Samuel Johnson.

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

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ourselves for the safety of the nation, while the power is yet in our
own hands, and without regard to the opinion or proceedings of the
other house, show that we are yet the chief guardians of the people,
and the most vigilant adversaries of wickedness.

The ready compliance of the commons with the measures proposed in this
bill, has been mentioned here with a view, I suppose, of influencing
us, but surely by those who had forgotten our independence, or
resigned their own. It is not only the right, but the duty of either
house, to deliberate without regard to the determinations of the
other; for how would the nation receive any benefit from the distinct
powers that compose the legislature, unless their determinations are
without influence upon each other? If either the example or authority
of the commons can divert us from following our own convictions, we
are no longer part of the legislature; we have given up our honours
and our privileges, and what then is our concurrence but slavery, or
our suffrage but an echo?

The only argument, therefore, that now remains, is the expediency of
gratifying those by whose ready subscription the exigencies which the
counsels of our new statesmen have brought upon us, and of continuing
the security by which they have been encouraged to such liberal

Publick credit, my lords, is, indeed, of very great importance, but
publick credit can never be long supported without publick virtue; nor
indeed if the government could mortgage the morals and health of the
people, would it be just or rational to confirm the bargain. If the
ministry can raise money only by the destruction of their
fellow-subjects, they ought to abandon those schemes for which the
money is necessary: for what calamity can be equal to unbounded

But, my lords, there is no necessity for a choice which may cost us or
our ministers so much regret; for the same subscriptions may be
procured by an offer of the same advantages to a fund of any other
kind, and the sinking fund will easily supply any deficiency that
might be suspected in another scheme.

To confess the truth, I should feel very little pain from an account
that the nation was for some time determined to be less liberal of
their contribution, and that money was withheld till it was known in
what expeditions it was to be employed, to what princes subsidies were
to be paid, and what advantages were to be purchased by it for our
country. I should rejoice my lords, to hear that the lottery by which
the deficiencies of this duty are to be supplied, was not filled; and
that the people were grown at last wise enough to discern the fraud,
and to prefer honest commerce, by which all may be gainers, to a game
by which the greatest number must certainly lose, and in which no man
can reasonably expect that he shall be the happy favourite of fortune,
on whom a prize shall be conferred.

The lotteries, my lords, which former ministers have proposed, have
always been censured by those that saw their nature and their
tendency; they have been considered as legal cheats, by which the
ignorant and the rash are defrauded, and the subtle and avaricious
often enriched; they have been allowed to divert the people from
trade, and to alienate them from useful industry. A man who is uneasy
in his circumstances, and idle in his disposition, collects the
remains of his fortune, and buys tickets in a lottery, retires from
business, indulges himself in laziness, and waits, in some obscure
place, the event of his adventure. Another, instead of employing his
stock in a shop or warehouse, rents a garret in a private street, and
makes it his business, by false intelligence, and chimerical alarms,
to raise and sink the price of tickets alternately, and takes
advantage of the lies which he has himself invented.

Such, my lords, is the traffick that is produced by this scheme of
raising money; nor were these inconveniencies unknown to the present
ministers in the time of their predecessors, whom they never failed to
pursue with the loudest clamours, whenever the exigencies of the
government reduced them to a lottery.

If I, my lords, might presume to recommend to our ministers the most
probable method of raising a large sum for the payment of the troops
of the electorate, I should, instead of the tax and lottery now
proposed, advise them to establish a certain number of licensed
wheelbarrows, on which the laudable trade of thimble and button might
be carried on for the support of the war, and shoeboys might
contribute to the defence of the house of Austria, by raffling for

Having now, my lords, examined with the utmost candour, all the
reasons which have been offered in defence of the bill, I cannot
conceal the result of my inquiry. The arguments have had so little
effect upon my understanding, that as every man judges of others by
himself, I cannot believe that they have any influence, even upon
those that offer them; and, therefore, I am convinced, that this bill
must be the result of considerations which have been hitherto
concealed, and is intended to promote designs which are never to be
discovered by the authors before their execution.

