Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. V. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
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CHAP. V. - Pieter de la Court, The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland 
The True Interest and Political Maxims of the Republic of Holland (London: John Campbell, Esq, 1746).
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Enquiry is made, whether, and how the welfare of any country may be preserved by treaties of peace.
To comprehend what a treaty of peace, orBUT seeing it appears in the preceding discourse, that treaties of peace importing mutual promises of not prejudicing one another, and allowance of trade and commerce reciprocally, are very necessary for Holland, and that the like articles are by many intermixt with treaties of alliance, or covenants among neighbours, which nevertheless, as I conceive, have for the most part been pernicious to Holland, and will be found so; I find myself therefore obliged to express my thoughts on this subject, and to say, that a treaty of peace is a mutual promise of doing no hurt to each other; to which likewise nature obligeth us.An alliance is, But on the contrary, an alliance or covenant obligeth to do something, which often without such alliance men would not do, or omit something, which without such alliance they would not omit.
Since then all things past are so much beyond the power and conduct of man, that human actions and force, cannot make the least alteration therein;We ought to consider, that all actions look either at the future, or the present; as also, it appears that all mens thoughts ought to be employed about the obtaining of something that is good, or defending themselves from future evil, which especially takes place in our consultations, and transactions with other people. For even in a free and generous gift, where all necessity or obligation of any thing to be done for the future seems to be excluded; yet is it evident, that it is done either out of hope of gaining some body’s friendship, or serviceableness, or obtaining the name of being kind and liberal.What care is to be taken in making of mutual obligatory contracts, which ought to take place But aboveall, those thoughts must take place for things future in mutual covenants, seeing the essence thereof consists therein, and hath its eye upon it, as appears by all the examples of it. I give or promise to give, because you promise to give; I do or shall do, because you promise to do; I give or shall give, that you shall not do; I do or shall do, that you may not do, &c. And when we are on both sides subjected to one and the same sovereign power, those agreements are freely entered into;With particulars, and and here the difficulty is not great, tho’ we perform the covenants first, because the other party may be compelled by the judge to perform his engagements, tho’ no body would willingly be the compeller, but every one would ride on the forehorse: having is better than hoping; and what he hath before hand is the poor-man’s riches. And when the respective covenanters are subjected to a different supreme power, then distrust begins to encrease: but because men know that he that is unfaithful may be punished, they are unwilling to put it to the venture.
With sovereigns.But all the difficulty lies here, and then appears, when sovereign powers enter into mutual covenants and alliances; seeing the strongest potentate always enjoys the fruit of a peace concluded, and likewise the benefit covenanted; which Ovid* very ingeniously shew’d: so that tho’ there be sometimes peace, yet ’tis always necessary for the weakest to be so watchful, as if no true peace were ever made by such powers, on which the weaker party might rely. And if on the other side, in time of peace each party should fortify and guard his frontiers, and by intelligencers endeavour to inform himself of his neighbours designs, in order to behave himself accordingly: it is then evident that all treaties of peace must be presumed by all sovereign powers (who expect more advantage by war than peace, and consequently are not founded upon peace) to serve only for a breathing time, and to wait an opportunity of attacking their neighbour with more advantage, and so to overpower him.
And when and how long those contracts are to be kept,And so long as those opportunities present not, the peace lasteth among the potentates of the world, not by virtue of promises, oaths or seals which they can at all times easily infringe without suffering any present punishment, but by virtue of their fear, lest some future evil should befal the peace-breaker. So that a true and real peace among sovereign princes, especially for the weaker party, is but a fiction or a dream, on which he must not rely.
Especially with monarchs.For in this wicked world (God amend it) ’tis very evident, that most men naturally are inclined by all imaginable industry to advance their interest, without regard to hand, seal, oath, or even to eternity it self; and above all, such inclinations and aims are principally found in monarchs, princes and great lords: for we are taught that Sanctitas, pietas, fides, privata bona sunt; ad quæ juvant reges eant:
Who seldom know what is just and fit,For having never been private persons, nor educated or conversant with men equal to themselves, they learn nothing of modesty or condescension: neither does the authority of judges imprint in them a reverence to sacred justice. Which is quite contrary in all republicks, where the rulers and magistrates being first educated as common citizens, must daily converse with their equals or superiours, and learn that which is just, otherwise they would be compelled to their duty by the judge, or other virtuous and powerful civil rulers;As the civil rulers do. which inward motions of modesty, discretion and fear leave always some remains in them, when they come afterwards to be preferred to the government and magistracy, for* custom is a sacred nature, which is not easily altered.
In treaties of alliance men are apter to be wrong’d, than by treaties of peace.But in all events, if in treaties of peace, when neither of the covenanters do any thing but only restrain each other from all hostile acts, there is little certainty that the covenants will on both sides be kept; it is as certain, that in alliances, wherein there are engagements on both sides, for assistance of soldiery, arms, or money, that there is a greater uncertainty of obtaining what is covenanted, and that there can be no trust reposed in the treaties of sovereigns; all advantages of alliances consisting only in this, that one part may possibly be drawn to perform what is covenanted before the other:And when most: and when this happens in matters by which he that performeth is really weakened, and the other strengthened, with bare hopes only of advantages to accrue from him afterwards, he is then a traitor to himself, because he foolishly gives things and realities, for words, hand, and seal;Especially when they are made with kings or sovereigns. which put all together hold no proportion to preponderate and resist the ambition and covetousness, lust, rage and self-conceit of great princes.Because they have a superintendency over religious worship, and value it little.Dat pænas laudata fides. For because ambition exceeds all other affections, and monarchs order all externals, and especially the publick religion, which is strengthened, or weakened according to the prosperity of their government, it is therefore rightly said, that the state has neither blood nor religion; and that integrity is always deceived or circumvented. So that the best way is not to trust them, and then we shall not be cheated.
