Cato's Letter No. 98

Address to the Members of the House of Commons.

John Trenchard (Saturday, October 13, 1722)

SIR, I have hitherto directed my letters to yourself; but I desire you will direct the enclosed to the illustrious deputies of the whole people of England. Not that I presume to think myself capable to inform them of their duty, or that they want such information, or would accept it from me; but I intend to shew my good wishes to my countrymen, and to prepare them to expect the blessed effects of their discreet choice; not in the least doubting but their worthy representatives will speak aloud the almost unanimous sentiments of the whole nation; and by so doing, preserve the dignity of the crown, and the liberty of the people whom they represent.



You have now the political power of all the commons of Great Britain delegated to you; and, as I doubt not but you will make an honest use of it, so will you have their natural power too at your command; that is, you will have their thanks, their wishes, their prayers, and their persons, as well as their purses, to serve your king and country. This is the greatest trust that can be committed by men to one another; and contains in it all that is valuable here on earth, the lives, the properties, the liberties, of your countrymen, and in a great measure of all Europe, and your own present and eternal happiness too. This great trust, Gentlemen, is not committed to you for your own sakes, but for the protection, security and happiness of those whom you represent. And you are accountable to your own consciences, and to the high tribunal of heaven, for the just execution of this great authority: Not to mention the applauses and blessings of millions of people, which will attend the faithful discharge of your duty; and the detestation, reproaches, and curses, with their other worse consequences, which ought to pursue corruption and bribery, and which I am sure you will never deserve.

You have, Gentlemen, the purest religion in the world to cherish and support; the interests, reputation, and security, of the best of princes to guard and defend: You have a great and populous nation, abounding with men of understanding, integrity and courage, imploring your assistance; whom you are obliged, by all the ties of gratitude, justice, and generosity, by all the laws of God and man, to protect and preserve: A people loaded with debts, enervated by war, and in former reigns plundered by miscreants, and just ready to sink under those burdens, unless they can receive sudden help from your healing hands. Here is a scene of glory, an opportunity put by gracious heaven into your hands, to exercise your virtues, and to obtain a reputation far above the tinsel triumphs of fabulous and imaginary heroes. Virtuous men could not ask more of providence; nor could providence bestow more upon mortal men, than to set them at the head of a corrupted and almost undone people, and to give them the honour of restoring their power, and reforming their manners. I cannot doubt, but these strong and forcible motives will call up all your virtue, generosity, and publick spirit; and inspire you with resolutions to assist our gracious sovereign in redressing all our grievances, and in making us once more a great and happy people. It is in your power to do so; and from your endeavours we hope and expect it.

Every man whom you represent has a right to apply to and to petition you for protection and redress, and with modesty and humility to complain of his own or his countryís sufferings; and, by virtue of this undoubted right, I address to you in my own behalf, and in the behalf of millions of my fellow-subjects, who, next to God and our gracious sovereign, are to receive their preservation and whole happiness from your breath. Your own personal security too is nearly linked and blended with theirs; for you can make no laws, countenance no corruptions, nor bring or suffer any mischiefs upon your country, but what must fall upon yourselves and your posterity; and for these reasons, as well as from your known principles of honour and virtue, I assure myself that you will act for your own and the publick interest.

The most notorious conspirators, and chief instruments of power, who headed that detestable Parliament that gave up the liberties of a neighbouring nation, involved themselves in the general ruin, and were amongst the first who lost their estates. Even the Pensionary Parliament in King Charles IIís time stopped short, and turned upon that corrupt ministry, when the last stroke was levelled against our liberties: They well saw that when they should become no longer necessary, they would be no more regarded, but be treated as traitors always are by those who take advantage of their treason: for it is a steady maxim always with oppressors, to court and gratify the people whom they enslave, by sacrificing the instruments which they make use of, when they can be no longer serviceable; a maxim which discharges all obligations to them, and gives some recompence to their unhappy and undone subjects, by shewing them the grateful sight of their worst and most implacable enemies caught in their own snare.

View, Gentlemen, the dismal and melancholy scene before your eyes: Behold, not above thirty years since, a powerful nation engaged in an expensive, but successful war, for defence of their own liberties, and of all Europe; which might have been equally carried on with less money than is now paid for interest, without leaving us one penny in debt; but a nation in late reigns almost undone by the vile and despicable arts of stock-jobbers, combining with others, from whom we expected preservation, and now loaded with numerous taxes: Their finances discomposed; their trade loaded with various and burdensome duties, or manacled with exclusive companies; and in debt almost sixty millions; and by that means (as we have lately experienced) unable to contend with small powers, without every year increasing our debts and burdens; and no effectual method ever yet taken to pay them off, or lessen them, but always new methods found out to enhance the account.

