EVER since I have been of age to distinguish between good and evil, I have observed, that, in this blessed country of ours, the men in power have pursued one uniform track of taxing and corrupting the people, and increasing court-influence in parliament, while the pretended patriots have exclaimed against those measures, at least till themselves got into power, and had an opportunity of carrying on the same plan of government; which they seldom failed to do, while the constitution was drawing nearer to its ruin, and our country lay bleeding.
I was sure, there was a right and a wrong in government, as in ether things. I knew, that the spirit of the constitution, and the interest of the nation are fixed things, not to be altered backward and forward according as a Harley, a Walpole, or a Pelham, was in, or out of place. I saw much quibbling and fallacy in our party-squabbles, while I was certain, that there was a true and a false in politics, as in all other objects of human understanding.
I determined to take the sense of mankind on the great and interesting points of government; and to see what experience teaches to expect from wise and upright, as well as from blundering and corrupt administration.
I applied the leisure hours of many years to the perusal of the best historical and political books, antient and modern, and made collections to the quantity of many folio volumes.
I considered, that history is the inexhaustible mine, out of which political knowledge is to be brought up. This was observed by Plato, and in consequence he wrote his REPUBLIC, and other political works. Aristotle's POLITICA are full of wise remarks, drawn chiefly from history. MONTESQUIEU has collected his admirable work, L'ÈSPRIT DES LOIX, in great measure, from history. Montague's excellent book on ANTIENT REPUBLICS is wholly made out of the same materials. The abbé de St. Pierre labours in many parts of his Ouvrages Politiques (particularly in his Essay, entituled, Observations pour rendre, &c. Remarks for rendering the Perusal of Plutarch's Lives more agreeable, and more profitable) to shew, that there are no means so effectual for communicating the most useful instructions to the minds of men, as making observations upon the facts recorded in history. Alphonsus V. king of Arragon, was wont to say, the dead were the best counsellors. Rollin wrote his ANTIENT and ROMAN HISTORIES on purpose that he might have an opportunity of making useful moral and political remarks upon the facts he was to relate. Our incomparable female historian has given the public a new history of the Stuarts, for the purpose of inculcating on the people of Britain the love of liberty and their country.
That no important historical fact, nor valuable political remark, or as few as possible, might escape me, I went through a general course of such reading; particularly the following, viz. UNIVERSAL HISTORY, ANTIENT and MODERN, 68 volumes, besides several of the Greek and Latin originals; Rapin's, and two or three other English histories; MAGAZINES of the last 10 years; PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY, 24 volumes; DEBATES of the Lords and Commons, 30 volumes; Antient and Modern Republics, 27 Volumes; the Harleian MISCELLANY, 8 volumes; Somers's Tracts, 16 volumes; the political writings of Sidney, Locke, Harrington, Gordon, Trenchard, Bolingbroke, St. Pierre, Hume, Montesquieu, Blackstone, Mountague, Rymer's FOEDERA, STATUTES at LARGE, STATE PAPERS, &c. And it is my purpose to apply what may remain to me of life and leisure to the same study: and if I find any new matter interesting to my country, which I cannot insert in the body of this work, it shall be given the public in a supplemental volume.
Most writers have a set of doctrines they would lay before the public, and they peruse authors on the same subject, in order to strengthen their own assertions by the authority of established writers. But I read in order to observe what the best historical and political writers have said, and to lay that before the public, as decisive. And as I did not, in collecting my materials, trust to indexes; but turned over, page by page, many hundreds of volumes, the matter I collected came at last to such a prodigious heap,
( rudis indigestaque moles,
Non bene junctarum discordia semina rerum.
that I foresaw, I should have no small difficulty in arranging this chaos into a system. Nor have I been able to please myself at last in this respect. For many articles are, I doubt, not referred to the heads, to which they most properly belong; and many articles relate to several heads. I hope, however, by means of a table at the end of the whole, to make up for this deficiency.
