Samuel Johnson.

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

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grievances cry aloud for inquiry and justice, it is our duty to pursue
all the footsteps of guilt; and the loud, the pathetick appeal of my
constituents, is more forcibly persuasive than any motive of private
tenderness. This appeal is not the clamour of faction, artfully raised
to disturb the operation of government, violent for a while, and soon to
be appeased. It is the complaint of long and patient sufferings, a
complaint not to be silenced; and which all endeavours to suppress it,
would only make more importunate and clamorous. It is the solemn appeal
of the whole people, of the united body of our constituents, in this
time of national calamity, earnestly beseeching you, in a legal
parliamentary way, to redress their grievances, to revive your ancient
right of inquiry, to explore the most remote and hidden sources of
iniquity, to detect the bold authors of their distress, that they may be
made examples of national justice.

It is to you they appeal, the true, the genuine representatives of the
people. Not like former parliaments, an instrument of state, the
property of a minister, purchased by the missionaries of corruption, who
have been dispersed through the kingdom, and furnished with the publick
money to invade all natural interest, by poisoning the morals of the
people. Upon this rotten foundation has been erected a towering fabrick
of corruption: a most dangerous conspiracy has been carried on against
the very essence of our constitution, a formidable system of ministerial
power has been formed, fallaciously assuming, under constitutional
appearances, the name of legal government.

In this system we have seen the several offices of administration meanly
resolving themselves under the direction and control of one man: while
this scheme was pursued, the nation has been ingloriously patient of
foreign indignities; our trade has been most shamefully neglected, or
basely betrayed; a war with an impotent enemy, most amply provided for,
unsuccessfully carried on; the faith of treaties broke; our natural
allies deserted, and weakened even by that power, which we now dread for
want of their assistance.

It is not the bare removal from office that will satisfy the nation,
especially if such removal is dignified with the highest marks of royal
favour. This only gives mankind a reasonable fear that his majesty has
rather condescended to the importunities, than adopted the opinion of
his people. It is, indeed, a most gracious condescension, a very high
instance of his majesty's just intentions to remove any of his servants
upon national suspicion; but it will give his majesty a most
unfavourable opinion of his people, if he is not satisfied that this
suspicion was just. It is the unfortunate situation of arbitrary kings,
that they know the sentiments of their people only from whisperers in
their closet. Our monarchy has securer establishments. Our sovereign is
always sure of knowing the true sense of his people, because he may see
it through the proper, the constitutional medium: but then this medium
must be pure, it must transmit every object in its real form and its
natural colours. This is all that is now contended for. You are called
to the exercise of your just right of inquiry, that his majesty may see
what reason there is for this general inquietude.

This motion is of a general nature; whom it may more particularly
affect, I shall not determine. But there is a great person, lately at
the head of the administration, who stands foremost, the principal
object of national suspicion. He surely will not decline this inquiry,
it is his own proposition; he has frequently, in the name of the whole
administration, thrown down his gauntlet here; has desired your
inquiries, and has rested his fate on your justice. The nation accepts
the challenge, they join issue with him, they are now desirous to bring
this great cause in judgment before you.

It must be imputed to the long intermission of this right of inquiry,
that the people have now this cause of complaint; had the administration
of this great person been submitted to the constitutional controls, had
his conduct undergone strict and frequent inquiries, he had parts and
abilities to have done great honour and service to this country. But the
will, uncontrouled, for ever must and will produce security and
wantonness; nor can moderation and despotick power subsist long

In vain do we admire the outlines of our constitution, in vain do we
boast of those wise and salutary restraints, which our ancestors, at the
expense of their blood and treasure, have wisely imposed upon monarchy
itself, if it is to be a constitution in theory only, if this evasive
doctrine is to be admitted, that a fellow-subject of our own, perhaps of
the lowest rank among us, may be delegated by the crown to exercise the
administration of government, with absolute, uncontroulable dominion
over us; which must be the case, if ministerial conduct is not liable to
parliamentary inquiries.

If I did not think this motion agreeable to the rules and proceedings of
the senate; if I thought it was meant to introduce any procedure which
was not strictly consonant to the laws and constitution of my country, I
do most solemnly protest I would be against, it. But as I apprehend it
to arise from the nature and spirit of our constitution, as it will
defend the innocent, and can be detrimental only to the guilty, I do
most heartily second the motion.

The hon. Henry PELHAM opposed the motion to the following effect: - Sir,
if it was not daily to be observed, how much the minds of the wisest and
most moderate men are elated with success, and how often those, who have
been able to surmount the strongest obstacles with unwearied diligence,
and to preserve their fortitude unshaken amidst hourly disappointments,
have been betrayed by slight advantages into indecent exultations,
unreasonable confidence, and chimerical hopes; had I not long remarked
the infatuation of prosperity, and the pride of triumph, I should not
have heard the motion which has been now made without, astonishment.

