The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter LIX: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser; 5 October 1771.

[237] SIR

NO man laments more sincerely than I do, the unhappy differences which have arisen among the friends of the people, and divided them from each other. The cause, undoubtedly, suffers as well by the diminution of that strength which union carries along with it, as by the separate loss of personal reputation, which every man sustains when his character and conduct are frequently held forth in odious or contemptible colours. These difference are only advantageous to the common enemy of the country. The hearty friends of the cause are [238] provoked and disgusted. The lukewarm advocate avails himself of any pretence, to relapse into that indolent indifference about every thing that ought to interest an Englishman, so unjustly dignified with the title moderation. The false, insidious partizan, who creates or foments the disorder, sees the fruit of his dishonest industry ripen beyond his hopes, and rejoices in the promise of a banquet, only delicious to such an appetite as his own. It is time for those who really mean well to the cause and the people, who have no view to private advantage, and who have virtue enough to prefer the general good of the community to the gratifications of personal animosities; it is time for such men to interpose. Let us try whether these fatal dissensions may not yet be reconciled; or, if that be impracticable, let us guard at least against the worst effects of division, and endeavour to persuade these furious partizans, if they will not consent to draw together, to be separately useful to that cause which they all pretend to be attached to. Honour and honesty must not be renounced, although a thousand modes of right and wrong were to occupy the degrees of morality between Zeno and Epicurus. The fundamental principles of Christianity may still be preserved, though every zealous sectary adheres to his own exclusive doctrine, and pious ecclesiastics make it a part of their religion to persecute one another. The civil constitution, too, that legal liberty, that general creed which every Englishman professes, may still be supported, though Wilkes and Horne, and Townsend and Sawbridge, should obstinately refuse to communicate; and even if the fathers of the church, if Savile, Richmond, Camden, Rockingham, and Chatham, should disagree in the ceremonies of their political worship, and even in the interpretation of twenty texts in Magna Charta. I speak to the people, as one of the people. Let us employ these men in whatever departments their various abilities are best suited to, and as much to the advantage of the common cause, as their different inclinations will permit. They cannot serve us without essentially serving themselves.

If Mr. Nash [1] be elected, he will hardly venture, after so recent a mark of the personal esteem of his fellow-citizens, to declare himself immediately a courtier. The spirit and activity of the sheriffs will, I hope, be sufficient [239] to counteract any sinister intentions of the Lord mayor. In collision with their virtue, perhaps, he may take fire.

It is not necessary to exact from Mr. Wilkes the virtues of a Stoic. They were inconsistent with themselves, who, almost at the same moment, represented him as the basest of mankind, yet seemed to expect from him such instances of fortitude and self-denial, as would do honour to an apostle. It is not however, flattery to say, that he is obstinate, intrepid, and fertile in expedients. That he has no possible resource but in the public favour, is, in my judgment, a considerable recommendation of him. I wish that every man who pretended to popularity were in the same predicament. I wish that a retreat to St. James's were not so easy and open as patriots have found it. To Mr. Wilkes there is no access. However he may be misled by passion or imprudence, I think he cannot be guilty of a deliberate treachery to the public. The favour of his country constitutes the shield which defends him against a thousand daggers. Desertion would disarm him.

I can more readily admire the liberal spirit and integrity, than the sound judgment, of any man who prefers a republican form of government, in this or any other empire of equal extent, to a monarchy so qualified and limited as ours. I am convinced, that neither is it in theory the wisest system of government, nor practicable in this country. Yet, though I hope the English constitution will forever preserve its original monarchical form, I would have the manners of the people purely and strictly republican. I do not mean the licentious spirit of anarchy and riot. I mean a general attachment to the commonweal, distinct from any partial attachment to persons or families; an implicit submission to the laws only; and an affection to the magistrate, proportioned to the integrity and wisdom with which he distributes justice to his people, and administers their affairs. The present habit of our political body appears to me the very reverse of what it ought to be. The form of the constitution leans rather more than enough to the popular branch; while, in effect the manners of the people (of those at least who are likely to take a lead in the country) incline too generally to a dependence upon the crown. The real friends of arbitrary power combine the facts, and are not [240] inconsistent with their principles, when they strenuously support the unwarrantable privileges assumed by the house of commons. In these circumstances, it were much to be desired, that we had many such men as Mr. Sawbridge to represent us in parliament. I speak from common report and opinion only, when I impute to him a speculative predilection in favour of a republic. In the personal conduct and manners of the man I cannot be mistaken. He has shown himself possessed of that republican firmness which the times require; and by which an English gentleman may be as usefully and as honourably distinguished, as any citizen of ancient Rome, of Athens, or Lacedemon.

