The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XXXI: Philo Junius to the Printer of the Public Advertiser: 14 November 1769.

[111] SIR

THE variety of remarks which have been made upon the last letter of Junius, and my own opinion of the writer, who, whatever may be his faults, is certainly not a weak man, have induced me to examine, with some attention, the subject of that letter. I could not persuade myself, [112] that, while he had plenty of important materials, he would have taken up a light or trifling occasion to attack the Ministry; much less could I conceive, that it was his intention to ruin the officers concerned in the rescue of General Gansel, or to injure the General himself. These are little objects, and can no way contribute to the great purposes he seems to have in view, by addressing himself to the public. Without considering the ornamented style he has adopted, I determined to look farther into the matter, before I decided upon the merits of his letter. The first step I took was to enquire into the truth of the facts; for, if these were either false or misrepresented, the most artful exertion of his understanding, in reasoning upon them, would only be a disgrace to him. Now, Sir, I have found every circumstance stated by Junius to be literally true. General Gansel persuaded the bailiffs to conduct him to the parade, and certainly solicited a corporal, and other soldiers, to assist him in making his escape. Captain Dodd did certainly apply to Captain Garth for the assistance of his guard. Captain Garth declined appearing himself, but stood aloof, while the other took upon him to order out the King's guard, and by main force rescued the General. It is also strictly true, that the General was escorted by a file of musqueteers to a place of security. These are facts, Mr. Woodfall, which I promise you no gentleman in the guards will deny. If all, or any, of them are false, why are they not contradicted by the parties themselves? However secure against military censure, they have yet a character to lose; and surely, if they are innocent, it is not beneath them to pay some attention to the opinion of the public.

The force of Junius's observations upon these facts, cannot be better marked, than by stating and refuting the objections which have been made to them. One writer says, "Admitting the officers have of'fended, they are punishable at common law; and will you have a British subject punished twice for the same offence?" I answer, that they have committed two offences, both very enormous, and violated two laws. The rescue is one offence, the flagrant breach of discipline another; and hitherto it does not appear that they have been punished, or even censured for either. Another gentleman lays much stress upon the calamity of the case; and, instead of disproving [113] facts, appeals at once to the compassion of the public. This idea, as well as the insinuation, that depriving the parties of their commissions would be an injury to their creditors, can only refer to General Gansel. The other officers are in no distress; therefore, have no claim to compassion: nor does it appear that their creditors, if they have any, are more likely to be satisfied by their continuing in the guards. But this sort of plea will not hold in any shape. Compassion to an offender, who has grossly violated the laws, is, in effect, a cruelty to the peaceable subject who has observed them: and, even admitting the force of any alleviating circumstances, it is nevertheless true, that, in this instance, the royal compassion has interposed too soon, The legal and proper mercy of a King of England may remit the punishment, but ought not to stop the trial.

Besides these particular objections, there has been a cry raised against Junius, for his malice and injustice in attacking the Ministry upon an event which they could neither hinder nor foresee. This, I must affirm, is a false representation of his argument. He lays no stress upon the event itself, as a ground of accusation against the Ministry, but dwells entirely upon their subsequent conduct. He does not say that they are answerable for the offence, but for the scandalous neglect of their duty, in suffering an offence so flagrant to pass by without notice or enquiry. Supposing them ever so regardless of what they owe to the public, and as indifferent about the opinion, as they are about the interests of their country, what answer, as officers of the crown, will they give to Junius, when he asks them, "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?" And when we see a Ministry giving such a strange, unaccountable protection to the officers of the guards, is it unfair to suspect that they have some secret and unwarrantable motives for their conduct? If they feel themselves injured by such a suspicion, why do they not immediately clear themselves from it by doing their duty? For the honour of the guards, I cannot help expressing another suspicion, that if the commanding officer had not received a secret injunction to the contrary, he would, in the ordinary course of his business, have applied for a [114] court martial to try the two subalterns: the one for quitting his guard; the other for taking upon him the command of the guard, and employing it in the manner he did. I do not mean to enter into, or defend, the severity with which Junius treats the guards. On the contrary, I will suppose, for a moment, that they deserve a very different character. If this be true, in what light will they consider the conduct of the two subalterns, but as a general reproach and disgrace to the whole corps? And will they not wish to see them censured, in a military way, if it were only for the credit and discipline of the regiment?

Upon the whole, Sir, the Ministry seem to me to have taken a very improper advantage of the good nature of the public, whose humanity, they found, considered nothing in this affair but the distress of General Gansel. — They would persuade us, that it was only a common rescue by a few disorderly soldiers, and not the formal, deliberate act of the King's guard, headed by an officer; and the public has fallen into the deception. I think, therefore, we are obliged to Junius for the care he has taken to enquire into the facts, and for the just commentary with which he has given them to the world, For my own part, I am as unwilling as any man to load the unfortunate; but really, Sir, the precedent, with respect to the guards, is of a most important nature, and alarming enough (considering the consequences with which it may be attended) to deserve a parliamentary enquiry. When the guards are daring enough, not only to violate their own discipline, but publicly, and with the most atrocious violence, to stop the execution of the laws, and when such extraordinary offences pass with impunity, believe me, Sir, the precedent strikes deep.

Philo Junius

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