It has been long the business or the amusement of the gentlemen, who,
having for some time conferred upon themselves the venerable titles of
patriots, advocates for the people, and defenders of the constitution,
have at length persuaded part of the nation to dignify them with the
same appellation, to display in the most pathetick language, and
aggravate with the most hyperbolical exaggerations, the wantonness with
which the late ministry exercised their power, the exorbitance of their
demands, and the violence of their measures. They have indulged their
imaginations, which have always been sufficiently fruitful in satire and
invective, by representing them as men in whom all regard to decency or
reputation was extinguished, men who no longer submitted to wear the
mask of hypocrisy, or thought the esteem of mankind worth their care;
who had ceased to profess any regard to the welfare of their country, or
any desire of advancing the publick happiness; and who no longer desired
any other effects of their power, than the security of themselves and
the conquest of their opponents.

Such, sir, has been the character of the ministry, which, by the
incessant endeavours of these disinterested patriots, has been carried
to the remotest corners of the empire, and disseminated through all the
degrees of the people. Every man, whom they could enlist among their
pupils, whom they could persuade to see with their eyes, rather than his
own, and who was not so stubborn as to require proofs of their
assertions, and reasons of their conduct; every man who, having no
sentiments of his own, hoped to become important by echoing those of his
instructors, was taught to think and to say, that the court was filled
with open corruption; that the greatest and the wisest men of the
kingdom set themselves publickly to sale, and held an open traffick for
votes and places; that whoever engaged in the party of the minister,
declared himself ready to support his cause against truth, and reason,
and conviction, and was no longer under the restraint of shame or

These assertions, hardy as they were, they endeavoured to support by
instances of measures, which they described as having no other tendency,
than to advance the court to absolute authority, to enslave the nation,
or to betray it: and more happily would they have propagated their
system, and much sooner would they have obtained a general declaration
of the people in their favour, had they been able to have produced a
motion like this.

Should the influence of these men increase, should they grow secure in
the possession of their power, by any new methods of deluding the
people, what wonderful expedients, what unheard-of methods of government
may not be expected from them? What degrees of violence may they not be
supposed to practise, who have flushed their new authority by a motion
which was never projected since the first existence of our government,
or offered by the most arbitrary minister in all the confidence of an
established majority.

It may, perhaps, be imagined by many of those who are unacquainted with
senatorial affairs, as many of the members of this house may without any
reproach be supposed to be, that I have made use of those arts against
the patriots which they have so long practised against the court; that I
have exaggerated the enormity of the motion by unjust comparisons, or
rhetorical flights; and that there will be neither danger nor
inconvenience in complying with it to any but those who have betrayed
their trust, or neglected their duty.

I doubt not, but many of those with whom this motion has been concerted,
have approved it without seeing all its consequences; and have been
betrayed into that approbation by a laudable zeal for their country, and
an honest indignation against corruption and treachery, by a virtuous
desire of detecting wickedness, and of securing our constitution from
any future dangers or attacks.

For the sake, therefore, of these gentlemen, whom I cannot but suppose
willing to follow the dictates of their own consciences, and to act upon
just motives, I shall endeavour to lay open the nature of this
extraordinary motion, and doubt not but that when they find it, as it
will unquestionably appear, unreasonable in itself, and dangerous to
posterity, they will change their opinion for the same reasons as they
embraced it, and prefer the happiness of their country to the prosperity
of their party.

Against an inquiry into the conduct of all foreign and domestick affairs
for _twenty_ years past, it is no weak argument that it is without
precedent; that neither the zeal of patriotism, nor the rage of faction,
ever produced such a motion in any former age. It cannot be doubted by
those who have read our histories, that formerly our country has
produced men equally desirous of detecting wickedness, and securing
liberty, with those who are now congratulating their constituents on the
success of their labours; and that faction has swelled in former times
to a height, at which it may reasonably be hoped it will never arrive
again, is too evident to be controverted.

What then can we suppose was the reason, that neither indignation, nor
integrity, nor resentment, ever before directed a motion like this? Was
it not, because it neither will serve the purposes of honesty, nor
wickedness; that it would have defeated the designs of good, and
betrayed those of bad men; that it would have given patriotism an
appearance of faction, rather than have vested faction with the disguise
of patriotism.

It cannot be supposed, that the sagacity of these gentlemen, however
great, has enabled them to discover a method of proceeding which escaped
the penetration of our ancestors, so long celebrated for the strength of
their understanding, and the extent of their knowledge. For it is
evident, that without any uncommon effort of the intellectual faculties,
he that proposes an inquiry for a year past, might have made the same
proposal with regard to a longer time; and it is therefore probable,
that the limitation of the term is the effect of his knowledge, rather
than of his ignorance.

