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
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
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,
———— congestaque eodem
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
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
aS. 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
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.
aPostlethw. 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
'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.
aGord. 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
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
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
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
——ridentem dicere verum
Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat
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
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
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,
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.