soldiers, until they should be demanded by the civil power: so that while the officers, who ordered or permitted the thing to be done, escaped without censure, the poor men, who obeyed these orders, who, in a military view, are no way responsible for what they did, and who, for that reason, have been discharged by the civil magistrates, are the only objects whom the Ministry have thought proper to expose to punishment. They did not venture to bring even these men to a court-martial, because they knew their evidence would be fatal to some persons, whom they were determined to protect; otherwise, I doubt not, the lives of these unhappy, friendless soldiers, would long since have been sacrificed, without scruple, to the security of their guilty officers.

I have been accused of endeavouring to inflame the passions of the people. Let me now appeal to their [111] understanding. If there be any tool of administration, daring enough to deny these facts, or shameless enough to defend the conduct of the Ministry, let him come forward. I care not under what title he appears. He shall find me ready to maintain the truth of my narrative, and the justice of my observations upon it, at the hazard of my utmost credit with the public.

Under the most arbitrary governments, the common administration of justice is suffered to take its course. The subject, though robbed of his share in the legislature, is still protected by the laws. The political freedom of the English constitution, was once the pride and honour of an Englishman. The civil equality of the laws preserved the property, and defended the safety of the subject. Are these glorious privileges the birthright of the people, or are we only tenants at the will of the Ministry? But that I know there is a spirit of resistance in the hearts of my countrymen; that they value life, not by its conveniences but by the independence and dignity of their condition; I should, at this moment, appeal only to their discretion. I should persuade them to banish from their minds all memory of what we were; I should tell them this is not a time to remember that we were Englishmen; and give it, as my last advice, to make some early agreement with the Minister, that, since it has pleased him to rob us of those political rights, which once distinguished the inhabitants of a country where honour was happiness, he would leave us at least the humble, obedient security of citizens, and graciously condescend to protect us in our submission.


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