The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XLIII: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser; 6 February 1771

[180] SIR

I hope your correspondent, Junius, is better employed than in answering or reading the criticisms of a newspaper. This is a task, from which, if he were inclined to submit to it, his friends ought to relieve him. Upon this principle, I shall undertake to answer Anti-Junius, more, I believe, to his conviction, than to his satisfaction. Not daring to attack the main body of Junius's last letter, he triumphs in having, as he thinks, surprised an out-post, and cut off a detached argument, a mere straggling proposition. But even in this petty warfare he shall find himself defeated.

Junius does not speak of the Spanish nation as the natural enemies of England; he applies that description, with the strictest truth and justice, to the Spanish court. From the moment when a prince of the house of Bourbon ascended that throne, their whole system of government was inverted, and became hostile to this country. Unity of possession introduced a unity of politics; and Louis the Fourteenth had reason, when he said to his grandson, "The Pyrenees are removed." The history of the present century is one continued confirmation of the prophecy.

The assertion, "That violence and oppression at home can only be supported by treachery and submission abroad," is applied to a free people, whose rights are invaded, not to the government of a country, where despotic or absolute power is confessedly vested in the prince; and, with this application, the assertion is true. An absolute monarch, having no points to carry at home, will naturally maintain the honour of his crown in all his transactions with foreign powers. But, if we could suppose the sovereign of a free nation possessed with a design to make himself absolute, he would be inconsistent with himself, if he suffered his projects to be interrupted or embarrassed by a foreign war, unless that war tended, as in some cases it might, to promote his principal design. Of the three [181] exceptions to this general rule of conduct, (quoted by Anti-Junius,) that of Oliver Cromwell is the only one in point. Harry the Eighth, by the submission of his parliament, was as absolute a prince as Louis the Fourteenth. Queen Elizabeth's government was not oppressive to the people, and as to her foreign wars, it ought to be considered, that they were unavoidable. The national honour was not in question: she was compelled to fight in defence of her own person, and of her title to the crown. In the common cause of selfish policy, Oliver Cromwell should have cultivated the friendship of foreign powers, or, at least, have avoided disputes with them, the better to establish his tyranny at home. Had he been only a bad man, he would have sacrificed the honour of the nation to the success of his domestic policy. But, with all his crimes, he had the spirit of an Englishman. The conduct of such a man must always be an exception to vulgar rules. He had abilities sufficient to reconcile contradictions, and to make a great nation, at the same moment, unhappy and formidable. If it were not for the respect I bear the minister, I could name a man, who, without one grain of understanding, can do half as much as Oliver Cromwell.

Whether or no there be a secret system in the closet, and what may be the object of it, are questions which can only be determined by appearances, and on which every man must decide for himself.

The whole plan of Junius's letter proves, that he himself makes no distinction between the real honour of the crown and the real interest of the people. In the climax to which your correspondent objects, Junius adopts the language of the court, and, by that conformity, gives strength to his argument. He says that "the king has not only sacrificed the interest of his people, but (what was likely to touch him more nearly) his personal reputation, and the dignity of his crown."

The queries put by Anti-Junius can only be answered by the ministry. Abandoned as they are, I fancy they will not confess, that they have, for so many years, maintained possession of another man's property. After admitting the assertion of the ministry, viz. "That the Spaniards had no rightful claim," and after justifying them for saying so, it is his business, not mine, to give us [182] some good reason for their "suffering the pretensions of Spain to be a subject of negotiation." He admits the facts; let him reconcile them if he can.

The last paragraph brings us back to the original question, Whether the Spanish declaration contains such a satisfaction as the king of Great Britain ough to have accepted? This was the field upon which he ought to have encountered Junius openly and fairly. But here he leaves the argument, as no longer defensible. I shall, therefore, conclude with one general admonition to my fellow subjects; that, when they hear these matters debated, they should not suffer themselves to be misled by general declamations upon the conveniences of peace, or the miseries of. war. Between peace and war abstractedly, there is not, there cannot, be a question, in the mind of a rational being. The real questions are, "Have we any security that the peace we have so dearly purchased will last a twelvemonth?" and if not, "Have we, or have we not, sacrificed the fairest opportunity of making war with advantage?"

Philo Junius

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