Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECT. IV.: Of the Honour of the Nation as affected by the War with America. - Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America
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SECT. IV.: Of the Honour of the Nation as affected by the War with America. - Richard Price, Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America 
Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. To which is added, an Appendix and Postscript, containing, a State of the National Debt, an Estimate of the Money drawn from the Public by the Taxes, and an Account of the National Income and Expenditure since the last War. The 9th edition. (London: Edward and Charles Dilly and Thomas Cadell, 1776).
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Of the Honour of the Nation as affected by the War with America.
ONE of the pleas for continuing the contest with America, is “That our honour is engaged; and that we cannot now recede without the most humiliating concessions.”
With respect to this, it is proper to observe, that a distinction should be made between the nation, and its rulers. It is melancholy that there should be ever any reason for making such a distinction. A government is, or ought to be, nothing but an institution for collecting and for carrying into execution the will of the people. But so far is this from being in general the fact, that the measures of government, and the sense of the people, are sometimes in direct opposition to one another; nor does it often happen that any certain conclusion can be drawn from the one to the other.—I will not pretend to determine, whether, in the present instance, the dishonour attending a retreat would belong to the nation at large, or only to the persons in power who guide its affairs. Let it be granted, though probably far from true, that the majority of the kingdom savour the present measures. No good argument could be drawn from hence against receding. The disgrace to which a kingdom must submit by making concessions, is nothing to that of being the aggressors in an unrighteous quarrel; and dignity, in such circumstances, consists in retracting freely, speedily, and magnanimously.—For, (to adopt, on this occasion, words which I have heard applied to this very purpose, in a great assembly, by a peer to whom this kingdom has often looked as its deliverer, and whose ill state of health at this awful moment of public danger every friend to Britain must deplore) to adopt, I say, the words of this great man, “Rectitude is dignity. Oppression only is meanness; and justice, honour.”
I will add, that Prudence, no less than true Honour, requires us to retract. For the time may come when, if it is not done voluntarily, we may be obliged to do it; and find ourselves under a necessity of granting that to our distresses, which we now deny to equity and humanity, and the prayers of America. The possibility of this appears plainly from the preceding pages; and should it happen, it will bring upon us disgrace indeed, disgrace greater than the worst rancour can wish to see accumulated on a kingdom already too much dishonoured.—Let the reader think here what we are doing.—A nation, once the protector of Liberty in distant countries, and the scourge of tyranny, changed into an enemy to Liberty, and engaged in endeavouring to reduce to servitude its own brethren.—A great and enlightened nation, not content with a controuling power over millions of people which gave it every reasonable advantage, insisting upon such a supremacy over them as would leave them nothing they could call their own, and carrying desolation and death among them for disputing it.—What can be more ignominious?—How have we felt for the brave Corsicans, in their struggle with the Genoese, and afterwards with the French government? Did Genoa or France want more than an absolute command over their property and legislations; or the power of binding them in all cases whatsoever?—The Corsicans had been subject to the Genoese; but, finding it difficult to keep them in subjection, they ceded them to the French.—All such cessions of one people by another are disgraceful to human nature. But if our claims are just, may not we also, if we please, cede the Colonies to France?—There is, in truth, no other difference between these two cases than that the Corsicans were not descended from the people who governed them, but that the Americans are.
There are some who seem to be sensible, that the authority of one country over another, cannot be distinguished from the servitude of one country to another; and that unless different communities, as well as different parts of the same community, are united by an equal representation, all such authority is inconsistent with the principles of Civil Liberty. But they except the case of the Colonies and Great Britain; because the Colonies are communities which have branched forth from, and which, therefore, as they think, belong to Britain. Had the Colonies been communities of foreigners, over whom we wanted to acquire dominion, or even to extend a dominion before acquired, they are ready to admit that their resistance would have been just.—In my opinion, this is the same with saying, that the Colonies ought to be worse off than the rest of mankind, because they are our own Brethren.