With regard to these motives and designs, however artfully concealed,
every lord in this assembly is yet at liberty to offer his
conjectures; and therefore I shall venture to lay before you what has
arisen in my mind, without pretending to have discovered absolute
certainty, what such accomplished politicians have endeavoured to

When I consider, my lords, the tendency of this bill, I find it
calculated only for the propagation of diseases, the suppression of
industry, and the destruction of mankind; I find it the most fatal
engine that ever was pointed at a people, an engine by which those who
are not killed will be disabled, and those who preserve their limbs,
will be deprived of their senses.

This bill, therefore, appears to be designed only to thin the ranks of
mankind, and to disburden the world of the multitudes that inhabit it;
and is, perhaps, the strongest proof of political sagacity that our
new ministers have yet exhibited. They well know, my lords, that they
are universally detested, and that wherever a Briton is destroyed,
they are freed from an enemy; they have, therefore, opened the
floodgates of gin upon the nation, that when it is less numerous, it
may be more easily governed.

Other ministers, my lords, who had not attained to so great a
knowledge in the art of making war upon their country, when they found
their enemies clamorous and bold, used to awe them with prosecutions
and penalties, or destroy them like burglars, with prisons and
gibbets. But every age, my lords, produces some improvement, and every
nation, however degenerate, gives birth at some happy period of time
to men of great and enterprising genius. It is our fortune to be
witnesses of a new discovery in politicks; we may congratulate
ourselves upon being contemporaries with those men who have shown that
hangmen and halters are unnecessary in a state, and that ministers may
escape the reproach of destroying their enemies, by inciting them to
destroy themselves.

This new method may, indeed, have upon different constitutions a
different operation; it may destroy the lives of some, and the senses
of others; but either of these effects will answer the purposes of the
ministry, to whom it is indifferent, provided the nation becomes
insensible, whether pestilence or lunacy prevails among them. Either
mad or dead, the greatest part of the people must quickly be, or there
is no hope of the continuance of the present ministry.

For this purpose, my lords, what could have been invented more
efficacious than an establishment of a certain number of shops at
which poison may be vended; poison so prepared, as to please the
palate while it wastes the strength, and to kill only by intoxication.
From the first instant that any of the enemies of the ministry shall
grow clamorous and turbulent, a crafty hireling may lead him to the
ministerial slaughterhouse, and ply him with their wonder-working
liquor, till he is no longer able to speak or think; and, my lords, no
man can be more agreeable to our ministers than he that can neither
speak nor think, except those who speak without thinking.

But, my lords, the ministers ought to reflect, that though all the
people of the present age are their enemies, yet they have made no
trial of the temper and inclinations of posterity; our successours may
be of opinions very different from ours; they may, perhaps, approve of
wars on the continent, while our plantations are insulted, and our
trade obstructed; they may think the support of the house of Austria
of more importance to us than our own defence, and may, perhaps, so
far differ from their fathers, as to imagine the treasures of Britain
very properly employed in supporting the troops, and increasing the
splendour of a foreign electorate.

Since, therefore, it will not be denied by our ministers, that the
affection and gratitude of posterity may atone for the obstinacy,
blindness, and malice of the present age; since those measures which
are now universally censured, may at some distant time be praised with
equal unanimity; why, my lords, should they extend their vengeance to
the succeeding generation? why should they endeavour to torture their
limbs with pains, and load their lives with the guilt of their
parents? why should they hinder that trade to which they must owe all
the comforts which plenty affords? why should they endeavour to
intercept their existence, or suffer them to exist only to be

If I may once more declare my sentiments, my lords, I believe the
ministers do not so much wish to debilitate the bodies as the
understandings of posterity, nor so ardently desire a race of cripples
as of fools. For cripples, my lords, can make no figure at a review,
nor strut in a red coat with a tolerable grace; but fools are known by
long experience to be the principal support of an army, since they are
the only persons who are willing to pay it!