Mr. Townsend complains that the public gratitude has not been answerable to his deserts. It is not difficult to trace the artifices which have suggested to him a language so unworthy of his understanding. A great man commands the affections of the people; a prudent man does not complain when he has lost them. Yet they are far from being lost to Mr. Townsend. He has treated our opinion a little too cavalierly. A young man is apt to rely too confidently upon himself, to be as attentive to his mistress as a polite and passionate lover ought to be. Perhaps he found her at first too easy a conquest. Yet I fancy she will be ready to receive him whenever he thinks proper to renew his addresses. With all his youth, his spirit, and his appearance, it would be indecent in the lady to solicit his return.

I have too much respect for the abilities of Mr. Horne, to flatter myself that these gentlemen will ever be cordially reunited. It is not, however, unreasonable to expect, that each of them should act his separate part with honour and integrity to the public. As for differences of opinion upon speculative questions, if we wait until they are reconciled, the action of human affairs must be suspended for ever. But neither are we to look for perfection in any one man, nor for agreement among many. When Lord Chatham affirms, that the authority of the British legislature is not supreme over the colonies in the same sense in which it is supreme over Great Britain; when Lord Camden supposes a necessity (which the King is to judge of,) and, founded upon that necessity, attributes to the crown a legal power (not given by the [244] act itself,) to suspend the operation of an act of the legislature; I listen to them both with diffidence and respect, but without the smallest degree of conviction or assent. Yet I doubt not they delivered their real sentiments, nor ought they to be hastily condemned. I too have a claim to the candid interpretation of my country, when I acknowledge an involuntary, compulsive assent to one very unpopular opinion. I lament the unhappy necessity, whenever it arises, of providing for the safety of the state by a temporary invasion of the personal liberty of the subject. Would to God it were practicable to reconcile these important objects, in every possible situation of public affairs! I regard the legal liberty of the meanest man in Britain as much as my own, and would defend it with the same zeal. I know we must stand or fall together. But I never can doubt, that the community has a right to command, as well as to purchase, the service of its members. I see that right founded originally upon a necessity which supersedes all argument: I see it established by usage immemorial, and admitted by more than a tacit assent of the legislature. I conclude there is no remedy, in the nature of things, for the grievance complained of; for, if there were, it must long since have been redressed. Though numberless opportunities have presented themselves, highly favourable to public liberty, no successful attempt has ever been made for the relief of the subject in this article. Yet it has been felt and complained of ever since England had a navy. The conditions which constitute this right must be taken together; separately, they have little weight. It is not fair to argue, from any abuse in the execution, to the illegality of the power; much less is a conclusion to be drawn from the navy to the land service. A seaman can never be employed but against the enemies of his country. The only case in which the King can have a right to arm his subjects in general, is that of a foreign force being actually landed upon our coast. Whenever that case happens, no true Englishman will inquire whether the King's right to compel him to defend his country be the custom of England, or a grant of the legislature. With regard to the press for seamen, it does not follow that the symptoms may not be softened, although the distemper cannot be cured. Let bounties be increased as far as the public purse can support them. Still they have a limit; and [245] when every reasonable expense is incurred, it will be found, in fact, that the spur of the press is wanted to give operation to the bounty.

Upon the whole, I never had a doubt about the strict right of pressing, until I heard that Lord Mansfield had applauded Lord Chatham for delivering something like this doctrine in the house of Lords. That consideration staggered me not a little. But upon reflection, his conduct accounts naturally for itself. He knew the doctrine was unpopular, and was eager to fix it upon the man who is the first object of his fear and detestation. The cunning Scotchman never speaks truth without a fraudulent design. In council, he generally affects to make a moderate part. Besides his natural timidity, it makes part of his political plan, never to be known to recommend violent measures. When the guards are called forth to murder their follow subjects, it is not by the ostensible advice of Lord Mansfield. That odious office, his prudence tells him, is better left to such men as Gower and Weymouth, as Barrington and Duke of GraftonGrafton. Lord Hillsborough wisely confines his firmness to the distant Americans. The designs of Mansfield are more subtle, more effectual, and secure. Who attacks the liberty of the press? Lord Mansfield. Who invades the constitutional power of juries? Lord Mansfield. What judge ever challenged a juryman but Lord Mansfield? Who was that judge, who, to save the King's brother, affirmed that a man of the first rank and quality, who obtains a verdict in a suit for criminal conversation, is entitled to no greater damages than the meanest mechanic? Lord Mansfield. Who is it makes commissioners of the great seal? Lord Mansfield. Who is it that forms a decree for those commissioners, deciding against Lord Chatham, and afterwards (finding himself opposed by the judges) declares, in parliament, that he never had a doubt that the law was in direct opposition to that decree? Lord Mansfield. Who is he that has made it the study and practice of his life to undermine and alter the whole system of jurisprudence in the court of King's bench? Lord Mansfield. There never existed a man but himself who answered exactly to so complicated a description. Compared to these enormities, his original attachment to the pretender (to whom his dearest brother was confidential secretary) is a virtue of the first magnitude. But the hour of impeachment [243] will come, and neither he nor Grafton shall escape me. Now let them make common cause against England and the house of Hanover. A Stuart and a Murray should sympathise with each other.

