Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XIII.: 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 XIII.: 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.
August 23. 1796.
Concerning the impolicy of the war, there occur so many remarks which press forward and seem to merit attention, that I am afraid of wandering in a boundless field, and of encroaching too far upon the important information usually collected in your very intelligent paper. To form a just opinion upon the subject, it would be necessary to examine the following particulars:—
1. Whether the conquest of France was a measure calculated to procure the object which we had in view.
2. How far we were likely to succeed in the project of conquering France.
3. What might be the probable consequences of our complete success in that measure.
4. The inconveniences and mischiefs to which we unavoidably exposed ourselves by that undertaking.
The first article abovementioned has been already considered at some length, in examining the causes of the war; and I shall not trouble you with a repetition of the observations formerly made. The intention of our ministers in attempting the conquest of France was to stop the progress of what are called French opinions. The crusades, for the purpose of redeeming the holy sepulchre from the hands of infidels were not half so absurd; for those expeditions had really some tendency to procure the ridiculous end which was proposed. But the cudgelling twenty-five millions of people out of a system of opinions, which they had most deliberately adopted, and which they considered as essential to the security of their lives and their property, is evidently beyond the reach of human strength. Had we marched our victorious armies from one corner of France to the other, had we subverted all the new institutions, and restored the old government in France, had we broiled ten thousand Jacobins at a British auto da fe, we should probably have been as far as ever from our purpose, either of extinguishing republican tenets in that country, or of persuading the people in this island, that a reform of parliamentary representation is not indispensibly requisite for the preservation of their liberties.
But supposing that the conquest of France would have extirpated these offensive opinions, it was a wide step to conclude that this could be accomplished by the joint efforts of those potentates who had formed a combination against her. Did those potentates consider the populousness, the fertility, and riches of France; the compactness of her dominions, her military spirit, and her superiority in the military science, particularly in that branch which relates to the management of artillery, now become the chief instrument of modern tactics? Were they aware that a nation, in those circumstances, comprehending near a fourth part of the inhabitants of Europe, could send greater armies to their frontiers, at least armies which, when fighting for every thing that is dear to them, would do more execution than those which all Europe, in the view of a foreign conquest, could maintain at a distance? Did they take into the account the many fortified towns belonging to France, on that side where alone she is exposed to an enemy, and which the late King of Prussia, from whose opinion, in matters of this kind, our lawyer ministers, or parliamentary orators might not be ashamed to reap instruction, considered as an impregnable defence? “The frontiers of France next to Germany,” says that great military genius, “are like the jaws of a lion, with two dreadful rows of teeth, ready open to devour any invader.”
But whatever obstacles to the conquest of France might occur in ordinary cases, these are greatly multiplied on the present occasion. France, as our minister himself acknowledged, has now become an armed nation, capable, by a simple requisition, of bringing into the field such multitudes as resemble the swarms which, in a rude state of society, issued from the northern parts of Europe, to overwhelm the provinces of the Roman Empire; and these multitudes, animated by an enthusiastic love of liberty, which, added to their discipline and military spirit, appears to render them invincible. The effects of that enthusiasm, joined to that military spirit and discipline, we had fully experienced in the total discomfiture of the Duke of Brunswick; in the rapid conquest of the Austrian Netherlands; and in the decisive battle of Jemappe. That any person of sound mind, after so impressive a trial, should have proposed to renew the project of conquering that country, was not to be expected. It exceeds the castle-building of a dream, or the delirium of a fever. We had seen the unanimity with which the French nation reprobated our designs in favour of monarchy; and if we trusted to the divisions in that country, and to the ferment of political factions, we took the infallible method of precluding any advantage from that source, by uniting every party against the common enemy of all. We became the Sir Martin Mar-all in the great theatre of Europe; and stumbled upon the very measure which excluded the possibility of our ever attaining the object of our wishes.
But supposing that, in spite of every obstacle, we should, by some miraculous interposition, have been successful in conquering France, may it not reasonably be demanded, what national advantage could possibly have resulted from that conquest? Was it proposed that, after we had restored the ancient despotism, and replaced the emigrants in their former situation, we should leave the French monarchy, thus happily renovated, to go on in its natural channel. Some additional precautions, I am afraid, would have been requisite for securing the continuance of our workmanship. We must, undoubtedly, have left in the country an army, and a great one too, for supporting that system of government which we had established, and for preventing an enraged and desperate people from cutting the throats of those detested rulers whom we had set over them. An English mercenary army, of sufficient magnitude, and properly trained up in the pleasant service of keeping the French democrates in subjection, would form an excellent corps to be entrusted with the guardianship of English liberty; and would, in all probability, be often appealed to in any of those future disputes, in England, which might arise between the crown and the people.
