Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER LXXVII.: The War with the Colonies: The Rousing of the British Lion. - Letters of David Hume to William Strahan
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LETTER LXXVII.: The War with the Colonies: The Rousing of the British Lion. - David Hume, Letters of David Hume to William Strahan 
Letters of David Hume to William Strahan, ed. G. Birkbeck Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888).
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.
The War with the Colonies: The Rousing of the British Lion.
‘...And now a word or two of politics. The increased liberty of the press, which gives you the substance of almost every debate, is the sole cause of my being less communicative, and as for my impartiality, notwithstanding a little change in my situation, it is noway diminished. But I differ from you, toto cœlo, with regard to America. I am entirely for coercive methods with those obstinate madmen: And why should we despair of success?—Why should we suffer the Empire to be so dismembered, without the utmost exertions on our part? I see nothing so very formidable in this business, if we become a little more unanimous, and could stop the mouths of domestic traitors, from whence the evil originated1 .—Not that I wish to enslave the Colonists, or to make them one jot less happy than ourselves; but I am for keeping them subordinate to the British Legislature, and their trade in a reasonable degree subservient to the interest of the Mother Country; an advantage she well deserves, but which she must inevitably lose, if they are emancipated as you propose. I am really surprised you are of a different opinion. Very true, things look oddly at present, and the dispute hath hitherto been very ill-managed; but so we always do in the commencement of every war. So we did most remarkably in the last2 . It is perhaps owing to the nature of our Government, which permits not of those sudden and decisive exertions frequently made by arbitrary Princes. But so soon as the British Lion is roused, we never fail to fetch up our leeway3 , as the sailors say. And so I hope you will find it in this important case. We had two exceeding long debates in the House last Thursday and Friday. Till ½ after 4 in the Morning the first Day, and ½ after 1 the second. Much was said on both sides, but the Address was at length carried by 278 to 1084 , and I hope this decision will be followed by the most vigorous exertions both by sea and land.—At present I believe we have totally lost America; but a proper disposition of our fleet, and the troops we shall, even without foreign assistance (except the Hanoverians5 ) be able to send thither, will speedily recover it. Perhaps it may be still a difficult task, but it is worth doing all in our power to accomplish. And a little perseverance on our part will unavoidably throw the Americans into confusion among themselves, even were we to stand upon the defensive, and only block up their ports. They cannot subsist without trade; they must export their corn, or it is useless, and they must have cloathing for themselves and negroes6 , and a thousand other necessaries and conveniences of life from Europe. Their present anarchy is already, and must every day become more and more intolerable. I have not time just now to launch out into particulars. But the Newspapers will make up the deficiency. Your friend General Conway has declared with the minority.... When we have subdued the Colonists, it will require little force to keep them in order; for all the men of property among them are in their hearts with us, and they will insensibly slide back into their former situation....—M. S. R. S. E.
Oct. 30, 1775.
Note 1. Johnson in his Taxation no Tyranny, published in the spring of this year, had said:—’The Americans had no thought of resisting the Stamp Act, till they were encouraged and incited by European intelligence from men whom they thought their friends, but who were friends only to themselves. On the original contrivers of mischief let an insulted nation pour out its vengeance. With whatever design they have inflamed this pernicious contest, they are themselves equally detestable. If they wish success to the colonies, they are traitors to this country; if they wish their defeat, they are traitors at once to America and England. To them, and them only, must be imputed the interruption of commerce and the miseries of war, the sorrow of those that shall be ruined and the blood of those that shall fall.’ Johnson's Works, vi. 260.
Note 2. ‘The war [of 1756] began in every part of the world with events disastrous to England, and even more shameful than disastrous ... The nation was in a state of angry and sullen despondency, almost unparalleled in history ... At this time appeared Brown's Estimate, a book now remembered only by the allusions in Cowper's Table Talk and in Burke's Letters on a Regicide Peace. It was universally read, admired, and believed. The author fully convinced his readers that they were a race of cowards and scoundrels; that nothing could save them; that they were on the point of being enslaved by their enemies, and that they richly deserved their fate. Such were the speculations to which ready credence was given at the outset of the most glorious war in which England had ever been engaged.’ Macaulay's Essays, ed. 1874, ii. 179.
Note 3. This mixed metaphor of the British Lion and leeway recalls the time of which Ovid sang—
Note 4. Horace Walpole, describing the attack on the Court in this debate, said:—‘Mr. Conway in a better speech than ever was made exposed all their outrages and blunders; and Charles Fox told Lord North that not Alexander nor Cæsar had ever conquered so much as he had lost in one campaign. Even his Lordship's friends, nay the Scotch, taunt him in public with his laziness.’ Letters, vi. 278.
Note 5. The King in his Speech from the Throne said that he had sent Hanoverian troops to Gibraltar and Minorca to replace the British forces that had been despatched to America. This measure was attacked as unconstitutional not only by the regular Opposition, but by several members who called themselves Independent; belonging, as they did, to that powerful party which in the last two reigns had as strongly opposed the Court as in the present reign they supported it. Ann. Reg. 1776, i. 64.
Note 6. Johnson, in his Taxation no Tyranny, with his hatred of slavery had written:—‘It has been proposed that the slaves should be set free, an act which surely the lovers of liberty cannot but commend. If they are furnished with firearms for defence, and utensils for husbandry, and settled in some simple form of government within the country, they may be more grateful and honest than their masters.’ Works, vi. 260. In the mouths of the Ministers and their supporters this would have been an idle threat; for theirs was the party which upheld not only slavery but the slave-trade.