Sure, Gentlemen, none of you can hope that neighbouring nations will sit still, and not take advantage of our weakness; even those nations for whose sakes we are brought into this forlorn condition. The vicissitude of human affairs must bring new wars among us, though none among ourselves could find their accounts in courting them; and how think you, in such a circumstance, we shall defend our country? For my own part, I can see but one remedy at hand, and that is a dreadful one; unless we take speedy and effectual methods to lessen the publick expences, to cut off all exorbitant fees, pensions, and unnecessary salaries, to encourage trade, regulate our finances, and all defects in the administration; and by such means save all which can be saved, and apply it to the discharge of the publick burdens.

I wish that our dabblers in corruption would count their gains, and balance their losses with their wicked advantages. Let them set down in one column their mercenary gifts, and precarious dependences; sometimes half purchased with money, sometimes by dividing the profits with parasites, and always with the loss of their integrity and reputation; and on the other side, let them write down expensive contentions, and constant attendance in town to the neglect of their families and affairs, and a manner of living often unsuitable to their fortunes, and destructive to their health, and at least one fourth part of their estates mortgaged, and liable to the discharge of the publick debts; and, above all the rest, the insecurity of what remains, which must be involved in every species of publick misery: And then let them cast up the account, and see where the balance lies. This is not a fictitious and imaginary computation, like South-Sea stock, but a real and true state of the unhappy case of twenty dealers in corruption, for one who has been a gainer by it; without mentioning the just losses which many of them have suffered by the last detestable project.

Consider too, what a figure they make in their several countries amongst their neighbours, their acquaintance, their former friends, and often even amongst their own relations. See how they have been hunted and pursued from place to place, with reproaches and curses from every honest man in England; how they have been rejected in countries, and populous and rich boroughs, and indeed only hoped for success any where by the mere force of exorbitant corruption, which has swallowed up a great part of their unjust extortions. Then let them set against all these evils a good conscience, a clear reputation, a disengaged estate, and being the happy members of a free, powerful, and safe kingdom; all which was once their case, and might have continued so, if they had acted with integrity. Sure it is worth no manís time to change an estate of inheritance, secured to him by steady and impartial laws, for a precarious title to the greatest advantages at the will of any man whatsoever.

But even these corrupt advantages are no longer to be had upon the same terms. The bow is stretched so far, that it must break if it goes farther. Corruption, like all other things, has its bounds, and must at last destroy itself, or destroy every thing else. We are already almost mortgaged from head to foot. There is scarce any thing which can be taxed, that is not taxed. Our veins have been opened and drained so long, that there is nothing left but our heartís blood; and yet every day new occasions arise upon us; which must be supplied out of exhausted channels, or cannot be supplied at all. How think you, Gentlemen, this can be done? What has been raised within the year, has not been found sufficient to defray the expences of the year: And will any one amongst you, in times of full peace, consent to new mortgage the kingdom to supply the current service? And if you could be prevailed upon to consent to it, how long do you believe it can last, or you find creditors? And what can be the consequence of such credit? Sure it must make the payment desperate; and if ever that grows to be the case, what think you will be the event? Who do you imagine will have the sweeping of the stakes? Do you believe that those who brought your misfortunes upon you will pay the reckoning at last, or save themselves, by endeavouring to complete their wickedness? There is no way, Gentlemen, to prevent all these evils which lower over and threaten you and us, but by preventing or removing the causes of them; and I hope, that you will think it worthy of your best considerations, and most vigorous endeavours, to do so, rather than to suffer under, and be undone by, them.

By doing this great service to your country, you will not only consult your reputation, your own interests, and the interests of those whom you repesent; but in the most effectual manner will serve your prince, by making him a glorious king, over an happy, satisfied, dutiful, and grateful, people. A great and rich people can alone make a great king; their diffusive and accumulative wealth is his wealth, and always at his command, when employed for his true glory, which is ever their happiness and security; and the figure which he does or can make among foreign states, bears exact proportion to the affections which he has amongst his own people: If his people be disaffected, his neighbours and his enemies will despise him; and the latter will insult him, if they think his subjects will not defend him. And therefore, since nothing is wanting on his Majestyís part, to make him beloved, honoured, I had almost said, adored, by his people; it lies upon you, Gentlemen, to remove all those causes, which at any time hereafter, by the fault of others, may sully and blemish his high character. It is your duty and your interest too, to acquaint him with all miscarriages in the inferior administration, which you have frequent opportunities of knowing, and which is next to impossible he should otherwise know. Princes are seated aloft in the upper regions, and can only view the whole of things, but must leave the detail and execution of them to inferior agents.

T I am, &c.

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