But it is possible that our governing politicians, intoxicated with power, might please themselves with the prospect of depressing still more our ancient rivals, and might prefer the project of dismembering the French monarchy. Would Britain, in that case, have chosen to retain any part of it? Would Britain, who finds the expence of holding the insulated rock of Gibraltar so insupportable, have subjected herself to the burthen of maintaining a number of garrisoned towns in France, and to the hazard of being involved, as a principal party, in all the wars of the Continent? To avoid these evils, would we have chosen to leave this contested country in the possession of our allies, to be divided by them, like Poland, or to be disposed of as they, in their great humanity and justice, should please to determine?
We could, in that case, indeed, have no security that the powers, whom we had thus aggrandized beyond measure, would not proceed, in a short time, to the partition, or conquest of Britain, whose commerce they have long envied, and whose government they cannot fail to detest.
To whatever side we turn ourselves, in whatever light we view this project of conquering France, it appears no less pregnant with danger and calamity than it is absurd and chimerical; and so far is it from presenting any solid prospect of national benefit, that the mischiefs to be apprehended from our final success would be infinitely greater, and more fatal, than even those which we have suffered, and are likely to suffer, by our complete failure and disappointment.
In estimating, however, the folly and madness of this infatuated project, we must not overlook the national advantages which have been forfeited, or the inconveniences, the losses, and the mischiefs which we have reason to expect; and which (for unhappily we need not here depend upon conjecture) we have actually sustained from it. Of the multitudes killed off in the course of the war, which are much greater than we ever had, or ever shall have any account of, I will say nothing; for Ministers appear to reckon it a prescriptive privilege to sacrifice as many lives as they please to their ambition or private emolument. But the age in which we live is said to be the age of calculators. Let me ask our arithmeticians, what sums of money have been lost? What was the amount of that alarming stagnation of trade, which began upon the commencement of the war, and which made it necessary that government should support the credit of merchants by extensive loans of public money; an interposition calculated to bring the mercantile interest under the immediate influence of the executive power? What is the amount of those depredations upon our shipping, which have so raised the price of insurance, and so impaired and clogged our foreign trade? What is the amount of the danger, to which we are now exposed, of being excluded from foreign harbours, and of having our merchandize captured in neutral bottoms? But above all, what is the amount of that public expenditure which the war has occasioned? Has it not been affirmed, upon good authority, that our public debt is already augmented by an hundred millions; and that the demands upon the Treasury are pouring in from all quarters, with such rapidity, that a new loan, to a great extent, will be necessary for the present year? It is computed that, though we should be fortunate enough to conclude a peace with the utmost expedition, our national debt will be so enormous as to require a constant annual revenue of three or four-and-twenty millions; a sum, by the minister’s own confession, fully equal to the landed rent of the kingdom. What a prospect does this open to the future commerce of Britain, clogged with such a weight of taxes? What a prospect does it open to the landed interest, who, according to some systems of political economy, sustain the whole of this burden, but according to all, must bear a great proportion of it? What a prospect does this open to annuitants, and to such as live upon a yearly salary or stipend, whose real fund of subsistence, after deducting the taxes which are paid from it, is reduced to a mere trifle, while the price of all commodities must, from the same cause, be in proportion augmented? But where will this end? Will this bubble continue to swell for ever without bursting?
How different would have been the aspect of our affairs, had we, during the conflict of the continental powers, remained in a state of neutrality? Had we, indeed, used our endeavours, we might easily have prevented the war altogether. But supposing the struggle to have been limited to the Continent, we should have carried on, without impediment, all the trade of Europe, and its dependencies; and the commerce of all other nations would have been sheltered under our wings. Instead of adding to our public debts, the increase of our wealth, and our resources, would have enabled us in proportion to extinguish our former burdens. Without engaging in hostilities, we might have put ourselves in a state of preparation for our own defence; and by retaining our own strength unimpaired, we might have expected, that, after the contending parties had mutually exhausted themselves, we should become the arbiters of their pacification.
The mischiefs arising from the war, which relate more immediately to our government and police; that immense military force which, in different shapes, and by new and unprecedented institutions, has been spread over the country; the measures that have been pursued for separating the soldiery from the rest of the inhabitants; the severe punishments, unsuitable to a polished nation, which have been inflicted on political offences; the unusual and dangerous powers committed to administration; the suspension of the great bulwark of our personal liberty; the unconstitutional restrictions which have been laid upon the intercourse of the people, in examining their grievances, and in petitioning for redress; these, and such other political effects of the war, I shall not at present enter upon. Here let me drop the curtain; leaving behind the scene transactions which are not necessary for proving the point I had in view, and the full exhibition of which would be too severe a tax upon your indulgence and good humour.
I am, &c.