Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXIX.: The Subject of Libels continued. - The Independent Whig, vol. 4 (1747)
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Number XXIX.: The Subject of Libels continued. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 4 (1747) 
The Independent Whig. Being a Collection of Papers All written, some of them published During the Late Rebellion (London: J. Peele, 1747). Vol. 4.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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The Subject of Libels continued.
THE first Step to Knowledge is to be sensible that we want it; and we must perceive the Use of it before we know its Value. The first Step to guard ourselves against Prejudices, is to be sure that we are subject to them. The next Reflection ought to be, that it is as unjust in us to bear Prejudices against others, as it is in others to bear Prejudices against us.
If none but benevolent Thoughts were entertained, no malevolent Courses would be followed. Neighbours would not treat Neighbours with odious Names, nor charge those Names and such who bear them, with criminal Meanings, which are confidently imputed by one Side, yet never owned by the other. Indeed, the whole Drift of such Names is to promote Bitterness and Strife. They are like Weapons offensive, returning Wound for Wound, the Reproach of Fool for that of Knave, and Nickname for Nickname. A Tory is a guilty Character to a Whig; a Whig is equally so to a Tory; yet each is pleased with his own: They differ only in the Construction, and are guarded by strong Prejudices against making a true one, but so pleased with such Prejudices, that they would be sorry to lose them. They find Delight in hating the opposite Characters, and in esteeming their own: A Temper proper to perpetuate Piques and Fewds, and Proof against all Cure! The Spirit of Faction is civil Rage not yet kindled into civil War, but ripe for it, supporting itself, and annoying its Opponents by any Means, however unfair and barbarous. So it do but succeed, it cares not how; and in order to it, its great Aim will be to make the People hate and love improper Objects upon false Grounds.
It is a much easier Task to raise a Party-spirit than to lay it, to inflame than to calm and extinguish. Very mean Instruments serve to excite Mutiny in an Army, and Discontents and Sedition in a Community, such as the ablest Generals and the wisest Magistrates cannot prevent nor compose. Two common Soldiers raised such a furious Uproar in a Roman Army, as threatened the Destruction of the Commanders, and even of the Emperor; nor did it end without infinite Cruelty and Slaughter. Yet the Incendiaries worked up the Soldiers to all this Rage and Disorder, chiefly by aggravating the common and necessary Lot of Soldiers, that “they were subject to Duty and Danger, and had no more Pay than they were promised.” Afterwards indeed, to feed their mad Rage, they invented many Calumnies, which all passed with the blind Croud for Truth and friendly Information, and produced the Murder of many of their Officers, the ablest and most vigilant. Yet so many Victims not satisfying the Incendiaries, who still thirsted for more Blood, especially that of the General, one of them openly charged him with the Assassination of a dear Brother, whom he never had: And nothing but this Discovery, that the Assassination was all imaginary and framed, and that the Brother was just created, as well as just killed, saved the General from a real one* .
All Crouds, in Cities as well as in Camps, are credulous, violent, easily misled, hard to be undeceived. Whilst their Seducer is their Idol, any Man who would disabuse them is considered as their Enemy, and in danger of being their Victim. Their Prejudice is blind to both, and teaches them, that in all this Folly and Mischief they are well advised, and righteously employed.
The drunken Mob, who demolished Houses of public Worship in the late Queen’s Time, thought such brutal Impiety the Work of God, and the crazy Ecclesiastic, whose Phrensy inspired them, God’s best Ambassador. They adored this wretched popular Meteor, and hated as he did, and because he did, the most amiable Names and Characters then in being, all moderate Men; nay, Moderation itself.
Neither is much Art required in firing the Many: Every Society, every Condition of Life, will readily find Evils and Inconveniences to complain of, Losses and Disappointments, public Calamities, severe Laws and Taxes. Whoever rails loudest against those Evils, however necessary and inevitable, is sure to be best heard by those who lie under them, and will be reckoned their special Friend; though, far from bringing them any Relief, he only aggravates their Sufferings by teazing and probing a Wound which he knows he cannot heal: And could such as love him for being misled by him, see through his evil Purposes or Folly, they would soon change their Fondness for him into another Passion, and bear with Patience what they must bear, be it ever so disagreeable, and they ever so angry. But he trusts to their Rage, which he can so easily rouse, and fears not their Reason, which they so seldom use, and he takes care they shall not.
