Cato's Letter No. 80

That the two great Parties in England do not differ so much as they think in Principles of Politicks

John Trenchard (Saturday, June 9, 1722)

SIR, Machiavel tells us, that it is rare to find out a man perfectly good or perfectly bad: Men generally swim between the two extremes; and scarce any man is as good as he himself, his friends, or his party, make him; or as bad as he is represented by his personal or party enemies. Ask a Whig the character of a neighbouring Tory, and he represents him as a Jacobite, an enemy to publick liberty, and a persecutor; and, on the other side, if you enquire the other’s character from his Tory godfather out of baptism, he shall pass for a commonwealth’s man, an enemy to all sorts of monarchy, and an encourager of all kinds of licentiousness and faction: whereas an indifferent man, conversing with each of them, shall find both aim at the same thing, and their opposition to proceed only from their not conversing together, from an intention to thwart one another, or from the intrigues of those who reap advantage by setting them together by the ears. 'Tis too great a compliment to pay to our adversaries, to suppose them to act upon a mistaken principle against their real interest; and it is certainly the interest of every man to be free from oppression; and he will join in measures to be so, if he be not terrified by the fear of greater oppression. It is undoubtedly true, that there are many Jacobites in England; but it is thinking better of them than they deserve, to believe that they will be so against their own interests: And therefore, excepting the very few who can hope to receive the advantages of such a revolution, the rest may be converted, by shewing them that they can find better protection and security from the present establishment, than by hazarding their lives and estates, and their country’s happiness, in bringing their designs to pass. The only dangerous Jacobites that I ever feared, were those who took the same methods to keep out the son as turned out the father.

Whilst men enjoy protection, plenty, and happiness, they will always desire to continue them, and never look after revolutions; but when they lose, or fancy that they lose those advantages, which they ever will think they have a right to enjoy, they will endeavour to change their condition, though in the attempt they often change it for the worse. Whoever therefore would endeavour to preserve a present establishment, must make the people easy and contented under it, and to find their own account in the continuance of it. The instruments of tyranny (of which I hope we shall never have any amongst us) are never to be depended upon in any exigency; they will always be able to shift for themselves, and know how to make an interest with a new government, by betraying the old: which was the case of the late King James, and will ever be the case of others in the like circumstances.

Every man therefore, who is sincerely and heartily attached to the interest of his present Majesty, will endeavour to cherish, cultivate, and make a proper use of his excellent dispositions to protect and make his people happy, and to preserve our constitution in church and state upon its true and solid basis. Old land-marks are never to be removed, without producing contests and law-suits, which for the most part ruin both parties. We have an excellent constitution at present; and if not the best which can be formed in an utopian commonwealth, yet I doubt the best that we are capable of receiving. The present distribution of property renders us incapable of changing it for the better; and probably any attempt to change it for the better, would conclude in an absolute monarchy. There are so many interests engaged to support it, that whoever gets power enough to destroy these interests, will have power enough to set up himself; as Oliver Cromwell did, and every one else will do, in the same circumstances; or at least, no wise man will trust to his moderation.

No man of sense and fortune will venture the happiness which he is in full possession of, for imaginary visions; and throw the dice for his own estate: Such desperate gamesters carry their whole about them; and their future expectations depend upon confusion, and the misery of others: but such as have much to fear, and little to hope for, will acquiesce in their present condition. This being the true circumstance of the nobility, clergy, gentry, rich merchants, and the body of the people, I hope they will concur in such measures as will most effectually preserve our present establishment, and support the just rights of the crown, and the liberties of the people, oppose all usurpations on either side, and endeavour, in the most exemplary manner, to punish all who shall dare to interpose between the king and the subject, and spoil that harmony which alone can make them both happy.

