The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter LXVIX: To the Right Hon. Lord Camden

[280] MY LORD

I TURN with pleasure from that barren waste in which no salutary plant takes root, no verdure quickens, to a character fertile, as I willingly believe, in every great and good qualification. I call upon you, in the name of the English nation, to stand forth in defence of the laws of your country, and to exert, in the cause of truth and justice, those great abilities with which you were entrusted for the benefit of mankind. To ascertain the facts set forth in the preceding paper, it may be necessary to call the persons mentioned in the mittimus to the bar of the House of Lords. If a motion for that purpose should be rejected, we shall know what to think of Lord Mansfield's innocence. The legal argument is submitted to your Lordship's judgment. After the noble stand you made against Lord Mansfield, upon the question of libel, we did expect that you would not have suffered that matter to have remained undetermined. But it was said that Lord Chief Justice Wilmot had been prevailed upon to vouch for an opinion of the late Judge Yates, which was supposed to make against you; and we admit of the excuse. When such detestable arts are employed to pre-judge a question of right, it might have been imprudent, at that time, to have brought it to a decision. In the [281] present instance, you will have no such opposition to contend with. If there be a judge, or a lawyer, of any note in Westminster-hall, who shall be daring enough to affirm, that, according to the true intendment of the laws of England, a felon, taken with the maner in flagrante delicto, is bailable, or that the discretion of an English judge is merely arbitrary, and not governed by rules of law, I should be glad to be acquainted with him. Whoever he be, I will take care that he shall not give you much trouble. Your Lordship's character assures me that you will assume that principal part, which belongs to you, in supporting the laws of England against a wicked judge, who makes it the occupation of his life to misinterpret and pervert them. If you decline this honourable office, I fear it will be said, that, for some months past, you have kept too much company with the Duke of GraftonDuke of Grafton. When the contest turns upon the interpretation of the laws, you cannot, without a formal surrender of all your reputation, yield the post of honour even to Lord Chatham. Considering the situation and abilities of Lord Mansfield, I do not scruple to affirm, with the most solemn appeal to God for my sincerity, that, in my judgment, he is the very worst and most dangerous man in the kingdom. Thus far I have done my duty in endeavouring to bring him to punishment. But mine is an inferior, ministerial office in the temple of justice: I have bound the victim, and dragged him to the altar.


the Reverend Mr. John Horne having, with his usual veracity, and honest industry, circulated a report that Junius, in a letter to the Supporters of the Bill of Rights, had warmly declared himself in favour of long parliaments and rotten boroughs, it is thought necessary to submit to the public the following extract from his letter to John Wilkes, Esq. dated the 7th of September, 1771; and laid before the Society on the 24th of the same month.

"With regard to the several articles, taken separately, I own I am concerned to see, that the great condition which ought to be the sine qua non of parliamentary qualification, which ought to be the basis (as it assuredly will be the only support) of every barrier raised in defence of [282] the constitution, (I mean a declaration upon oath to shorten the duration of parliaments,) is reduced to the fourth rank in the esteem of the society; and even in that place, far from being insisted on with firmness and vehemence, seems to have been particularly slighted in the expression, You shall endeavour to restore annual parliaments. Are these the terms which men who are in earnest make use of, when the salus reipublicæ is at stake ? I expected other language from Mr. Wilkes. Besides my objection in point of form, I disapprove highly of the meaning of the fourth article as it stands. Whenever the question shall be seriously agitated, I will endeavour (and if I live, will assuredly attempt it) to convince the English nation, by arguments, to my understanding unanswerable, that they ought to insist upon a triennial, and banish the idea of an annual parliament...... I am convinced, that, if shortening the duration of parliaments (which, in effect, is keeping the representative under the rod of the constituent) be not made the basis of our new parliamentary jurisprudence, other checks or improvements signify nothing. On the contrary, if this be made the foundation, other measures may come in aid, and, as auxiliaries, be of considerable advantage. Lord Chatham's project, for instance, of increasing the number of knights of shires, appears to me admirable. ......

As to cutting away the rotten boroughs, I am as much offended as any man at seeing so many of them under the direct influence of the Crown, or at the disposal of private persons. Yet, I own, I have both doubts and apprehensions in regard to the remedy you propose. I shall be charged, perhaps, with an unusual want of political intrepidity, when I honestly confess to you, that I am startled at the idea of so extensive an amputation. In the first place, I question the power, de jure, of the legislature to disfranchise a number of boroughs upon the general ground of improving the constitution. There cannot be a doctrine more fatal to the liberty and property we are contending for, than that which confounds the idea of a supreme and an a arbitrary legislature. I need not point out to you the fatal purposes to which it has been, and may be, applied. If we are sincere in the political creed we profess, there are many things which we ought to affirm, cannot be done ' by King, Lords, and Commons. — [283] Among these, I reckon the disfranchising of boroughs, with a general view of improvement. I consider it as equivalent to robbing the parties concerned of their freehold, of their birthright. I say, that, although this birthright may be forfeited, or the exercise of it suspended in particular cases, it cannot be taken away by a general law, for any real or pretended purpose of improving the constitution.— Supposing the attempt made, I am persuaded you cannot mean that either King, or Lords, should take an active part in it. A bill which only touches the representation of the people, must originate in the House of Commons. In the formation and mode of passing it, the exclusive right of the Commons must be asserted as scrupulously as in the case of a money bill. Now, Sir, I should be glad to know by what kind of reasoning it can be proved, that there is a power vested in the representative to destroy his immediate constituent. From whence could he possibly derive it? A courtier, I know, will be ready to maintain the affirmative. The doctrine suits him exactly, because it gives an unlimited operation to the influence of the Crown. But we, Mr. Wilkes, ought to hold a different language. It is no answer to me to say, — That the bill, when it, passes the House of Commons, is the act of the majority, and not the representatives of the particular boroughs concerned. If the majority can disfranchise ten boroughs, why not twenty, why not the whole kingdom? Why should not they make their own seats in parliament for life? When the septennial act passed, the legislature did what, apparently and palpably, they had no power to do: but they did more than people in general were aware of; they, in effect, disfranchised the whole kingdom for four years.

For argument's sake, I will now suppose that the expediency of the measure, and the power of parliament, are unquestionable. Still you will find an insurmountable difficulty in the execution. When all your instruments of amputation are prepared, when the unhappy patient lies bound at your feet, without the possibility of resistance, by what infallible rule will you direct the operation? When you propose to cut away the rotten parts, can you tell us what parts are perfectly sound? Are there any certain limits in fact or theory, to inform you at what point you must stop, at what point the mortification ends? [284] To a man so capable of observation and reflection as you are, it is unnecessary to say all that might be said upon the subject. Besides that I approve highly of Lord Chatham's idea of "infusing a portion of new health into the constitution, to enable it to bear its infirmities" (a brilliant expression, and full of intrinsic wisdom) other reasons occur in persuading me to adopt it. "I have no objection", &c.

The man who fairly and completely answers this argument, shall have my thanks and my applause. My heart is already with him. I am ready to be converted. I admire his morality, and would gladly subscribe to the articles of his faith. Grateful, as I am, to the good Being whose bounty has imparted to me this reasoning intellect, whatever it is, I hold myself proportionably indebted to him from whose enlightened understanding another ray of knowledge communicates to mine. But neither should I think the most exalted faculties of the human mind a gift worthy of the Divinity, nor any assistance in the improvement of them a subject of gratitude to my fellow-creature, if I were not satisfied, that, really, to inform the understanding, corrects and enlarges the heart.


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