The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter I: Junius to the Printer of the Public Advertiser, 21 January 1769.

[1] SIR, 

THE submission of a free people to the executive authority of government, is no more than a compliance with laws which they themselves have enacted. While the national honour is firmly maintained abroad, and while justice is impartially administered at home, the obedience of the subject will be voluntary, cheerful, and, I might almost say, unlimited. A generous nation is grateful even for the preservation of its rights, and willingly extends the respect due to the office of a good prince into all affection for his person. Loyalty, in the heart and understanding of an Englishman, is a rational attachment to the guardian of the laws. Prejudices and passion have sometimes carried it to a criminal length, and, whatever foreigners may imagine, we know that Englishmen have erred as much in a mistaken zeal for particular persons and families, as they ever did in defence of what they thought most clear and interesting to themselves.

It naturally fills us with resentment, to see such a temper insulted and abused. In reading the history of a free people, whose rights have been invaded, we are interested in their cause. Our own feelings tell us how long they ought to have submitted, and at what moment it would have been treachery to themselves not to have resisted. How much warmer will be our resentment, if experience should bring the fatal example home to ourselves!

The situation of this country is alarming enough, to rouse the attention of every man, who pretends to a concern for the public welfare. Appearances justify suspicion; and when the safety of a nation is at stake, suspicion is a just ground of inquiry. Let us enter into it with [2] candour and decency. Respect is due to the station of ministers; and, if a resolution must at last be taken, there is none so likely to be supported with firmness, as that which has been adopted with moderation.

The ruin or prosperity of a state depends so much upon the administration of its government, that, to be acquainted with the merit of a ministry we need only observe the condition of the people. If we see them obedient to the laws, prosperous in their industry, united at home, and respected abroad, we may reasonably presume, that their affairs are conducted by men of experience, abilities, and virtue. If, on the contrary, we see an universal spirit of distrust and dissatisfaction, a rapid decay of trade, dissensions in all parts of the empire, and a total loss of respect in the eyes of foreign powers, we may pronounce, without hesitation, that the government of that country is weak, distracted, and corrupt. The multitude, in all countries, are patient to a certain point. Ill usage may rouse their indignation, and hurry them into excesses; but the original fault is in government. Perhaps there never was an instance of a change, in the circumstances and temper of a whole nation, so sudden and extraordinary as that which the misconduct of ministers has, within these few years, produced in Great Britain. When our gracious sovereign ascended the throne, we were a flourishing and a contented people. If the personal virtues of a king could have insured the happiness of his subjects, the scene could not have altered so entirely as it has done. The idea of uniting all parties, of trying all characters, and distributing the offices of state by rotation, was gracious and benevolent to an extreme, though it has not yet produced the many salutary effects which were intended by it. To say nothing of the wisdom of such a plan, it undoubtedly arose from an unbounded goodness of heart, in which folly had no share. It was not a capricious partiality to new faces; it was not a natural turn for low intrigue: nor was it the treacherous amusement of double and triple negociations. No, Sir, it arose from a continued anxiety, in the purest of all possible hearts, for the general welfare. Unfortunately for us, the event has not been answerable to the design. After a rapid succession of changes, we are reduced to that state which hardly any change can mend. Yet there is no extremity of distress, which, of itself, ought to reduce a great [3] nation to despair. It is not the disorder, but the physician: it is not a casual concurrence of calamitous circumstances; it is the pernicious hand of government which alone can make a whole people desperate.

Without much political sagacity, or any extraordinary depth of observation, we need only mark how the principal departments of the state are bestowed, and look no farther for the true cause of every mischief that befals [sic] us.

The* finances of a nation, sinking under its debts and expences, are committed to a young nobleman already ruined by play. Introduced to act under the auspices of Lord Chatham, and left at the head of affairs by that nobleman's retreat, he became minister by accident: but deserting the principles and professions which gave him a moment's popularity, we see him, from every honourable engagement to the public, an apostate by design. As for business, the world yet knows nothing of his talents or resolution; unless a wayward, wavering inconsistency be a mark of genius, and caprice a demonstration of spirit. It may be said, perhaps, that it is his Grace's province, as surely it is his passion, rather to distribute than to save the public money; and that while Lord North is chancellor of the exchequer, the first lord of the treasury may be as thoughtless and extravagant as he pleases. I hope, however, he will not rely too much on the fertility of Lord North's genius for finance: his Lordship is yet to give us the first proof of his abilities. It may be candid to suppose, that he has hitherto voluntarily concealed his talents; intending, perhaps, to astonish the world, when we least expect it, with a knowledge of trade, a choice of expedients, and a depth of resources, equal to the necessities, and far beyond the hopes, of his country. He must now exert the whole power of his capacity, if he would wish us to forget, that, since he has been in office, no plan has been formed, no system adhered to, nor any one important

*The Duke of Grafton took the office of secretary of state, with an engagement to support the Marquis of Rockingham's administration. He resigned, however, in a little time, under pretence that he could not act without Lord Chatham, nor bear to see Mr. Wilkes abandoned; but that under Lord Chatham he would act in any office. This was the signal of Lord Rockingham's dismission. When Lord Chatham came in, the Duke got possession of the treasury. Reader, mark the consequence!

