The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XLII: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser; 30 January 1771

[173] SIR

If we recollect in what manner the King's friends have been constantly employed, we shall have no reason to be surprised at any condition of disgrace to which the once respected name of Englishmen may be degraded. His Majesty has no cares, but such as concern the laws and constitution of this country. In his royal breast there is no room left for resentment, no place for hostile sentiments against the natural enemies of his crown. The system of government is uniform: violence and oppression at home can only be supported by treachery and submission abroad. When the civil rights of the people are daringly invaded on one side, what have we to expect, but that their political rights should be deserted and betrayed, in the same proportion, on the other? The plan of domestic policy which has been invariably pursued from the moment of his present Majesty's accession, engrosses all the attention of his servants. They know that the security of their places depends upon their maintaining, at any hazard, the secret system of the closet. A foreign war might embarrass, an unfavourable event might ruin, the minister, and defeat the deep-laid scheme of policy to which he and his associates owe their employments. Rather than suffer the execution of that scheme to be delayed or interrupted, the King has been advised to make a public surrender, a solemn sacrifice, in the face of all Europe, not only of the interests of his subjects, but of his own personal reputation, and of the dignity of that crown which his predecessors have worn with honour. These are strong terms, sir, but they are supported by fact and argument.

The King of Great Britain has been for some years in possession of an island,* to which, as the ministry themselves have repeatedly asserted, the Spaniards had no claim of right. The importance of the place is not in question: if it were, a better judgment might be formed [174] of it, from the opinion of Lord Anson and Lord Egmont, and from the anxiety of the Spaniards, than from any fallacious insinuations thrown out by men, whose interest it is to undervalue that property which they are determined to relinquish. The pretensions of Spain were a subject of negotiation between the two courts. They had been discussed, but not admitted. The King of Spain, in these circumstances, bids adieu to amicable negotiation, and appeals directly to the sword. The expedition against Port Egmont does not appear to have been a sudden, ill-concerted enterprise: it seems to have been conducted not only with the usual military precautions, but in all the forms and ceremonies of war. A frigate was first employed, to examine the strength of the place. A message was then sent, demanding immediate possession, in the Catholic King's name, and ordering our people to depart. At last, a military force appears, and compels the garrison to surrender. A formal capitulation ensues; and his Majesty's ship, which might at least have been permitted to bring home his troops immediately, is detained in port twenty days, and her rudder forcibly taken away. This train of facts carries no appearance of the rashness or violence of a Spanish governor: on the contrary, the whole plan seems to have been formed and executed, in consequence of deliberate orders, and a regular instruction, from the Spanish court. Mr. Buccarelli is not a pirate, nor has he been treated as such by those who employed him. I feel for the honour of a gentleman, when I affirm, that our King owes him a signal reparation. Where will the humiliation of this country end? A King of Great Britain, not contented with placing himself upon a level with a Spanish governor, descends so low as to do a notorious injustice to that governor. As a salvo for his own reputation, he has been advised to traduce the character of a brave officer, and to treat him as a common robber, when he knew, with certainty, that Mr. Buccarelli had acted in obedience to his orders, and had done no more than his duty. Thus it happens, in private life, with a man who has no spirit nor sense of honour. One of his equals orders a servant to strike him : instead of returning the blow to the master, his courage is contented with throwing an aspersion, equally false and public, upon the character of the servant.

[* NOTE - this refers to the Falklands Crisis. See this web site for more information]

