Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XV.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - Letters of Crito, on the Causes, Objects, and Consequences, of the Present War
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LETTER XV.: 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).
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TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
In my last letter I observed, that, if we are in earnest in wishing to conclude a peace, we must make it appear that we are cordially reconciled to the French nation; that our views are no longer hostile to their Constitution; and that we have no plan, at any future period, to act in concert with other powers in disturbing or undermining its establishment. Considering our behaviour for some time past; considering that, of all the European powers, we have appeared the most inveterate enemies of this Constitution, it cannot be expected that our professions, with regard to such a change of sentiments, will gain any credit, unless they shall be accompanied with a total change of Ministry, and, as far as the French are concerned, with a total change of our political conduct.
But a change of ministry and of measures is not more necessary for enabling us to conclude a peace with France, than for securing our own future tranquillity, and for preserving the principles of the British Constitution. If the present Ministry have shown, as they certainly have, a most inflexible resolution to destroy the new form of government, and to restore the ancient despotism in France; if there be good ground to believe, as there undoubtedly is, that they have not really abandoned this resolution, but only give way to a temporary necessity, and will take the first opportunity of resuming their former measures, and of creating new disturbances in pursuance of the old quarrel, it would be egregious folly in us to pay any regard to their professions; and the height of imprudence to permit that they should remain in situations where they may play over again the same ruinous game at our expence. It has, indeed, been always understood, and is considered as a maxim founded upon the nature of our government, that every unsuccessful war should produce a change of Ministry. As our Ministers are in all cases responsible for their conduct, they ought to be so more especially in the direction of a war, which, of all the measures in which they can engage, is the most pregnant with danger and calamity. From their success in the adventure, the nation, who can have no other criterion of their merit, must form a judgment of their integrity, or their capacity; and, if the issue is extremely unfortunate, they may often deserve punishment, but surely, in all cases, must forfeit the trust and confidence of the public. It would be an alarming circumstance, if, contrary to this natural course of things, a set of war-ministers, who by their misconduct had produced a series of public disasters, and had brought the nation to the brink of a fatal precipice, were still able to retain their offices, and to proceed in their career. It would show that they were upheld, upon a detestable system of favouritism, and, by a secret interference, threatening to subvert the Constitution.
The application of this remark to our present critical situation is hardly necessary. There surely never was a war more unprosperous than the present, undertaken from worse motives, or carried on in such a blundering manner. There never was a war, to which the people were excited by such a train of delusion and imposture, or in which their hopes were, from time to time, buoyed up, and their passions enflamed, by such a series of misrepresentations and falsehoods. If the Ministry who planned and conducted this infatuated enterprise shall remain in power after the conclusion of such a peace as Britain, in her untoward circumstances, must be contented to accept, we can have no doubt that there is at the bottom some peculiar cause of so extraordinary a phenomenon, which requires to be investigated; some secret malady, affecting the vitals of the Constitution, for which a remedy cannot be too soon provided.
It is evident, that not only a change of Ministry, but a total change of measures, has become indispensably requisite for the preservation of our liberties.
Whoever is acquainted with the principles of our Constitution, and considers the nature of the Revolution-settlement, in 1688, will easily perceive that, from the course of public events, and from the changes in the state of society, great alterations have, since that period, occurred in our political system. By that great transaction, the boundaries of the prerogative were ascertained and fixed, in such a manner as precluded all hazard from any of those encroachments against which the nation, from past experience, had been taught to provide. From this time forward, a new order of things was introduced. The House of Commons, no longer jealous of the Crown, became hearty and liberal in granting supplies; and the expensive wars in which the nation was involved, occasioned a rapid increase of taxes. Ministers, taking advantage of the national spirit, became proportionably daring and rapacious; and when the expence of their projects could not be defrayed within the year, they ventured to borrow a capital, providing only a sum for the annual discharge of the interest. Thus the system of funding, which from small beginnings was gradually extended, and has risen to such a monstrous pitch, taught the nation to engage in military undertakings beyond their strength, and rendered her familiar with an endless accumulation of public burthens.