I have every where referred to the volume and page of my authors with as much correctness as I could, that my readers may satisfy themselves; and, if they think fit, may peruse what I have not quoted. Where I have put turned commas, I quote verbatim; and where I translate, or abridge the sense of my authors, I believe the reader will find I give it genuine. When I insert short remarks of my own in the midst of other matter, I inclose them with brackets for distinction's sake.
The political authors I quote are not all of equal authority. To most of them I appeal on account of the weight, which their opinion has justly obtained; others I introduce because they have expressed the sentiment I would inculcate, with such clearness and strength as must convince every reasonable reader. In cases where it may be supposed a writer may be partial to a particular sentiment, it is an advantage to give his reader the same sentiment in the words of another, rather than in his own, though the author quoted may not be of the first rank for merit and weight.
I do not pretend to have extracted from my authors, or to have applied all that may be found in them interesting to this country. But the number of facts and remarks I have extracted and applied, is so considerable, that I think the collection must be valuable, as tending to save gentlemen, who would improve themselves in political knowledge, a great deal of time and labour, and as serving to bring together a multitude of useful historical precedents, and of wise reflections, scattered in many hundred volumes; upon which materials alone it is possible to found any solid political principles.
Every body has observed, that, on political subjects, the opinions of men are peculiarly vague, unsettled, and contradictory, because all men will, and in a free country, ought to judge of politics. There are indeed many particulars to be attended to, various views of things to be taken, and many comparisons to be made, in order to form just and steady principles of politics. And these employments of the mind requiring leisure, thought, and labour, it is not to be wondered, that few ever come to deserve, in a general and extensive manner, the character of sound politicians; though it is certain that every man of common sense may, if unbiassed, very clearly see wherein his country's great interest consists.
The same observation may be made on politics as one of the fathers has made on holy Scripture; The lamb may wade in them, and the elephant swim.
'The science of politics' [extensively considered] 'is as much superior to all others,' says S. Pierre, 'as the whole is superior to a part. For it comprehends all human knowledge, and, to be a good politician, a man must have a general knowledge of all arts and sciences a.' On the other hand, it is observed by Locke, That politics [in the common and confined sense] arc only common sense applied to national, instead of private concerns.
a S. Pierre, OUVR. POLIT. VI. 14.
Some things are right in theory, for instance, but not in practice, and contrariwise. Hereditary succession to regal power applied to the test of reason, appears, à priori, consummately absurd. But elective monarchy, if we judge of it from its effects in Poland, is an inexhaustible fountain of mischief to a country. Some measures are in general salutary; but pursued at particular times, would ruin all. In distinguishing wisely lies the superiority of genius in statesmen. 'There are no such mighty talents necessary for government as some, who pretend to them, without possessing them, would make us believe. Honest affections, and common qualifications, are sufficient, and the administration has always been best executed, and the public liberty best preserved, near the origin and rise of states, when plain sense, and common honesty alone governed public affairs, and the morals of men were not corrupted by riches and luxury, nor their understanding perverted by subtleties and distinctions. Great abilities have generally, if not always, been employed to mislead the honest unwary multitude, and draw them out of the plain paths of public virtue and public good a.' In a country which pretends to be free, and where, consequently, the people ought to have weight in the government, it is peculiarly necessary that the people be possessed of just notions of the interest of their country, and be qualified to distinguish between those who are faithful to them, and those who betray them.
a CATO'S LETT. 1. 178.
It must, I think, fill every generous mind with indignation, to see our good-natured countrymen abused over and over, from generation to generation, by the same stale dog-tricks repeatedly played upon them, by a succession of pretended patriots, who, by these means, have screwed out their predecessors, and wormed themselves into their places. To teach the people a set of solid political principles, the knowledge of which may make them proof against such gross abuse, is one great object of this publication.