Human Society cannot subsist but at the Expence of Particulars, who must part with their Blood as well as their Money, when public Want or Distress calls for either or both. It would be a desireable Blessing to be exempt from Taxes and all public Burdens, were the Public secure without them———But, to be discharged from them, when the Public must sink or perish for want of them, would be sacrificing All to save a Part, which yet could not be so saved. Pericles told the Athenians, during the War with Lacedæmon, when the Plague and other Misfortunes had made them tired of the War, and uneasy with him, their General, that “it was better for private Men to suffer when the Public prospered, than for private Men to prosper when the Public was in a State of Decay; because the private Ruin even of thriving Men is necessarily implied in the Ruin of the Public; but when the Public flourishes, private Men are the more likely to flourish.”
As Sickness and Sorrow and Death are the Lot and Conditions of natural Life; Impositions, Pressures and Payment are the inseparable Terms of civil and social Life. These however are all obvious Themes for Declamation, for tragical Strains, and fine Fuel for the Passions, which are so awake and tender upon this Head, that very coarse Clamour, and the most absurd Orators, are able so to fire them, especially those of the unobserving Multitude, too easily incensed with the Sounds of Property and Liberty, even when most deceitfully and idly echoed. The present Pique and Sensation animates them, and when their Blood boils, no great Art is required to keep up the Ferment. A dull lying Libel, or a miserable Couplet will do: For the present State of Things seems always the worst to those who dislike it.
watTyler’s chief Argument to his Swarm of Levellers, was such a Couplet:
Nor needed he any other to convince them, that they were all as good as their Betters, and that there ought to be neither higher nor lower amongst the Sons of Adam. In the Tumult of their Rage they were not aware, that if some were not above others, none could be safe, however obvious their own present proceedings made this Observation.
It may seem wonderful that any Number of Men, much more that an Hundred thousand Men, should be found in a civilized Country, all accustomed to the Conditions of Subordination and Society, yet all at once renouncing those Conditions and all Subordination, all agreeing to level all Distinction, to open all the Gaols, to set free and employ all Criminals, to murder all Judges, Magistrates, and all Men of Rank; to kill and rob all the Industrious and Wealthy, to destroy all their Wealth, to burn all Records, all Archives, and Writings, and thence abolish all Knowlege, and to cancel all Laws and Restraints whatsoever! Yet this Spirit, raised by mean Incendiaries, Wat Tyler and a few more, seized the Commonalty every-where; and the Commonalty, in order to remove Grievances, ran into Perdition.
Grievances is a Word of endless Extent and Meaning; nor, where it signifies any Thing besides the Breach of Laws is it possible to fix it. The Imprisonment of Persons, the Seizure of Property, Taxes imposed, Lives taken away, or attempted, all against Law, are Grievances, and dreadful ones; tragically felt here before the Revolution, now happily abolished; but again furiously threatening us. Under his present Majesty we suffer no Grievance which Law forbids, and we enjoy all Protection and Security which Law requires or Humanity dictates. One of the most threatening Grievances to a State, is public Ingratitude for public Benefits. The next to it, and the Effect of it, is Licentiousness; and both of them infer or presage all other Grievances: Ungrateful and licentious Language is followed naturally and too fast by ungrateful and licentious Actions: Men from saying what they please will soon learn to do what they please; and the one is often intended to introduce the other.
There were many public Grievances in Wat Tyler’s Time; but his own was only personal, the Insult of a brutal Tax-gatherer upon his Daughter: Yet he became the Idol of the Multitude; he was regarded as their Deliverer, whilst he was leading them to Outrages, Poverty and the Gallows, and under the Cry of Oppression was promoting public and private Destruction. His Followers were too blind and raging to ask him or themselves, “whether the Rights and Liberties of Englishmen could subsist; whether human Society could subsist, upon such Terms, by the Exercise of savage Violence, by canceling all Rights, and by dissolving all Society?” We may easily conceive how, under such Rage and Infatuation; such Fondness for him, and Hatred to their Superiors, they would have treated any Man attempting to shew them into what a Gulph he was leading them.
The Consequence of this mad Insurrection was a natural one, a Cloud of Martyrs to their own Folly, and a wanton Increase of Power to the vicious Court of Richard II. wantoning before in the Abuse of Power.
