Cato's Letter No. 64

Trade and Naval Power the Offspring of Civil Liberty only, and cannot subsist without it

John Trenchard (Saturday, February 3, 1722)

SIR, I have in former letters begun to shew, by an induction of particulars, and shall hereafter more fully shew, that population, riches, true religion, virtue, magnanimity, arts, sciences, and learning, are the necessary effects and productions of liberty; and shall spend this paper in proving, that an extensive trade, navigation, and naval power, entirely flow from the same source: In this case, if natural advantage and encouragements be wanting, art, expence, and violence, are lost and thrown away. Nothing is more certain, than that trade cannot be forced; she is a coy and humorous dame, who must be won by flattery and allurements, and always flies force and power; she is not confined to nations, sects, or climates, but travels and wanders about the earth, till she fixes her residence where she finds the best welcome and kindest reception; her contexture is so nice and delicate, that she cannot breathe in a tyrannical air; will and pleasure are so opposite to her nature, that but touch her with the sword, and she dies: But if you give her gentle and kind entertainment, she is a grateful and beneficent mistress; she will turn deserts into fruitful fields, villages into great cities, cottages into palaces, beggars into princes, convert cowards into heroes, blockheads into philosophers; will change the coverings of little worms into the richest brocades, the fleeces of harmless sheep into the pride and ornaments of kings, and by a further metamorphosis will transmute them again into armed hosts and haughty fleets.

Now it is absolutely impossible, from the nature of an arbitrary government, that she should enjoy security and protection, or indeed be free from violence, under it. There is not one man in a thousand that has the endowments and abilities necessary to govern a state, and much fewer yet that have just notions how to make trade and commerce useful and advantageous to it; and, amongst these, it is rare to find one who will forego all personal advantages, and devote himself and his labours wholly to his country's interest: But if such a phoenix should arise in any country, he will find it hard to get access to an arbitrary court, and much harder yet to grapple with and stem the raging corruptions in it, where virtue has nothing to do, and vice rides triumphant; where bribery, servile flattery, blind submission, riotous expence, and very often lust and unnatural prostitutions, are the ladders to greatness; which will certainly be supported by the same methods by which it is obtained.

What has a virtuous man to do, or what can he do, in such company? If he pity the people's calamities, he shall be called seditious; if he recommend any publick good, he shall be called preaching fool; if he should live soberly and virtuously himself, they will think him fit only to be sent to a cloister; if he do not flatter the prince and his superiors, he will be thought to envy their prosperity; if he presume to advise his prince to pursue his true interest, he will be esteemed a formidable enemy to the whole court, who will unite to destroy him: In fine, his virtues will be crimes, reproaches, and of dangerous consequence to those who have none. As jails pick up all the little pilfering rogues of a country, so such courts engross all the great ones; who have no business there but to grow rich, and to riot upon the publick calamities, to use all the means of oppression and rapine, to make hasty fortunes before the bow-string overtakes them, or a sudden favourite supplants them.

Now what encouragement or security can trade and industry receive from such a crew of banditti? No privileges and immunities, or even protection, can be obtained but for money, and are always granted to such who give most; and these again shall be curtailed, altered, abrogated, and cancelled, upon the change of a minister, or of his inclinations, interest, and caprices: Monopolies, exclusive companies, liberties of pre-emption, &c. shall be obtained for bribes or favour, or in trust for great men, or vile and worthless women. Some merchants shall be openly encouraged and protected, and get exemptions from searches and duties, or shall be connived at in escaping them; others shall be burdened, oppressed, manacled, stopped, and delayed, to extort presents, to wreak revenge, or to give preference of markets to favourites. Governors of port-towns, or of colonies, who have purchased their employments at court, shall be indulged and countenanced in making reprisals upon the traders, and to enable them to satisfy the yearly presents due to minions: Admirals and commanders of men of war shall press their sailors, to be paid for not doing it; and military officers and soldiers shall molest and interrupt them in the course of their commerce and honest industry.

Nor shall it be in the power of the most vigilant, active and virtuous prince, to prevent these and a thousand other daily oppressions; he must see with his ministers' eyes, and hear with their ears; nor can there be any access to him but by their means, and by their leave: Constant spies shall watch and observe the first intentions, or least approaches to a complaint; and the person injured shall be threatened, way-laid, imprisoned, perhaps murdered; but if he escape all their treacheries, and can get to the ear of his prince, it is great odds but he will be treated and punished as a calumniator, a false accuser, and a seditious disturber of his Majesty's government: No witness will dare to appear for him, many false ones will be suborned against him; and the whole posse of ministers, officers, favourites, parasites, pathicks, strumpets, buffoons, fiddlers, and pimps, will conspire to ruin him, as a common enemy to their common interests.