If the people do not look with an eye of severe and unremitting jealousy, after their own great and weighty concerns, in whose hands must they leave them? The answer is, In those of a ministry. And what hope is there, that in such hands they will be safe? In these collections, under the article MINISTERS, it will too plainly appear, from history, that ministers have generally been a set of ambitious, or avaritious grandees, who have, by all the worst kinds of arts, thrust themselves into power, in order to raise (as they call it) themselves and their families, and to fill their pockets. Entering into public stations with such views, it is to be supposed, that they would form to themselves an interest totally separate and diametrically contrary to that of the people, and that they would debauch the house of commons to join them against their constituents. And is it not then necessary, that the people should be qualified, and disposed to take care of their own interests, and secure themselves against so formidable a set of internal enemies?
'None can be said to know things well, who do not know them in their beginnings,' says Sir W. Temple a.
'All ought to know what is right, and what is wrong in public affairs,' says St. Amand b.
a Pref. to HIST. ENG.
b Pref. to HIST. PARL.
Not only the people, but our statesmen and legislators, may from the following collections gain lights, and meet with hints, which, if properly pursued, may lead them to measures of a more generous kind, than that series of poor and temporary expedients, by which they have long made a shift to patch up matters, and barely keep the machine of government from bursting in ruins about them, while the efficiency of the constitution (as will too clearly appear in the sequel) is annihilated.
The ablest politicians have always been the most desirous of information. The great Colbert used to declare, that he thought his time well spent in perusing an hundred proposals for advancing the wealth, the commerce, and the glory of France, if but one of them deserved to Be encouraged a.
If, on the contrary, any Leviathan of power shews himself bent on other objects, than the public good, and with a brutal effrontery presumes publicly to turn into ridicule all that tends to national benefit, and to declare, as some statesmen have been known to do, That he knows of only one engine of government, viz. 'Finding every man's price, and giving it to him;' it is to be hoped, that the independent people will find a hook for his jaws, and be able to drag him out of that lea of power, in which he wallows, that the vessel of the state may sail in safety. To point out those enemies of mankind, and to animate the independent people against them, is as great a service as can be done the public. Whether these collections will, in any degree, produce this effect, remains to be seen.
Some courtly readers may think I have put too much gall into my ink, when describing the political abuses, which disgrace our country: But Mr. Gordon b says, 'No man can be too desirous of the glory and security of his country, nor too angry at its ill usage, nor too revengeful against those, who abuse and betray it.' When Sir J. Barnard, A. D. 1740, was censured in the house of commons by Sir W. Yonge, for calling the seamens bill by its proper name, he answered as follows.
a Postlethw. BRIT. TRUE SYSTEM, XLV.
b CATO'S LETT, 11. 49.
'I have always heard it represented as art instance of integrity when the tongue and heart move in concert, when the words are representations of the sentiments; and have therefore hitherto endeavoured to explain my arguments with perspicuity, and to impress my sentiments with force. I have thought it hypocrisy to treat stupidity with reverence, or honour nonsense with the ceremony of confutation. As knavery, so folly, that is not reclaimable, is to be speedily dispatched, business is to be freed from obstruction, and society from nuisance. Now, Sir, when I am censured by those whom I may offend by the use of terms correspondent with my ideas, I will not, by a tame and silent submission, give reason to suspect, that I am conscious of a fault, but will treat the accusation with open contempt, and shew no greater regard to the abettors than to the authors of absurdity. That decency is of great use in public debates, I shall readily allow; it may sometimes shelter folly from ridicule, and preserve villainy from public detection; nor is it ever more carefully supported than when measures are promoted, which nothing can preserve from contempt but the solemnity with which they are established. Decency is a proper circumstance; but liberty is the essence of parliamentary disquisitions. Liberty is the parent of truth: but truth and decency are sometimes at variance: all men and all propositions are to be treated here as they deserve; and there are many who have no claim either to respect or decency.'
