Samuel Johnson.

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

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necessary in itself: and, if your lordships differ from me in that
sentiment, it must yet be allowed, that there is time sufficient to
provide supplies by new methods.

But, my lords, if the motion, in which I concur, be overruled on a
pretence of necessity, it will show an eager desire to hasten a bill,
which, if referred to any twelve men, not of either house of the
senate, their examination would terminate in this, that they bring it
in guilty of _wilful murder_.

Lord CHOLMONDELEY spoke next, in substance as follows: - My lords, as
there is no doubt but particular measures may be sometimes necessary,
I discover no reason that ought to hinder the mention of that
necessity; for surely where it can be asserted with truth, it is the
most powerful of all arguments, and cannot be wisely or honestly

In the present case, my lords, I can discover no impropriety in
mentioning it; for I suppose that noble lord did not intend to
restrain it to the most rigorous sense; he did not mean, that there is
the same necessity of reading this bill to-morrow for the success of
the war, as of extinguishing a fire for the preservation of a town;
but that the reasons for despatch absolutely overbalanced all the
pleas that could be offered for delays.

This necessity, my lords, I am not ashamed to assert after him; nor
can I think it consistent with common prudence, in the present
situation of our affairs, to defer the third reading beyond to-morrow;
for the supplies which this bill must produce, are to be employed in
attempts of the utmost importance, and which cannot fail without the
ruin of a great part of mankind, and an irreparable injury to this

I cannot, therefore, but confess my surprise at the vehemence with
which this bill is opposed; vehemence so turbulent and fierce, that
some lords have been transported beyond that decency which it is our
duty and our interest to preserve in our deliberations; nor have
restrained themselves from expressions, which, upon reflection, I
believe they will not think defensible; from among which I cannot but
particularize the horrid and opprobrious term of murder.

The reverend prelates, who have spoken against the bill, may be easily
believed to be as zealous for virtue as those who have indulged
themselves in this violence of language; yet they have never charged
those who defend the measures now proposed with the guilt of murder,
but have decently delivered their own opinions, without, reproaching
those who differ from them.

For my part, my lords, as I cannot think the motion for farther delay,
seasonable or proper, or necessary to the discovery of truth, or
consistent with the welfare of the nation, it is my resolution to vote
against it.

The duke of BEDFORD spoke next, in substance as follows: - My lords,
the ardour with which the noble lord appears to resent the indignity
offered to the bill, shows only that he himself approves it, but not
that it deserves the approbation of the house.

I think it of use, notwithstanding the plausible pleas of decency or
politeness, that every thing should in this house be called by its
right name, that we may not dispute for one thing, and vote for
another; and since the bill will certainly destroy multitudes, if it
promotes the sale of distilled spirits, and it has been proved that it
will promote it, I know not by what appellation to denominate its
effects, if that be denied me, which has been already used.

[The speaker then put the question in form, "Is it your lordships'
pleasure, that the third reading of the bill be put off for five
days?" It was resolved in the negative by 52 to 29.

It was then ordered, that the bill should be read the third time on
the day following, and that the lords should be summoned to attend.

On the next day, the house, according to the order, met, and another
debate ensued, which was begun by lord HERVEY, who spoke in substance
as follows:]

My lords, the tendency of the bill, which we are now to approve or
reject, is so apparently destructive to the ends of government, so
apparently dangerous to publick happiness, and so contrary to the
institutions of the most celebrated lawgivers, and the policy of the
most flourishing nations, that I still continue to think it my duty to
struggle against it.

Almost every legislator of the world, my lords, from whatever original
he derived his authority, has exerted it in the prohibition of such
foods as tended to injure the health, and destroy the vigour of the
people for whom he designed his institutions.

The great instructor of the jews, who delivered his laws by divine
authority, prohibited the use of swine's flesh, for no other cause, so
far as human reason is able to discover, than that it corrupted the
blood, and produced loathsome diseases and maladies which descended to
posterity; and, therefore, in prohibiting, after this example, the use
of liquors which produce the same effects, we shall follow the
authority of the great governour of the universe.

