Samuel Johnson.

The Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 11. Parlimentary Debates II online

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dismission of the commissioners from their employments, admitted the
justice of the representation of the commons, it surely can be of no use
to evince, by arguments, the necessity of new regulations.

It is, indeed, certain, that men of integrity and prudence, men of
ability to discern their duty, and of resolution to execute it, can
receive very little assistance from rules and prescriptions; nor can I
deny what the noble lord has affirmed, that they may be sometimes
embarrassed in their measures, and hindered from snatching opportunities
of success, and complying with emergent occasions; but, my lords, we are
to consider mankind, not as we wish them, but as we find them,
frequently corrupt, and always fallible.

If men were all honest and wise, laws of all kinds would be superfluous,
a legislature would become useless, and our authority must cease for
want of objects to employ it; but we find, my lords, that there are men
whom nothing but laws and penalties can make supportable to society;
that there are men, who, if they are not told their duty, will never
know it, and who will, at last, only perform what they shall be punished
for neglecting.

Were all men, like the noble lord whom I am now attempting to answer,
vigilant to discover, sagacious to distinguish, and industrious to
prosecute the interest of the publick, I should be very far from
proposing that they should be constrained by rules, or required to
follow any guide but their own reason; I should resign my own
prosperity, and that of my country, implicitly into their hands, and
rest in full security that nothing would be omitted that human wisdom
could dictate for our advantage.

I am not persuading your lordships to lay restraints upon virtue and
prudence, but to consider how seldom virtue and authority are found
together, how often prudence degenerates into selfishness, and all
generous regard for the publick is contracted into narrow views of
private interest. I am endeavouring to show, that since laws must be
equally obligatory to all, it is the interest of the few good men to
submit to restraints, which, though they may sometimes obstruct the
influence of their virtue, will abundantly recompense them, by securing
them from the mischiefs that wickedness, reigning almost without limits,
and operating without opposition, might bring upon them.

It may not be improper to add, my lords, that no degree of human wisdom
is exempt from errour; that he who claims the privilege of acting at
discretion, subjects himself likewise to the necessity of answering for
the consequences of his conduct, and that ill success will at least
subject him to reproach and suspicion, from which, he whose conduct is
regulated by established rules, may always have an opportunity of
setting himself free.

Fixed and certain regulations are, therefore, my lords, useful to the
wisest and best men; and to those whose abilities are less conspicuous,
and whose integrity is at best doubtful, I suppose it will not be
doubted that they are indispensably necessary.

Some of the expedients mentioned in this bill, I shall readily concur
with the noble lord in censuring and rejecting; I am very far from
thinking it expedient to invest the governours of our colonies with any
new degree of power, or to subject the captains of our ships of war to
their command. I have lived, my lords, to see many successions of those
petty monarchs, and have known few whom I would willingly trust with the
exercise of great authority. It is not uncommon, my lords, for those to
be made cruel and capricious by power, who were moderate and prudent in
lower stations; and if the effects of exaltation are to be feared even
in good men, what may not be expected from it in those, whom nothing but
a distant employment could secure from the laws, and who, if they had
not been sent to America to govern, must probably have gone thither on a
different occasion?

The noble duke, who has vindicated the bill with arguments to which very
little can be added, and to which I believe nothing can be replied, has
expressed his unwillingness to concur in any measures for the execution
of which new officers must be appointed. An increase of officers, my
lords, is, indeed, a dreadful sound, a sound that cannot but forebode
the ruin of our country; the number of officers already established is
abundantly sufficient for all useful purposes, nor can any addition be
made but to the ruin of our constitution.

I am, therefore, of opinion, that no new officer was intended by those
that drew up the bill, and that they proposed only to furnish those that
loiter in our ports, at the expense of the publick, with an opportunity
of earning their salaries by some useful employment.

