Cato's Letter No. 82

The Folly and Characters of such as would overthrow the present Establishment

John Trenchard (Saturday, June 23, 1722)

SIR, It gives equal occasion of mirth and concern to wise men, to see so many of the other sort, persons of seeming reverence, and with grave faces, exerting themselves with warmth and zeal for opinions and parties, with each a separate train or chorus of lesser and subordinate planets attending their motions, and dancing after them. Whoever views these solemn spectres at a distance, will see nothing but conscience, contempt of worldly honours and preferments, and minds superior to all temptations; whereas all this grimace, to a nice observer, will appear only to be a project for picking pockets, and getting away other peopleís money; which, in reality, at present makes, and ever did make, most of the squabbles which at any time have disturbed the world. This I may possibly hereafter shew to be true, in most of the conspicuous instances of publick and private life; but at present I shall confine myself to those gentlemen who deal in revolutions.

There are a considerable number of politicians in all governments, who are always enemies to the present establishment; not because it is an ill one, or because those who administer it betray their trust (which is a just and reasonable ground of complaint), but because they themselves are not in it: If they are so, all is well; but if they cannot be accepted upon their own terms, or are afterwards turned out for misbehaviour, then upon a sudden there is no faith in man, fundamentals are struck at, no honest man can serve, and keep his integrity, and there is no remedy but a total change, and if that happen, and they can get into power, nothing is mended but their own faces and their fortunes. Without a doubt, every man has a right to liberty, and to come at it by all ways which do not bring a greater inconvenience with it than the benefit proposed promises advantage; and all just attempts of that kind are commendable: but I speak now of a sort of cattle, who think nothing but their fodder, who do not care who feeds them, or who is their master, provided they have a belly-full; nor whether it be lawful pasture, or trespass and encroachment upon the neighbouring soil.

I am so unfortunate as always to think, that a man who is a knave in his private dealings, will never be a saint in politicks; and whoever does not do reasonable and just things in respect to his neighbours, relations, and acquaintances, which he knows, will have little real concern for the titles of princes whom he knows not. Indeed it seems to me, that there cannot be a greater ridicule in nature, than for any man to pretend to be concerned for the personal interest of another, whom he is not acquainted with, has no means of being acquainted with, and probably would not be acquainted with upon equal terms, unless he can hope to find a farther account in it, in going snacks with him.

It is certain, that every man's interest is involved in the security and happiness of a good prince, from whom he receives protection and liberty; but for one who has no concern for publick or private justice, who does not care what becomes of his neighbourís rights and possessions, who would make no difficulty of cheating any prince whom he served, or oppressing those in his power; I say for such an one to set up for loyalty, and the right line, and to hazard his life and family, for conscience sake, is such a farce, that if menís thoughts were not so wholly taken up with their own cheating, that they minded not other peopleís, no one could be deceived by such false appearances.

I must beg leave, therefore, of these gentlemen to take it for granted, that all this zeal is for themselves, and only a struggle for money and employments, and to get that by a revolution, which they want merit or means to get without it; and I will endeavour to shew them, that they are taking abundance of pains, and running much hazard to attain what they never will catch. But I would not be understood here to apply myself to those men who are in desperate circumstances, and whose condition may be bettered, and cannot be made worse by confusion; nor to the poor visionaries and enthusiasts, who are the catís-feet to the former, and are by nature prepared to be dupes and tools of ambition and design; but to the very few amongst them who are tolerably easy in their own affairs, and do not want common understanding; and to these I may safely say, that their passions and prejudices hurry them away from their real interests, to pursue shadows and imaginations, and to make those whose greatness they envy, yet much greater.

A prince long kept out of what he calls his dominions, will, upon a restoration, always bring back with him a junto of upstart Mamamouches, with a huge train of half-starved beggars dangling after them, who through necessity have followed his fortunes, flattered his vices, and will expect to have his ear, and the disposal of his favours. This ragged crew, who have been long the outcasts of fortune, know, for the most part, nothing of government, or the maxims necessary to preserve it, unless to talk about the divine right of their master, and the injury done to so good a prince; but with arbitrary principles picked up in their travels, minds soured with wants and disappointments, hungry bellies, and ravenous and polluted claws, finding themselves at once metamorphosed from mock ministers and magistrates to real ones, glutted with sudden plenty, and rioting in profusion, which they before enjoyed only in imagination, will become of course proud, insolent, and rapacious, and think of nothing but to redeem the time which they have lost, to raise hasty fortunes, and will endeavour to get them as they can; and consequently will sell their master to those who can or will give most for him, which will be ever those who have got most by keeping him out.

The court language will be immediately changed: It will be said, that the prince must submit to the necessity of his affairs; that his enemies must be brought into his interest, who may be otherwise able to perplex his new government; and besides, having by long experience been used to employments, and the management of the publick revenue, must be continued till others are equally qualified to supply their offices; that his Majesty has a grateful memory of the faithful services of his true friends; that he will provide for them all by degrees, as fast as the others can be turned out; but they must have a little patience, and not be too importunate: And so, after two or three years daily attendance, with old coats new furbished, some good words, now and then a good dinner, and the honour of whispering and joking with his lordship, they will find themselves just where they set out, only with less money in their pockets; will see their enemies in possession of all the employments; find out at last, that courts and courtiers are alike, become new malcontents, and form themselves into a faction against the government which they ventured their lives to bring about.