And, indeed, the absurdity of an universal inquiry for twenty years past
is such, that no man, whose station has given him opportunities of being
acquainted with publick business, could have proposed it, had he not
been misled by the vehemence of resentment, or biassed by the secret
operation of some motives different from publick good; for it is no less
than a proposal for an attempt impossible to be executed, and of which
the execution, if it could be effected would be detrimental to the

Were our nation, sir, like some of the inland kingdoms of the continent,
or the barbarous empire of Japan, without commerce, without alliances,
without taxes, and without competition with other nations; did we depend
only on the product of our own soil to support us, and the strength of
our own arms to defend us, without any intercourse with distant empire,
or any solicitude about foreign affairs, were the same measures
uniformly pursued, the government supported by the same revenues, and
administered with the same views, it might not be impracticable to
examine the conduct of affairs, both foreign and domestick, for twenty
years; because every year would afford only a transcript of the accounts
of the last.

But how different is the state of Britain, a nation whose traffick is
extended over the earth, whose revenues are every year different, or
differently applied, which is daily engaging in new treaties of
alliance, or forming new regulations of trade with almost every nation,
however distant, which has undertaken the arduous and intricate
employments of superintending the interests of all foreign empires, and
maintaining the equipoise of the French powers, which receives
ambassadors from all the neighbouring princes, and extends its regard to
the limits of the world.

In such a nation, every year produces negotiations of peace, or
preparations for war, new schemes and different measures, by which
expenses are sometimes increased, and sometimes retrenched. In such a
nation, every thing is in a state of perpetual vicissitude; because its
measures are seldom the effects of choice, but of necessity, arising
from the change of conduct in other powers.

Nor is the multiplicity and intricacy of our domestick affairs less
remarkable or particular. It is too well known that our debts are great,
and our taxes numerous; that our funds, appropriated to particular
purposes, are at some times deficient, and at others redundant; and that
therefore the money arising from the same imposts, is differently
applied in different years. To assert that this fluctuation produces
intricacy, may be imagined a censure of those to whose care our accounts
are committed; but surely it must be owned, that our accounts are made
necessarily less uniform and regular, and such as must require a longer
time for a complete examination.

Whoever shall set his foot in our offices, and observe the number of
papers with which the transactions of the last twenty years have filled
them, will not need any arguments against this motion. When he sees the
number of writings which such an inquiry will make necessary to be
perused, compared, and extracted, the accounts which must be examined
and opposed to others, the intelligence from foreign courts which must
be considered, and the estimates of domestick expenses which must be
discussed; he will own, that whoever is doomed to the task of this
inquiry, would be happy in exchanging his condition with that of the
miners of America; and that the most resolute industry, however excited
by ambition, or animated by patriotism, must sink under the weight of
endless labour.

If it be considered how many are employed in the publick offices, it
must be confessed, either that the national treasure is squandered in
salaries upon men who have no employment, or that twenty years may be
reasonably supposed to produce more papers than a committee can examine;
and, indeed, if the committee of inquiry be not more numerous than has
ever been appointed, it may be asserted, without exaggeration, that the
inquiry into our affairs for twenty years past, will not be accurately
performed in less than twenty years to come; in which time those whose
conduct is now supposed to have given the chief occasion to this motion,
may be expected to be removed for ever from the malice of calumny, and
the rage of persecution.

But if it should be imagined by those who, having never been engaged in
publick affairs, cannot properly judge of their intricacy and extent,
that such an inquiry is in reality so far from being impossible, that it
is only the work of a few months, and that the labour of it will be
amply recompensed by the discoveries which it will produce, let them but
so long suspend the gratification of their curiosity, as to consider the
nature of that demand by which they are about to satisfy it. A demand,
by which nothing less is required than that all the secrets of our
government should be made publick.

It is known in general to every man, whose employment or amusement it
has been to consider the state of the French kingdoms, that the last
twenty years have been a time not of war, but of negotiations; a period
crowned with projects, and machinations often more dangerous than
violence and invasions; and that these projects have been counteracted
by opposite schemes, that treaties have been defeated by treaties, and
one alliance overbalanced by another.

Such a train of transactions, in which almost every court of France has
been engaged, must have given occasion to many private conferences, and
secret negotiations; many designs must have been discovered by informers
who gave their intelligence at the hazard of their lives, and been
defeated, sometimes by secret stipulations, and sometimes by a judicious
distribution of money to those who presided in senates or councils.

Every man must immediately be convinced, that by the inquiry now
proposed, all these secrets will be brought to light; that one prince
will be informed of the treachery of his servants, and another see his
own cowardice or venality exposed to the world. It is plain, that the
channels of intelligence will be for ever stopped, and that no prince
will enter into private treaties with a monarch who is denied by the
constitution of his empire, the privilege of concealing his own
measures. It is evident, that our enemies may hereafter plot our ruin in
full security, and that our allies will no longer treat us with

Since, therefore, the inquiry now demanded is impossible, the motion
ought to be rejected, as it can have no other tendency than to expose
the senate and the nation to ridicule; and since, if it could be
performed, it would produce consequences fatal to our government, as it
would expose our most secret measures to our enemies, and weaken the
confidence of our allies. I hope every man who regards either his own
reputation, or that of the senate, or professes any solicitude for the
publick good, will oppose the motion.

