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DUKE OF BEDFORD.
The blood of a Russell, shed for his country's freedom, was not, we believe, shed in vain. The remembrance of such an event might not, it is true, have been necessary towards forming the Russells of the present day, to what we have seen them; because morality, a sound understanding, and the right exercise of that understanding, ought to be of themselves sufficient to make a man the friend of liberty, and a promoter of the happiness of his species: but doubtless a zest is given to patriotism, when it recalls to public recollection an illustrious ancestor, who, for the eminence of his virtue, fell a sacrifice to the malice of a tyrant, and the profligacy of his satellites.
I address you, my Lord, and in your person I wish to address whatever is independent and high-minded of the nobility and gentry of our land; whatever there is among them of public spirit, or even of ordinary prudence, or of regard for posterity; since my subject is not only the present state of the nation, but to what that nation must rapidly degenerate, unless the counsels of better times be again resorted to ; and disregarded, but sound maxims of government be once more revived.
A FREE STATE, IS A STATE SELF-GOVERNED. Such a state suffers not weak or wicked ministers, after proof of incapacity or of perfidy, to continue in the management of its affairs; and consequently, is not likely to
fall under any great calamity ; much less into a condition to inspire with despondence intelligent and reflecting citizens. But the calamities of England, my Lord, are manifold and severe; and despondence is now but too common a feeling among us: and seeing indeed that the magnitude of our difficulties and dangers, and the gloominess of our prospects, are the frequent topics of our ablest statesmen in public debate, we are imperiously called on, not only to make ourselves acquainted with the true state of the nation, but also with the real causes of that state ; that so we may rightly understand by what means our evils can be removed, and our condition amended. As bad ministers cannot long make part of a good government, if evil government have been of long continuance, then we shall assuredly find, that, bad as the conduct of ministers may have been, their dismission will be a point of but secundary consideration, for their past mismanagements must be considered as a necessary effect, more properly than as a sole cause? But indeed, when the state machine is out of order, our primary consideration ought ever to be, the CONSTITUTION of our government;—that on which it depends, whether we are, or are not, members of “A FREE state?” or do, or do not, enjoy political liberty -that only possible security against misgovernment !
It certainly is not possible to know the state of the nation, unless we know whether it be, or be not, governed agreeably to the principles of the coNSTITUTION: it is not possible to understand the state of the nation, unless we examine in what degree, more or less, or whether at all, we are members of 'A FREE STATE, actually possessing, and practically exercising the rights of free men : nor without ascertaining what, or where, are the deficiencies (if any) in our freedom. Such then are the ideas on which the present inquiry will be conducted; and I think it right to give in the outset this explanation, as well as to apprize my readers, that strong as is my hostility to the present minister, I date not the origin of the worst evils of the state, from the period of his elevation to power; but from sources anterior to his existence; sources however which, in writing for truth and freedom, for our coun.
try and posterity, it is necessary to trace. But, under all the circumstances relative to that anterior existence of evils, their continuance under his administration, so far from furnishing matter of extenuation, must heap coals of fire on his head. “Where there is a regular “ scheme of operations carried on, it is the system, and “ not any individual person who acts in it, that is truly “ dangerous.” 1
But if a minister “puts himself in the way to obstruct reformation, then the faults in the system instantly become his own.” 2
I mean not to be elaborate, but rather to sketch than paint; rather to hint than argue; and indeed this whole letter will not be so long as many parliamentary speeches on much inferior topics: if in the miseries of our condition there be not arguments to convince, nor in the magnitude of our danger eloquence to influence the will, in vain should I attempt to persuade.
While the state of the nation is under contemplation, the subject naturally branches into internal and external; but as on the form of a government, and on the ability or inability, the integrity of the perfidy with which it is executed, more than on external circumstances, depends prosperity or the reverse, so the internal state of the nation most demands our attention. Foreign wars, how much soever they come under the description of external circumstances, will generally be found to have originated in some internal defect or vice; and are in no small degree prolific of internal evil.
The two foreign wars which are the most prominent features of the present disastrous reign, meaning that with America, and the present war, (considering it to have commenced in 1793) and which have in an eminent degree contributed to the present state of the nation, are cases in point as strong as history can afford, It is not merely to avoid complexity in my statement, but from the nature and reason of the case, that the last mentioned of these wars is here considered as still in existence. Had indeed our ministers, together with a
1 Burke on the cause of the present discontents. 2d. edit. 1770, p. 39. 2 Ibid. p. 13.
discovery of their error in going to war, united the virtue of curing our internal ills, they might in my humble judgment, long since have negociated a safe, an honourable and a durable peace. 1
Defensive as the present war has long been, and sick of it as all parties are become, men are restrained by different motives from freely speaking their opinions, or taking decisive measures for putting an end to it. There is a natural feeling which disinclines a brave nation that is at war, from expressing a desire for peace, when it cannot be made with triumph and glory; and we are as naturally backward in making acknowledgments, which a vain enemy would be flattered by hearing. There is also a natural as well as prudent reluctance in not unnecessarily, and before it becomes a positive duty, exposing the weakness of public counsels. But the present comparative silence and inaction of the great body of the nation, chiefly results from the state of parties, and from a deficiency of magnanimity among that considerable proportion of the higher classes in soci. ety, who, by fallacious appearances, fraud and delusion, were once drawn into the vortex of the present minister's political machinations; and who, notwithstanding the consciousness they must now feel of having been imposed upon the disappointment of their expectations, and their ultimate discovery of the wide difference there is, between an accomplished orator and a profound statesman, have not yet the candour to shew a change of sentiment, by a change of conduct.
From such causes, among others, it is, that the present war has not yet received the final reprobating stamp of public opinion; and indeed it would more become the nation, and would probably sooner produce a peace,
if instead of clamouring against the war, it were to raise its voice in reprobation of the minister with whom it originated, but who can neither conduct it, nor conclude it. When we complain of ministers, there are courtly persons who talk of a royal prerogative, which, in respect to the appointment, or the continuance, or the change of ministers, is omnipotent; and
1 See England's Fgis xxvii, 58, 152, 158.