Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER VIII.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - Letters of Crito, on the Causes, Objects, and Consequences, of the Present War
Return to Title Page for Letters of Crito, on the Causes, Objects, and Consequences, of the Present War
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
LETTER VIII.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - John Millar, Letters of Crito, on the Causes, Objects, and Consequences, of the Present War 
Letters of Crito, on the Causes, Objects, and Consequences, of the Present War, Second Edition (Edinburgh:the Office of the Scots Chronicle, 1796).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
July 12. 1796.
The British Ministry having resolved upon a war with France, their next point, in the natural order of things, was to find arguments in support of that measure. A celebrated writer of the last age has said, that it was easier to find monks than reasons. Matters have, since that time, been strangely altered. Monachism has not been thriving; and the reasoning faculty has been greatly improved. Reasons for going to war with France have occurred in sufficient abundance to furnish a new system of logic; as the eloquence displayed upon the occasion might supply an equally new system of rhetoric. With respect to the morality to be gathered from either of these, it seems, to speak in the mildest terms, a little casuistical.
One of the chief reasons which has been advanced for going to war with France is, that this measure appears absolutely necessary for checking, in this country, the progress of French opinions. This is the celebrated argument which logicians call the argumentum baculinum. If you do not give up your opinion, I will break your head. It has been pushed, however, in this case, a little further than is commonly done. I will not only break the head of you, who entertain the offensive opinion; but I will break the head of that scoundrel who has persuaded you to embrace it.
By French opinions, in the language of the knowing ones, are understood sentiments favourable to a reform of Parliamentary Representation; but, as represented to sincere, undesigning alarmists, are meant designs to overturn our monarchy, and to establish a democratical government, with a complete equalization of rank and property, added to all the evils of anarchy, and a civil war, for God knows how long.
That there is any Englishman, or at least any considerable number of Englishmen, who can entertain French opinions, in this latter sense, appears to be advanced without any proof, and without the least shadow of probability. If there be any one political principle more prevalent than another in the inhabitants of this island, it is a fond prepossession in favour of our own Constitution, and an attachment to the House of Hanover, in whom the crown was established by the authority of parliament, and by whose accession we were secured from the tyranny of the lineal heir.
But supposing, for the sake of argument, that a number of persons in Britain were so wrong-headed as to entertain such opinions, would it follow, that going to war, either with them, or with France upon their account, is a proper expedient for guarding against the consequences of such a pernicious way of thinking? Is force the best instrument for preventing poisonous doctrines, either religious or political? Has not the contrary been found by the experience of all ages? Was not the persecution of Christianity, by the Roman government, the great natural means which contributed to spread that religion over the empire? Was not persecution one of the great circumstances which promoted the Reformation? This tendency of the application of force, in matters of opinion, is what might be expected from the constitution of human nature. There is a pride in the heart of man which makes him refuse to be browbeaten, and renders him tenacious of those opinions which he is commanded to renounce. His indignation and resentment are kindled against the injustice of pretending to assume a dominion over his conscience. The sufferings, besides, to which he is exposed for persisting in what he thinks the cause of truth, never fail to excite compassion; at the same time that the resolution and courage which he is prompted to display, raise admiration and esteem; sentiments which interest us for the sufferer, and create a strong prepossession in favour of his opinions.
There may, doubtless, be a persecution so powerful and sanguinary as to overcome these obstacles, and to extirpate the offensive tenets against which it is pointed; but this would require such a degree of tyranny, barbarity, and cruelty, and is so inconsistent with the manners of an enlightened and civilized age, that in the present state of most of the European nations, it may be supposed utterly impracticable; and every persecution, which is not effectual in exterminating opinions, must, of course, tend to aggravate and to promote them. If you mean to recommend a book to the public notice and approbation, you cannot practise a more successful method than by causing it to be burnt by the hangman. By making war upon French opinions, you have thus bestowed upon them an importance and consideration which they could not otherwise have attained. Your imprudence, not to say your injustice, has in some measure gilded and varnished them over, and given them a degree of currency, to which, of themselves, they had no title.
After all, why may not the inhabitants of this island enjoy the right of private judgment in speculating upon their government? Is our Constitution so crazy and rotten, that it will not bear the handling? Is our limited monarchy, of which we have so long boasted, and which has been purchased by the blood of our forefathers, so little consonant to the principles of true liberty; so ill adapted to the state of the community, that we dare not bring it to the test of reason? Is it so ill contrived, that it requires a mysterious veil to cover its defects? or if otherwise, will not reason and truth secure a great majority of the nation in opposition to folly and error? Why truly, if our political system is not such as will recommend itself to the nation at large; if, upon a full and fair examination, it does not appear suited to the great ends of government, I am afraid it must fall; and all our attempts to preserve it by mystery and concealment will be to no purpose. But why, in the name of wonder, should this dismal and groundless apprehension be countenanced by the British Ministers?