It is unnecessary to observe, that this augmentation of the public revenue, by creating a correspondent increase of patronage, has produced an extension of influence, pervading all the different branches of administration, and advancing without end, like the fources from which it is derived. The public revenue, immediately before the Revolution, amounted to about two millions. Supposing that the present war is terminated with all possible expedition, it is believed that our future peace establishment cannot be below twenty-four millions. It would not be difficult to show, did the limits of the present letter admit of such a particular discussion, that this increase of the public revenue, during the period above mentioned, has produced an extension of influence far exceeding the proportion of that increase. But throwing this consideration aside, it must be acknowledged that, by the immense patronage arising from the disposal of so much money; not to mention the church livings in the gift of the crown, the appointments of the East India Company, under the controul and direction of ministry, with many other offices and places of emolument in their nomination, none of which are included in the foregoing calculation of the public revenue, there is produced an universal ascendancy in all the departments of government, which often lulls asleep and palsies our sense of duty, holds in derision all pretences to public spirit, and seems at length to overbear and destroy all opposition. With what propriety the different powers of government are distributed and balanced, how beautiful the political machine may appear in theory, and with what apparent nicety its various parts are adjusted to one another, is of little importance, if our ministers shall be possessed of a magical instrument, by which they may secretly tamper with all its operations, and controul or direct all its movements!
It was this view of our political state which, in the course of the American war, extorted the memorable declaration from the House of Commons, “that the influence of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished.” It was the same view which, upon the conclusion of that war, produced, among men of all ranks, a very general attention to a circumstance of great importance in the government, (though formerly it had excited little concern or uneasiness) the unequal representation of the community in the House of Commons. While the secret influence of ministry, from the limited state of the revenue, was inconsiderable, this deviation from the original principles of our government, which, in a course of time, had proceeded from various causes, was attended, perhaps, with no great inconvenience; but, in consequence of the vast extension of ministerial patronage, it came necessarily to be regarded as a defect, of the utmost magnitude, in the constitution of the legislature.
Notwithstanding the prodigious progress of Ministerial influence and corruption, there still remained one check upon the conduct of every Administration, which had always been considered as the great safeguard of our liberties. Though the doctrine of absolute confidence in Ministers had been exalted to a wonderful pitch, and though their measures could, in ordinary cases, be carried into execution with nearly the same facility as in the most despotical government, it was always expected, that, upon extraordinary occasions, when those measures had become extremely unpopular, the interposition of the House of Commons, by a petition to the Crown, would infallibly produce a change of Ministry, and a consequent change of system. This ultimate controul, it was thought, might prove a terror to evil doers, and might prevent the executive power from shutting its ears to the loud voice of the nation. But the transactions in the year 1784 put an end to that expectation; and demonstrated, that if ever the Crown, from a singular concurrence of accidents, should lose a majority in that House, its Ministers might safely venture upon a dissolution of Parliament as an infallible expedient for supporting their interest. A great majority of the Commons being, in the present state of the representation, returned by the interest of a small number of individuals, a dissolution of Parliament, as far as related to that House, was not, in reality, an appeal to the nation at large, but, in a great measure, an appeal to such of the nobility and gentry as had acquired the direction of rotten boroughs, or of certain political districts. After this leading experiment, it became now evident to all the world, that a reform in the mode of electing the national representatives was indispensably requisite, for counteracting the effects of that great influence acquired by Ministers, and for maintaining the free exercise of those powers established at the Revolution.
It was by expressing great zeal in the pursuit of this object, and by professing various opinions of a similar tendency, together with the possession of a pompous and plausible eloquence, that our Prime Minister had acquired such popularity as rendered him, at the time alluded to, a necessary ally to that collection of the adherents of prerogative which came to be placed at the helm. He continued, when in office, to make some feeble and aukward attempts for promoting a parliamentary reform, but soon acquiesced in the negative which was given to that measure, chiefly by his ministerial friends. How far he had been in earnest in those attempts became evident in 1792, when a motion for the same purpose was brought, from another quarter, under the consideration of Parliament, and countenanced by a society of gentlemen, whose rank and character afforded a sufficient pledge of their good intentions; upon which occasion, this versatile statesman not only opposed the measure with all the weight of ministerial interest, but endeavoured to hold it up to the public as calculated to promote the designs of republicans and levellers. It was, in fact, to disappoint the measures proposed at that time, as I formerly observed, that the war with France was undertaken. Had a temperate reform been then carried into execution, the system of alarm, which has been so artificially spread over the kingdom, would have been superseded; this ruinous war, with all its dreadful consequences, would have been prevented; and the national prosperity would have risen to a height without example in any former period.
