Additional Letters of Cato No. 4

The same Subject continued.

John Trenchard (Saturday, November 9, 1723)

SIR, The actions of a prince are more liable to censure than his words. His words, which can be heard but by a few, may be misrepresented; and this his friends may plead in his defence: But his actions publish themselves; and all men will pretend to judge what all men see, and what concerns all men. Nor must he expect to be judged by the motives, and intention of his conduct, but by the effects. Those motives, however just and necessary, are not always such as he can avow; and if he mean one thing, and pretend another, he cannot with a good grace take it ill that his sincerity is suspected.

Henry III of France dispatched Monsieur Bellievre away to England as his ambassador extraordinary, to interpose his royal credit with Queen Elizabeth, for the life of Mary, Queen of Scots; and great consequences were expected from so much zeal and ostentation. Nor was ever any thing more strong, laboured, and pathetick, than Monsieur Bellievre’s speech upon that occasion. In it all the topicks of mercy, of consanguinity, of charity and forgiveness, of good policy, of the sacredness of the blood of princes, and the ill example of shedding it, were urged and exhausted with great earnestness and art. The French King’s pious concern for his sister-in-law was dressed up in moving colours, and warm arguments were fetched from the safety and reputation of Queen Elizabeth herself. Never was such a dolorous farce! The ambassador had private orders to solicit in his Majesty’s name the execution of Queen Mary, and alleged the same arguments for that execution.

Now the whole of this conduct, so full of contradiction and insincerity, was necessary to his condition. It concerned that prince’s reputation with his people, and with all the Catholicks in Europe, to interest himself in the life of a Catholick queen, his brother’s wife: If he had not, he had furnished the Guises and the League, already too popular and powerful, with a new advantage against him. They had already charged him with heresy, though he had murdered a world of hereticks to demonstrate his Catholick zeal. But it concerned him full as nearly, that that Queen should neither be restored to Scotland, nor succeed Queen Elizabeth in England, and thereby strengthen the hands of the League, and her uncles, the Guises, against him.

Queen Elizabeth, who was a wise princess, acted the same double part in the same affair. The security of her life and her crown was precarious while the Queen of Scots lived; and yet the life of her royal cousin and sister was so dear to her, that the importunity and repeated addresses and petitions of Parliament, with all the doughty casuistry and logick of her spiritual counsellors, the bishops, could hardly prevail upon her tender conscience to rid herself and her realm of so dangerous an enemy; and after she had submitted her many scruples to the love and fears of the people, and to the holy reasonings of the bishops, she was forced to be surprised into the signing of the death warrant; which, after all, she never meant to have executed, but only kept over the sentenced queen in terrorem. But this her merciful purpose was frustrated by the officious zeal of Secretary Davison; for which the poor man was disgraced.

This was all illusion. No person upon earth wished more passionately for the death of Mary, Queen of Scots; but she did wisely to save appearances. She had good reasons for what she had done; and reasons equally good for not bearing her testimony to the rightfulness of putting a queen to death.

Queen Elizabeth escaped the bloody hand of her sister Mary, by the policy of King Philip her husband, which got the better of his bigotry and natural cruelty. His wife had no children, and the crown must descend either to her sister Elizabeth, who was a Protestant, or to the Queen of Scots, who was a papist, and also Queen of France. He hated Protestants, but loved his interest better; and saved the princess, to prevent so much power from falling into the French scale. This was just policy; but he durst not own it: It would have made him odious to the court of Rome, and to the popish world.

Thus princes themselves become subjects; subjects to the censure of their people: And to please them, or to avoid their displeasure, are often obliged to disguise their actions, often to disown the motives of their best actions, and sometimes the actions themselves. This acting in masquerade is a restraint which most princes, the most haughty and unlimited, must undergo. Not Louis le Grand, nor the Great Turk, durst declare to his people, that he oppressed them to satiate his pride or avarice; that he went to war through ambition, and spilled their blood for fame.

Caesar, the mighty and successful Caesar, had no other deity but false glory! But, with all his power and fortune, he was not powerful enough to declare, that he shed human blood, and enslaved the world, only to make more noise than any man in it; for this great glory of his was no more but noise and mischief. His purpose of war with the Parthians was only to gratify his restless spirit, and to employ the spirits of the Romans, which, by enslaving them, he had incensed; and he was no longer easy and safe, than he was fighting and killing. But this was a secret not fit to be told, and the honour and benefit of the Romans were boldly pretended; that is, the Romans were to have certain losses, and no purchase, for the honour and benefit of the Romans: For, if he had conquered all Parthia, which was no ways probable, Rome would have been never the better, but, on the contrary, must have sacrificed many Romans to the pride and pleasure of Caesar.

Oliver Cromwell sought the Lord upon all occasions, and all that he did was the Lord’s doings; and because many of the saints preached it, numbers believed it. Now, though this was downright impudence, which, to a wise man, is worse than silence, yet it passed with a party. Parties generally act implicitly: Watchword and cant pass with them for reason, and they find great conviction in a few solemn unmeaning sounds. The partisans of Caesar vindicated their purpose of making him a king, by a foolish old prophecy never heard of before, that none but a king could conquer the Parthians. They could not have devised a better argument; it convinced the whole party, and filled their mouths with an answer to the stiff-necked republicans. Had Cromwell been declared King, 1 doubt not but his preachers would have found a revelation for it, and probably the coronation sermon would have abounded with texts that gave him the diadem. 1t would not have been the first nor the last time that the Bible has been made a great courtier, and heaven the voucher of wickedness and falsehood. The last argument of the Spanish clergy for the expulsion of the Moors, was a bell in the church of Vililah, which rung of its own accord; and though it uttered nothing but sound, yet expressly commanded that expulsion, and fully satisfied King Philip’s conscience. It was a miracle; and what should miracles be worked for, but for the confusion of infidels and hereticks? And who should see the design of miracles executed, but those who interpret miracles?

