Cato's Letter No. 70

Second Address to the Freeholders, &c. upon the same Subject

Thomas Gordon (Saturday, March 17, 1722)


You are born to liberty, and it is your interest and duty to preserve it. The constitution which you live under is a mixed monarchy, where your governors have every right to protect and defend you, none to injure and oppress you. You have a large share in the legislature; you have the sole power over your own purses; you have an undoubted right to call to account and punish the instruments of your oppression: But it depends upon yourselves alone to make these rights of yours, these noble privileges, of use to you. The best laws give no security if they are not executed, but indeed become worse than no laws; and they never will be executed, unless those who are entrusted with the execution of them have an interest in their execution.

All men desire naturally riches and power; almost all men will take every method, just or unjust, to attain them. Hence the difficulty of governing men, and of instituting a government equally proper to restrain them and protect them; and hence the insufficiency of simple forms of government, to provide for the happiness and security of societies. An arbitrary prince will quickly grow into a tyrant; the uncontrolled dominions of the nobles will as certainly produce oligarchy, or the tyranny of a few; that is, pride, combination, and rapine in the sovereigns, and misery and dejection in the many; and the unrestrained licentiousness of the multitude will beget confusion and anarchy. To provide against these certain and eternal evils, mixed forms of government were invented; where dominion and liberty are so equally tempered, and so mutually checked one by another, that neither of them can have interest and force enough to oppress the other.

These institutions have provided against many evils, but not against all; for, whilst men continue in this state of degeneracy, that is, whilst men are men, ambition, avarice, and vanity, and other passions, will govern their actions; in spite of all equity and reason, they will be ever usurping, or attempting to usurp, upon the liberty and fortunes of one another, and all men will be striving to enlarge their own. Dominion will always desire increase, and property always to preserve itself; and these opposite views and interests will be causing a perpetual struggle: But by this struggle liberty is preserved, as water is kept sweet by motion.

The nature and reason of this sort of government, is to make the several parts of it control and counterpoise one another; and so keep all within their proper bounds. The interest of the magistracy, which is the lot and portion of the great, is to prevent confusion, which levels all things: The interest of the body of the people, is to keep people from oppression, and their magistrates from changing into plunderers and murderers; the interest of the standing senate, which is, or ought to be, composed of men distinguishable for their fortunes and abilities, is to avoid ruin and dissolution from either of these extremes: So that, to preserve liberty, all these coordinate powers must be kept up in their whole strength and independency.

Names will not defend you, Gentlemen, when the thing signified by them is gone. The emperors of Rome were as absolute with the shew of a Senate, and the appearance of the people’s choosing their praetors, tribunes, and other officers of the commonwealth, as the eastern monarchs are now without these seeming checks, and this shew of liberty: And in some respects they were more secure; as the infamy of their tyranny was shared by these assemblies, the advantages were all their own, and the condition of the people was rather the worse for these mock magistrates and pretended representatives, who, under the colour and title of the protectors of the people, were, at the people’s expence, the real helpers and partakers of the iniquity of the tyrant. The kings of France have parliaments, but parliaments which dare not dispute their royal pleasure; and the poor people would not fare one jot the better, if these parliaments were bribed not to dispute it.

This wretched case, Gentlemen, will be yours and the wretched case of your posterity, if ever an ambitious prince and designing minister shall hereafter be able to corrupt or awe your representatives. And whatever wicked bargains are then made, will be made at your expence, and you must pay the terrible reckoning at last. You have a king at present, from whom you have none of these things to fear. But, alas! Gentlemen, how few Tituses and Trajans were there found amongst the Roman emperors! and how few can England shew since the Conquest! It requires therefore your best thoughts and most vigorous resolutions, to preserve your constitution entire in all its parts, without suffering any one part to prevail so far over the other, as to reduce it in effect, though not in name, to a simple form of government, which is always tyranny. It will be all one to you, whether this is brought about by confederacy or by force. Whatever be the villainous means, violence, oppression, and every rank of evil, will be the end.

In order to this honest or publick design, you ought to choose representatives, whose interests are at present the same with your own, and likely to continue the same; representatives, who are not already pre-engaged, nor, from their circumstances, education, profession, or manner of life, likely to be engaged, in a contrary interest. He will prove but a sorry advocate, who takes fees from your adversary; and as indifferent a plenipotentiary, who receives a pension from the prince whom he is commissioned to treat with: Nor can there be any security in the fidelity of one, who can find it more his interest to betray you, than to serve you faithfully.

