Cato's Letter No. 128

Address to such of the Laity as are Followers of the disaffected Clergy, and of their Accomplices.

John Trenchard (Saturday, May 11, 1723)

SIR, I have already addressed two of these letters to the disaffected clergy; and will in this apply myself to the disaffected laity, their followers.

I cannot help saying, Gentlemen, that it argues your great lowness of sense, and depravity of manners, to be thus blindly inflamed by such forsworn apostates, such lying and disaffected monks, men of such vile morals: You see their unruly spirit, their unhallowed conduct, their daring and impious perjuries; and yet will you be led by them into wickedness as great, if possible, as their own; the wickedness of unprovoked rebellion; of overthrowing a government, which, in spite of their malice and lies, does really protect you in your religion and property; and of sacrificing a Protestant Church, that you think yourselves fond of, to a popish Pretender, who is bound by his religion to destroy it?

And what is all this noise about? For whose sakes, think you, Gentlemen, that all this combustion is made? Do you believe that they are serving your interests, or their own? Have they in any instance, or any age, shewn any regard, any concern for your persons, your religion, or your interests? If they pretend to have done so, they speak as falsely as they swear. Remember all the reigns since Queen Elizabethís time to the Revolution; those reigns that oppressed you, and that Revolution that saved you. Did they not make it the whole business of their zeal, of their addresses and their preachments, to give up your persons, your consciences, and your fortunes, to the pleasure and lust of the prince; and damned you if you defended either? Did they not impiously make our Saviour the author of their inhuman nonsense, and Christianity a warrant of indemnity for oppressing, robbing, chaining, and killing you? And did they not fill the kingdom with atheistical volumes of sermons, books, and addresses, full of profane compliments and curses upon this vile head? And have they ever since publickly and expressly renounced these destroying principles? When their own interest is concerned, no principles can bind them, as we all see and know; but as to the power of princes over laymen, over you, Gentlemen, have they not always asserted it to be boundless and discretionary, and always left you at the mere mercy of royal lust and madness? It is true, they will not now suffer you to bear a prince whom laws can bind; nor would they formerly suffer you to preserve yourselves from tyrants, which neither God, nor man, nor the good of mankind, could bind.

As soon as the great Queen Elizabeth was dead, who was resolved to be truly what she was called, Head of the Church; and in order to be so, kept her priests in a just and becoming subordination, and would not suffer them to meddle with or prate about her government (for which to this day you have never heard them spare to her memory one good word); and when a weak prince succeeded her, many of the leading clergy advanced all the vilest tenets of popery: They declared, that the Church of Rome, contrary to the express words of the Homilies, was a true church (which they might as justly have said of the Church of Hell) at the same time that they denounced damnation against all foreign and domestick Protestants for being no churches at all. So much did they prefer their own notional power of ordination before the precepts of our Saviour, and the essentials of religion! They persuaded the King to appoint three bishops to re-ordain the Scotch presbyters; which imposition put that kingdom in a flame, as being in effect told, that they were in a state of damnation before, and that their ministers had no lawful call to serve God without episcopal dubbing. And thus he had like to have lost one of his kingdoms, to gratify the pride of a few crack-brained ecclesiasticks.

Then it was that professed papists and popish principles grew in request: Liberty of conscience was once given to them by proclamation, and always connived at and indulged; whilst Protestant dissenters, and the best churchmen too, under the odious name of Puritans, were every where reviled and persecuted. Then it was that your parents first heard, in this Protestant church, of the power of the keys, the indelible character, the uninterrupted succession, the real presence, the giving the Holy Ghost, the divine right of kings and bishops; all tending to aggrandize the clergy, and to enslave the laity. Then was invented that nonsensical apothegm, no bishop, no king; which his Majesty echoing several times upon oath at the conference at Hampton-Court, the Archbishop declared, that doubtless his Majesty was inspired, and spoke by the special assistance of Godís spirit. Then the bishops thought it was their time, with the Archbishop at their head, to present a memorial to the King, demanding an exemption of their courts from the civil jurisdiction; and the ecclesiastical power was every day swelling, nay carried to such a pitch in the High-Commission Court, as to draw the Parliament upon them. And to induce his Majesty to support them in their nonsense and roguery, they made him a present of all your persons, lands, and liberties. It became the current doctrine amongst the prerogative clergy, and books were published by some of them, approved and applauded by all, to maintain, that the King was exempt from the restraint of laws; that he need not call Parliaments, but might make laws without them; and, that it was a favour to admit the consent of his people in giving subsidies.

This weak prince left one as weak behind him; one who having, as is said, been once destined to the priesthood, and being a bigot by nature as well as education, the ecclesiasticks found in his reign a proper season and a proper soil to sow their tares in, with a fair prospect of a plentiful harvest. Popery came into the kingdom like a torrent; arbitrary power appeared undisguised, and in the most glaring colours. The King, by positive order to the chancellor, forbade the laws against papists to be put in execution; and, notwithstanding the constant protestations of Parliaments, protected Romish priests against legal prosecutions. Popish books were licensed by Laud; and Protestant ones, which defended the Articles and the opinions of the Established Church, were forbidden, suppressed, and published in the Star Chamber. Montague, who was impeached by Parliament, for his attempts to introduce popery, was not only protected, but made Bishop of Chichester. Laud issued injunctions, by his own authority, for reforming the Church, and bringing it nearer to popery: He had the sauciness to declare publickly, that he hoped to see the time when no jack gentleman should dare to keep on his hat before the meanest curate. The bishops disclaimed all jurisdiction from the crown in Bastwickís trial; and the independence of the Church upon the state was openly asserted. Then came in the altar, and the unbloody sacrifice upon it, with the antick and foppish consecration of churches and church-yards, and many other monkish fooleries, to draw us to a nearer conformity with Rome.