I know not, indeed, my lords, whether any good effects can be reasonably
hoped from this provision; whether men accustomed to connivance and
negligence in affairs of less importance, ought to be trusted with the
care of our naval preparations, and engaged in service, on which the
prosperity of the publick may depend; and cannot conceal my
apprehensions, that such men, if commissioned to superintend others, may
themselves require a superintendent.

But, my lords, this and every other clause may, in a committee, be
carefully examined and deliberately corrected; and since it appears
evident to me, that some law is necessary for the security of our
commerce, I think this bill ought not to be rejected without farther

Lord WINCHELSEA rose again, and spoke thus: - My lords, as the known
sincerity of that noble lord allows no room for suspecting, that he
would bestow any praises where he did not believe there was some desert,
and as his penetration and acuteness secure him from being deceived by
any false appearances of merit, I cannot but applaud myself for having
obtained his esteem, which I hope will not be forfeited by my future

Having happily gained the regard of so exact a judge of mankind, I am
the less solicitous what opinion may be conceived of my abilities or
intentions by those whose censures I less fear, and whose praises I less
value, and shall, therefore, cheerfully hazard any degree of popularity,
which I may have hitherto possessed, by continuing my opposition to this
bill, of which I am still convinced that it will produce nothing but
embarrassment, losses, and disgrace.

The necessity of gaining and preserving the esteem of the people I very
willingly allow, but am of opinion that though it may sometimes be
gained by flattering their passions and complying with their
importunities, by false appearances of relief, and momentary
alleviations of their grievances, it is only to be preserved by real and
permanent benefits, by a steady attention to the great ends of
government, and a vigorous prosecution of the means by which they may be
obtained, without regard to present prejudices or temporary clamours.

I believe, my lords, it will always be found that it is dangerous to
gratify the people at their own expense, and to sacrifice their interest
to their caprices; for I have so high a veneration of their wisdom, as
to pronounce without scruple, that however they may, for a time, be
deceived by artful misrepresentations, they will, at length, learn to
esteem those most, who have the resolution to promote their happiness in
opposition to their prejudices.

I am, therefore, confident, my lords, of regaining the popularity which
I may lose by declaring, once more, that this bill ought to be rejected,
since no endeavours shall be wanting to show how little it is necessary,
by an effectual protection of every part of our trade, and a diligent
provision for the naval service.

The duke of BEDFORD rose, and spoke to this effect: - My lords, I am
convinced that this bill is very far from being either absurd or
useless, nor can imagine that they by whom it was drawn up could fail of
producing some expedients that may deserve consideration.

It is probable, that a farther inquiry may show the propriety of some
clauses, which at present appear most liable to censure; and that, if we
reject this bill thus precipitately, we shall condemn what we do not
fully comprehend. No clause appeared to me more unworthy of the judgment
and penetration of the merchants than the last, nor was there any which
I should have rejected at the first perusal with less regret; yet,
having taken this opportunity of considering it a second time, I find it
by no means indefensible, for the direction of ships stationed for the
defence of our American territories, is not committed to the governours
alone. The council of each province is joined with them in authority, by
whom any private regards may be overborne, and who cannot be supposed to
concur in any directions which will not promote the general interest of
the colony.

I doubt not, my lords, but other clauses have been equally mistaken,
and, therefore, think it necessary to consider them in a committee,
where every lord may declare his sentiments, without the restraint of a
formal debate, and where the bill may be deliberately revised, and
accommodated more exactly to the present exigencies of the nation.

Lord WINCHELSEA spoke again, in substance as follows: - My lords, the
only reason which has been urged for considering this bill in a
committee, is the necessity of gratifying the merchants, and of showing
our concern for the prosperity of commerce. If therefore it shall
appear, that the merchants are indifferent with regard to its success, I
hope it will be rejected without opposition.