As the Tyranny of a Prince is Licentiousness in one; Licentiousness in the People is the Tyranny of All over their Governors and one another; and both Prince and People, by grasping at more Power and more Liberty than they can manage, lose what they have. If it be Madness in a Prince to seek to be lawless, as I think it is, and do not remember one Prince finding Happiness in that unhappy Pursuit; it is rather more Madness in the People to seek to be Licentious. Single Tyranny may last some time, and often does long; but Licentiousness, which is popular Tyranny, must soon destroy itself, and generally leads to what seems most opposite to it, single Tyranny.
When All are Masters there can be no Security, consequently no true Liberty to any, much less any Concord amongst all. Some Subordination will soon be found necessary, and then he who can influence most by cajoling best, will soon come to sway all. And as the Many are always blind to their Favourite, as well as to those who are not so, they will be apt, in their headstrong Partiality to a new Idol, and in their furious Antipathy to his Opponents, to compliment him with so much Power (perhaps more than what they deposed, or would depose, his Predecessor for claiming) that the same People who before thought all Subjection to be Slavery, will find themselves Slaves instead of Subjects, and probably not perceive the Difference till ’tis too late to make it.
It is with Liberty, as ’tis with Power: It is always unsafe when it is excessive. The same Limits that separate Power and Liberty secure both. Liberty is Power in the Hands of the People; Power is Liberty in the Hands of the Prince. Unbounded Liberty is as dangerous as unbounded Power; dangerous to the People, as well as to the Prince; and there is as much an End of Liberty when the People can do what they please, as when the Prince can. He who domineers over his Superiors is as much a Tyrant, as he who does so over his Inferiors; or more a Tyrant, as the one only abuses his Trust, the other both abuses and usurps it.
None of the Turkish Emperors, terribly arbitrary as they are, ever did, or ordered Things more extravagantly arbitrary, than the ragged Leaders of the Rabble did at Constantinople in deposing their late Emperor, and for some time afterwards, under the present. One of them, who owed a little Money to a Butcher (for a Debt from a Beggar could not be great) obliged the new Grand Seignior and the Divan, where this Ragamuffin was then Omnipotent, to invest his Creditor the Butcher with the Principality of Wallachia. It was sound Advice from the Cham of Tartary to the Emperor and his Ministers, upon this Occasion, to humour the dirty popular Chiefs, to let them do and say, swagger and dictate as they pleased, as the surest way of rendering them contemptible to the Populace. They became so in a short Time, and then due Vengeance overtook them.
The same Laws which intitle the People to Protection from the Crown, intitle the Crown to Obedience and Reverence from the People, whilst the Person who wears it observes these Laws. Proportionable Respect is by the same Laws due to all the subordinate Magistrates and Ministers of the Crown, who square their Conduct by the Law: To insult them is to defy Law and Justice. As ’tis Defamation against the People to call in question their just Rights; ’tis defaming the Crown and its Ministers, to vilify and traduce them in the Exercise of their Regal and Ministerial Rights.
The meanest Tradesman has a just Claim of Damages for scandalizing him in his Dealings, and hurting his Credit. Is there no Crime in alarming the Public by false Imputations and Calumnies wantonly thrown upon public Counsels and public Men? Can Trade go on, says an industrious Citizen very justly, if Men in Trade are exposed to be undone by Scandal and Misrepresentation? No, The lowest Tradesman is therefore intitled to Damages and Amends for Aspersions upon his Character. Now as he who expects Justice should do Justice, would it not appear very unjust, and even surprising, to hear any of those Tradesmen, so tender of their own Character, aspersing and blackening that of their Governors with equal Freedom and Folly, or chearfully listening to those who do? They would prosecute any Man for once treating them with the same Freedom and Acrimony. Could such Traducers decently complain if they were prosecuted for throwing their Invectives upon the first Names in the Nation?
Can there be more partial Dealing than this, or stronger Proof of a prejudiced Spirit, and of Liberty abused? Few Men practise what even Children know, that “we ought to do to every Man what we would have all Men do to us.” Surely the Character of a Privy Counsellor is as much the Care of the Law, as the Character of a Tradesman. Let me add another Observation equally true and important, that “the surest Way to lose Liberty is to abuse it.”
[* ]See Tacitus, Annal I.