I expect the sons of slavery to cry out, 'The author is a republican, a discontented party-man, a Jacobite, a papist.' So the Jews stigmatized the primitive christians, and the papists to this day the protestants with the odious appellation of heretics. The court-sycophants in Charles I.'s times called the friends of liberty puritans, and the Walpolians called the opposers of that arch-corruptor disaffected. But wisdom is justified of her children. Let our courtiers overthrow the facts and the reasonings in the following pages. If they cannot, they are to yield to truth, were it delivered to them even by a papist. I would wish the reader to think I write in the spirit of a true independent whig, whose character Mr. Gordon describes as follows.
'An independent whig scorns all implicit faith in the state, as well as the church. The authority of names is nothing to him; he judges all men by their actions and behaviour, and hates a knave of his own party as much as he despises a fool of another. He consents not that any man or body of men shall do what they please. He claims a right of examining all publick measures, and if they deserve it, of censuring them. As he never saw much power possessed without some abuse, he takes upon him to watch those that have it; and to acquit, or expose them, according as they apply it to the good of their country, or their own crooked purposes a.' Others may alledge, that a private gentleman, who has never been employed in the state, is less likely to be of service to the public by writing on political subjects. Let Harrington answer them.
a Gord. TRACTS, 1. 311.
'It was in the time of Alexander, the greatest prince and commander of his age, that Aristotle, with scarce inferior applause and equal fame, being a private man, wrote that excellent piece of prudence in his cabinet, which is called his Politics, going upon far other principles than those of Alexander's government, which it has long outlived. The like did Titus Livius in the time of Augustus, Sir Thomas Moor in the time of Hen. VIII, and Machiavel when Italy was under princes that afforded him not the ear. These works nevertheless are all of the most esteemed and applauded in this kind; nor have I found any man whose like endeavours have been persecuted since Plato by Dionysius. I study not without great examples, nor out of my calling; either arms, or this art, being the proper trade of a gentleman. A man may be intrusted with a ship, and a good pilot too, yet not understand how to make sea charts. To say that a man may not write of government, except he be a magistrate, is a« absurd as to say, that a man may not make a sea chart, unless he be a pilot. It is known, that Christopher Columbus made a chart in his cabinet, that found out the Indies. The magistrate, that was good at his steerage, never took it ill of him that brought him a chart, seeing whether he would use it or no, was at his own choice; and if flatterers, being the worst sort of crows, did not pick out the eyes of the living, the ship of government at this day throughout Christendom had not struck so often as she has done. To treat of affairs, says Machiavel, which as to the conduct of them appertain to others, may be thought a great boldness; but if I commit errors in writing, these may be known without danger; whereas, if they commit errors in acting, such come not otherwise to be known than in the ruin of the commonwealth a.' I do not pretend to enter far into political controversy. Life is not long enough to dispute all that is disputable in so boundless a subject as politics, or to give the pro and con of all controverted points.
a OCEANA, p. 235.
If I sufficiently prove a point, as, That a standing army is dangerous to liberty, That placemen in the house of commons are inconsistent with the necessary independence of the representative body, &c. it signifies little what may be urged in defence of those abuses. For though, 'Audi alteram partem, Hear both sides,' is a good maxim in law, yet there are cases, when that is needless. If there be sufficient positive proof, that the accused was at Edinburgh at the hour, in which a murdered person was killed at London, it can signify little to hear presumptions of his guilt, unless it were to give a declaimer an opportunity of shining.
As to the article of style, I am in hopes, every candid reader will allow, that the collector of such a variety of matter could not well spend time in gathering the flowers of Parnassus. Such a work as this, adorned with the flights of rhetoric, would resemble an anchor (would to God this work might prove an anchor to the tempest-tossed state!) ornamented with carving and gilding. And I cannot help remarking here, that, of late years, we seem to have passed from too great a negligence of style to an excess on the laboured and finical side. I have, in what of the following is written by me, aimed at perspicuity.
The worthlessness of the great is often not less ridiculous than it is odious. In remarking upon it, I have sometimes been forced to laugh, though with a heavy heart. This, as I indulge it but seldom, I hope the reader will excuse.