The author of another religion, a religion founded, indeed, on
superstition and credulity, but which prevails over a very great part
of the earth, has laid his followers under restraints still more
severe; he has forbidden them to dispel their cares, or exalt their
pleasures, with wine, has banished from their banquets that useful
opponent of troublesome reflection, and doomed all those who receive
his law, not to sobriety only, but to abstinence.

The authority of this man, my lords, cannot indeed be urged as
unexceptionable and decisive; but the reception of his imposture shows
at least, that he was not unacquainted with human nature, and that he
knew how to adapt his forgeries to the nations among which he vented
them; nor can it be denied, but the prohibition of wine was found
generally useful, since it obtained so ready a compliance.

All nations in the world, my lords, in every age of which there remain
any historical accounts, have agreed in the necessity of laying
restraint upon appetite, and setting bounds to the wantonness of
luxury; every legislature has claimed and practised the right of
withholding those pleasures which the people have appeared inclined to
use to excess, and preferring the safety of multitudes whom liberty
would destroy, to the convenience of those who would have enjoyed it
within the limits of reason and of virtue.

The welfare of the publick, my lords, has always been allowed the
supreme law; and when any governours sacrifice the general good either
to private views, or temporary convenience, they deviate at once from
integrity and policy, they betray their trust, and neglect their

The prohibition of those commodities which are instrumental to vice,
is not only dictated by policy but nature; nor does it, indeed,
require much sagacity, when the evil is known, to find the proper
remedy; for even the Indians, who have not yet reduced the art of
government to a science, nor learned to make long harangues upon the
different interests of foreign powers, the necessity of raising
supplies or the importance and extent of manufactures, have yet been
able to discover, that distilled spirits are pernicious to society,
and that the use of them can only be hindered by prohibiting the sale.

For this reason, my lords, they have petitioned, that none of this
delicious poison should be imported from. Britain; they have desired
us to confine this fountain of wickedness and misery to stream in our
own country, without pouring upon them those inundations of
debauchery, by which we are ourselves overflowed.

When we may be sent with justice to learn from the rude and ignorant
Indians the first elements of civil wisdom, we have surely not much
right to boast of our foresight and knowledge; we must surely confess,
that we have hitherto valued ourselves upon our arts with very little
reason, since we have not learned how to preserve either wealth or
virtue, either peace or commerce.

The maxims of our politicians, my lords, differ widely from those of
the Indian savages, as they are the effects of longer consideration,
and reasonings formed upon more extensive views. What Indian, my
lords, would have contrived to hinder his countrymen from drunkenness,
by placing that liquor in their houses which tempted them to excess;
or would have discovered, that prohibition only were the cause of
boundless excesses; that to subdue the appetite nothing was necessary
but to solicit it; and that what was always offered would never be
received? The Indians, in the simplicity of men unacquainted with
European and British refinements, imagined, that to put an end to the
use of any thing, it was only necessary to take it away; and
conceived, that they could not promote sobriety more effectually, than
by allowing the people nothing with which they could be drunk.

But if our politicians should send missionaries to teach them the art
of government, they would quickly be shown, that if they would
accomplish their design, they must appoint every tenth man among them
to distribute spirits to the nine, and to drink them himself in what
quantity they shall desire, and that then the peace of their country
will be no longer disturbed by the quarrels of debauchery.

It is, indeed, not without amazement, that I hear this bill seriously
defended as a scheme for suppressing drunkenness, and find some lords,
who admit that fifty thousand houses will be opened for the publick
sale of spirits, assert that a less quantity of spirits will be sold.