But if all these mischiefs could be avoided, the necessities of such a prince, arising from the profusion and vast expence of his court, from his foolish wars, and the depredations, embezzlements, and various thefts of his ministers and servants, will be always calling for new supplies, for new extortions, which must be raised by all the means by which they can be raised: New and sudden impositions shall be put upon trade, new loans be exacted from merchants; commodities of general use shall be bought up by the prince's order, perhaps upon trust, and afterwards retailed again at extravagant advantages: Merchants shall be encouraged to import their goods, upon promises of easy and gentle usage; these goods when imported shall be subjected to exorbitant impositions and customs, perhaps confiscated upon frivolous pretences. But if these, and infinite other oppressions, could be prevented for some time, by the vigilance of a wise prince, or the care of an able minister; yet there can be no probable security, or even hopes of the continuance of honest and prudent measures in such a government: For one wise prince so educated, there will be twenty foolish ones; and for one honest minister, there will be a thousand corrupt ones.

Under such natural disadvantages, perpetual uncertainties, or rather certain oppressions, no men will embark large stocks and extensive talents for business, breed up their children to precarious employments, build forts, or plant colonies, when the breath of a weak prince, or the caprice of a corrupt favourite, shall dash at once all their labours and their hopes; and therefore it is impossible that any trade can subsist long in such a government, but what is necessary to support the luxury and vices of a court; and even such trade is, for the most part, carried on by the stocks, and for the advantage of free countries, and their own petty merchants are only factors to the others. True merchants are citizens of the world, and that is their country where they can live best and most secure; and whatever they can pick up and gather together in tyrannical governments, they remove to free ones. Tavernier invested all the riches he had amassed by his long ramble over the world, in the barren rocks of Switzerland: And being asked by the last king of France, how it came to pass that he, who had seen the finest countries on the globe, came to lay out his fortune in the worst? He gave his haughty Majesty this short answer, that he was willing to have something which he could call his own.

As I think it is evident, by what I have said before, that trade cannot long subsist, much less flourish, in arbitrary governments; so there is so close and inseparable a connection between that and naval power, that I dare boldly affirm, that the latter can never arrive to any formidable height, and continue long in that situation, under such a state. Where there is an extensive trade; great numbers of able-bodied and courageous sailors, men bred up to fatigues, hardships, and hazards, and consequently soldiers by profession, are kept in constant pay; not only without any charge to the publick, but greatly to its benefit; not only by daily adding to its wealth and power, but by venting and employing abroad, to their country's honour and safety, those turbulent and unruly spirits that would be fuel for factions, and the tools and instruments of ambitious or discontented great men at home. These men are always ready at their country's call, to defend the profession which they live by, and with it the publick happiness: They are, and ever must be, in the publick interest, with which their own is so closely united; for they subsist by exporting the productions of the people's industry, which they constantly increase by so doing: They receive their pay from the merchants, a sort of men always in the interests of liberty, from which alone they can receive protection and encouragement. And as this race of men contribute vastly to the publick security and wealth, so they take nothing from it: They are not quartered up and down their native country, like the bands of despotick princes, to oppress their subjects, interrupt their industry, debauch their wives and daughters, insult their persons, to be examples of lewdness and prodigality, and to be always ready at hand to execute the bloody commands of a tyrant.

No monarch was ever yet powerful enough to keep as many seamen in constant pay at his own expence, as single cities have been able to do without any at all: The pay of a sailor, with his provision, is equal to that of a trooper in arbitrary governments; nor can they learn their trade, by taking the sea-air for a few summer months, and wafting about the coasts of their own country: They gain experience and boldness, by various and difficult voyages, by being constantly inured to hardships and dangers. Nor is it possible for single princes, with all their power and vigilance, to have such regular supplies of naval provisions, as trading countries must have always in store. There must be a regular and constant intercourse with the nations from whom these supplies come; a certain and regular method of paying for them; and constant demands will produce constant supplies. There are always numerous magazines in the hands of private merchants, ready for their own use or sale. There must be great numbers of shipwrights, anchor-smiths, rope and sail-makers, and infinite other artificers, sure always of constant employment; and who, if they are oppressed by one master, may go to another. There must be numbers of ships used for trade, that, upon occasions, may be employed for men of war, for transports, for fireships, and tenders. Now all these things, or scarce any of them, can ever be brought about by arbitrary courts; stores will be embezzled, exhausted, and worn out, before new ones are supplied; payments will not be punctually made; artificers will be discouraged, oppressed, and often left without employ: Every thing will be done at an exorbitant expence, and often not done when it is paid for; and when payments are made, the greatest part shall go in fees, or for bribes, or in secret trusts.