Virtue and vice will be but ill balanced, when power and riches are thrown into the wrong scale. A great Protestant peer of France having changed his religion, in compliance with his master, Henry IV of France, who had changed too, was soon after asked by that monarch publickly, which of the two religions he thought the best? “The Protestant, sir, undoubtedly is the best,” said the peer, “by your own royal confession; since, in exchange for it, your Majesty has given me popery, and a marshal’s staff to boot.” Where boot is given, there is always a tacit confession that the exchange is unequal without it. Choose not therefore such who are likely to truck away your liberties for an equivalent to themselves, and to sell you to those against whom it is their duty to defend you. When their duty is in one scale, and a thousand pounds a year, or more, or even less, is thrown into the contrary scale, you may easily guess, as the world goes, how the balance is like to turn.

It is the right and duty of the freeholders and burghers of Great Britain, to examine into the conduct, and to know the opinions and intentions, of such as offer themselves to their choice. How can any of them be truly represented, when they know not who represents them? And as it was always their right, they had once the frequent means and opportunity to resent effectually the corruptions of those who had basely betrayed their sacred trust; of rejecting with scorn and detestation, such traitorous parricides; and of sending up honester and wiser men in their room. This, my dear countrymen, we had once the frequent means of doing: Make use now, O worthy and free Britons! make good use of this present dawn, this precious day of liberty, to recover once more that invaluable privilege. Do not wildly choose any one who has given up, or attempted to give up, your birthrights, and, above all, that right which secures all the rest. Admit no man to be so much as a candidate in your counties and boroughs, till he has declared, in the clearest manner, in the most express and solemn words declared, his most hearty and vigorous resolutions, to endeavour to repeal all laws which render you incapable to serve your king, or to punish traitors, or to preserve your original and essential rights. This, Gentlemen, is your time; which, if you suffer it to be lost, will probably be for ever lost.

There are a sort of men who prowl about the country to buy boroughs; creatures, who accost you for your votes with the spirit and design, and in manner of jockeys; and treating you like cattle, would purchase you for less or more, just as they think they can sell you again. Can you bear this insult, Gentlemen, upon your honesty, your reason and your liberties? Or if there be any amongst you, who countenance such vile and execrable bargains, which affect and involve you in all their consequences, ought they not to be treated like publick enemies, as indeed they are, and be hunted from amongst you? I have often wondered how a little contemptible corporation, consisting, as some of them do, of broom-makers, hedge-breakers, and sheep-stealers, could stand the looks and rebukes of a rich and honest neighbourhood, after these dirty rogues had openly sold at the market-cross, perhaps for forty shillings a-piece, not only their own liberties, but, as far as in them lay, the liberties of that rich neighbourhood and all England. Such saleable vermin ought to be treated as persons excommunicate, as the pests and felons of society, which they would sell for porridge: And if proper abhorrence were every-where shewn towards them, and no commerce held with them, they would soon grow honest out of necessity; or if they did not, they might justly fear, like guilty Cain, that every man whom they met would kill them. If this method were taken, it would cure corruption of this kind: Let those who sell their country be everywhere renounced and shunned by their neighbourhood and their country, and such sale will soon be over.

The majority of you, Gentlemen, are yet uncorrupted: Indeed none but a few of the worst and poorest of you are yet corrupted. The body of the freeholders know not what it is to take money; and choose their representatives from amongst themselves, and from a thorough acquaintance, either with the men, or with their characters. The little beggarly boroughs only are the pools of corruption; with them money is merit, and full of recommendation. They engage for men without knowing their names, and choose them sometimes without seeing their faces; yet their members, when they are chosen, are as good as yours; that is, their votes are good. It is in your power, Gentlemen, and in that of your honest neighbours to cure this mighty evil, which has hitherto been incurable, or not suffered to be cured. They are but a few, and an inconsiderable few, in comparison of you; and cannot live without you, though you can without them.

Try the expedient which I propose; neither buy nor sell with those reprobate mercenaries, who sell themselves and you. Consider how much it imports you; your all is concerned in it. This is not a dispute about dreams or speculations, which affect not your property; but it is a dispute whether you shall have any property, which these wretches throw away, by choosing for the guardians of property men whom they know not, or who are only known to them by a very bad token, that of having corrupted them.

Lay not out your money with those who for money sell your liberties, which is the only source of your money, and of all the happiness which you enjoy. Remember, when your all is at stake, as it always is in an election of those who are either to guard, or to give up your all; I say, remember how wantonly and blindly upon that occasion, these wretches surrender themselves, and you, and your all, and all England, to the best bidder, without knowing, often, who he is. What mercy do these cruel slaves deserve at your hands? The most horrible thing that they can do against you and your posterity, they do.