The foundation of this opinion is in itself very uncertain; for
nothing more is urged, but that all who sell under the sanction of a
license, will be ready to inform against those by whom no license has
been purchased; and that, therefore, fifty thousand licensed retailers
may hurt a greater number who now sell spirits in opposition to the

All this, my lords, is very far from certainty; for it cannot be
proved, that there are now so great a number of retailers as this act
may produce: it is likely that security will encourage many to engage
in this trade, who are at present deterred from it by danger. It is
possible, that those who purchase licenses may nevertheless forbear to
prosecute those that sell spirits without the protection of the law.
They may forbear, my lords, from the common principles of humanity,
because they think those poor traders deserve rather pity than
punishment; they may forbear from a principle that operates more
frequently, and too often more strongly; a regard to their own
interest. They may themselves offend the law by some other parts of
their conduct, and may be unwilling to provoke an inspection into
their own actions, by betraying officiously the faults of their
neighbours; or they may be influenced by immediate terrours, and
expect to be hunted to death by the rage of the populace.

All these considerations may be urged against the only supposition
that has been made, with any show of reason, in favour of the bill;
and of these various circumstances, some one or other will almost
always be found. Every man will have either fear or pity, because
almost every good man is inclined to compassion, and every wicked man
is in danger from the law; and I do not see any reason for imagining
that the people will tolerate informers more willingly now than in the
late years.

But suppose it should be granted, though it cannot be certain, and has
not yet been shown to be probable, that the clandestine trade will be
interrupted; I am not able to follow these ministerial reasoners
immediately to the consequence which they draw from this concession,
and which must be drawn from it, if it be of any use in the decision
of the question, nor can see that the consumption of spirituous
liquors will be made less.

Let us examine, my lords, the premises and the consequences together,
without suffering our attention to be led astray by useless
digressions. Spirits will be now sold only with license! therefore
less will be sold than when it was sold only by stealth!

Surely, my lords, such arguments will not much influence this
assembly. Why, my lords, should less be bought now than formerly? It
is not denied, that there will be in every place a licensed shop,
where drunkards may riot in security; and what can be more inviting to
wretches who place in drunkenness their utmost felicity I If you
should favourably suppose no more to be sold, yet why should those who
now buy any supposed quantity, buy less when the restraint is taken

If it be urged, that the present law does in reality impose no
restraint, the intended act will make no alteration. There is no real
prohibition now, there will be no nominal prohibition hereafter; and,
therefore, the law will only produce what its advocates expect from
it, a yearly addition to the revenue of the government. But, my lords,
let us at last inquire to what it is to be imputed, that the present
law swells the statute book to no purpose? and why this pernicious
trade is carried on with confidence and security, in opposition to the
law? It will not surely be confessed, that the government has wanted
authority to execute its own laws; that the legislature has been awed
by the populace, by the dregs of the populace, the drunkards and the
beggars! Yet when the provisions made for the execution of a law so
salutary, so just, and so necessary, were found defective, why were
not others substituted of greater efficacy? Why, when one informer was
torn in pieces, were there not new securities proposed to protect
those who should by the same offence displease the people afterwards?

The law, my lords, has failed of a great part of its effect; but it
has failed by cowardice on one part, and negligence on another; and
though the duty, as it was laid, was in itself somewhat invidious, it
would, however, have been enforced, could the revenue have gained as
much by the punishment as was gained by the toleration of debauchery.
It has, however, some effect; it may be imagined, that no man can be
trusted where he is not known, and that some men are known too well to
be trusted; and, therefore, many must be occasionally hindered from
drinking spirits, while the law remains in its present state; who,
when houses are set open by license, will never want an opportunity of
complying with their appetites, but may at any time enter confidently,
and call for poison, and mingle with numerous assemblies met only to
provoke each other to intemperance by a kind of brutal emulation and
obstreperous merriment.

This bill, therefore, my lords, is, as it has been termed, only an
experiment; an experiment, my lords, of a very daring kind, which none
would hazard but empirical politicians. It is an experiment to
discover how far the vices of the populace may be made useful to the
government, what taxes may be raised upon poison, and how much the
court may be enriched by the destruction of the subjects.