I was this morning, my lords, informed by a merchant, who has many
opportunities of acquainting himself with the opinions of the trading
part of the nation, that they were fully convinced of the impossibility
of adapting fixed rules to variable exigencies, or of establishing any
certain method of obviating the chances of war, and defeating enemies
who were every day altering their schemes; and declared that they had no
hopes of security but from the vigilance of a board of admiralty,
solicitous for the welfare of the merchants, and the honour of the

Lord CHOLMONDELEY rose and spoke to the following purpose: - My lords, as
three clauses of this bill have been universally given up, and almost
all the rest plainly proved by the noble lord to be either absurd or
superfluous, I cannot see why it should not be rejected without the
solemnity of farther consideration, to which, indeed, nothing but the
title can give it any claim.

The title, my lords, is, indeed, specious, and well fitted to the design
of gaining attention and promoting popularity; but with this title there
is nothing that corresponds, nor is any thing to be found but confusion
and contradictions, which grow more numerous upon farther search.

That the whole bill, my lords, is unnecessary, cannot be denied, if it
be considered that nothing is proposed in it which is not already in the
power of your lordships, who may call at pleasure for the lists of the
navy, the accounts of the cruisers, the duties of their commissions, and
the journals of their commanders, (as you did in the sixth of queen
Anne,) and detect every act of negligence or treachery, and every
instance of desertion, or of cowardice.

Nothing is necessary to the regulation of our naval force, but that your
lordships vigilantly exert that power which is conferred upon you by the
constitution, and examine the conduct of every officer with attention
and impartiality; no man then will dare to neglect his duty, because no
man can hope to escape punishment.

Of this bill, therefore, since it is thus useless and inconsistent, I
cannot but suspect, my lords, that it was concerted for purposes very
different from those mentioned in the title, which it has, indeed, no
tendency to promote. I believe, my lords, the projectors of it intended
not so much to advance the interest of the merchants, as to depress the
reputation of those whom they have long taken every opportunity of
loading with reproaches, whom they have censured as the enemies of
trade, the corrupters of the nation, and the confederates of Spain.

To confirm these general calumnies, it was necessary to fix on some
particular accusation which might raise the resentment of the people,
and exasperate them beyond reflection or inquiry. For this purpose
nothing was more proper than to charge them with betraying our merchants
to the enemy.

As no accusation could be more efficacious to inflame the people, so
none, my lords, could with more difficulty be confuted. Some losses must
be suffered in every war, and every one will necessarily produce
complaints and discontent; every man is willing to blame some other
person for his misfortunes, and it was, therefore, easy to turn the
clamours of those whose vessels fell into the hands of the Spaniards,
against the ministers and commanders of the ships of war.

These cries were naturally heard with the regard always paid to
misfortune and distress, and propagated with zeal, because they were
heard with pity. Thus in time, what was at first only the outcry of
impatience, was by malicious artifices improved into settled opinion,
that opinion was diligently diffused, and all the losses of the
merchants were imputed, not to the chance of war, but the treachery of
the ministry.

But, my lords, the folly of this opinion, however general, and the
falsehood of this accusation, however vehement, will become sufficiently
apparent, if you examine that bulky collection of papers which are now
laid before you, from which you will discover the number of our fleets,
the frequency of our convoys, the stations of our ships of war, and the
times of their departure and return; you will find that no provision for
war, no expedient likely to promote success has been neglected; that we
have now more ships equipped than in the late war with France, that
nothing can be added to the exactness with which our maritime force is
regulated, and that there is not the least reason to doubt of the
fidelity with which it has been employed.

In every war, my lords, it is to be expected that losses will be
suffered by private persons on each side, nor even in a successful war
can the publick always hope to be enriched; because the advantage may
arise, not immediately from captures, but, consequently, from the
treaties or conditions in which a prosperous war may be supposed to

What concessions we shall in this war extort from the Spaniards, what
security will be procured for our merchants, what recompense will be
yielded for our losses, or what extent will be added to our commerce, it
cannot yet be expected that any man should be able to declare; nor will
his majesty's counsellors be required to give an account of futurity. It
is a sufficient vindication of their conduct, and an evident proof of
the wisdom with which the war has been conducted, that we have hitherto
gained more than we have lost.