When Hannibal had gained his last and greatest battle against the Romans, and many of the nobility were deliberating about leaving Rome, the young Scipio entered the room with his sword drawn, and obliged every man present to bind himself with an oath, not to desert their country. And will you, Gentlemen, suffer the little hireling inhabitants of boroughs, who receive from you and your neighbours their daily bread; will you, can you suffer them to betray you, to give up your fortunes, and to comprehend you as they do, in the sale which they make of themselves? Do you not know how much you are at the mercy of their honesty, how much it depends upon their breath whether you are to be freemen or slaves: Yet will you stand stupidly by, and see them truck you away for loose guineas? Would you allow the common laws of neighbourhood to such as steal or plunder your goods, rob you of your money, seize your houses, drive you from your possessions, enslave your persons, and starve your families? No, sure, you would not. Yet will you, can you continue to treat as neighbours and friends, those rash, wicked, and merciless profligates; who, as far as in them lies, would bring upon you and your posterity all those black and melancholy evils, by committing the mighty and sacred trust of all your lives and properties to men, who hire them to betray it; and having first made them rogues, may afterwards, for ought they know, make them slaves, and you with them?

Can you bear this, Gentlemen? It is the root of all your heavy sufferings, and may yet produce worse and more heavy. You are freemen, and men of reason and spirit; awaken your spirit, exert your reason, and assert your freedom. You have a right to petition the Parliament, you have a right to address the king, to propose your thoughts and grievances to both; and to be heard and relieved when you suffer any. And from the same reason and equity, you, Gentlemen freeholders, have a right and a near concern to advise your neighbouring boroughs in the choice of their members, and to warn them of the consequences, if they make a bad one.

For God’s sake, Gentlemen, and for your own, and for all our sakes, shew your spirit, your understanding, and your activity, upon this occasion; and the hearty prayers and wishes of every honest man will attend you.

Alas! Gentlemen, with tears I tell you, that the cure of corruption is left to you. A cure from another quarter is cruelly denied to us. A worthy attempt was lately made to destroy it effectually; and we hoped that no man, or set of men, pretending to common honesty, would have had the face to discourage or frustrate that attempt; but it was frustrated, and we know where, and by whom, and for what ends. Those who owe their whole figure, and fortune, and force to corruption, rather than part with it, seem determined to see the nation consumed and perish in it. Your help must be from God and yourselves; be honest, and make your neighbours honest; both are in your power, and I glory that they are. As you love your liberties exercise your virtue; they depend upon it. Remember the true but dismal picture that I have given you of slavery and arbitrary power; and if you would avoid them, be virtuous, scorn bribes, abhor the man that offers them and expose him. Consider him as an accursed tempter, and a barbarous ravisher, who would buy you out of your integrity, and spoil you of your liberties.

Give me leave now, Gentlemen, to mark out to you more particularly what sort of men you ought not to choose. Choose not those who live at a great distance from you, and whose abilities, probity and fortunes, are not well known to you. When you have chosen them, it will be too late to know them. Choose not the eldest sons of noblemen, who must be naturally in the interest of the nobility, as the nobility generally are in the interest of the court, whatever it be. Reject bigots of all kinds and sides: Those men, whose minds are shut up in band-boxes, and who walk upon stilts, have not thoughts large enough for governing society. Even their honesty, when they have any, is useless to the publick; and is often, on the contrary, made an ill instrument in the hands of those who have none. Reject also all timorous, fearful, and dastardly spirits; men, who having good principles, either dare not own them, or dare not act according to them. Choose not men who are noted for non-attendance, and who have been members of Parliament, without waiting upon the business of Parliament; men, who will probably be engaged in a fox-chase, in a tavern, or in other debauched houses, though the kingdom were undoing. While your happiness or misery depends so much upon the breath of your representatives, it is of great importance to you, that their attendance be as constant, as their behaviour be honest. What excuse can they offer for themselves, when by their wanton absence a vote may pass, which may cost you millions? We know what bold advantages have been taken in former Parliaments, of a thin House, to raise great and unexpected sums from the nation, to enable its worst foes to carry on an unnatural conspiracy against it.

Reject with indignation those men, who, in the late execrable South-Sea conspiracy, took stock for votes; and for an infamous bribe in stock, voted your liberties and purses into the merciless claws of the South-Sea traitors, and are since many of them justly undone by the bargain. Think you, Gentlemen, that these men, who could sell their country, when they had a stake in it, will not sell it for less, when they have none? You ought to add to the same class, and treat in the same manner, all those who headed and abetted that destructive scheme, or endeavoured to protect those who did so.