Whatever, my lords, be the true reasons for which this bill is so
warmly promoted, I think they ought, at least, to be deliberately
examined; and, therefore, cannot think it consistent with our regard
for the nation to suffer it to be precipitated into a law. The year,
my lords, is not so far advanced, as that supplies may not be raised
by some other method, if this should be rejected; nor do I think that
we ought to consent to this, even though our refusal should hinder the
supplies, since we have no right, for the sake of any advantage,
however certain or great, to violate all the laws of heaven and earth,
to doom thousands to destruction, and to fill the exchequer with the
price of the lives of our fellow-subjects.

Let us, therefore, my lords, not suffer ourselves to be driven forward
with such haste as may hinder us from observing whither we are going;
let us not be persuaded to precipitate our counsels by those who know
that all delays will be detrimental to their designs, because delays
may produce new information, and they are conscious that the bill will
be less approved the more it is understood.

But every reason which they can offer against the motion, is, in my
opinion, a reason for it; and, therefore, I shall readily agree to
postpone the clause, and no less readily to reject the bill.

If, at last, reason and evidence are vain, if neither justice nor
compassion can prevail, but the nation must be destroyed for the
support of the government, let us at least, my lords, confine our
assertions, in the preamble, to truth; let us not affirm that
drunkenness is established by the advice or consent of the lords
spiritual, since I am confident not one of them will so far contradict
his own doctrine, as to vote for a bill which gives a sanction to one
vice, and ministers opportunities and temptations to all others; and
which, if it be not speedily repealed, will overflow the whole nation
with a deluge of wickedness.

Lord ISLAY next spoke to the effect following: - My lords, I have
attended for a long time to the noble lord, not without some degree of
uneasiness, as I think the manner in which he has treated the question
neither consistent with the dignity of this assembly, nor with those
rules which ought to be ever venerable, the great rules of reason and
humanity. Yet being now arrived at a time of life in which the
passions grow calm, and patience easily prevails over any sudden
disgust or perturbation, I forbore to disconcert him, though I have
known interruption produced by much slighter provocations.

It is, my lords, in my opinion, a just maxim, that our deliberations
can receive very little assistance from merriment and ridicule, and
that truth is seldom discovered by those who are chiefly solicitous to
start a jest. To convince the understanding, and to tickle the fancy,
are purposes very different, and must be promoted by different means;
nor is he always to imagine himself superiour in the dispute, who is
applauded with the loudest laugh.

To laugh, my lords, and to endeavour to communicate the same mirth to
others, when great affairs are to be considered, is certainly to
neglect the end for which we are assembled, and the reasons for which
the privilege of debating was originally granted us. For doubtless, my
lords, our honours and our power were not conferred upon us that we
might be merry with the better grace, or that we might meet at certain
times to divert ourselves with turning the great affairs of the nation
to ridicule.

But, my lords, still less defensible is this practice, when we are
contriving the relief of misery, or the reformation of vice; when
calamities are preying upon thousands, and the happiness not only of
the present age, but of posterity, must depend upon our resolutions.
He that can divert himself with the sight of misery, has surely very
little claim to the great praise of humanity and tenderness; nor can
he be justly exempted from the censure of increasing evils, who wastes
in laughter and jocularity that time in which he might relieve them.

The bill now before us has been represented by those that oppose it,
as big with destruction, and dangerous both to the lives and to the
virtue of the people. We have been told, that it will at once fill the
land with sickness and with villany, and that it will be at the same
time fatal to our trade, and to our power; yet those who are willing
to be thought fearful of all these evils, and ardently desirous of
averting them from their country, cannot without laughter mention the
bill which they oppose, or enumerate the consequences which they dread
from it, in any other language than that of irony and burlesque.