This is the interest of all parties, and of every man in them (except a very few, who make their market of the others' differences), and I could never yet see a just bone of contention between them. It can be of no consequence to either party, if they are governed well, whether a man of one denomination or another governs them: and if they are oppressed, it is no consolation, that it is done by one whom they formerly called a friend; whereas if they would agree together, no one durst oppress them. Those who are called Whigs, have no intention to injure the legal establishment of the church; and seven years’ experience, when they have had the whole power in their hands, may convince any one that they did not intend it; and the Tories tell us, that they desire no more than that establishment, and have no thoughts of breaking in upon the Act of Toleration, which is the right of all mankind. The Whigs can have no motive to do the one, nor the Tories the other, when party opposition is laid aside: for how is a Whig injured by another’s receiving advantages which he has no right to, and receives no prejudice by, but may receive benefit from, by providing for his children, relations, or friends? And how is a Tory injured in a quiet neighbour’s worshipping God in his own way, any more than if he did not worship him at all; which is the case of thousands who are unmolested? The distinctions about govern ment are at an end: Most of the Tories are ashamed of their old arbitrary principles, and many of the modern Whigs ought to be ashamed of taking them up; and indeed they have no right to reproach one another with either practices or principles: for both have shewn their wrong ends in their turns; and they have brought matters at last to that pass, that whilst they have been throwing the dice for victory, sharpers have been drawing the stakes.

Indeed, I cannot see what we differ about: we fight at blindman’s-buff, and fall upon our friends, as well as enemies. All the grounds of distinction are now at an end, and the honest and wise men of all parties mean the same thing, and ought to lay aside and forget the old names, and become one party for liberty, before that name is forgotten too. It is yet in our power to save ourselves. We are sure we have a prince, who has every disposition to help us, if we lend our own assistance, and shew him the means of doing it; and we are answerable to God, our country, and ourselves, if we do not use our own endeavours. The means are easy, obvious, and legal; and the motives as strong as ever did, or ever can, happen in any circumstance of human affairs. It is no less than the safety and preservation of the best king, and the best constitution upon earth, and indeed of almost the only people amongst whom there are any remains of liberty, knowledge, or true religion; all which depend upon the steady, loyal, and uniform proceedings of the next Parliament.

For my own part, I have no quarrel to names or persons, and would join in any just measures, or with any party, to save the kingdom; and will oppose, to the utmost of my power, all who will not; and I believe that there are thousands of the same sentiments; and methinks great men should accept so favourable a disposition to forget the mischiefs which ambition, covetousness, or inadvertency have brought upon us. We will not look with eagle’s eyes into past faults, provided a proper atonement is made by future services; nor envy particular men’s growing rich, if they will let the publick thrive with them; and it is certainly safer, and more creditable, to do so by the consent of their countrymen, than by constant struggles, broils, and contention, to overcome popular opposition; which must get the better at last, or their country, and probably they themselves, must be buried in it.

England is yet in a condition to make the fortunes of a few men, if they are not in too much haste to make them; and will consent, or connive at their doing so, if they deserve well in other respects. There are many useless, and yet profitable, employments in England, and few men are concerned how they are disposed of; whether to lord's valets, or whether they are the perquisites of foreign or domestick favourites, provided the offices which regard the administration of justice, of the state, church, or revenue, be properly bestowed. Those who have the fortune to get into the highest stations, will expect to raise suitable estates, especially when they have in a great measure the means in their hands of making them, and the power of carving for themselves; and all but rivals will compound for their doing it by such ways as are consistent with the publick benefit, or such as the publick does not suffer much by; and I doubt the legal advantages belonging to few offices in England will answer the expectations of men in the first station.

It is often urged, that princes must be served upon their own terms, and their servants must sometimes comply against their inclinations, to prevent greater mischief; which I believe is rarely the case. I confess, princes ought and must be always treated with tenderness and delicacy, and regard must be had to their opinions or prejudices; but it is so much their interest to be honoured and beloved by their people (who from a thousand motives will be always ready to make them personally easy, and to gratify even their wanton desires, when they are not absolutely destructive to themselves), that there is much less address and management necessary to shew them their real interest, and bring them into it, than to engage them in designs which will ever produce disaffection and danger; and it is certainly the interest of their ministers and servants, rather to set themselves at the head of publick benevolences, and receive the thanks and applause due to such benefits, than to have them extorted from them always with general curses and detestation, and often with personal hazard.

T I am, &c.

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