For these reasons, and many others, despotick monarchs, though infinitely powerful at land, yet could never rival Neptune, and extend their empire over the liquid world; for though great and vigorous efforts have been often made by these haughty tyrants of mankind, to subject that element to their ambition and their power, being taught by woeful experience, arising from perpetual losses and disappointments, of what vast importance that dominion was to unlimited and universal sovereignty; yet all their riches, applications, and pride, have never been able, in one instance, to effect it. Sometimes, indeed, trade, like a phantom, has made a faint appearance at an arbitrary court, but disappeared again at the first approach of the morning light: She is the portion of free states, is married to liberty, and ever flies the foul and polluted embraces of a tyrant.

The little state of Athens was always able to humble the pride, and put a check to the growing greatness, of the towering Persian monarchs, by their naval power; and when stripped of all their territories by land, and even their capital city, the seat of their commonwealth, yet had strength enough left to vanquish numerous fleets, which almost covered the sea, and to defeat an expedition carried on by armies that drank up rivers, and exhausted all the stores of the land.

The single city of Venice has proved itself an over-match in naval power to the great Ottoman Empire, though possessed of so many islands, useful ports, environed with so many sea-coasts, and abounding with all sorts of stores necessary to navigation; and in the year fifty-six gave the Turks so signal an overthrow at the Dardanelles, as put that state in such a consternation, that they believed their empire at an end; and it is thought if the Venetians had pursued their victory, they had driven them out of Constantinople, and even out of Europe; for the Grand Seignior himself was preparing to fly into Asia. The little island of Rhodes defended itself for some ages against the whole power of the Sultan, though encompassed by his dominions; and it was with great difficulty, hazard, and expence, that he at last overcame them, and drove the inhabitants to Malta, where they have ever since braved his pride, and live upon the plunder of his subjects: And notwithstanding all his numerous and expensive efforts to share with the Christians the dominion of the sea; yet there are no other seeds or traces of it left through his great and extensive territories, but what are found in the free piratical states of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli.

Neither the Sophi of Persia, the Great Mogul, the many kings who command the banks of the Ganges, nor all the haughty potentates of Asia and Africa, are able to contend at sea with the English or Dutch East-India Companies, or even to defend their subjects against but a few pirates, with all their population, and their mines of gold and diamonds.

Spain in all her pride, with the wealth of both Indies, with dominions so vast and extensive, that the sun rises and sets within them, and a sea-line, which if extended would environ the earth, yet was not able to dispute their title to that element with a few revolted provinces, who grew up through the course of an expensive war to that amazing greatness, that in less than a century they saw themselves, from a few fisher-towns encompassed with bogs and morasses, become a most formidable state, equal to the greatest potentates at sea, and to most at land; to have great kings in a distant world submit to be their vassals; and, in fine, to be protectors of that mighty nation from whom they revolted. Here is a stupendous instance of the effects of liberty, which neighbouring monarchs with twenty times the territory tremble at, and posterity will hardly believe.

France, with all its oeconomy, address, and power, with its utmost and most expensive efforts, and the assistance of neighbouring and even rival kings, has not been able to establish an empire upon that coy element. She saw it, like a mushroom, rise in a night, and wither again the next day. It is true, that at an immense expence and infinite labour, she got together a formidable fleet, and with it got victories, and took thousands of rival ships; yet every day grew weaker as her enemies grew stronger, and could never recover a single defeat, which in Holland would have been repaired in a few more weeks than the battle was days in fighting: So impossible is it for art to contend with nature, and slavery to dispute the naval prize with liberty.

Sweden and Denmark, though possessed of the naval stores of Europe, nations who subsist by that commerce, and are constantly employed to build ships for their neighbours; yet are not able, with their united force, to equip, man out, and keep upon the sea for any considerable time, a fleet large enough to dispute with an English or Dutch squadron: And I dare venture my reputation and skill in politicks, by boldly asserting, that another vain and unnatural northern apparition will soon vanish and disappear again, like the morning-star at the glimmering of the sun, and every one shall ask, Where is it?

T I am, &c.

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