And as priestcraft and tyranny are ever inseparable, and go hand-in-hand, infinite other oppressions were brought upon the poor people, and proved by the priests to be jure divino; as, unlawful imprisonments, various monopolies, extorted loans, numerous taxes; all levied without authority of Parliament. Sibthorp and Manwaring, two of Laudís creatures, were set on to preach, that the King was not bound by the laws of the land; that the Kingís royal will, in imposing loans and taxes, did oblige the subjectís conscience, on pain of damnation. His Majesty sent a special mandate to Archbishop Abbot, to license those sermons; and his Grace was suspended for not doing it. It seems that it was lawful then to suspend the greatest clergyman, and first subject of England, for doing his duty, and preserving the laws: And now it is a sacrilegious usurpation of the divine rights of the clergy, to deprive a bishop for the most traitorous conspiracy against his king, his country, and the religion which he himself professes. To make good all these invasions upon publick liberty, a German army was contracted for; and some time after an Irish and popish one was actually raised by Strafford in Ireland.

During these reigns, all the high clergy were the professed trumpets, the setting dogs and spiritual janizaries, of a government which used you like cattle, and starved you, or slew you for profit and sport. They made you conspire against yourselves, by alarming your consciences, and filling them with blind and unnatural resignation to all the excesses of cruelty, plunder, oppression, killing, servitude, and every species of human barbarity: But now that you are protected and secure in standing laws, which the administration has never pretended to dispense with; when you have the full enjoyment of your consciences, which the government in no instance restrains; when you are secure in your estates and property, which the government does not touch, nor pretends any right to touch; when you have as much liberty as mankind can under any government possess, a liberty which goes to the very borders of licentiousness: I say, under all these blessings, blessings unknown almost to all men, but Englishmen; will these implacable and steady impostors let you alone? Are not their spiritual goads continually in your sides, stimulating you to renounce your understanding, your freedom, your safety, your religion, your honesty, your conscience; and to destroy the source of all your own happiness and enjoyments, religious and secular; to exchange a free government, and every thing that is valuable upon earth, for the cruelty, madness, chains, misery, and deformity of popery and of popish tyranny?

Look back, Gentlemen, once more, to later reigns: What testimony did they bear against the barefaced encouragement of popery, and the persecution of Protestants, in Charles IIís reign; against his fatal treaties and leagues with France, his unjust wars with the United Provinces, and his treacherous seizure of their Smyrna fleet, to destroy the only state in the world that could be then called the bulwark of liberty and the Protestant religion? What did they say against the terrible excesses, the arbitrary imprisonments, the legal murders, and violation of property, during his reign? Did they not encourage and sanctify all the invasions and encroachments of the court, and cursed all who opposed them, or complained of them? Can they have the forehead to complain of armies, of taxes, or any sort of oppression (however just such complaint may be in others), they who have never shewn themselves for any government, but what subsisted by armies and oppression? They have been always mortal foes to popular liberty, which thwarts and frustrates all their aspiring and insatiable views; and in every favourite reign preached it as impiously down, as they preached up every growing and heavy oppression.

Nor did they ever quarrel with King James, but consecrated all his usurpations, his armies, and dispensing power, till he gave liberty of conscience to dissenters, and till some of their own ill-contrived oppressions were brought home to their own doors. They then cursed their king, and helped to send him a begging. They resisted him, and upon their principles were rebels to him, and animated others to be so; yet have been damning you and the nation for that resistance ever since: Which is a full confession, that when a popish tyrant plunders and oppresses you, you neither can nor ought to have any remedy; but if he touch but a tithe-pig or surplice of theirs, their heel is ready to be lifted up against him, and their hands to throw the crown from his head, and to put it upon another, with fresh oaths of allegiance and obedience; and to pull it off again in spite of those oaths, or without any forfeiture, or any just provocation. Is not this infamous conduct of theirs manifest to sight? Does it not stare you and every Briton in the face? And yet will you be implicitly led by such traitors to God, to truth, and to you?

How did they behave towards King William, whom they themselves invited over? As soon as he gave liberty of conscience to Protestant dissenters; let them see that he would not be a blind tool to a priestly faction, but would equally protect all his subjects who were faithful to him; had set himself at the head of the Protestant interest, and every year hazarded his person in dangerous battles and sieges for the liberty of England and of Europe, against the most dreadful scourge and oppressor of mankind that ever plagued the earth; they were perpetually preaching and haranguing seditiously, always calumniating him, reviling him, distressing him, and plotting against him; always endeavouring to render his measures, all his generous attempts for their own security, abortive and ineffectual. Nor did they use the late Queen, their own favourite Queen, or even those of their own party who served her faithfully, one jot better, till she fell into the hands of a few desperate traitors to herself and them; who gave away all the advantage of a long, expensive, and successful war; put France into a condition again to enslave Europe, and to place a popish traitor, an attainted fugitive, upon the throne of these kingdoms(which he had undoubtedly done, if unforeseen accidents had not prevented it): And then what encomiums, what panegyricks, what fulsome and blasphemous flattery, did they bestow upon her person and actions, and have bestowed ever since?

Is not this, Gentlemen, using you like slaves, and worse than spaniels; making you the tame vassals of tyrants, and restless rebels to lawful governors? Is not this using you like insensible instruments, void of reason and of conscience, of prudence, and of property? Is this teaching! this the price of their revenues and ease! this the function of ministers! Or can human invention, animated and aided by human malice, draw the character of more unlimited, merciless, and outrageous enemies?

T I am, &c.

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