The tendency of this bill is so evident, that those who appeared as
its advocates have rather endeavoured to defeat their opponents by
charging their proposals with absurdity, than by extenuating the ill
consequence of their own scheme.

Their principal charge is, that those who oppose the bill recommend a
total prohibition of all spirits. This assertion gives them an
opportunity of abandoning their own cause, to expatiate upon the
innocent uses of spirits, of their efficacy in medicine, and their
convenience in domestick business, and to advance a multitude of
positions which they know will not be denied, but which may be at once
made useless to them, by assuring them, that no man desires to destroy
the distillery for the pleasure of destroying it, or intends any thing
more than some provisions which may hinder distilled spirits from
being drunk by common people upon common occasions.

Having thus obviated the only answer that has hitherto been made to
the strong arguments which have been offered against the bill, I must
declare, that I have heard nothing else that deserves an answer, or
that can possibly make any impression in favour of the bill; a bill,
my lords, teeming with sedition and idleness, diseases and robberies;
a bill that will enfeeble the body, corrupt the mind, and turn the
cities of this populous kingdom into prisons for villains, or
hospitals for cripples; and which I think it, therefore, our duty to

Lord LONSDALE next spoke to the effect following: - My lords, the
bill, on which we are now finally to determine, is of such a tendency,
that it cannot be made a law, without an open and avowed disregard of
all the rules which it has been hitherto thought the general interest
of human nature to preserve inviolable. It is opposite at once to the
precepts of the wise, and the practice of the good, to the original
principles of virtue and the established maxims of policy.

I shall, however, only consider it with relation to policy, because
the other considerations will naturally coincide; for policy is only
the connexion of prudence with goodness, and directs only what virtue
each particular occurrence requires to be immediately practised.

The first principle of policy, my lords, teaches us, that the power
and greatness of a state arises from the number of its people;
uninhabited dominions are an empty show, and serve only to encumber
the nation to which they belong; they are a kind of pompous ornaments,
which must be thrown away in time of danger, and equally unfit for
resistance and retreat.

In the present war, my lords, if the number of our people were equal
to that of the two nations against which we are engaged, the
narrowness of our dominions would give us a resistless superiority; as
we have fewer posts to defend, we might send more forces to attack our
enemies, who must be weak in every part, because they must be
dispersed to a very great extent. The torrent of war, as a flood of
water, is only violent while it is confined, but loses its force as it
is more diffused.

In consequence of this maxim, my lords, it is proposed, that because
we are at war against two mighty powers, we shall endeavour to destroy
by spirits at home, those who cannot fall by the sword of the enemy,
and that we endeavour to hinder the production of another generation;
for it is well known, my lords, and has in this debate been
universally allowed, that the present practice of drinking spirits
will not only destroy the present race, but debilitate the next.

This surely, my lords, is a time at which we ought very studiously to
watch over the preservation of those lives which we are not compelled
to expose, and endeavour to retrieve the losses of war by encouraging
industry, temperance, and sobriety.

Another principle of government which the wisdom of our progenitors
established, was to suppress vice with the utmost diligence; for as
vice must always produce misery to those whom it infects, and danger
to those who are considered as its enemies, it is contrary to the end
of government; and the government which encourages vice is necessarily
labouring for its own destruction; for the good will not support it,
because they are not benefited by it, and the wicked will betray it,
because they are wicked.

How little then, my lords, do our sagacious politicians understand
their own interest by promoting drunkenness and luxury, of which the
natural train of consequences are idleness, necessity, wickedness,
desperation, sedition, and anarchy! How little do they understand what
it is that gives stability to the fabrick of our constitution, if they
imagine it can long stand, when it is not supported by virtue.

