« ZurückWeiter »
A LATE PUBLICATION,
" THE PRESENT STATE OF THE NATION."
Party divisions, whether on the whole operating for good or evil, are things inseparable from free government. This is a truth which, I believe, admits little dispute, having been established by the uniform experience of all ages. The part a good citizen ought to take in these divisions has been a matter of much deeper controversy. But God forbid that any controversy relating to our essential morals should admit of no decision. It appears to me, that this question, like most of the others which regard our duties in life, is to be determined by our station in it.
Private men may be wholly neutral, and entirely innocent; but they who are legally invested with public trust, or stand on the high ground of rank and dignity, which is trust implied, can hardly in any case remain indifferent, without the certainty of sinking into insignificance; and thereby in effect deserting that post in which, with the fullest authority, and for the wisest purposes, the laws and institutions of their country have fixed them. However, if it be the office of those who are thus circumstanced, to take a decided part, it is no less their duty that it should be a sober one. It ought to be circumscribed by the same laws of decorum, and balanced by the same temper, which bound and regulate all the virtues. In a word, we ought to act in party with all the moderation which does not absolutely enervate that vigour, and quench that fervency of spirit, without which the best wishes for the public good must evaporate in empty speculation.
It is probably from some such motives that the friends of a very respectable party in this kingdom have been hitherto silent. For these two years past, from one and the same quarter of politics, a continual fire has been kept upon them; sometimes from the unwieldy column of quartos and octavos; sometimes from the light squadrons of occasional pamphlets and flying sheets. Every month has brought on its periodical calumny. The abuse has taken every shape which the ability of the writers could give it; plain invective, clumsy raillery, misrepresented anecdote!. No method of vilifying the measures, the abilities, the intentions, or the persons which compose that body, has been omitted.
On their part nothing was opposed but patience and character. It was a matter of the most serious and indignant affliction to persons who thought themselves in conscience bound to oppose a ministry dangerous from its very constitution, as well as its measures, to find themselves, whenever they faced their adversaries, continually attacked on the rear by a set of men who pretended to be actuated by motives similar to theirs. They saw that the plan long pursued, with but too fatal a success, was to break the strength of this kingdom by frittering down the bodies which compose it, by fomenting bitter and sanguinary animosities, and by dissolving every tie of social affection and public trust. These virtuous men, such I am warranted by public opinion to call them, were resolved rather to endure every thing, than co-operate in that design. A diversity of opinion upon almost every principle of politics had indeed drawn a strong line of separation between them and some others. However, they were desirous not to extend the misfortune by unnecessary bitterness; they wished to prevent a difference of opinion on the commonwealth from festering into rancorous and incurable hostility. Accordingly they endeavoured that all past controversies should be forgotten ; and that enough for the day should be the evil thereof. There is however a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. Men may tolerate injuries whilst they are only personal to themselves. But it is not the first of virtues to bear with moderation the indignities that are offered to our country. A piece has at length appeared, from the quarter of all the former attacks, which upon every public consideration demands an answer. more equal to this business may be engaged in affairs of greater moment, I hope I shall be excused, if, in a few hours of a time not very important, and from such materials as I have by me (more than enough however for this purpose), I undertake to set the facts and arguments of this wonderful performance in a proper light. I will endeavour to state what this piece is ; the purpose for which I take it to have been written; and the effects (supposing it should have any effect at all) it must necessarily produce.
1 History of the Minority. History of the Repeal of the Stamp Act. Considerations on Trade and Finance. Political Register, &c. &c.
This piece is called “The Present State of the Nation.” It may be considered as a sort of digest of the avowed maxims of a certain political school, the effects of whose doctrines and practices this country will feel long and severely. It is made up of a farrago of almost every topic which has been agitated on national affairs in parliamentary debate, or private conversation, for these last seven years. The oldest controversies are hauled out of the dust with which time and neglect had covered them. Arguments ten times repeated, a thousand times answered before, are here repeated again. Public accounts formerly printed and reprinted revolve once more, and find their old station in this sober meridian. All the common-place lamentations upon the decay of trade, the increase of taxes, and the high price of labour and provisions, are here retailed again and again in the same tone with which they have drawled through columns of Gazetteers and Advertisers for a century together. Paradoxes which affront common sense, and uninteresting barren truths which generate no conclusion, are thrown in to augment unwieldy bulk, without adding any thing to weight. Because two accusations are better than one, contradictions are set staring one another in the face, without even an attempt to reconcile them. And, to give the whole a sort of portentous air of labour and information, the table of the House of Commons is swept into this grand reservoir of politics.
As to the composition, it bears a striking and whimsical resemblance to a funeral sermon, not only in the pathetic prayer with which it concludes, but in the style and tenour of the whole performance. It is piteously doleful, nodding every now and then towards dulness; well stored with pious frauds, and, like most discourses of the sort, much better calculated for the private advantage of the preacher than the edification of the hearers.