Again. The United Provinces of Holland were once subject to the Spanish monarchy; but, provoked by the violation of their charters; by levies of money, without their consent; by the introduction of Spanish troops among them; by innovations in their antient modes of government; and the rejection of their petitions, they were driven to that resistance which we and all the world have ever since admired; and which has given birth to one of the greatest and happiest Republics that ever existed.—Let any one read also, the history of the war which the Athenians, from a thirst of Empire, made on the Syracusans in Sicily, a people derived from the same origin with them; and let him, if he can, avoid rejoicing in the defeat of the Athenians.
Let him, likewise, read the account of the social war among the Romans. The allied states of Italy had sought the battles of Rome, and contributed by their valour and treasure to its conquests and grandeur. They claimed, therefore, the rights of Roman citizens, and a share with them in legislation. The Romans, disdaining to make those their fellow-citizens, whom they had always looked upon as their subjects, would not comply; and a war followed, the most horrible in the annals of mankind, which ended in the ruin of the Roman Republic. The feelings of every Briton in this case must force him to approve the conduct of the Allies, and to condemn the proud and ungrateful Romans.
But not only is the present contest with America thus disgraceful to us, because inconsistent with our own feelings in similar cases; but also because condemned by our own practice in former times. The Colonies are persuaded that they are fighting for Liberty. We see them sacrificing to this persuasion every private advantage. If mistaken, and though guilty of irregularities, they should be pardoned by a people whose ancestors have given them so many examples of similar conduct. England should venerate the attachment of Liberty amidst all its excesses; and, instead of indignation or scorn, it would be most becoming them, in the present instance, to declare their applause, and to say to the Colonies—“We excuse your mistakes. We admire your spirit. It is the spirit that has more than once saved ourselves. We aspire to no dominion over you. We understand the rights of men too well to think of taking from you the inestimable privilege of governing yourselves; and, instead of employing our power for any such purpose, we offer it to you as a friendly and guardian power, to be a mediator in your quarrels; a protection against your enemies; and an aid to you in establishing a plan of Liberty that shall make you great and happy. In return, we ask nothing but your gratitude and your commerce.”
This would be a language worthy of a brave and enlightened nation. But alas! it often happens in the Political World as it does in Religion, that the people who cry out most vehemently for Liberty to themselves are the most unwilling to grant it to others.
One of the most violent enemies of the Colonies has pronounced them “all Mr. Locke’s disciples.”—Glorious title!—How shameful is it to make war against them for that reason?
But farther. This war is disgraceful on account of the persuasion which led to it, and under which it has been undertaken. The general cry was last winter, that the people of New England were a body of cowards, who would at once be reduced to submission by a hostile look from our troops. In this light were they held up to public derision in both Houses of Parliament; and it was this persuasion that, probably, induced a Nobleman of the first weight in the state to recommend, at the passing of the Boston Port Bill, coercive measures; hinting at the same time, that the appearance of hostilities would be sufficient, and that all would be soon over, sine clade.—Indeed no one can doubt, but that had it been believed some time ago, that the people of America were brave, more care would have been taken not to provoke them.
Again. The manner in which this war has been hitherto conducted, renders it still more disgraceful.—English valour being thought insufficient to subdue the Colonies, the laws and religion of France were established in Canada, on purpose to obtain the power of bringing upon them from thence an army of French Papists. The wild Indians and their own Slaves have been instigated to attack them; and attempts have been made to gain the assistance of a large body of Russians.—With like views, German troops have been hired; and the defence of our Forts and Garrisons trusted in their hands.
These are measures which need no comment. The last of them, in particular, having been carried into execution without the consent of parliament, threatens us with imminent danger; and shews that we are in the way to lose even the Forms of the constitution.—If, indeed, our ministers can at any time, without leave, not only send away the national troops, but introduce foreign troops in their room, we lie entirely at mercy; and we have every thing to dread.