In consequence of these maxims, another may be advanced, that all
trades which tend to impair either the health or virtue of the people,
should be interdicted; for since the strength of the community
consists in the number and happiness of the people, no trade deserves
to be cultivated which does not contribute to the one or the other;
for the end of trade, as of all other human attempts, is the
attainment of happiness.

If any trade that conduces not to the happiness of the community by
increasing either the number or the virtue of the people, be
industriously cultivated, the legislature ought to suppress it; if any
manufacture that administers temptations to wickedness be flourishing
and extensive, it has already been too long indulged; and the
government can atone for its remissness only by rigorous inhibition,
severe prosecutions, and vigilant inquiries.

That the trade of distilling, my lords, had advanced so fast among us,
that our manufacturers of poison are arrived at the utmost degree of
skill in their profession, and that the draughts which they prepare
are greedily swallowed by those who rarely look beyond the present
moment, or inquire what price must be paid for the present
gratification; that the people have been so long accustomed to daily
stupefaction, that they are become mutinous, if they are restrained
from it; and that the law which was intended to suppress their luxury
cannot, without tumults and bloodshed, be put in execution, are, in my
opinion, very affecting considerations, but they can surely be of no
use for the defence of this bill.

The more extensive the trade of distilling, the more must swallow the
poison which it affords; the more palatable the liquor is made, the
more dangerous is the temptation; and the more corrupt the people are
become, the more urgent is the necessity of extirpating those that
have corrupted them.

I am not, my lords, less convinced of the importance of trade, than
those lords who have spoken in the most pathetick language for the
continuance of the manufacture; but my regard for trade naturally
determines me to vote against a bill by which idleness, the pest of
commerce, must be encouraged, and those hands, by which our trade is
to be carried on, must be first enfeebled, and soon afterwards

Nor is this kind of debauchery, my lords, less destructive to the
interest of those whose riches consist in lands, than of those who are
engaged in commerce; for it undoubtedly hinders the consumption of
almost every thing that land can produce; of that corn which should be
made into bread, and brewed into more wholesome drink; of that flesh
which is fed for the market, and even of that wool which should be
worked into cloth. It has been often mentioned ludicrously, but with
too much truth, that strong liquors are to the meaner people, meat,
drink, and clothes; that they depend upon them alone for sustenance
and warmth, and that they desire to forget their wants in drunkenness
rather than supply them. If we, therefore, examine this question with
regard to trade, we shall find, that the money which is spent in
drunkenness for the advantage only of one distiller, would support, if
otherwise expended, a great number of labourers, husbandmen, and
traders; since one man employed at the still may supply with the means
of debauchery such numbers as could not be furnished with innocent
victuals and warm clothes, but by the industry of many hands, and the
concurrence of many trades.

Numbers, my lords, are necessary to success in commerce as in war; if
the manufacturers be few, labour will be dear, and the value of the
commodity must always be proportioned to the price of labour.

These, my lords, are the arguments by which I have hitherto been
incited to oppose this bill, which I have not found that any of its
defenders can elude or repel; for they content themselves with a
cowardly concession to the multitude, allow them to proceed in
wickedness, confess they have found themselves unable to oppose their
sovereign pleasure, or to withhold them from pursuing their own
inclinations; and, therefore, have sagaciously contrived a scheme, by
which they hope to gain some advantage from the vices which they
cannot reform.

But who, my lords, can, without horrour and indignation, hear those
who are entrusted with the care of the publick, contriving to take
advantage of the ruin of their country?

Let others, my lords, vote as their consciences will direct them, I
shall likewise follow the dictates of my heart, and shall avoid any
concurrence with a scheme, which, though it may for a time benefit the
government, must destroy the strength and virtue of the people, and at
once impair our trade and depopulate our country.

Lord CARTERET then rose up, and spoke in substance as follows: - My
lords, the warmth with which this debate has been hitherto carried on,
and with which the progress of this bill has been opposed, is, in my

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 11. Parlimentary Debates II → online text (page 45 of 46)