This, my lords, will appear from a diligent and minute comparison of the
captures on each side, and an exact computation of the value of our
losses and our prizes. It will be found that if the Spaniards have
taken, as it is not improbable, a greater number of ships, those which
they have lost have been far more wealthy.

The merchants, indeed, seem to have distrusted the strength of the
evidence which they produced in support of their allegations, by
bringing it only before the other house, where, as an oath could not be
administered, every man delivered what he believed as what he knew, and
indulged himself without scruple in venting his resentment, or declaring
his suspicions; a method of allegation very proper to scatter reproaches
and gratify malevolence, but of very little use for the discovery of

Had they come before your lordships, every circumstance had been
minutely examined, every assertion compared with other evidence, all
exaggerations repressed, and all foreign considerations rejected; each
part would have been impartially heard, and it would have plainly been
known to whom every loss was to be imputed. The negligence or treachery
of the commanders of the convoys, wherever it had been found, would have
been punished, but they would not have charged them with those
miscarriages which were produced only by the obstinacy or inattention of
the masters of the trading vessels.

Such inquiries, my lords, they appear to have thought it their interest
to decline, and, therefore, did not proceed on their petition to this
house; and if they did in reality avoid a rigorous examination, what can
be inferred, but that they intended rather to offer insinuations than
proofs, and rather to scatter infamy than obtain justice.

And, that nothing was indeed omitted that could secure our own commerce,
or distress our enemies, may reasonably be collected from the number and
great strength of our fleet, to which no empire in the world can oppose
an equal force. If it has not been supplied with sailors without some
delays, and if these delays have given our enemies an opportunity of
adding to their securities, of fortifying their ports, and supplying
their magazines, it must be ascribed to the nature of our constitution,
that forbids all compulsory methods of augmenting our forces, which must
be considered as, perhaps, the only inconvenience to be thrown into the
balance against the blessings of liberty.

The difficulty of manning our ships of war, is, indeed, extremely
perplexing. Men are naturally very little inclined to subject themselves
to absolute command, or to engage in any service without a time limited
for their dismission. Men cannot willingly rush into danger without the
prospect of a large advantage; they have generally some fondness for
their present state of life, and do not quit it without reluctance. All
these reasons, my lords, concur to withhold the sailors from the navy,
in which they are necessarily governed with higher authority than in
trading vessels, in which they are subjected to punishments, and
confined by strict regulations, without any certain term of their
bondage; for such they, who know not the necessity of subordination, nor
discover the advantages of discipline, cannot but account subjection to
the will and orders of another.

By serving the merchants, they not only secure to themselves the liberty
of changing their masters at pleasure, but enjoy the prospect of a near
and certain advantage; they have not, indeed, any expectations of being
suddenly enriched by a plate ship, and of gaining by one engagement such
wealth as will enable them to spend the rest of their lives in ease and
affluence; but they are sure of a speedy payment of their wages,
perhaps, of some profits from petty commerce, and of an opportunity of
squandering them at land in jollity and diversions; their labour is
cheerful, because they know it will be short, and they readily enter
into an employment which they can quit when it shall no longer please

These considerations, my lords, have no influence upon the preparations
of France and Spain, where no man is master of his own fortune, or time,
or life, and where the officers of the state can drive multitudes into
the service of the crown, without regard to their private views,
inclinations, or engagements. To man a fleet, nothing is necessary but
to lay an embargo on the trading vessels, and suspend their commerce for
a short time; therefore no man dares refuse to enter into the publick
service when he is summoned; nor, if he should fly, as our sailors, from
an impress, would any man venture to shelter or conceal him.

