Cato's Letter No. 125

The Spirit of the Conspirators, Accomplices with Dr. Atterbury, in 1723, considered and exposed.

Thomas Gordon (Saturday, April 20, 1723)

SIR, I intend to consider in this paper, the behaviour and spirit of the conspirators; and to shew what enemies they are, even to such as are favourable to them. But, before I proceed to enquire into the avowed causes of all this outrageous disaffection, I will freely own, that many things have been done which cannot be justified; some, perhaps ignorantly, many ambitiously, and others, it is to be feared, traitorously, to help the conspirators, by provoking the people, and by rendering the administration odious. Sure I am, that there are many pregnant appearances that look sadly this way; and can be construed no other way; and that these measures gave much sorrow and indignation to the best friends of the government, as I doubt not but they did pleasure and hopes to the disaffected, who saw how fast, by such steps, their views were advanced. Treason is most successfully carried on by unsuspected traitors, as friends are easiest betrayed and undone by friends. The cry therefore of the conspirators against unpopular proceedings, was all hypocrisy, and false fire: They saw their mischievous influence, and rejoiced in it: They thought that they were saved the danger and trouble of plotting; and that all that they had to do was to hold the match ready, while other people were laying the train; and to put their sickle into a harvest not of their own sowing. How near they were to reaping this harvest, is now apparent.

Every good man will condemn unjust measures, let them come from what quarter they will: But the conspirators could not with a good grace condemn the worst, even supposing the resentment sincere. The wildest and wickedest things done by their own party, have been constantly and zealously defended and promoted by them: And they have steadily acted for or against a party, from passion or faction: Nor has the love of their country, and the good of the whole, separated from party, ever swayed them in one publick action, that I remember. Neither is it any defence of them, that others, who professed larger, and more humane and publick principles, have fallen too often into the same partiality and been too often governed by the same narrow, selfish, and passionate spirit. Who have ever sworn more blindly to a steady faith in their demagogues, than the conspirators? Who have ever more notoriously shewn, that they knew no other measures of right and wrong, of religion and impiety, than the measures espoused or opposed by their own leaders! What job has been so vile, that they have not blindly approved? Or what scheme so just, that they have not fiercely condemned? Just as this scheme, or that job has taken its rise from this or that quarter.

Nor was the spirit of faction ever more manifest than in the present conspiracy: What did the conspirators want, but plunder and places? But what advantages was their country to reap from the violent change, which they were bringing upon it? Before they could have accomplished it, the nation and every thing in it must have been thrown into convulsions, and a chaos. What order could they bring out of this confusion? What amends could they make for unsettled or plundered property, a trade stagnated or lost, harvests destroyed, contending armies, bloodshed, slaughter and battles, general desolation, universal terror, every manís sword against his neighbour, the foreign sword against all, and dyed with the blood of Britons, his Majesty deposed, and perhaps butchered? For it could not be possible, even for them to suppose, that his Majesty and his family, possessed of so much power in his native dominions, supported by such numbers, such wealth and dependences in Great Britain, and by so many powerful allies abroad, could be effectually expelled by their bigotted idol, and his champions, but after a long and fatal civil war, fought within our bowels: A war in which most of the contending powers of Europe would have been parties, and which must have ended in the utter loss of our liberties, which ever side had prevailed.

In answer to this black catalogue of woes will they urge, that England and English liberty, and the Protestant religion, would have been indeed destroyed; but that they, the conspirators, would have had places? And yet what else can they urge? For this is the sum of their reasoning, whatever disguises they would put upon it. Such was their spirit; and I wish it were as new as it is shocking and horrible. But alas! it is as old as men: and every country upon earth, that has been undone, has been undone to satiate the ambition of one, or a few, who aimed at seizing or extending power.

The complaints of miscarriages, of wrong steps, and abuse of power, came awkwardly and absurdly from their mouths, whatever grounds there may have been for such complaints. What security could the conspirators give us, that, contrary to the nature of man, and of power, and to their own nature and conduct, they themselves would be humble in grandeur, and modest in exaltation, and occupy power with moderation, self-denial, and clean hands? They who would overturn the constitution, and the foundations of the earth, and fill the land with violence, war and blood, to come at that power! Can we conceive it impossible that anyregard to the publick good, and to publick property, would have the least influence over those men, who would sacrifice the publick, and annihilate all property, for the gratification of personal ambition and rage? Or how should the love of liberty and peace bind these men, whom neither the laws of humanity, and of their country, nor the religion of an oath, nor the awful gospel of Jesus Christ, can in the least bind?

They exclaim against armies and taxes, and are the cause of both, and rail at grievances of their own creating. Who make armies necessary, but they, who would invade, and enslave, or destroy us by armies, foreign popish armies? Who make taxes necessary, but they, who by daily conspiring against our peace and our property, and against that establishment which secures both, force us to give part to save all? And who, but they, can give a handle and pretence to such as delight in taxes and armies, and prosper by them, to continue and increase them? They are not only the authors of those great grievances, but of all the evils and subsequent grievances which proceed from them. Had the conspirators succeeded, can we think, or will they have the face to say, that they would have ruled without armies? The yoke of usurpation and servitude is never to be kept on without the sword. They who make armies necessary now, would have found them necessary then: Nor would they have ridiculously and madly trusted to their merit and popular conduct, when in this very instance they shew that no means were too black, no pitch of iniquity and cruelty too horrid, for the accomplishment of their treason; and general plunder and devastation, conflagrations and murder, were the concerted specimens of their spirit, and to be the hopeful beginnings of their reign. Did King James, whose misfortunes they caused and lament, did he, or could he, pretend to support his religion, and his arbitrary administration, without the violence of the sword, without a great and popish army? Is the Pretender of a different religion, or more moderate in the same religion? Or does he disavow his fatherís government, and propose a better and milder of his own? Does he pretend to come or to stay here without armies? And are not governments continued, and must be, by the same means by which they were founded? A government begun by armies, and the violation of property, must be continued by armies, oppression and violence.