This short recapitulation was necessary to introduce the consideration of his Majesty's speech of the 13th of November, 1770, and the subsequent measures of government. The excessive caution with which the speech was drawn up, had impressed upon me an early conviction, that no serious resentment was thought of, and that the conclusion of the business, whenever it happened, must, in some degree, be dishonourable to England. There appears, through the whole speech, a guard and reserve in the choice of expression, which shows how careful the ministry were not to embarrass their future projects by any firm or spirited declaration from the throne. When all hopes of peace are lost, his Majesty tells his parliament, that he is preparing, not for barbarous war, but (with all his mother's softness) "for a different situation". An open hostility, authorised by the Catholic King, is called an act of a governor. This act, to avoid the mention of a regular siege and surrender, passes under the piratical description of seizing by force; and the thing taken is described, not as a part of the King's territory, or proper dominion, but merely as a possession; a word expressly chosen in contradistinction to, and exclusion of, the ideas of right, and to prepare us for a future surrender both of the right and of the possession. Yet this speech, sir, cautious and equivocal as it is, cannot, by any sophistry, be accommodated to the measures which have since been adopted. It seemed to promise, that, whatever might be given up by secret stipulation, some care would be taken to save appearances to the public. The event shows us, that to depart, in the minutest article, from the nicety and strictness of punctilio, is as dangerous to national honour as to female virtue. The woman who admits of one familiarity seldom knows where to stop, or what to refuse; and, when the counsels of a great country give way in a single instance, when they once are inclined to submission, every step accelerates the rapidity of the descent. The ministry themselves, when they framed the speech, did not foresee that they should ever accede to such an accommodation as they have since advised their master to accept of.

The King says, ." The honour of my crown, and the rights of my people, are deeply affected." The Spaniard, in his reply, says, " I will give you back possession, but I [176] adhere to my claim of prior right, reserving the assertion of it for a more favourable opportunity."

The speech says, "I made an immediate demand of satisfaction; and, if that fails, I am prepared to do myself justice." This immediate demand must have been sent to Madrid on the 12th of September, or in a few days after. It was certainly refused, or evaded, and the King has not done himself justice. When the first magistrate speaks to the nation, some care should be taken of his apparent veracity.

The speech proceeds to say, "I shall not discontinue my preparations until I have received proper reparation for the injury." If this assurance may be relied on, what an enormous expense is entailed sine die upon this unhappy country! Restitution of a possession, and reparation of an injury, are as different in substance as they are in language. The very act of restitution may contain, as in this instance it palpably does, a shameful aggravation of the injury. A man of spirit does not measure the degree of an injury by the mere positive damage he has sustained; he considers the principle on which it is founded ; he resents the superiority asserted over him; and rejects, with indignation, the claim of right which his adversary endeavours to establish, and would force him to acknowledge.

The motives on which the Catholic King makes restitution, are, if possible, more insolent and disgraceful to our sovereign, than even the declaratory condition annexed to it. After taking four months to consider whether the expedition was undertaken by his own orders or not, he condescends to disavow the enterprise, and to restore the island; not from any regard to justice, not from any regard he bears to his Britannic Majesty, but merely " from the persuasion in which he is of the pacific sentiments of the King of Great Britain."

At this rate, if our King had discovered the spirit of a man; if he had made a peremptory demand of satisfaction, the King of Spain would have given him a peremptory refusal. But why this unseasonable, this ridiculous mention of the King of Great Britain's pacific intentions? Have they ever been in question? Was he the aggressor? Does he attack foreign powers without provocation? Does he even resist, when he is insulted? No, sir : if any ideas [177] of strife or hostility have entered his royal mind, they have a very different direction. The enemies of England have nothing to fear from them.

After all, sir, to what kind of disavowal has the King of Spain at last consented? Supposing it made in proper time, it should have been accompanied with instant restitution; and if Mr. Buccarelli acted without orders, he deserved death. Now, sir, instead of immediate restitution, we have a four months' negotiation ; and the officer, whose act is disavowed, returns to court, and is loaded with honours.

If the actual situation of Europe be considered, the treachery of the King's servants, particularly of Lord North, who takes the whole upon himself, will appear in the strongest colours of aggravation. Our allies were masters of the Mediterranean. The King of France's present aversion from war, and the distractions of his affairs are notorious. He is now in a state of war with his people. In vain did the Catholic King solicit him to take part in the quarrel against us. His finances were in the last disorder; and it was probable that his troops might find sufficient employment at home. In these circumstances, we might have dictated the law to Spain. There are no terms to which she might not have been compelled to submit. At the worst, a war with Spain alone carries the fairest promise of advantage. One good effect, at least, would have been immediately produced by it. The desertion of France would have irritated her ally, and, in all probability, have dissolved the family compact. The scene is now fatally changed. The advantage is thrown away. The most favourable opportunity is lost. Hereafter we shall know the value of it. When the French King is reconciled to his subjects—when Spain has completed her preparations—when the collected strength of the house of Bourbon attacks us at once, the King himself will be able to determine upon the wisdom or impudence of his present conduct. As far as the probability of argument extends, we may safely pronounce, that a conjuncture, which threatens the very being of this country, has been wilfully prepared and forwarded by our own ministry. How far the people may be animated to resistance, under the present administration, I know not; but this I know, with certainty, that, under the present administration, or [178] if any thing like it should continue, it is of very little moment whether we are a conquered nation or not.*

