Cato's Letter No. 69

Address to the Freeholders, &c. about the Choice of their Representatives

John Trenchard (Saturday, March 10, 1722)

SIR, I beg leave to interrupt my discourse upon general liberty for one post or more, as occasion shall present; and desire you will publish the enclosed letter in your journal, in the place which used to be filled with one to yourself.



There is no natural or political body but is subject to the variations and injuries of time. Both are composed of springs, wheels, and ligaments, all in perpetual motion, and all liable to wear out and decay: And as the parts are mortal, the whole must be mortal too. But as natural bodies may continue their existence, and preserve their duration, by action, by the addition of new particles, or by removing from time to time all occasional obstructions which clog their motion, and check their vigour, as long as their stamina, first principles, or original constitution, are capable of subsisting; so a political machine may do the same: And some writers in politicks have asserted, that the same might be immortal; which is not my opinion.

But whether this be true or not, certain it is, that in many respects a political body has the advantage of a natural one. We can often look into its inmost frame and contexture; and when any of its constituent parts are decayed or worn out, can supply it with new ones (which cannot be done in the other without a total dissolution of the fabrick): And we can frequently annex additional props and buttresses to support for some time a tottering building, and hinder it from falling upon our heads. This is often all that can be done in decayed governments, when a state is in a cachexy; and this is what is every honest manís duty to do, when he can do no better. But, I thank God, the constitution of England is yet sound and vigorous: Many of its parts are active and strong; and if some members be corrupted or decayed, there are materials at hand to supply the defect. There is wealth and power in being: Our country abounds with men of courage and understanding; nor are there wanting those of integrity and publick spirit: There is an ardent desire and diffusive love of liberty throughout the kingdom; and many begin to be tired, sick, and ashamed of party-animosities, and of quarrelling with their neighbours, their relations, and often with their best friends, to gratify the pride, the ambition, and rapine of those, who only sell and betray them. It is yet in our power to save ourselves; most men have inclination to do it; and it is only owing to the art and address of our common enemies, if we do not agree on the means of doing it.

I dare therefore affirm, that there is such a general disposition towards liberty through the whole kingdom, that if there should be found in the next House of Commons as many honest, bold, and wise men, as would have saved Sodom and Gomorrah, England is yet safe, in spite of all the efforts of delusion and bribery: And I dare as freely affirm, that if some vigorous and bold resolutions are not there taken, to assist our most excellent King towards discharging the publick debts, and in redressing all sorts of publick corruptions, the liberty of Great-Britainómy heart can speak no more.

It lies upon you, Gentlemen, to give motion to the machine: You are the first springs that give life to all virtuous resolutions: Such as you shew yourselves, such will be your representatives: such as is the tree, such will be the fruit. Choose honest men, free and independent men, and they will act honestly for the publick interest, which is your interest. It is not to be expected, that criminals will destroy their own handiwork; that they will either reform or punish themselves; or, that men, who have brought our misfortunes upon us, will go about in good earnest to redress them, or even own that there are any such. Besides, deep wounds must be probed and searched to the core, before they can be cured; and those who gave them can seldom bear to see the operation, much less will they pay for the cure, if they can be at ease by the death of the patient.

Let us not therefore, my countrymen, desert or deceive ourselves, or think we can be safe, if ever such men can get into power. Let us not again be deluded with false promises and deceitful assurances; but let us judge what men will do by what they have done. What warm and plausible remonstrances have you formerly heard and received? What impetuous storms and hurricanes of false and counterfeit zeal against oppressions and miscarriages in the late reigns; against exorbitant pensions, outrageous taxes, wild and expensive expeditions; against increasing the publick debts; against standing troops quartered up and down your countries; against oppressive companies, to the destruction of your trade and industry; against private menís raising immense estates upon your ruin; and against their bribing and corrupting the guardians of the publick liberty? And are you at last perfectly easy in every one of those complaints?

Now, therefore, my best friends, is the time to help yourselves: Now act honestly and boldly for liberty, or forget the glorious and charming sound. Let not a publick traitor come within the walls of your cities and towns, without treating him, as an enemy to your king and country deserves. Throw your eyes about your several countries, and choose your patrons, your protectors, your neighbours, and your known friends; choose for your representatives men whose interests are blended with your own; men who have no hands dipped in the public spoils, but have suffered by them as much as you yourselves have suffered; men who have not jobbed for stock, nor for wages, nor for you.

Make not so foolish a bargain, as for a little loose money to give up desperately all you have; your liberties, your estates, your families. Is it for your sakes, think you, that these jobbers of stocks, and of honesty, and of their country, come to caress you, flatter you, and bow to you? Do you, or can you believe that they come to impair their own fortunes, to increase yours? Or think you not that they will have their pennyworths out of you? Depend upon it, they will; and, for every bucket of water thrown into your wells, they will pump out tuns.

Reason not therefore, as too many of you have done, and I fear yet do, that since those whom you trust make personal advantages of your confidence and credulity, you ought to share in those advantages. But throw your choice upon such who will neither buy you, nor sell you. Whoever purchases an office at more than it is honestly worth, must be supported by him who sells it, in all dishonest gains; or else he will call for his money again, if he know how to get it. No man will bribe you into your own interests, or give you money that he may have leave to serve you by his own labour, and at his farther expence; but will think himself at liberty to make reprisals: He will find no difficulty in himself to sell those, who have before sold themselves and their country: Nor can you have any right or pretence to reprove one that does so.

