Cato's Letter No. 1

Reasons to prove that we are in no Danger of losing Gibraltar

Thomas Gordon (Saturday, November 5, 1720)

SIR, As I have heard, with concern, the report of our being in danger of losing Gibraltar, lately revived; so I had no small pleasure to see, in the generality of the people, a just sense of the great importance of that place to the trade and security of England.

All men, in truth, shew their opinion of it, by the fears which they express about it; and if we set aside (as unworthy of mention) a few prostitute hirelings, who go about coffee-houses to drop, as far as they dare, stupid and villainous reasons for giving it up: I say, excepting such a contemptible few, I defy those, who for vile ends, or to make good vile bargains, would gladly have it surrendered, to pick out of all the people of England, one honest, rational, and disinterested man, to concur with them in it.

Thank God, in spite of the folly of parties, and the arts of betrayers, we see in all men a steady, warm and unanimous spirit for the preservation of Gibraltar; and I hope to see shortly the time, when we shall, with the same frankness and unity, exercise our reason and our eyesight in other matters, in which we are at present misled, either by infatuation, or false interest.

There are two things which surprize me in the many apprehensions which we have had about Gibraltar. The first is, the great diffidence manifested by such fears: Men must be far gone in distrust, before they could come to suspect, that their superiors could ever grow so much as indifferent about a place of such consequence to their country; and to suppose them capable of giving it up, is to suppose them capable of giving up Portsmouth, nay, England itself. Such suppositions must therefore be unjust, and the height of ignorance or spleen. Can it be imagined, that men of honour would forfeit their reputation, patriots sacrifice a bulwark of their country, or wise men venture their heads, by such a traitorous, shameful and dangerous step?

But, say some, perhaps it will be suffered to be taken by surprize; and then all the blame will only rest upon some obscure officer, who may easily be given up or kept out of the way, while those who contrived the roguery, and felt the reward of it, will be as loud in their resentments, as others who love their country well enough to grieve for its disgrace or its losses.

I know, indeed, that all this has been said more than once, and some plausible circumstances urged, to shew that it was not absolutely groundless. But, alas, what a poor plot would here be! A farce of treachery and nonsense, visible to the weakest of mankind, and only fit to raise hatred and contempt towards the wretched framers of it. This would be to deal with us as with a nation of idiots, blind and insensible, who can neither see day-light, nor feel injuries, nor return insolent usage. No, no, we are not as yet to be hood-winked by such thin schemes: We can ask, if need were, a few plain questions, which would easily puzzle such feeble politicians; but at present we have no occasion.

All this, however, shews how much we are apt to suspect foul play in this, and many other cases of the like nature; nor shall I now maliciously enquire, to what prevailing cause such distrust is to be ascribed.

Another thing, at which I am apt to wonder, is, that, considering how much our credit is concerníd to clear ourselves from the charge of any base purpose, of being willing that Gibraltar should be given away, we have not yet done it, at least in any publick and satisfactory manner: The mistaken people will say, and have said, that our silence is a confession of our guilt; and that if their censures and suppositions had not been just, it was in our power publickly to have confuted and removed them; neither of which we have done, but suffered them to remain under painful fears, and ourselves under the suspicion of neither regarding their interest, nor their ease, nor our own credit.

Why did you not, say they, tell all the world how much you were wronged, and belied, in a declaration, said to be the Regentís of France, which expressly asserted, that a bargain was made to give away Gibraltar? Why did you not demonstrate, that you were at least as willing to preserve your own towns, as to conquer countries for other people, who are remarkable for doing you as little service as they possibly can? Why did you suffer it to be suggested, with the least colour of probability, that you would rather throw away what was your own, than not procure for foreign allies, at your expence, what was none of theirs? Why do we fight, why conquer, if we must thus condescend to implore the vanquished, graciously to grant peace to us the conquerors, for which we will humbly pay them with part of our dominions? And how came foreign states, most of them slaves, to be more in your favour, than Old England, which is a nursery of freemen?

All these are malicious questions, though I hope groundless; but as they are proposed by many thousands of his Majestyís liege subjects, in a modest and serious way, methinks it would be a seasonable piece of discretion and good policy, to prove them groundless.

For Godís sake, let us answer, if we can answer; and if our innocence can be shewn, as no doubt it can, let it be shewn. It will not even be enough, that Gibraltar is never given up, but we ought to purge ourselves from the imputation of ever having entertained so criminal an intention. If we can do this, it will recover us some part of the credit and confidence which we have lost by not doing of it. I therefore hope, and humbly propose, that we may soon see some able and sagacious pen, instead of making panegyricks upon us, make apologies for us.

In the mean time, permit me to give here three unanswerable reasons why Gibraltar cannot either be given up, or taken:

First, because Secretary Grimaldo says it.[1]

Secondly, it would make South-Sea stock fall: And,

Thirdly, and lastly, we have wise and honest governors.

G. I am, & c.



[1] This letter was written in October 1720.

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