Absolute monarchs have, therefore, this advantage over us, that they can
be sooner prepared for war, and to this must be ascribed all the success
which the Spaniards have obtained. This, my lords, will not be obviated
by the bill now before us, nor will it, indeed, procure any other
benefit to the trade, or any addition to the power of the nation.

Of the ten clauses comprised in the bill, the greatest part is
universally allowed to be injudiciously and erroneously proposed; and
those few, which were thought of more importance, have been shown to
contain no new expedients, nor to add any thing to the present

I cannot, therefore, discover any reason, my lords, that should induce
us to refer to a committee this bill, of which part is confessedly to be
rejected, and the rest is apparently superfluous.

[Then the question being put, whether the bill should be referred to a
committee; it passed in the negative. Content, 25. Not content, 59.

On the rejection of this bill by the lords, a bill which related to an
affair of no less importance than the security of trade and navigation,
and which had been unanimously passed by the commons, it was satirically
remarked, that the upper house understood trade and navigation _better_
than the lower. However, the circumstances that attended it, made the
publication of the bill, with the amendments and the reasons offered by
the lords on both sides, expected with the more impatience.]


Parliament having met, according to the royal summons, on this day,
his majesty made a speech from the throne, which being afterwards read
by the president, lord TWEEDALE rose, and spoke as follows:

My lords, it is not without the highest satisfaction, that every lover
of mankind must look upon the alterations that have lately been
produced in the state of Europe; nor can any Briton forbear to express
an immediate and particular pleasure to observe his country rising
again into its former dignity, to see his own nation shake off
dependence, and rouse from inactivity, cover the ocean with her
fleets, and awe the continent with her armies; bid, once more,
defiance to the rapacious invaders of neighbouring kingdoms, and the
daring projectors of universal dominion; once more exert her influence
in foreign courts, and summon the monarchs of the west to another
confederacy against the power of France.

The queen of Hungary, who was lately obliged to retire at the approach
of her enemies, to leave her capital in danger of a siege, and seek
shelter in the remotest corner of her dominions, who was lately so
harassed with invasions, and so encircled with dangers, that she could
scarcely fly from one ravager, without the hazard of falling into the
hands of another, is now able to give laws to her persecutors, to
return the violence which she has suffered, and instead of imploring
mercy from those who had no regard but to their own interest, and were
determined to annihilate her family and divide her dominions, now sits
in full security on her throne, directs the march of distant armies,
and dictates the terms on which those who have entered her dominions
shall be suffered to escape.

Such, my lords, is the present state of the German empire; nor have
the affairs of the rest of Europe been less changed; the power of the
house of Bourbon has been diminished on every side, its alliance has
been rejected, and its influence disregarded.

The king of Sardinia has openly engaged to hinder the Spaniards from
erecting a new kingdom in Italy; and though he has hitherto been
somewhat embarrassed in his measures, and oppressed by the superiority
of his enemies, has at least, by preventing the conjunction of the
Spanish armies, preserved the Austrians from being overwhelmed. Nor can
the situation of his dominions, and the number of his forces, suffer us
to doubt, that in a short time he will be able entirely to secure Italy,
since he has already recovered his country, and drove back the Spaniards
into the bosom of France.

The condition of the other Spanish army is such, as no enemy can wish
to be aggravated by new calamities. They are shut up in a country
without provisions, or of which the inhabitants are unwilling to
supply them: on one side are neutral states, to which the law of
nations bars their entrance; on another the Mediterranean sea, which
can afford them only the melancholy prospect of hostile armaments, or
sometimes of their own ships falling into the hands of the Britons;
behind them are the troops of Austria ready to embarrass their march,
intercept their convoys, and receive those whom famine and despair
incite to change their masters, and to seek among foreign nations that
ease and safety, of which the tyranny of their own government, and the
madness of their own leaders, has deprived them. Such is their
distress, and so great their diminution, that a few months must
complete their ruin, they must be destroyed without the honour of a

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 11. Parlimentary Debates II → online text (page 16 of 46)