But if it was, at that time, a measure of supreme necessity to counteract the tendency of ministerial influence, by correcting the inequality of the national representation, how much more so must it appear at present; when, in consequence of the war, that influence has been so wonderfully extended; and when the terrors which were excited, and the malignant suspicions which were instilled into the minds of men, have contributed to arm our ministers with such new and unprecedented powers? What an implicit faith in those Ministers has been inculcated? With what an absolute dominion over all ranks and orders of men have they been invested? What discretionary powers have been committed to them on pretence of guarding the public safety, though at the expence of personal liberty; and what abuses have been made of these powers by the prosecution and oppressive treatment of innocent persons? What restraints have been imposed upon the liberty of the press, that necessary instrument for checking the encroachments of prerogative? What restraints, what prohibitions have been laid upon the meetings of the people for the defence of their privileges? In a mixed government like ours, is it not the privilege of every British subject to petition the Sovereign; to petition Parliament, whenever he conceives his rights to be invaded? Is not this privilege secured expressly by the Bill of Rights, that sacred and fundamental law of the kingdom? But how are men to know when encroachments are made upon their rights; and how are they to petition with any effect for redress, if they are not allowed to meet and converse together upon political subjects? And with what sort of freedom can they communicate their thoughts, and procure mutual information, if they are liable to be silenced, imprisoned, and punished, at the discretion of an officer, appointed by that very executive power of whose oppression they may have occasion to complain?
When a parliamentary reform was proposed, immediately before the commencement of the war, the chief objection, which any person chose to avow, was founded upon a suspicion that the people would not be contented with an amendment of the defects particularly specified, but, in imitation of the French, were, in reality, desirous of a total revolution. It is hoped the experience we have had, since that period, of the temper and moderation of the people in all parts of the island, will be sufficient entirely to remove this objection, and to satisfy us that the lower orders are in general firmly attached to the British Constitution. They have undergone a severe scrutiny. Their conduct has been strictly watched. No political offences, however trivial, have been overlooked. No pains have been spared to convict offenders; and the law has not withheld her utmost severity from such as were convicted. Nor has the conduct of Administration, with respect to the populace, been of a conciliating nature. But notwithstanding the mortifying suspicions which have been cast upon them, notwithstanding the neglect which their humble petitions in behalf of their favourite object have constantly met with, notwithstanding the invidious distinctions which have unnecessarily and injudiciously been held up between them and the superior ranks, they have never been betrayed into violent or unconstitutional measures; they have never testified any marks of resentment against the ruling powers; and, under the pressure of uncommon difficulties, even in procuring their daily bread, they have waited with patience the issue of a war which they could not approve of, and against which they had in vain remonstrated. Of the many who were capitally prosecuted for political offences, all have been acquitted by the verdict of a Jury, except two obscure persons in Scotland, of whom the principal was a noted spy, that had received a bribe upon the part of the Executive Government.
Upon the whole, if measures are not speedily taken to procure a peace, and to avert the impending evils, it will be impossible to entertain a doubt, that the national prosperity and happiness are sacrificed to the power of the present Ministers, and to the advancement of that ministerial influence and corruption which they have so steadily and successfully cultivated.
It is now time, Sir, that I should conclude these remarks, with expressing my sincere gratitude for your politeness in giving them so indulging a reception in your entertaining and useful repository. I am not vain enough to think that I was capable of throwing any light upon subjects which have already been so much canvassed by men of the greatest abilities; but I wished to correct some mistakes, and to remove some prejudices, which frequently occur in persons exposed to the want of sufficient information; a misfortune of which their superiors are sometimes disposed to take advantage. If I have, in any degree, succeeded in this attempt, my intention is completely answered.—I am,