What is here said of taxes and armies, may be said of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. They complain of suspension as a heavy evil; and by their incessant plots and rebellions, make long and frequent suspensions inevitable. By their eternal designs and attacks upon us, they force us upon the next means of self-preservation; and then complain of oppression, because we will not suffer them to oppress and destroy us. It is therefore owing to them, that the subject is taken from under the protection of the common law, and left to the discretion of the court. Who says that this is desirable? But who makes it necessary, or gives a pretence for it?

We were all justly filled with the apprehension of losing Gibraltar, and thought that no doom was too bad for the traitor that had agreed to give it up (if there ever were such a traitor in his Majestyís service); and the conspirators exclaimed as loudly as any. But behold their baseness and insincerity in this, as in other complaints, and their extensive enmity to their country in every instance! By the conspiracy it appears, that they laboured with foreign powers to have Gibraltar taken from Great Britain, on purpose to engage the nation to part with their government and their religion, in resentment for the loss of that single though important fortress.

The late management of the South-Sea was another topick of resentment and complaint, and a just one, whatever unjust uses the conspirators made of it. It is reasonable to believe that in their hearts they rejoiced in it, since from the universal displeasure, confusion, and losses, occasioned by it, and from the bitterness caused by those losses, they drew hopes and a good omen to their conspiracy, which else must have been impotent and languishing. The tender and slow prosecution of the execrable managers, the gentle punishment inflicted upon them, and the obvious difficulties thrown in the way of any punishment at all, were fresh provocations to a plundered and abused nation, and fresh stimulations to the conspirators. They saw, that great numbers, who had always hated them and their Pretender, were now, under heavy misfortunes, and in the present agonies of their soul, brought to think not unkindly of him and his cause, or to be entirely indifferent about it. They said they were undone, and could not be worse undone; and that nothing in human shape, or in any shape, could use them so ill as the directors had; the execrable, rich, and unchanged directors!

But of all men it least concerns the conspirators to be noisy about the hellish management of the South-Sea scheme; since one of the first and most certain consequences of the conspiracy would have been the utter ruin of the whole South-Sea stock, and of all the many thousands who have their property in it. The Bank, and all other publick funds, would have had the same fate; nay, one of the first steps would have been the plundering of the Bank, and the seizure of all the books of the great companies.

This was so much the design of the conspirators, that one reason given by themselves for delaying the execution of the plot, was, that a principal conspirator, who had a great deal of stock, might have time to sell out. So that they who did so virtuously and disinterestedly exclaim against the abuse of publick credit, would have sunk and destroyed for ever not only the publick funds, but the foundation of all publick credit and publick happiness, publick and private property.

The conspirators likewise profess a loud zeal and concern for the Church; and papists, nonjurors and perjured traitors, were to deliver a Protestant church from a Protestant government, which protected her, to be better protected by a popish bigot, and his popish monks, who all think her damned. A zeal therefore for the Church was to justify the most hideous impieties, a general perjury, foreign invasions, and the final overthrow of all liberty, virtue, and religion: The reformed Church of England was, for a protecting father, to be surrendered to a nursling of the Popeís, who by his religion is, and must be, a determined enemy to the whole Reformation in general, and to the Church of England in particular; and is under the menaces and horrors of damnation, if he do not exert his whole policy and power to extirpate the Protestant name, and introduce a religion which is worse than none; as it professedly tolerates no other, and persecutes conscience, which is the source and seat of religion, the only source that any religion can have. While there are men, and societies of men, there will be religion; and where dread and tyranny are taken away, different religions: And yet no religion is preferable to a cruel religion; a religion that curses and oppresses toleration, which is a principle inseparable from Christianity; a religion which buries the Bible, or burns it, and all that read it, and damns all meekness and mercy; a religion that defaces the Creation, cheats, impoverishes, oppresses, and exhausts the human race, and arms its apostles with jails, tortures, gibbets, impostures, and a bloody knife.

Every other complaint of the conspirators might with the same facility and truth be turned upon them. But this paper is already too long. I will therefore conclude with observing, that the conspirators have, by the assistance of malicious calumnies, blind prejudices, gross ignorance, and constant misrepresentations, misled and abused their party, and governed them by abusing them: That they have wickedly taught them to hate a government, which, with all the faults, true or false, that their worst malice can charge it with, does just as far excel that which they would introduce, as the blessings and beauties of liberty transcend the horrid deformities of slavery, and the implacable and destroying spirit of popish tyranny: That they have wickedly taught them to be weary of their present free condition; which, with all its disadvantages, debts, and taxes, is easy and happy, greatly and conspicuously happy, in comparison of any condition of any people under any popish prince now upon earth: That they have, by perpetual delusion and lies, worked them to a readiness, nay, a passion, to venture and sacrifice their whole property, rather than pay a part to secure the whole; and to wish for a revolution, a popish revolution, which will neither leave them their property, their conscience, nor their Bible!

G I am, &c.

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