This was the case upon the restoration of King Charles II when the Round-heads had all the offices, having got money enough, whilst they were in power, to buy them; and the poor starved Cavaliers, who had nothing but a good conscience, and past services to plead, were laughed at, and could hardly get admittance into the ante-chamber. The descendants of these are the modern Whigs; and of the other, for the most part the present Tories. Nor can it happen otherwise in the nature of things: for those who have no merit to offer but their money, will always offer enough of it; and those who want it, will always take it. Besides, such as are conscious of their own demerit to their prince, will use double diligence to please him, and to wipe off past scores; whereas those who pretend that they have sacrificed all for him, will esteem his favours received only as payments of just debts; and their expectations are seldom to be satisfied, or they to be persuaded that their services are enough considered. And it must proceed from a consummate ignorance in human nature, not to know, that almost all men, and especially princes and great men, would rather engage new debtors to themselves, than pay off old debts to other people; would sooner create fresh dependents, by conferring favours which will be esteemed obligations, than satisfy the clamours and importunities of such pretended creditors and duns, who will never be satisfied.

Besides, princes, for the most part, think all that can be done for them is no more than duty; and will throw off old servants, who can do them no more good, as easily as old shoes; grow weary of their long-winded tales about past services, and will think themselves at liberty to pursue their present interests, and employ such who are most capable of serving them for the present, as those undoubtedly are who have established interests, most experience in affairs, and money always at hand to back their pretensions.

Besides, when matters in any country are prepared for a revolution, the poor starved followers, or discontented well-wishers to an abdicated prince, will never have the merit and honour of making it; and can never, or very rarely, have power enough to do so: for those who enjoy the advantages of the government in possession, who are deep in its councils, command its fleets and armies, and perhaps made it odious by their wicked councils and actions, are always the first to veer about, and make their interest with the new government, by being instrumental to bring it in: They have it often in their power to do it, and great sums of money always at command to buy their peace, and very frequently to keep their employments; and so to go on where they left off: for a poor wandering prince, eager to get a crown (which he will conceit to be his own), will fall into any measures, or join with any persons, to obtain it; and for the most part to be ready to drop his necessitous followers, as easily as they would drop him, if they found it equally their interest.

Of this sort we have pregnant instances in the triumviri of Rome; of General Monk, and others formerly among ourselves; and of a very great lord in the latter end of King Jamesís time: But why should I name particular instances, when every revolution which almost ever happened in the world, furnishes us with numerous ones, and will ever do so to the end of the world? unless the power by which the revolution is made is so great, and so much in the princeís disposal, that he is under no necessity of keeping measures with any person or party, but is wholly at liberty to follow his inclinations, and gratify his revenge and passions; or is so entirely an instrument of the power which he makes use of, or rather which makes use of him, that he must do whatever they would have him do; as was the case in a good measure of Marius and Sulla, but I think cannot be the circumstance of any person now living; and I hope that few of those who wish for a revolution would accept it upon those terms.

The starved crew who deal in revolutions, are seldom conjurers in politicks: for no man of fortune, or a grain of understanding, would venture a single hair of his head for the interest of another, educated in pride and ingratitude, and very probably one too of whom he knows nothing, and who knows nothing of him, nor will have the least regard to his hazard and services. Besides, is not such an one a worthy hero, and his particular interest a worthy cause for a man of common sense, and tolerable fortune, to venture his life and estate for, by involving his country too in a civil war?

But there is another reason still behind, which I fear these doughty politicians never think of; namely, that they are doing the work which they pretend to oppose; which has sometimes inclined me to believe, that they have been employed and hired to act as they do. It is certain, that their ill-digested libels, without the least notions of the principles of government, or shewing the least disposition to mend it; their stupid cant of a right in princes independent of the happiness of the society; their ill-mannered reflections upon the person of the sovereign, whom most of them have sworn to; and their constant invectives and reproaches upon all men, who are honester and wiser than themselves, do more mischief to this country, than their united force, counsels, and understanding could do good, if they were inclinable to do it.

Weak men, who know or suspect their designs, will take no measures with them for a common good; and those who laugh at their follies, and are not afraid of being over-reached and outwitted by them, are ever reproached with their silly designs. In fine, they are the only support of those whom they pretend most to abhor; and I believe I may venture to say, are the only friends in the kingdom, which some persons of figure lately had, without intending to be so.

In my next letter I will endeavour to shew, that it is impossible to bring their wild projects to bear; not with any hopes of making many of them wiser, but to convince better people, that they ought not to be bullied by the sound of Jacobitism, and so diverted from concurring in the necessary measures to serve their king, their country, and themselves, by bugbears and phantoms: for I dare venture to assert, that there is no possibility of restoring the Pretender to England, but by taking such measures to keep him out, as will be more terrible to the people than letting him in, if such can possibly be; and I am sure that every honest man ought to do all in his power to prevent any attempts of that kind, which we are certain will receive no countenance from his Majesty, and, I hope, from none of his present ministry.

T I am, &c.

 Cato's Letters

 Classical Liberals