Cato's Letter No. 83

The vain Hopes of the Pretender and his Party

John Trenchard (Saturday, June 30, 1722)

SIR, I have promised in my last to shew, that the Pretender’s game is altogether desperate in England, unless those whose duty and interest in the highest manner oblige them to keep him out, pave the way for his return: And this I shall do, by shewing, that there is no interest within the kingdom, or out of it, capable of bringing about such a revolution, and willing to do it. Indeed, such a convulsion would shake the very foundations of the earth, and turn all nature topsy-turvy. God knows, one Revolution is enough for one age. I do not deny, but such an event might have been brought about, if favoured by the crown, by the ministers and officers in power under it, and abetted by a great neighbouring potentate. Which case many people (I hope falsely) think was ours in a late reign; and even then the success would not have been certain; and if it had succeeded, I dare venture to be positive, that those who had been most forward to have brought him in, would have been amongst the first to have turned him out again.

I think no man is now to learn, that conscience and the opinion of right have little or nothing to do in revolutions, but the resentments of men, and the gratifying the views and expectations of private persons, or of aggregate bodies; and no formidable set of men could have found their account amongst us, in continuing him upon the throne, upon the terms he must have sat there. He is certainly a very weak man, a great bigot, and of a saturnine and morose temper; and the near prospect of the possession of three crowns could not make him temporize with his then interest, nor disguise his religion to those who were contented to be deceived, that they might deceive others. And therefore it is impossible to believe, that a prince so qualified, provoked by his expulsion, acquainted personally with few or none amongst us, and educated in the religion and maxims of France and Rome, restored by their means, and supported by them, would act afterwards upon other maxims than what he had before imbibed, and what would be constantly inculcated into him by his foreign tutors abroad, and his priests at home.

Such conduct would quickly have made those who most espoused his interest at first, soon turn upon him, as they did before upon his father; and so many interests in Europe were concerned to separate England from a dependence upon France, that they would never have wanted a strenuous assistance, as his father found to his cost, when all the popish princes, except France, preferred the interests of their states before the interests of their religion, as France itself would have done upon the like motives. I hope I shall be forgiven by the gentlemen of this cast of loyalty, if I say, that they have sufficiently shewn to the world, that they will espouse the interest of no prince any longer than he serves theirs; and I conceive it impossible to suppose a circumstance which that prince could be in, to answer both their views, considering his prejudices and dependencies.

But whatever might have been practicable then, the case is far otherwise now. We have a King upon the throne, who will not be sung out of his dominions, as the late King James was: He will have some troops at home, who will certainly stand by him: He has great dominions of his own abroad, and is sure of the support of powerful neighbors: His strength, and that of his allies, at sea, is so great, that no invasion can be made upon him, but by stealth; and that must be always a very inconsiderable one, and cannot be supported but by accidents. Very many, and I hope by far the greatest part, of the nobility, gentry, and people, are devoted to his person and title, and would be glad to serve him upon the bottom of liberty and his true interest: The dignified clergy shew their loyalty in the manner which is most acceptable to him, and every month adds to their number by new creations; and we may reasonably hope, that the rest will not be long left behind.

All who were concerned in the publick funds, which contain a fourth or fifth part of the wealth of the kingdom, must support an establishment which supports them, and which if lost, they are undone and lost with it; and every man, who has property, or the means of acquiring property, and has an uncommon understanding, and a love for himself and liberty, must know that so many interests, and so supported, cannot be shaken but by a long civil war, and by making England the stage and field for all the nations in Europe to fight out their quarrels in; and that such a war must end in making us the prize of the victor, and subject us either to a foreign power or a domestic tyrant, if we have not the happiness to be restored to our present establishment again; and then we shall have had a civil war for nothing.

If we did not see by daily experience, that there is not an opinion in philosophy, religion, or politicks, so absurd, but it finds our heads wrong enough turned to embrace it; I should not think it possible, that any person, who is not a professed or concealed papist, could wish for such a revolution, or any one else fear it, and much less that they should fear it from abroad.

It is certain, that the Emperor has so many personal as well as political ties and motives to engage him in the king’s interests, arising from obligations received, from more expected, and as it is said contracted for in regard to his Italian dominions, from their mutual dependencies upon one another in Germany, and above all, from the interests of their several dominions, that it is politically impossible but that he must do all in his power to support him in his throne: for when two nations are so situated, that they have nothing to fear from one another, and have a common interest to watch and oppose a third power formidable to both, they must be natural allies without the help of treaties; and whatever little occasional or personal differences may happen between the princes who govern them, yet whilst the interest of their dominions are friendly, they will never long continue enemies; and though they do so, yet will always help one another upon any emergency.

I think I may safely say, that the King has much to hope, and nothing to fear, from the lesser princes of Germany, in respect to his English dominions; for many of them can and will help him, and none of them can do him any harm.

The safety and preservation of Holland is so entirely dependent and wrapped up in our present establishment, that they must venture all to defend it. We are obliged, by interest as well as treaties, to support them against every power that is capable much to offend them; and their interest is, to keep us in a situation and condition to do so: And though, without doubt, they emulate and fear the great naval power of England, and our possession of Gibraltar; and would please themselves, and laugh in their sleeves, to see us increase our burdens, and enervate our state, by airy and romantick expeditions to do their business, whilst they lie still, ease their subjects, and pay off their debts; yet they will never suffer England to fall under the dependence of France, Spain or Rome; though they very well know how to make mercantile advantages of the weakness of those whom they have to do with.