The alarming progress of the French arms, after the retreat of the Duke of Brunswick, afforded another reason for going to war with that formidable nation. By their enthusiastic ardour, and by their amazing exertions, they were become a match for all Europe; they had over-run the Austrian Netherlands, so as to threaten the immediate invasion of Holland; and they had issued a decree, offering fraternization to all those nations who might be desirous of establishing a free government. Necessity therefore, it was said, obliged us to take arms in our own defence, and to provide for our own safety before it was too late. The balance of power has ever been accounted a great political object among the potentates of modern Europe; and to maintain this balance has always been held a sufficient cause for entering into a war. In the present case, the French were likely not only to destroy the external boundaries of dominion, but even to sweep away the systems of government which had formerly subsisted.
It was a little unlucky, that those who stated this argument, at the same time that they beheld with such terror these military operations, were obliged to shut their eyes upon the no less alarming transactions in Poland. In violation of all treaties, and in contempt of every law divine and human, that miserable country was torn to pieces, and divided among those very princes with whom Britain had combined for maintaining a balance of power; and while the British ministry were endeavouring to rouse all Europe for opposing the arms of the French nation, they were acquiesceing, without a murmur, in the dreadful devastation, and in the violent political convulsion, which their own allies had produced in another quarter.
With regard to the danger apprehended from the conquest of other countries by France, there are two considerations, which hardly any person of plain sense, and of ordinary information, can possibly overlook. In the first place, by whom were the French driven to the necessity of becoming an armed nation, and of invading the neighbouring states? Before the treaty of Pilnitz, they had expressed strong resolution against foreign wars, and seemed to have no desire of extending their own dominions. They had indeed invaded Avignon, and the bishopric of Basle, together with certain territories in Lorrain, and Alsace, belonging to particular princes or states of the empire. As those territories were locally situated within the kingdom of France, it had been judged essentially requisite, for the safety of the new establishment, that they should be annexed to the French monarchy; while a pecuniary compensation was allowed to the proprietors. Not to mention any disputes concerning the title of the persons who had held those possessions, this transaction proceeded upon a principle of general utility, similar to that which has been understood to justify our government in obliging the Duke of Athol to sell the sovereignty of the Isle of Man, or in obliging the feudal lords in Scotland to resign, to the crown, their heritable jurisdictions. But the foreign states, who afterwards invaded France, and whose territories were now over-run by the French, had drawn that misfortune upon themselves by their unprovoked aggression. The French had acted, in this case, upon a principle of retaliation, which no impartial observer, who is acquainted with the law of nations, will venture to condemn. As to their offering fraternity and assistance to other states desirous of establishing a free government, it seems to have been a mere bravado, intended to counteract the effects of the general combination of despots, by which all the other powers of Europe, and even the French people themselves, were invited to join in restoring the old government of France. But whatever was intended by this general declaration, as they never had acted upon it, I cannot help thinking it was incumbent upon us to require an explanation of their intentions, before we made it the ground of a war which was likely to be attended with very serious consequences.
The other consideration, to which I alluded, respects the measures which Britain ought to have pursued on that occasion, for preventing the effusion of blood, and restoring peace to Europe. Had Britain, at that period, offered her mediation between the contending powers, is there any person who believes that the French would not have gladly accepted the offer, and have been willing to conclude a peace with their enemies, upon condition that each party should resign its foreign acquisitions? But we seem to have thought that France, after being pillaged by Prussia and the Emperor, and after having retaliated those hostilities, should immediately relinquish her conquest, so as to give her enemies time to breathe, and prepare for a new invasion. Was it not the duty of our ministry, as the guardians of our lives and our property, to set on foot, in that critical conjuncture, a negotiation for the purpose which I have mentioned? They not only neglected to do so, but they positively refused to negociate, and to receive explanations, though repeatedly, and with apparent anxiety, offered them by the French. Does not this abundantly show, that the danger of conquest by the French was a mere bugbear, set up by those persons to terrify and delude the nation; and that, so far from wishing to force a peace, as they might easily have done, by offering to guarantee a reasonable treaty, and by threatening, upon the refusal of either party, to throw the weight of Britain into the opposite scale, our ministers were in reality desirous of joining the framers of the league of Pilnitz, and of entering into a war of extermination against France, not for the reasons which they assigned, but from other motives best known to themselves? I am, &c.