You are to be particularly careful, that those whom you choose be duly qualified according to law, and that no deceit be practised in obtaining temporary qualifications. You ought to enquire into their estates, and how they came by them; and if they have none, as many who stand candidates, I am told, have not, you may guess who assists them, and what hopeful services are expected from them. Such men you may be sure will never speak your sense in Parliament, nor even their own, if they have any; nor be suffered to consult your interest. They must work for their masters against you, who ought to be so.

Neither can you expect to be well served by men, whose estates are embarked in companies: They themselves will be engaged with their fortunes in the particular interest of such companies, which are always against the interest of general trade; and they will be but too apt to fall into the juggling and artifices of courts, to raise their stock to imaginary values. A certain and known method to promote cheating, and to sink trade.

Shun likewise all those who are in the way of ambition; a passion which is rarely gratified by integrity, and an honest zeal for your good; shun all men of narrow fortunes, who are not for your purpose from obvious reasons; shun all lawyers, who have not established practice or good estates, and who are consequently more liable to corruption, and whom the court has more means of corrupting, than other men; shun all men involved in debt, all men of ill morals, and debauched, and dishonest lives; all gamesters, and all men who spend more than their income. Their extravagance makes them necessitous, and their necessities make them venal.

We do not ordinarily trust a man with a small sum without a note, or mortgage, or a bond; and such security is but reasonable: And is it not as reasonable, that, when we trust men with all that we have, as we do our representatives, we ought to seek and procure all the security which the nature of the thing will admit? Would it not be direct madness to trust our all, our whole accumulative portion in this life, to those whom no man would, in a private way, trust for five shillings? Call to mind, Gentlemen, whether some of you have never formerly made such a rash and dangerous choice; and for God’s sake mend it now.

I suppose thus far you will all agree with me; as I dare say you will, when I tell you that the gentlemen of the sword are not proper representatives of a people, whose civil constitution abhors standing armies, and cannot subsist under them. The fortunes and expectations of these gentlemen depend upon observing the word of command; and it is but natural that they should support power in which they are sharers. You must not therefore expect that they will ever concur in a vote, or an address, to disband or reduce themselves; however desirable or necessary the same may be to you. Those of them who deserve well of you, as very many of the present officers do, are doubtless entitled to thanks and good usage from you; but to shew them respect by giving them seats in Parliament, is by no means a proper, prudent, or natural way of doing it. Besides, it will create a great and unjust partiality to particular boroughs, and some shall be burdened with soldiers, when others shall be free from them; just at the mercy and expectations of the commanding officer.

It is indeed a misfortune to the army itself, to have any of its officers members of the House of Commons, since the greatest merit in the field shall not recommend a man so much to just preferment, as the want of merit sometimes shall in that House. A complaint, however, which, I hope, there is no ground for at present.

Choose not, Gentlemen, any sort of men, whose interest may, at any time, and in any circumstance, consist in confusion. Neither are men in employments the properest men for your choice. If ever your interest comes in competition with their places, you may easily guess which must give way. I think there are but few instances, where they themselves suffer, and fall in that struggle. Under this head, I would desire you, Gentlemen, to observe the behaviour of the officers of the customs and excise upon the ensuing elections; and remember, that they forfeit one hundred pounds, if they persuade or deal with any person to vote, or to forbear voting, and are made for ever incapable of holding any employment under the crown. If you find them busy and intermeddling in this election, take the advantage which the law gives you, and see it honestly put in execution against them. Besides, such conduct of theirs, and prosecution of yours, may give occasion to a new law, with more terrible penalties upon that sort of men, whom our misfortunes have made numerous.

For a conclusion. Consider, Gentlemen, Oh! consider what you are about, and whether you will bring life or death upon us. Oh! take care of yourselves, and of us all. We are all in your hands, and so at present are your representatives; but very quickly the scene will be shifted, and both you and we will be in theirs. Do not judge of them by their present humble speeches, and condescending carriage; but think what they are like to be, when they are no longer under your eye, when they are no longer suing to you, nor want you. These humble creatures, who now bow down before you, will soon look down upon you. Oh! choose such as are likely to do it with most pity and tenderness, and are most likely to relieve you of those burdens, under which we all sadly groan, and under which we must certainly sink, never to rise again, if we be not relieved.

I am, Gentlemen, with exceeding sincerity, and all good wishes,

G Your most affectionate humble servant.

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