The crowns of Sweden and Denmark can never have a joint interest to insult us; and at present neither of them have so: For it is said, that we are engaged by alliances to support them against one another, and every one else who has power enough much to annoy them; nor can they be sure that ever England again will find its glory and advantage in the heroick gallantry of engaging in the squabbles of the north, when France and Holland (vastly more concerned with the event) find theirs in lying still, and letting them agree as they fall out.

The Czar can have no motives, from the interest of his dominions, to quarrel with a people from whom his subjects enjoy an advantageous trade, and with a power too which he cannot hurt, and which can hurt him: We are no rivals for adjacent territories; and he cannot rival us in maritime power and trade; and both of us can find our account in friendship, and neither in enmity. His encroachments in the Baltic have hitherto done us no mischief; but on the contrary, have opened a new market for naval stores, and rendered our supplies from Sweden and Denmark less precarious: Indeed his conquering either of those crowns would be very mischievous, but much more so to other nations than to us, who may be easily supplied with naval stores from our own plantations; and therefore if his neighbouring or distant trading nations apprehend such an event, they will certainly join together to oppose it, and implore our assistance upon our own terms; though undoubtedly they will be much better pleased, if we do it for them without asking theirs.

If, therefore, any subjects of ours have given him just cause of offence, and made him a personal enemy to our country, we ought to deliver them up, or punish them at home; and if any nation in alliance with us, and in enmity with him, can find their interest in quarrelling with him, let them quarrel by themselves, and make up their squabbles as they can, or get the assistance of those who have political motives to oppose his progress, and put a stop to his growing power: I doubt we shall have enough to do to defend ourselves; and therefore I hope we shall not undo ourselves yet further to conquer for others, and in instances too which in times to come may prove fatal to ourselves.

The states of Italy are interested to preserve the naval power and greatness of England, if we pursue the measures which are most advantageous to ourselves; namely, to meddle no farther with their affairs, than to carry on an advantageous trade with them; and, by friendly offices, proper negotiations, and perhaps sometimes by the shew of force, to protect them against the greater powers which threaten them. It is certainly their interest, that we should keep possession of Gibraltar and Port Mahon, if we make a right and honest use of them; for we have nothing to desire from them, but what it is their interest to give, nor they to fear from us, whilst we act as Englishmen: but if we should ever sacrifice our own interests to such as are not our own, we must thank ourselves if we make enemies of those who would be glad to be our friends.

It is certainly the interest of the kingdom of France, to have an impotent administration, and a distracted state of affairs in England, and a prince at the head of them, that either from weakness cannot, or from other motives and dependences will not, obstruct the union of the Spanish monarchy to their own, which would soon give them the possession of it as effectually as if they had conquered it; but the interest of the Regent, who governs France, is far otherwise: The appearing prospect, and probable chance of that crown’s descending to him, or his posterity, will engage him to support a power which can alone support him, and which has every motive to do so. In such a circumstance of affairs, no interest in France, except his immediate dependents, can abet his personal pretensions against the interest of all France; and therefore he must depend upon foreign alliances; and England alone can be safely relied upon, who have no claim to any part of his dominions, or interest and desire to seize them; which cannot be said of the Emperor, or any other potentate, who has power and motives enough to assist him.

I have wondered therefore at the weakness of many among ourselves, who can be so often elated or terrified with the designs of the Regent, who can never conspire against us, without conspiring against himself; and no provocation even on our part could make him undermine or betray, in so tender an instance, his own interest. I doubt not but he wishes Gibraltar out of our hands; and if negotiations or big words can prevail upon us to part with it, I presume they are easily to be obtained, but he will never join with Spain to force it: This danger therefore is a mere bugbear, made use of to delude the Jacobites, and intimidate honester men, and, by making the first plot, or prate and bounce, to govern the others.

So that, the Pope excepted, who can do us no harm by his own force, the King of Spain alone is the power in Europe that can be concerned to favour the Pretender’s interest; nor could he find his account in it, unless to open his way to the crown of France, in case of the young King’s death.

The divine right of monarchy in the right line is so well established in arbitrary countries, that I dare say that prince will be sorry to depend upon a forced renunciation and the power of Spain, to defend himself against his nephew, if other powers were not at hand to assist him; and no power in Europe can do it effectually but England: and whilst there is a king at the head of it, who will pursue his own and his people’s true interest in protecting him, and preserving the friendship which for more than an age has been propitious to both kingdoms, and has the means, by the possession of Gibraltar and Port Mahon, of resenting any injury done on his part; it is wild to think, that at great hazard and expence he would attempt to bring about a revolution which may engage us in a long civil war, and disenable us to give him the protection he can receive no where else.

If, therefore, he is favourable to the Pretender’s interest, it must be owing to personal resentments, or his views towards the crown of France. I hope that we shall give him no more cause for the first; and as to the latter, he has the interests of the Regent, of all Germany, Italy, the states of Holland, and indeed of all Europe, against him, as well as the united interest of his own subjects, who will not be contented to be a province to France; and I may venture to assert, that whilst we keep the possession of Gibraltar, and make a proper use of it, he can neither effect the one nor the other; namely, he can never make himself King of France, nor the Pretender King of England.

T I am, &c.

 Cato's Letters

 Classical Liberals