The author has indeed so involved his subject, that it is frequently far from being easy to comprehend his meaning. It is happy for the public that it is never difficult to fathom his design. The apparent intention of this author is to draw the most aggravated, hideous and deformed picture of the state of this country, which his querulous eloquence, aided by the arbitrary dominion he assumes over fact, is capable of exhibiting. Had he attributed our misfortunes to their true cause, the injudicious tampering of bold, improvident, and visionary ministers at one period, or to their supine negligence and traitorous dissensions at another, the complaint had been just, and might have been useful. But far the greater and much the worst part of the state which he exhibits is owing, according to his representation, not to accidental and extrinsic mischiefs attendant on the nation, but to its radical weakness and constitutional distempers. All this however is not without purpose. The author is in hopes, that, when we are fallen into a fanatical terror for the national salvation, we shall then be ready to throw ourselves,—in a sort of precipitate trust, some strange disposition of the mind jumbled up of presumption and despair, — into the hands of the most pretending and forward undertaker. One such undertaker at least he has in readiness for our service. But let me assure this generous person, that however he may succeed in exciting our fears for the public danger, he will find it hard indeed to engage us to place any confidence in the system he proposes for our security.
His undertaking is great. The purpose of this pamphlet, at which it aims directly or obliquely in every page, is to persuade the public of three or four of the most difficult points in the world
that all the advantages of the late war were on the part of the Bourbon alliance; that the peace of Paris perfectly consulted the dignity and interest of this country; and that the American Stamp Act was a masterpiece of policy and finance; that the only good minister this nation has enjoyed since his majesty's accession, is the Earl of Bute; and the only good managers of revenue we have seen are Lord Despenser and Mr. George Grenville ; and, under the description of men of virtue and ability, he holds them out to us as the only persons fit to put our affairs in order. Let not the reader mistake me: he does not actually name these persons; but, having highly applauded their conduct in all its parts, and heavily censured every other set of men in the kingdom, he then recommends us to his men of virtue and ability.
Such is the author's scheme. Whether it will answer his purpose I know not. But surely that purpose ought to be a wonderfully good one, to warrant the methods he has taken to compass it. If the facts and reasonings in this piece are admitted, it is all over with us. The continuance of our tranquillity depends upon the compassion of our rivals. Unable to secure to ourselves the advantages of peace, we are at the same time utterly unfit for
It is impossible, if this state of things be credited abroad, that we can have any alliance; all nations will fly from so dangerous a connexion, lest, instead of being partakers of our strength, they should only become sharers in our ruin. If it is believed at home, all that firmness of mind, and dignified national courage, which used to be the great support of this isle against the powers of the world, must melt away, and fail within us.
In such a state of things can it be amiss if I aim at holding out
some comfort to the nation; another sort of comfort, indeed, than that which this writer provides for it; a comfort, not from its physician, but from its constitution : if I attempt to show that all the arguments upon which he founds the decay of that constitution, and the necessity of that physician, are vain and frivolous ? I will follow the author closely in his own long career, through the war, the peace, the finances, our trade, and our foreign politics : not for the sake of the particular measures which he discusses; that can be of no use; they are all decided ; their good is all enjoyed, or their evil incurred: but for the sake of the principles of war, peace, trade, and finances. These principles are of infinite moment. They must come again and again under consideration; and it imports the public, of all things, that those of its ministers be enlarged, and just, and well confirmed, upon all these subjects. What notions this author entertains we shall see presently ; notions in my opinion very irrational, and extremely dangerous ; and which, if they should crawl from pamphlets into counsels, and be realized from private speculation into national measures, cannot fail of hastening and completing our ruin.
This author, after having paid his compliment to the showy appearances of the late war in our favour, is in the utmost haste to tell you that these appearances were fallacious, that they were no more than an imposition.—I fear I must trouble the reader with a pretty long quotation, in order to set before him the more clearly this author's peculiar way of conceiving and reasoning :
Happily (the K.) was then advised by ministers, who did not suffer themselves to be dazzled by the glare of brilliant appearances ; but, knowing them to be fallacious, they wisely resolved to profit of their splendour before our enemies should also discover the imposition.—The increase in the exports was found to have been occasioned chiefly by the demands of our own fleets and armies, and, instead of bringing wealth to the nation, was to be paid for by oppressive taxes upon the people of England. While the British seamen were consuming on board our men of war and privateers, foreign ships and foreign seamen were employed in the transportation of our merchandise ; and the carrying trade, so great a source of wealth and marine, was entirely engrossed by the neutral nations. The number of British ships annually arriving in our ports was reduced 1756 sail, containing 92,559 tons, on a medium of the six years' war, compared with the six years of peace preceding it.The conquest of the Havannah had, indeed, stopped the remittance of specie from Mexico to Spain; but it had not enabled England to seize it: on the contrary, our merchants suffered by the detention of the galleons, as their correspondents in Spain were disabled from