[4] measure adopted for the relief of public credit. If his plan for the service of the current year be not irrevocably fixed on, let me warn him to think seriously of consequences, before he ventures to increase the public debt. Outraged and oppressed as we are, this nation will not bear, after a six years' peace, to see new millions borrowed, without an eventual diminution of debt, or reduction of interest. The attempt might rouse a spirit of resentment which might reach beyond the sacrifice of a minister. As to the debt upon the civil list, the people of England expect, that it will not be paid without a strict inquiry how it was incurred. If it must be paid by parliament, let me advise the chancellor of the exchequer to think of some better expedient than a lottery. To support an expensive war, or in circumstances of absolute necessity, a lottery may, perhaps, be allowable; but, besides that it is at all times the very worst way of raising money upon the people, I think it ill becomes the royal dignity, to have the debts of a King provided for, like the repairs of a country bridge, or a decayed hospital. The management of the King's affairs in the house of commons cannot be more disgraced than it. has been. A leading minister* repeatedly called down for absolute ignorance, ridiculous motions ridiculously withdrawn, deliberate plans disconcerted, and a week's preparation of graceful oratory lost in a moment, give us some, though not adequate, ideas of Lord North's parliamentary abilities and influence. Yet, before he had the misfortune of being chancellor of the exchequer, he was neither an object of derision to his enemies, nor of melancholy pity to his friends.

A series of inconsistent measures has alienated the colonies from their duty as subjects, and from their natural affections to their common country. When Mr. Grenville was placed at the head of the treasury, he felt the impossibility of Great Britain's supporting such an establishment as her former successes had made indispensable, and at the same time of giving any sensible relief to foreign trade, and to the weight of the public debt. He thought it equitable, that those parts of the empire which had benefited most by the expences of the war, should

*This happened frequently to poor Lord North.

[5] contribute something to the expences of the peace, and he had no doubt of the constitutional right vested in parliament to raise the contribution. But, unfortunately for this country, Mr. Grenville was at any rate to be distressed, because he was minister; and Mr. Pitt * and Lord Camden were to be the patrons of America, because they were in opposition. Their declaration gave spirit and argument to the colonies; and while, perhaps, they meant no more than the ruin of a minister, they, in effect, divided one half of the empire from the other.

Under one administration the stamp act is made; under the second it is repealed; under the third, in spite of all experience, a new mode of taxing the colonies is invented, and a question revived which ought to have been buried in oblivion. In these circumstances a new office is established for the business of the plantations, and the Earl of Hillsborough called forth, at a most critical season, to govern America. The choice, at least, announced to us a man of superior capacity and knowledge. Whether he be so or not, let his dispatches, as far as they have appeared, let his measures, as far as they have operated, determine for him. In the former we have seen strong assertions without proof, declamation without argument, and violent censures without dignity or moderation; but neither correctness in the composition, nor judgment in the design. As for his measures, let it be remembered that he was called upon to conciliate and unite; and that, when he entered into office, the most refractory of the colonies were still disposed to proceed by the constitutional methods of petition and remonstrance. Since that period they have been driven into excesses little short of rebellion. Petitions have been hindered from reaching the throne; and the continuance of one of the principal assemblies rested upon an arbitrary condition,† which, considering the temper they were in, it was impossible they should comply with; and which would have availed nothing as to the general question, if it had been complied with. So violent, and, I believe, I may call it, so unconstitutional, an exertion of the prerogative, to say nothing

* Yet Junius has been called the partizan of Lord Chatham.
†That they should retract one of their resolutions, and erase the entry of it.

[6] of the weak, injudicious terms in which it was conveyed, gives us as humble all opinion of his Lordship's capacity, as it does of his temper and moderation. While we are at peace with other nations, our military force may, perhaps, be spared to support the Earl of Hillsborough's measures in America. Whenever that force shall be necessarily withdrawn or diminished, the dismission of such a minister will neither console us for his imprudence, nor remove the settled resentment of a people, who, complaining of an act of the legislature, are outraged by an unwarrantable stretch of prerogative, and, supporting their claims by argument, are insulted with declamation.