Pascal, a grave author, if ever there was one, recommends the use of ridicule in opposing opinions too absurd to bear reasoning a.
Shaftesbury carries this point so far as to set up (very erroneously in my opinion) ridicule for a test of truth, instead of truth for a test of ridicule. Even the inspired writers have not disdained the use of ridicule b.
ridentem dicere verum
Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res.
a PROVINC. LETTERS, Let. XI.
b See 1 KINGS, XVIII.
Though the subject of the intended subsequent volumes be the continuation of what is treated in this first, viz. an enquiry into public abuses, and means of correcting them; it is my intention, that this and every succeeding volume, be, in such a manner complete and independent, as to be fit to stand by itself without any of the others; as if each volume was a different book.
In this volume, for instance, I have endeavoured to shew, that our parliaments are, at present, upon such a foot, as to the inadequate state of representation, the enormous length of their period, and ministerial influence prevailing in them, that their efficiency for the good of the people is nearly annihilated, and the subversion of the constitution, and ruin of the state is (without timely reformation of these abuses) the consequence unavoidably to be expected.
If the candid reader finds, that all this is but too effectually proved in this first volume, then may this first volume be properly said to be complete, and independent on those intended to follow.
Those minute critics, whom Mr. Pope dignifies and distinguishes by the title of Haberdashers of small wares, may plume themselves upon finding some errors and inaccuracies in this work. In the list of boroughs, for instance, which send in the majority of the house of commons, two or three places are said to send 2 members each, whereas they send only one each. But in that calculation an error of 1000, or 10,000 voters is nothing toward invalidating the assertion to be proved: And the case will be the same in many other instances. If any mistakes of importance are pointed out to the author, he will thankfully acknowledge them. And if he should have occasion to publish a new edition, corrected, or improved, he will take care, that the first purchasers have the corrections and improvements gratis.
It never was my design to form a system of politics; therefore I did not hold myself obliged to treat of all political subjects.
On land war I have collected little, besides considerations shewing, that we have hardly ever had any occasion to intangle ourselves with tho disputes between the powers on the continent, unless where we could employ our naval force with success.
Commerce is an immense field, into which I seldom enter; the comprehensive Dictionary on that subject by Mr. Postlethwayte, and History by my late esteemed friend Mr. Anderson, having superseded my labour. In these two books, and the original authors quoted in them, is contained a treasure of valuable remarks on that most interesting subject, to which every public-spirited person in the kingdom ought to attend.
The subjects treated of in this volume arc drawn out in the following table of contents. If the public shews a disposition to receive favourably the remainder of what I have collected, it shall be published with all convenient speed; as there is but little wanting to fit it for the press. For the remaining volumes, I have by me large collections on the following heads, viz.
Of corruption in general; of degeneracy in this country; of manners, education, luxury, adultery, duelling, &c. of liberty in general; of various forms of government, their respective advantages and disadvantages; of British liberty; clanger of the loss of liberty, and consequences; of juries, advantages and disadvantages; of law, and its grievances; of colonies, and the proper methods for encouraging them; of the army, and dangers from it; advantages of a militia; the ruinous effects of continental connexions; the importance of the navy; the conduct of finances, comprehending taxes, customs, excises, national debt, stock-jobbing, &c.; a view of the arts of wicked ministers, and favourites; character and conduct of kings; and of lords; a display of priestcraft; importance of population, comprehending observations on provisions, monopolies, cultivation of land, &c.; of redress by the people, when government refuses it; of party; of patriotism, true and false; of national prejudice, and many other articles.
The subject of these collections, though political, goes beyond mere temporal concerns. It takes in education, manners, and characters, public and private. Those are but shallow politics, which do not comprehend found morals; and the consequences of the moral characters of men reach into the unseen world.
Long Prefaces are seldom acceptable to readers. I shall therefore beg leave to break off here for the present, and to leave before the impartial tribunal of the public my following labours, not doubting but they will be in general received with the candor, which their intention, more than their merit, may claim.