When I refer to signal instances of unpopular opinions, delivered and maintained by men, who may well be supposed to have no view but the public good, I do not mean to renew the discussion of such opinions. I should be sorry to revive the dormant questions of Stamp Act, Corn Bill or Press Warrant, I mean only to illustrate one useful proposition, which it is the intention of this paper to inculcate, "That we should not generally reject the friendship or services of any man, because he differs from us in a particular opinion." This will not appear a superfluous caution, if we observe the ordinary conduct of mankind. In public affairs, there is the least chance of a perfect concurrence of sentiments or inclination: yet every man is able to contribute something to the common stock, and no man's contribution should be rejected. If individuals have no virtues, their vices may be of use to us. I care not with what principle the new-born patriot is animated, if the measures he supports are beneficial to the community The nation is interested in his conduct. His motives are his own. The properties of a patriot are perishable in the individual; but there is a quick succession of subjects, and the breed is worth preserving. The spirit of the Americans may be an useful example to us. Our dogs and horses are only English upon English ground; but patriotism, it seems, may be improved by transplanting. I will not reject a bill which tends to confine parliamentary privilege within reasonable bounds, though it should be stolen from the house of Cavendish, and introduced by Mr. Onslow. The features of the infant are a proof of the descent, and vindicate the noble birth from the baseness of the adoption. I willingly accept of a sarcasm from colonel Barré, or a simile from Mr. Burke. Even the silent vote of Mr. Calcraft is worth reckoning in a division. What though he riots in the plunder of the army, and has only determined to be a patriot when he could not be a peer? Let us profit by the assistance of such men while they are with us, and place them, if it be possible, in the post of danger, to prevent desertion. The wary Wedderburne, the pompous [244] Suffolk, never threw away the scabbard, nor ever went upon a forlorn hope. They always treated the King's servants as men with whom, some time or other, they might probably be in friendship. When a man who stands forth for the public, has gone that length from which there is no practicable retreat, when he has given that kind of personal offence, which a pious monarch never pardons, I then begin to think him in earnest, and that he will never have occasion to solicit the forgiveness of his country. But instances of a determination so entire and unreserved are rarely met with. Let us take mankind as they are; let us distribute the virtues and abilities of individuals according to the offices they affect; and, when they quit the service, let us endeavour to supply their places with better men than we have lost. In this country there are always candidates enough for popular favour. The temple of fame is the shortest passage to riches and preferment.

Above all things, let me guard my countrymen against the meanness and folly of accepting of a, trifling or moderate compensation for extraordinary and essential injuries. — Our enemy treats us as the cunning trader does the unskilful Indian; they magnify their generosity, when they give us baubles of little proportionate value for ivory and gold. The same house of commons, who robbed the constituent body of their right of free election; who presume to make a law, under pretence of declaring it; who paid our good King's debts, without once inquiring how they were incurred; who gave thanks for repeated murders committed at home, and for national infamy incurred abroad; who screened Lord Mansfield; who imprisoned the magistrates of the metropolis for asserting the subject's right to the protection of the laws; who erased a judicial record, and ordered all proceedings in a criminal suit to be suspended: this very house of commons have graciously consented that their own members may be compelled to pay their debts, and that contested elections shall, for the future, be determined with some decent regard to the merits of the case. The event of the suit is of no consequence to the crown. While parliaments are septennial, the purchase of the sitting member, or of the petitioner, makes but the difference of a day. Concessions such as these are of little moment to the sum [245] of things; unless it be to prove that the worst of men are sensible of the injuries they have done us, and perhaps to demonstrate to us the imminent danger of our situation. In the shipwreck of the state, trifles float, and are preserved; while every thing solid and valuable sinks to the bottom, and is lost for ever.


[1] William Nash was Mayor of London 1771-2. Biographical details are hard to find. He appears to have originated in Worcester and was described as an "opulent grocer". His will seems to have been proved on 15 January 1773.

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