Lord QUARENDON spoke to this effect: - Sir, I am always inclined to
suspect a man who endeavours rather to terrify than persuade.
Exaggerations and hyperboles are seldom made use of by him who has any
real arguments to produce. The reasonableness of this motion (of which I
was convinced when I first heard it, and of which, I believe, no man can
doubt who is not afraid of the inquiry proposed by it) is now, in my
opinion, evinced by, the weak opposition which has been made by the
honourable gentleman, to whose abilities I cannot deny this attestation,
that the cause which he cannot defend, has very little to hope from any
other advocate.

And surely he cannot, even by those who, whenever he speaks, stand
prepared to applaud him, be thought to have produced any formidable
argument against the inquiry, who has advanced little more than that it
is impossible to be performed.

Impossibility is a formidable sound to ignorance and cowardice; but
experience has often discovered, that it is only a sound uttered by
those who have nothing else to say; and courage readily surmounts those
obstacles that sink the lazy and timorous into despair.

That there are, indeed, impossibilities in nature, cannot be denied.
There may be schemes formed which no wise man will attempt to execute,
because he will know that they cannot succeed; but, surely, the
examination of arithmetical deductions, or the consideration of treaties
and conferences, cannot be admitted into the number of impossible
designs; unless, as it may sometimes happen, the treaties and
calculations are unintelligible.

The only difficulty that can arise, must be produced by the confusion
and perplexity of our publick transactions, the inconsistency of our
treaties, and the fallaciousness of our estimates; but I hope no man
will urge these as arguments against the motion. An inquiry ought to be
promoted, that confusion may be reduced to order, and that the
distribution of the publick money may be regulated. If the examination
be difficult, it ought to be speedily performed, because those
difficulties are daily increasing; if it be impossible, it ought to be
attempted, that those methods of forming calculations may be changed,
which make them impossible to be examined.

Mr. FOWKES replied in the manner following: - Sir, to treat with contempt
those arguments which cannot readily be answered, is the common practice
of disputants; but as it is contrary to that candour and ingenuity which
is inseparable from zeal for justice and love of truth, it always raises
a suspicion of private views, and of designs, which, however they may be
concealed by specious appearances, and vehement professions of integrity
and sincerity, tend in reality to the promotion of some secret interest,
or the gratification of some darling passion. It is reasonable to
imagine, that he, who in the examination of publick questions, calls in
the assistance of artifice and sophistry, is actuated rather by the rage
of persecution, than the ardour of patriotism; that he is pursuing an
enemy, rather than detecting a criminal; and that he declaims against
the abuse of power in another, only that he may more easily obtain it

In senatorial debates, I have often known this method of easy
confutation practised, sometimes with more success, and sometimes with
less. I have often known ridicule of use, when reason has been baffled,
and seen those affect to despise their opponents, who have been able to
produce nothing against them but artful allusions to past debates,
satirical insinuations of dependence, or hardy assertions unsupported by
proofs. By these arts I have known the young and unexperienced kept in
suspense; I have seen the cautious and diffident taught to doubt of the
plainest truths; and the bold and sanguine persuaded to join in the cry,
and hunt down reason, after the example of their leaders.

But a bolder attempt to disarm argument of its force, and to perplex the
understanding, has not often been made, than this which I am now
endeavouring to oppose. A motion has been made and seconded for an
inquiry, to which it is objected, not that it is illegal, not that it is
inconvenient, not that it is unnecessary, but that it is _impossible_.
An objection more formidable cannot, in my opinion, easily be made; nor
can it be imagined that those men would think any other worthy of an
attentive examination, who can pass over this as below their regard; yet
even this has produced no answer, but contemptuous raillery, and violent

What arguments these gentlemen require, it is not easy to conjecture; or
how those who disapprove their measures, may with any hope of success
dispute against them. Those impetuous spirits that break so easily
through the bars of impossibility, will scarcely suffer their career to
be stopped by any other restraint; and it may be reasonably feared, that
arguments from justice, or law, or policy, will have little force upon
these daring minds, who in the transports of their newly acquired
victory, trample impossibility under their feet, and imagine that to
those who have vanquished the ministry, every thing is practicable.

That this inquiry would be the work of years; that it will employ
greater numbers than were ever deputed by this house on such an occasion
before; that it would deprive the nation of the counsels of the wisest

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 11. Parlimentary Debates II → online text (page 4 of 46)