Mistake not, my countrymen, in believing that men in your condition and circumstances are too low for the scythe, and that you can shrink out of publick misfortunes. For you, gentlemen, are the first principles of wealth and power. From your labour and industry arises all that can be called riches, and by your hands it must be defended: Kings, nobility, gentry, clergy, lawyers, and military officers, do all support their grandeur by your sweat and hazard, and in tyrannical governments upon the peopleís spoils: They there riot upon the subsistence of the poor people, whose poverty is their riches. In corrupt administrations, your superiors of all kinds make bargains, and pursue ends at the publick expence, and grow rich by making the people poor.

You feel the first effects of tyrannical government; and great men are generally made the instruments of it, and reap the advantages. Exorbitant taxes, want of trade, decay of manufactures, discouragement of industry, insolence and oppression of soldiers, exactions of civil officers, ignorance, superstition, and bigotry, are all the constant concomitants of tyranny, always produce it, and are produced by it. And all these terrible evils must fall most signally upon the middle and inferior ranks of mankind: There must be a great number of slaves to furbish up one grand monarch, and the poor people must be those slaves. He must engage many in his interest, before he can establish a power which destroys the rest; all these many must be supported, and have their condition bettered by the change; and all this charge and expence the wretched people must work for and pay.

Forget therefore, Gentlemen, the foolish and knavish distinction of High Church and Low Church, Whig and Tory; sounds which continue in your mouths when the meaning of them is gone; and are now only used to set you together by the ears, that rogues may pick your pockets, I own myself to be one of those, whom one side in respect, and the other in contumely, call Whigs; and yet I never discoursed with a candid and sensible Tory, who did not concur with me in opinion, when we explained our intentions. We both agreed in our notions of old English liberty, in a passion for freedom to ourselves, and to procure it for every one else: We were both for preserving the English monarchy, and the legal constitution of the national church against its enthusiastick friends and enemies; and were for giving liberty of conscience to those, who through a prejudiced education, or as we believed, a less capacity of judging, were so unhappy as to think differently from ourselves, in an affair which concerned us not, and which we had nothing to do with.

We both honoured and resolved to preserve upon the throne our most excellent sovereign King George, and to endeavour to continue him a glorious king over honest men, and freemen; and not to attempt to make him, what he scorns to be made, a patron of parasites, and a lord of slaves: And we thought we could not shew our duty to him more effectually, than in bringing to exemplary punishment all who had betrayed him and us:

We wished the old names of distinction and faction buried deep as the centre; and nothing heard in their room but court and country, Protestant and papist, freemen and slaves. It will lie at your door, Gentlemen, to put an end to the above silly and wicked gibberish. Choose those who have no interest to continue it, and it will not be continued.

Consider, my dear friends and countrymen, what I have said, and think what you are doing, while you are raising hue and cry after men who will betray you; while you are sending afar for courtiers, for directors of bubbles, for company-men, and publick pickpockets, to represent you; while you are giving up, perhaps for ever, to the mercy of bloodsuckers, your honest industry, and the just profits of your trade, for a poor momentary share of their infamous plunder; and thereby bringing a canker upon your subsistence, and the just resentment of heaven upon your endeavours. Shew yourselves once, and once for all, Britons and freemen, and not foreign and saleable slaves; shew that you know how to honour your king, and yet to keep your liberties; that you obey him out of choice, and not out of servile fear; that you know how to distinguish your loyalty to your prince, from a blind submission to his and your own servants; and that you can make your duty to him consistent with a vigorous resolution to punish all who betray him and you.

If you did but know, Gentlemen, how you are used above, by those who think it worth their time to flatter you below, and to your faces, you would not want my advice and admonitions. You are called the mob, the canaille, the stupid herd, the dregs and beasts of the people; and your interest is never thought of by those men, who thus miscall you; men who have no more wit, and much less honesty, than yourselves; and men whose insolence and sauciness are owing to wealth, which they have plundered from you. It depends now upon yourselves, whether you will deserve these base and reproachful names, or not; shew that you are men, and you will be used like men; but if you sell yourselves like the beasts in the field, the purchasers will have a right to sell you again, and make honest gains out of a villainous bargain.

For my own particular, I cannot give myself leave to despair of you, because I must at the same time despair of old English liberty: You are our Alpha and Omega, our first and last resource; and when your virtue is gone, all is gone. It is true, you have a wife and virtuous prince at present, who will not take advantage of your follies; and you may depend upon the same security from his son: but neither he nor his son, nor his family are immortal; and therefore I hope you will act wisely, and trust to yourselves alone. But whatever part, gentlemen, you shall think fit to take, you shall not do it blindfold, and in the dark. You shall have the fair and dark side of your conduct laid before you, and then you may choose whether you will be freemen or vassals; whether you will spend your own money and estates, or let others worse than you spend them for you: Methinks the choice should be easy. You shall hear more from me upon this subject; and you may believe me.

your very sincere,
and most affectionate,
humble servant.

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