Surely, my lords, such conduct gives reason for questioning either
their humanity, or their sincerity; for if they really fear such
dreadful calamities, how can they be at leisure for mirth and gaiety I
How can they sport over the grave of millions, and indulge their vain
ridicule, when the ruin of their country is approaching?

But without inquiry, whether they who oppose the bill will grant their
opposition hypocritical, or their patriotism languid, I shall lay my
opinion of this new regulation before your lordships with equal
freedom, though with less luxuriance of imagination, and less gaiety
of language.

Of this bill, notwithstanding the acuteness with which it has been
examined, and the acrimony with which it has been censured, I am not
afraid to affirm, that it is neither wicked nor absurd, that all its
parts are consistent, and that the effects to be expected from it are
sobriety and health. I cannot find, upon the closest examination,
either that it will defeat its own end, or that the end proposed by it
is different from that which is professed.

The charge of encouraging vice and tolerating drunkenness, with which
the defenders of this bill have been so liberally aspersed, may be, in
my opinion, more justly retorted upon those that oppose it; who,
though they plead for the continuance of a law, rigorous, indeed, and
well intended, own that it has, by the experience of several years,
been found ineffectual.

What, my lords, can a drunkard or a profligate be supposed to wish,
but that the law may still remain in its present state, that he may
still be pursued in a track by which he knows how to escape, and
opposed by restraints which he is able to break? What can he desire,
but that the book of statutes should lie useless, and that no laws
should be made against him, but such as cannot be put in execution?

The defects of the present law, are, indeed, very numerous; nor ought
it to be continued, even though no other were to be substituted. It
seems to suppose the use of distilled liquors absolutely unlawful,
and, therefore, imposed upon licenses a duty so enormous, that only
three were taken in the whole kingdom, and the people were therefore
obliged to obtain by illegal methods, what they could not persuade
themselves wholly to forbear.

The method of detecting offenders was likewise such as gave
opportunity for villany to triumph over innocence, and for perjury to
grow rich with the plunder of the poor. Even charity itself might be
punished by it; and he that gave a glass of spirits to a man fainting
under poverty, or sickness, or fatigue, might be punished as a
retailer of spirits without a license.

These defects, which were not seen when the law was made, soon excited
a dislike. No man enforced the execution of it, because every man knew
that on some occasions he might himself break it; and they who
suffered for the violation of it, were often pitied by those whose
office obliged them to punish them. Thus the law, after having been
executed a few months with rigour, was laid aside as impracticable,
and appears now to be tacitly repealed; for it is apparently an empty
form without effect.

If, therefore, the use of spirits be so destructive as is generally
allowed, it is surely necessary, that the legislature should at last
repair the defects of the former law, and the nation should not be
vitiated and ruined, without some endeavours for its preservation;
and, in my opinion, to lay a double duty upon these liquors, is very
rational and prudent. An increase of the price must lessen the

To what degree the consumption will be diminished by this new duty, I
am not able to foretel; but, undoubtedly, some diminution will be
produced, and the least diminution will afford us this comfort, that
the evil does not increase upon us, and that this law is, therefore,
better than that which we have repealed.

For this reason, my lords, I approve the present bill, without
inquiring whether it is perfect; it is sufficient for me, in the
present exigence, that the nation will gain something by the change,
and the people will be drawn nearer to sobriety, temperance, and

Thus, my lords, without paying any regard to the determination of the
other house, I think the bill sufficiently defensible by reason and
policy; nor can I conceal my opinion, that those who oppose it are the
real enemies of their country.

[The question, whether the house should be now resumed, was then put
and determined in the negative by 56 against 85.

The other clauses were then read, and agreed to.