Having travelled thus far in the high road of matter of fact, I may now be permitted to wander a little into the field of imagination. Let us banish from our minds the persuasion that these events have really happened in the reign of the best of princes; let us consider them as nothing more than the materials of a fable, in which we may conceive the sovereign of some other country to be concerned. I mean to violate all the laws of probability, when I suppose that this imaginary King, after having voluntarily disgraced himself in the eyes of his subjects, might return to a sense of his dishonour; that he might perceive the snare laid for him by his ministers, and feel a spark of shame kindling in his breast. The part he must then be obliged to act would overwhelm him with confusion. To his parliament he must say, "I called you together to receive your advice, and have never asked your opinion."—To the merchant, " I have distressed your commerce; I have dragged your seamen out of your ships; I have loaded you with a grievous weight of insurances."—To the landholder, " I told you war was too probable, when I was determined to submit to any terms of accommodation: I extorted new taxes from you before it was possible they could be wanted, and am now unable to account for the application of them."—To the public creditor, "I have delivered up your fortune a prey to foreigners, and to the vilest of your fellow subjects."

* The King's acceptance of the Spanish ambassador's declaration is drawn up in barbarous French, and signed by the Earl of Rochford. This diplomatic Lord has spent his life in the study and practice of etiquettes, and is supposed to be a profound master of the ceremonies. I will not insult him by any reference to grammar or common sense: if he were even acquainted with the common forms of his office, I should think him as well qualified for it as any man in his Majesty's service. The reader is requested to observe Lord Rochford's method of authenticating a public instrument.—" En foi de quoi, mot soussigne, un des principaux secretaires d'etat S. M. B. ai signe la presente de ma signature ordinaire, et icelle fait apposer le cachet de nos armes." In three lines there are no less than seven false concords. But the man does not even know the style of his office. If he had known it, he would have said, " Nous soussigne, secretaire d'etat de S. M. B. avons signe &c.

[179] Perhaps this repenting prince might conclude with one general acknowledgment to them all: "I have involved every rank of my subjects in anxiety and distress; and have nothing to offer you, in return, but the certainty of national dishonour, an armed truce, and peace without security."

If these accounts were settled, there would still remain an apology to be made to his navy and to his army. To the first he would say, "You were once the terror of the world. But go back to your harbours. A man, dishonoured as I am, has no use for your service." It is not probable that he would appear again before his soldiers, even in the pacific ceremony of a review.* But, wherever he appeared, the humiliating confession would be extorted from him,—" I have received a blow, and had not spirit to resent it . I demanded satisfaction, and have accepted a declaration, in which the right to strike me again is asserted and confirmed." His countenance, at least, would speak this language, and even his guards would blush for him.

But to return to our argument. The ministry, it seems, are labouring to draw a line of distinction between the honour of the crown and the rights of the people. This new idea has yet only been started in discourse; for, in effect, both objects have been equally sacrificed. I neither understand the distinction, nor what use the ministry propose to make of it. The King's honour is that of his people. Their real honour and real interest are the same. I am not contending for a vain punctilio. A clear, unblemished character comprehends not only the integrity that will not offer, but the spirit that will not submit to an injury; and, whether it belongs to an individual or to a community, it is the foundation of peace, of independence, and of safety. Private credit is wealth ; public honour is security. The feather that adorns the royal bird supports his flight. Strip him of his plumage, and you fix him to the earth.

* A mistake: he appears before them every day, with a mark of a blow upon his face. Proh pudor !


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