All which being most certain, it is strange that any supreme powers should imagine that they can oblige a formidable sovereign prince to gratitude for benefits received without any preceding promises, impoverishing themselves by liberalities, in order to enrich and strengthen those they fear: for we ought always to presume, that kings will ever esteem themselves obliged to any thing but their own grandeur and pleasure, which they endeavour to obtain, without any regard to love, hatred, or gratitude.
So that it is a madness to make princes considerable presents.Certainly if we affirm, that it is a cursed religion which teacheth men to sacrifice to the devil, that he may do them no mischief; we may likewise say, that nothing less than the utmost despair can reasonably induce a government to discover its own weakness to a dreaded neighbour, and to make him stronger by giving him money to buy off a feared evil, which ought to be resisted by the best arms, and most vigorous efforts; according to the Spanish proverb,* To give to kings, is a kingly, that is, a monstrous great folly: for the holy wood, the blunt cross of prayers and remonstrances, is of small force among men of power; and the money sacrificed o the idol of gratitude, is yet of less value. But he who in these horrid disorders, betakes himself for refuge to the iron, and sharp two-edged cross, the sword, makes use of the true cross of miracles against sovereign princes; and this rightly applied, is only able to heal the king’s evil, or state agues.
But to favourites, tho’ seldom, it may be advisable.But if kings, whilst they follow their own inclinations and pleasures, will suffer favourites to govern their kingdoms, it is then clear, that such favourites will by all means endeavour, during their uncertain favour, to enrich themselves: and therefore by private bribes to such creatures, dangerous resolutions may be prevented; and if a dangerous war be at any time very much feared, may be well and profitably bestowed. But yet this is not to be done ’till the utmost extremity. For we are taught, that courtiers may very well be resembled to hungry biting dogs, who as they will soon observe, when their bread is given for snarling at, or biting the giver:Which the fable of the hungry dogs, to which courtiers were resembled, plainly teaches us. so courtiers who are always wasting their estates, and always hungry, will, in hopes of obtaining new presents, be always most ready to threaten such generous givers, nay and bite them too, unless such open handed persons take a good resolution to arm themselves, in order to resist their menaces and attempts by force, and by that means to obtain peace.
The general causes of all contentions and treaties, are peace,And to express my self more amply in this particular, I shall say, that all treaties and capitulations between supreme governors and states, arise by reason of a mutual diffidence of one and the same neighbour, or of several stronger neighbours, and by a mutual desire to be able to defend themselves against one or more mighty potentates.
Or, secondly, through a desire of the some thing, appertaining to a third person, and to enrich themselves by an alliance and conjunction with another:Hope and vain-glory. or thirdly, through arrogance, vain-glory, and ambition.
Yet it matters not much upon what reason these dissentions and alliances arise, but whether the covenanters and allies do equally fear, or have need of one another; and whether they are equally concerned in that which they desire to obtain or defend. For we learn, that* damage parts friendship, and complainers have no friends.
In a word, all consists in this, whether they that enter into a league, have a common interest to avoid or obtain that which they both have in their eye. For where that is not, alliances and covenants are made for the benefit of the strongest, and to the prejudice of the weakest:It is not advisable to make alliances with greater than themselves. so that if he cannot withstand the strongest, without entering into capitulation with him, he will by such capitulation be the sooner overthrown, if by virtue thereof he makes war upon a neighbour that is stronger than he. For it is better to have many mighty neighbours than one, according to the fable, which says, that a bear may easily be taken by one able huntsman, but that his hide or skin cannot be divided among many before he be caught, and therefore he is suffered to live.
No alliance with a greater is good, unless he first perform his contract.Whence it necessarily and irrefragably follows, that all states and sovereigns ought not to enter into alliances with those who are stronger, but rather with such as are inferior to themselves in power, by which means they may always covenant, that the weaker shall first make good his engagement; and in all doubtful cases, where mention is made of enjoining him to do any thing, he may interpret them to his advantage, at least afterwards, so as to do no more than he will: according to the Italian proverb,*Be quick to receive, slow to pay; for an accident may happen whereby you may never payany thing. And according to that,*It is good riding on the fore-horse, and being a master; for you may always transfer, or give away as much of your right as you will, and make your self less.
Secondly, from hence may be inferred, that when an inferior power treats with one superior to him, he injures himself, if he do not contract, that the stronger shall first perform that which he promises. And if the alliance be grounded upon a common interest, the superior hath little reason to fear, that when he hath performed his engagements, he shall be deceived by the weaker: so that if he be not willing to do this, he gives great cause to the weakest not to trust him, and so not to enter into such a treaty, which like a rotten house is like to fall upon his head.
[* ]Pax licet interdum est, pacis fiducia nunquam.
[* ]Es nec edad real, dar a reyes.
[* ]Idem velle idem nosse, ea demum firma amicitia est. Ter.
[* ]Al pigliar pronto, al pagar taido; perche puo nascer inconveniente che non si paghi niente.
[* ]Præstat prevenire quam preveniri. Il fait bon estre maistre, car on est tousjours valet quand on veut.