The course of their proceedings then required, that a day should be
appointed for the third reading, and lord SANDWICH therefore rose, and
spoke to the following effect:]

My lords, as the importance of the bill now before us justly demands
the maturest consideration, it is not without unusual concern, that I
observe the absence of many lords, for whose wisdom and experience I
have the highest veneration, and whom I esteem equally for their
penetration and their integrity. I should hope, that all those who
feel in their hearts the love of their country, and are conscious of
abilities to promote its happiness, would assemble on this great
occasion, and that the collective wisdom of this house would be
exerted, when the lives and fortunes, and, what is yet more worthy of
regard, the virtue of the people is involved in the question.

As there can be no avocations which can possibly withhold a wise man
from counsels of such moment to his country, to himself, and to his
posterity; as there is no interest equivalent to the general
happiness; I cannot suppose that either business or pleasure detain
those who have not attended at the examination of this bill; and
therefore imagine, that they are absent only because they have not
been sufficiently informed of the importance of the question that was
this day to be discussed.

It is therefore, my lords, necessary, in my opinion, that on the day
of the third reading they be again summoned to attend, that the law
which is allowed to be only an experiment, of which the event is
absolutely uncertain, may be examined with the utmost care; that all
its consequences may be known, so far as human wisdom is able to
discover, and that we may at least be exempt from the imputation of
being negligent of the welfare of our country, and of being desirous
of avoiding information or inquiry, lest they should retard our
measures or contradict our assertions.

But since it is reasonable to believe, my lords, that many of those,
who might assist us in this difficult inquiry, are now in the country,
it is necessary, that our summons may have the effect which is
desired, to defer the reading for some time. For to what purpose will
it be to require their presence at a time at which we know it is
impossible for them to comply with our orders? To direct what cannot
be done is surely in its own nature absurd and contemptible, and on
this occasion will expose not only our understanding but our honesty
to doubts; for it will be imagined, that we are only endeavouring to
make false shows of caution and accuracy, and that we in reality
desire to determine without the concurrence of those whose presence we
publickly require.

I therefore move, that the third reading of this bill may be delayed
five days, and that immediate summons be issued for all lords to

Lord CARTERET spoke next in substance as follows: - My lords, if it is
the intention of the noble lords to debate once more the usefulness or
expedience of this bill, if they have any new argument to produce, or
are desirous of another opportunity to repeat those which have been
already heard, I hope they will not long withhold, either from
themselves or their opponents, that satisfaction.

Your lordships are so well acquainted with the state of the publick,
and know so well the danger of the liberties of the continent, the
power of the enemies whom we are to oppose, the dreadful consequences
of an unsuccessful opposition, and the necessity of vigour and
expedition to procure success, that it cannot be necessary to urge the
impropriety of delaying the bill from which the supplies are to be

The convenience of deferring this bill, however plausibly represented
by the noble lord who made the motion, is overbalanced by the
necessity of considering it to-morrow. Necessity is an argument which
110 acuteness can overthrow, and against which eloquence will be
employed to little purpose. I therefore, my lords, oppose the motion,
not that it is unreasonable in itself, but because it cannot be
admitted; I recommend despatch on this occasion, not because it is
barely right, but because it is absolutely necessary.

Lord HERVEY then rose up and spoke to the following effect: - My lords,
it is always the last resource of ministers to call those measures
necessary which they cannot show to be just; and when they have tried
all the arts of fallacy and illusion, and found them all baffled, to
stand at bay, because they can fly no longer, look their opponents
boldly in the face, and stun them with the formidable sound of

But it is generally the fortune of ministers to discover necessity
much sooner than they whose eyes are not sharpened by employments;
they frequently call that necessity, on which no other man would
bestow the title of expediency; and that is seldom necessary to be
done, which others do not think necessary to be avoided.

At present, my lords, I see nothing necessary but what is equally
necessary at all times, that we do our duty to our country, and
discharge our trust, without suffering ourselves to be terrified with
imaginary dangers or allured by imaginary benefits. The war which is
said to produce the necessity of this bill, is, in my opinion, not

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 11. Parlimentary Debates II → online text (page 44 of 46)