Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXXIV. Of Mr. Hume's Idea, That absolute Monarchy is the easiest Death, the true Euthanasia of the British Constitution. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION XXXIV. Of Mr. Hume’s Idea, That absolute Monarchy is the easiest Death, the true Euthanasia of the British Constitution. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of Mr. Hume's Idea, That absolute Monarchy is the easiest Death, the true Euthanasia of the British Constitution.
The very ingenious speculatist, Mr. Hume, seems to wish as well as think, that as death is unavoidable by the political as well as the animal body, the British constitution may die in the arms of despotism. His words are, “I would much rather wish to see an absolute monarch than a republic in this island. Absolute monarchy is the easiest death, the true euthanasia of the British constitution.”
His opinion that our free government will terminate in despotism, seems founded on the following argument, which he has inserted in his Essay on the British Government.
“The British spirit and love of liberty, however great, will never be able to support itself against that immense property which is now lodged in the king, and is still increasing. Upon a moderate computation, there are near three millions annually at the disposal of the crown. The civil list amounts to near a million; the collection of all taxes to another million; and the employments in the army and navy, along with ecclesiastical preferments, to above a third million. A monstrous sum! and what may fairly be computed to be more than a thirtieth part of the whole income and labour of the kingdom. When we add to this immense property the increasing luxury of the nation, our proneness to corruption, along with the great power and prerogatives of the crown, and the command of such numerous military forces, there is no one but must despair, without extraordinary efforts, of being able to support our free government much longer, under all these disadvantages.”
But why should not “extraordinary efforts” be made, when the object is extraordinary—no less than the preservation of human happiness, by the preservation of civil liberty? No efforts should be declined in such a cause; nor should men, sensible of their blessings, and desirous of handing them down as they received them, sink, with dastardly indolence, into a state of despair.
Mr. Hume, with all his penetration, could not foresee the revolution of France; and how much the establishment of liberty, in that extensive and enlightened country, would contribute to defeat the purpose of despots in all the nations of Europe. It is certain that the minds of the people in all countries are opened to the light of truth, by the emancipation of nearly thirty millions of men, from the slavery of prejudice and arbitrary dominion. There is now very little occasion for that despair of preserving the freedom of the British government, if the people will but be true to their own cause. Despotism, in its last struggles, may make great efforts; but even they will exhaust its strength, and accelerate its dissolution. Firmness and perseverance in the people will ultimately triumph over the unnatural exertions of despotism, driven to madness by despair.
The spirit of liberty, it has been said, is a spirit of jealousy. It ought to be ever-waking and circumspect; for the spirit of despotism never slumbers, but watches every opportunity to increase prerogative, and diminish popular authority. During those late alarms which cowardly and selfish aristocracy laboured to diffuse, in its panic fear for its own privileges, many instances occurred of men who would willingly have sacrificed all the boasted freedom of Englishmen to the security which they flattered themselves grandeur, titles, and riches would enjoy under an absolute government. Their pride was stung to the quick by the idea of equality, while their avarice trembled for their property, and their cowardice for their personal safety. They saw spectres in the shapes of Truth, Justice, and Liberty, triumphing over an enslaved and deluded world; they knew that they had little interest or connection with such personages, and shuddered at their fancied approach. They shrieked with terror; and would gladly have hastened to the greatest despot on earth for protection. England had no despot on the throne to afford them an asylum; and therefore they placed all their hopes on the military arm. War was the cry; victory was sure. Bastiles were already built in imagination, and chains fabricated for the millions that people the provinces of Gaul.
Had it been possible for these men to prevail, in the moment of their consternation, the sceptre of England would have been converted by them into an iron rod, and its king into the grand monarque of the old French tyranny. Despotism, expelled from France, would have crossed from Calais to Dover, and been received with open arms by devoted vassals, the slavish alarmists of an English aristocracy. The free government of England might have found at this period, as Mr. Hume prophesies it will hereafter do, an easy death in absolute monarchy.
But though the high church and king alarmists did not succeed at that time, which seemed auspicious to their designs, yet still they continue on their posts, watching opportunities to infringe on liberty, to seduce the people from their love of it, and gradually to reconcile them to arbitrary rule.
Strange as it is, as a moral phenomenon, that men should wish to be slaves, yet it is certain, that the tribe of persons devoted to the pomp and power of uncontrolled royalty, whom I call tories or aristocrats for want of a more appropriate and precise appellation, are still extremely zealous to make our king a far superior potentate than he is allowed to be by that revolution, which gives him all the royal rights he possesses, and places him on the throne.
Many circumstances favour the wishes of these persons; and nothing opposes them so much as the French revolution, and those liberal opinions on the rights and happiness of man which begin to prevail, wherever courts and ministers have little influence. Among the circumstances which flatter them most with the extension of royal power, the elevation of themselves, and the depression of the people, is the interest which almost every man and woman in the nation possesses in the public funds, and which they are all taught to believe would be depreciated, or even annihilated, if the parliament were reformed, the people reinstated in their rights, and the influence of the crown diminished. This has communicated the panic of the alarmists among multitudes too remote from courts, and too inconsiderable in station, to be influenced by ministerial bribes; who, otherwise, could not but have sided with the cause of justice and humanity. The terror of anarchy, occasioned by the impolitic as well as barbarously cruel conduct of some among the first leaders of the emancipated French, has increased the number of ministerial partisans and favourers of extended power and prerogative.
Were it possible that a panic could be permanent, or falsehood and artifice ultimately victorious over truth and justice, there might be reason to fear, from the spirit which the alarmists diffused, that English liberty might soon sicken, and at last die paralytic in the arms of despotism. But notwithstanding a temporary lethargy, the mass of the people, those who are quite out of the reach of courtiers and grandees, still retain the healthy vigour of their fathers' virtue, and would rouse themselves effectually to prevent the accomplishment of Mr. Hume's prediction. They must indeed be lulled with the Circèan cup of corruption to sleep on, and take their rest, when the giant Despotism is at their doors, ready to crush, with his mace, all that renders life valuable to men; to men who have learned to think that mere vegetation is not life. But Circè's cup is not capacious enough to contain opiate for a whole people. All the douceurs of a minister, all the patronage in the professions, all the riches of the east and the west, are insufficient to bribe the obscure millions, who constitute the base of the political fabric, into complete acquiescence under the pressure of despotic power, or under the apprehension of it. The light of reason and of learning is too widely diffused to be easily extinguished. There is every reason to believe that it will shine more and more unto a perfect day.
But as popular commotion is always to be dreaded, because bad men always arise to mislead its efforts, how desirable is it that it may be prevented, by conciliatory measures, by a timely concession of rights, by redress of grievances, by reformation of abuses, by convincing mankind that governments have no other object than faithfully to promote the comfort and security of individuals, without sacrificing the solid happiness of living men to national glory, or royal magnificence. True patriotism and true philosophy, unattached to names of particular men, or even to parties, consider the happiness of man as the first object of all rational governments; and, convinced that nothing is more injurious to the happiness of man than the spirit of despotism, endeavour to check its growth, at its first and slightest appearance.
If the free government of England evinces, by its conduct, that the happiness of the people is its sole object, so far from dreading the late Mr. Hume's prophecy that it will die in the arms of despotism, we may venture to predict that it will never die. My orisons shall be offered for its perpetuity; for I, and all who think with me, on this subject, are its true friends; while the boroughmongers, under the cloak of loyalty, are enemies both to the king and the people.