Princes must say something for their best and worst actions; which is a confession, that they are not so unaccountable as some would make them. Their reputation is at the mercy of their people; and when their reputation is lost or lessened, they cannot possess their crowns in much peace, nor indeed in much safety. Hence nothing is so tender as the reputation of a prince, and nothing ought to exercise his thoughts and fears more. He must not measure his publick fame by the fine tales told him by those who are well paid for the tales, and dare not always tell him truth, for fear of losing that pay. It would be more to his advantage to hear the worst things that are said of him; for while he is falsely told that all things go well, he will never think of altering his conduct, how wrong soever he is; and going on in an error for want of honest information, has been the ruin of many princes. They cannot go abroad for truth, and rarely hear it at home; and the evil day has come upon them when they thought themselves most secure; or if they have heard part of the truth, it has come disguised to their ears; and the complaints of the people, forced from them by oppression, have been represented as the clamours of malcontents, and as the voice of faction. And it is very true, that faction often rails without ground; but it is as true, that faction often derives its chief power from complaints that are wellgrounded. Nor is it at all good reasoning to justify every thing which faction condemns.

—Fas est & ab hoste doceri.
Some men, especially great men, would never hear of their faults, were it not for their foes; and princes might often have learned better lessons of government from the satires made upon them, than from their many panegyricks. Their panegyricks consecrate their worst actions, and never find any thing to be mended; but in satire there is always some truth, and often a great deal; and where there is no truth, there is no satire.

It is the interest of a prince, to know what his subjects think of him and his government: 1t is a duty which he owes to himself as well as to them; and though he may hear of many evils and grievances which are fathered upon him, and yet not owing to him, he will probably at the same time hear of many that he has power to remove, or to mitigate. Let him do his best, he will have many enemies; but this is no reason why he should not lessen their number, by lessening the cause all he can.

It is a hard matter for a prince to learn his true character at second-hand: His surest way is to learn it from himself, from the measures which he pursues, and from the effects which they ought to have upon the minds and fortunes of men. His friends will sanctify or palliate his greatest faults; and his foes will make crimes of his greatest virtues. 1f he be a bigot to a reigning superstition, wise men will despise him; and if he despise superstition, the bigots, who are always the majority, will curse him. Nor will the most able and upright administration be of any merit with them, if he do not season his administration with the blood of infidels and hereticks, and exclude the best and soberest part of his subjects, from any share in his protection and paternal mercy; and if he fall in with this religious fury, he destroys or provokes his soberest and best subjects. So that to be a saint one way, he must be a devil on the other; a character very common in the world: And if he do not exercise his rage for enthusiasts, he must expect to feel theirs, and to have his humanity and wisdom exposed and treated as atheism. To butcher, or be butchered, is the lot of a prince who rules over bigots; a sort of madmen, who would father their own frenzy upon the deity, and make him thirst after the coolest human blood to assuage it. The Spanish Inquisition is a priestly slaughter-house, a dreadful tribunal erected against the lives, consciences, and faculties of men; and yet no King of Spain could attempt to suppress it, without expecting to lose his life in the attempt. Nor is it in the power of the Pope to suppress popery. And the Great Turk, absolute and irresistible as he is, were he to turn Christian, could not live half an hour.

Princes are under the same difficulty, when they would cure another mighty evil in their government. Standing armies are standing curses in every country under the sun, where they are more powerful than the people; and yet it is hardly possible for a prince that rules by an army, to part with his army, or to set up any new authority over them. He will find them armed against himself, as well as against his people or his neighbours; and he cannot relieve his subjects, if he would. The Asiatick governments, and all that are like them, are modelled for the destruction of [the] human race; and yet the best and wisest man that ever lived, were he at the head of one of those governments, must act according to its bloody maxims, or quickiy perish. Brutus, in the place of the Great Turk, must have been a Great Turk, and observed all the essential principles of that savage monarchy. Human wisdom cannot give freedom to Turkey; and if the laws of liberty, practised amongst us, were to be followed there, especially in cases of treason, there would be an end of the empire in a month, and every bashaw would be an independent king. Great empires cannot subsist without great armies, and liberty cannot subsist with them. As armies long kept up, and grown part of the government, will soon engross the whole government, and can never be disbanded; so liberty long lost, can never be recovered. Is not this an awful lesson to free states, to be vigilant against a dreadful condition, which has no remedy.

This therefore is the situation of the best arbitrary prince, as to his conduct and popularity. The good that he would do, he cannot do; and the good that he does, he sometimes dares not own. He is often hated for his best deeds, and slandered for his noblest qualities: If he rule by soldiers, he must oppress his people; and if he favour his people, he is in danger from his soldiers. Where there are factions, he is sure of one of them for his foes; and is exposed to the cruelty of the bigots for his mercy to all men. As to limited princes, who have the laws for the rules of their actions, and rule their actions by those laws, and study in all things the happiness of their people, they may be secure from the convulsions which are scarce separable from absolute monarchies; nor are they necessitated to exercise the violence and fraud by which the others subsist, unless they have the misfortune to govern a people mad with enthusiasm and bigotry: And there is no remedy but to overcome the enthusiasm, or to be carried away with it; to comply in some instances with reigning and popular prejudices; to elude their force by seeming to yield to them; and in time, by patience and prudent management, wholly to destroy them.

T I am,&c.

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