Drawing lots would be a prudent and reasonable method of appointing the officers of state, compared to a late disposition of the secretary's office. Lord Rochford was acquainted with the affairs and temper of the southern courts; Lord Weymouth was equally qualified for either department:* by what unaccountable caprice has it happened, that the latter, who pretends to no experience whatsoever, is removed to the most important of the two departments, and the former, by preference, placed in an office where his experience can be of no use to him? Lord Weymouth had distinguished himself, in his first employment, by a spirited, if not judicious, conduct. He had animated the civil magistrate beyond the tone of civil authority, and had directed the operations of the army to more than military execution. Recovered from the errors of his youth, from the distraction of play, and the bewitching smiles of Burgundy, behold him exerting the whole strength of his clear, unclouded faculties, in the service of the crown. It was not the heat of midnight excesses, nor ignorance of the laws, nor the furious spirit of the house of Bedford; no, Sir, when this respectable minister interposed his authority between the magistrate and the people, and signed the mandate, on which, for aught he knew, the lives of thousands depended, he did it, from the deliberate motion of his heart, supported by the best of his judgment.

* It was pretended that the Earl of Rochford, while ambassador in France, had quarrelled with the Duke of Choiseul; and that, therefore, he was appointed to the northern department, out of compliment to the French minister.

[7] It has lately been a fashion to pay a compliment to the bravery and generosity of the commander in chief,* at the expence of his understanding. They who love him least, make no question of his courage, while his friends dwell chiefly on the facility of his disposition. Admitting him to be as brave as a total absence of all feeling and reflection can make him, let us see what sort of merit he derives from the remainder of his character. If it be generosity to accumulate, in his own person and family, a number of lucrative employments; to provide, at the public expence, for every creature that bears the name of Manners; and, neglecting the merit and services of the rest of the army, to heap promotions upon his favourites and dependants; the present commander in chief is the most generous man alive. Nature has been sparing of her gifts to this noble Lord; but where birth and fortune are united, we expect the noble pride and independance of a man of spirit, not the servile humiliating complaisance of a courtier. As to the goodness of his heart, if a proof of it be taken from the facility of never refusing, what conclusion shall we draw from the indecency of never performing? And if the discipline of the army be in any degree preserved, what thanks are due to a man, whose cares, notoriously confined to filling up vacancies, have degraded the office of commander in chief into a broker of commissions?

With respect to the navy, I shall only say that this country is so highly indebted to Sir Edward Hawke, that no expence should be spared to secure to him an honourable and affluent retreat.

The pure and impartial administration of justice is, perhaps, the firmest bond to secure a cheerful submission of the people, and to engage their affections to government. It is not sufficient that questions of private right or wrong are justly decided, nor that judges are superior to the vileness of pecuniary corruption. Jefferies himself, when the court had no interest, was an upright judge. A court of justice may be subject to another sort of bias, more important and pernicious, as it reaches beyond the interest of individuals, and affects the whole community. A judge under the influence of government, may be honest enough in the decision of private causes, yet a traitor to the public.

*The late Lord Granby.

[8] When a victim is marked out by the ministry, this judge will offer himself to perform the sacrifice. He will not scruple to prostitute his dignity, and betray the sanctity of his office, whenever an arbitrary point is to be carried for government, or the resentment of a court to be gratified.

These principles and proceedings, odious and contemptible as they are, in effect are no less injudicious. A wise and generous people are roused by every appearance of oppressive unconstitutional measures, whether those measures are supported only by the power of government, or masked under the forms of a court of justice. Prudence and self-preservation will oblige the most moderate dispositions to make common cause, even with a man whose conduct they censure, if they see him persecuted in a way which the real spirit of the laws will not justify. The facts, on which these remarks are founded, are too notorious to require an application.

This, Sir, is the detail. In one view, behold a nation overwhelmed with debt; her revenues wasted; her trade declining; the affections of her colonies alienated; the duty of the magistrate transferred to the soldiery; a gallant army, which never fought unwillingly but against their fellow-subjects, mouldering away for want of the direction of a man of common abilities and spirit; and, in the last instance, the administration of justice become odious and suspected to the whole body of the people. This deplorable scene admits of but one addition; that we are governed by counsels from which a reasonable man can expect no remedy but poison; no relief but death.

If, by the immediate interposition of Providence, it were possible for us to escape a crisis so full of terror and despair, posterity will not believe the history of the present times. They will either conclude that our distresses were imaginary, or that we had the good fortune to be governed by men of acknowledged integrity and wisdom: they will not believe it possible, that their ancestors could have survived or recovered from so desperate a condition, while a Duke of Grafton was prime minister, and a Lord North chancellor of the exchequer; a Weymouth and a Hillsborough secretaries of state; a Granby commander in chief; and a Mansfield chief criminal judge of the kingdom.


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