Abraham: In Search of Public Virtue; A Warning to America by Richard Price


THE following discourse was composed in some haste, and without any particular attention to the stile; and it is now published, with the addition of a few Notes, partly in compliance with the request of some who heard it and, partly, because it has been misrepresented. The notice which the author has taken of public measures, is such as came necessarily in his way in discussing the subject he had chosen, and in considering the present state of the kingdom. This, however, is the first time in which he has entered into politics in the pulpit, and, perhaps, it may be the last.

G E N. 18: 32.

And he said, O let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once. Peradventure ten Shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

YOU must all of you recollect that these words are represented as addressed to the Deity by the Patriarch Abraham, when he was interceding with him for the city of Sodom. There can scarcely be a more affecting representation; and it is not possible that on the present occasion, I should speak to you on a more proper subject. The calamity by which Sodom and the whole country round it was destroyed, is one of the most ancient as well as the most tremendous events, of which we have any account in history. We have a particular relation of it in the 19th chapter of this book of Genesis; and, throughout all the subsequent parts of scripture, it is referred to, and held forth as an example and a warning to other countries.—Thus in Jude we read, that Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, had been set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire; that is, a fire which totally consumed them, and which appeared to be even still burning, and would probably burn till the end of the world. So likewise in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the 50th chapter and 40th verse, it is said that Babylon should no more be inhabited for ever; and that as God had overthrown. Sodom and Gomorrah, and the neighboring cities, so should Babylon be overthrown. And in Deuteronomy the 29th and 23d, the prophetical denunciation against the children of Israel is, that if they forsook the Lord, and served other gods, their land should be turned into brimstone and salt and burning, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. And in Luke 17 and 28th and following verses, our Lord, in admonishing his disciples to vigilance, directs them to think of the security and carelessness of the inhabitants of Sodom, before God rained fire and brimstone from Heaven, and destroyed them all. It is in allusion also to this event, that in the Revelation (ch. 19:20, and 21: 8.) the future extirpation of anti-christian delusion,, and of the workers of iniquity, is expressed by their being cast into a lake burning with fire and brimstone.

That part of the land of Judea, where these devoted cities stood, was rich and fertile above all the other parts of Judea. In Genesis, chap. 13 we are told that when Lot separated from Abraham, he looked over all the plain of Jordan, and saw that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. This induced great numbers of people to settle in this part of Judea; and, particularly, it engaged Lot and his family to settle here. It was an extensive plain, bounded to the east and west by very high mountains, about seventy-two miles in length and eighteen in breadth. Here several cities were built, the principal of which were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Zoar. The causes that produced the richness of the soil, and crowded this country with inhabitants, were such as at the same time produced a corruption of manners, and rendered its ruin unavoidable. The fertility of the soil proceeded from a warmth communicated to it by subterranean fires. And this, probably, joined to the ease and indulgences arising from a rich soil, contributed to enflame the passions of the inhabitants, and to render them so infamous as we are told they were for wickedness. But while they were rioting in voluptuousness, there was a dreadful enemy working below them, which had been destined by Divine justice to destroy them. The sun being risen upon the earth (as the history tells us) one morning; and Lot and his family (the only righteous persons left) having escaped by Divine direction, the flames burst forth, the whole country sunk at once, and water took its place. The Scriptures call this event God’s raining down from Heaven fire and brimstone. The truth is, that it was an event of the same kind with many that have happened since; or an eruption of liquid fire from the bowels of the earth, like the eruptions from volcanoes, attended with thunder and lightning and earthquakes. So shocking, in this instance, was the catastrophe, that a country, before one of the richest and best peopled in the world, was in one hour converted into a smoking lake, which has been ever since called the Asphaltic (1) lake, or the Dead Sea. The river Jordan had run through this country; but ever since it has discharged itself into this lake, and lost itself in it. Its water is salt and nauseous in the highest degree. Columns of smoke are seen at certain times to rise from it; and it is said, that in some parts of it ruins of buildings may still be seen [See Mr. Maundrell’s Travels, page 84, 85]. Profane historians, as well as the scriptures, bear witness to the calamity which befell these cities. Tacitus says, “that where “the Dead Sea now is, there were formerly fruitful fields and large cities, which were afterwards consumed by thunder and lightning.[Tacit. Hist. Lib. v. cap. 6] Josephus says, that the things which are related of Sodom are confirmed by ocular inspection, there being still visible relics of the fire sent from Heaven, and the shadows of the five cities. [Jos. deBell. Jud. Lib. iv. cap, 8]  In the book of Wisdom (10th chapter and 7th verse) it is said of the inhabitants of Sodom, that the waste land which yet smoketh, and the plants bearing fruit that never come to ripeness, bear testimony to their wickedness.

But it is most to my present purpose to give you an account of the notice which, in the verse before my text, the Deity is represented as giving to Abraham of his intention to destroy Sodom, and the intercession which Abraham is represented as making for Sodom. In the 17th verse, Jehovah is described as saying, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing whisk which I do? seeing that in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; and I know him that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment. In the 22d verse we are told that Abraham drew near and said, Wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous persons within the city: Wilt thou not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?And Jehovah said, If I find in Sodom, fifty righteous, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak to the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: Wilt thou destroy all the city for the lack of five?And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.And Abraham spoke yet again and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there.And the Lord said, I will not destroy it for the sake of forty.And Abraham said again, O let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Peradventure there shall be thirty found there.And the Lord said, I will not destroy it if I find thirty there.And Abraham said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord. Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.And Abraham said, O let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once. . . Peradventure ten shall be found there. And the Lord said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

Such is the account in this chapter. I suppose there is no occasion for telling you, that it is not to be understood, that there was on this occasion exactly such a dialogue as this between Abraham and the Governor of the World. It is, I apprehend, a kind of parabolical representation, contrived to impress our minds, and to convey, after the manner of the oriental nations in ancient times, a more distinct and forcible instruction. Indeed, the whole account in this and the next chapter of the appearance of Jehovah to Abraham, of Abraham’s intercession, of Jehovah’s replies, of his promise to spare Sodom had there been found in it but ten righteous persons, and of the extraordinary care which was taken, by the interposition of heavenly messengers, to provide for the deliverance of righteous Lot; I say, this whole account is adapted, with the most striking propriety and energy, to convey to our minds some of the most useful and important lessons. It is, without doubt, founded on real facts, the manner only of telling these facts being to be considered as disguised and veiled by a mixture of allegory. Nor should we at all wonder at such a manner of relating facts, did we know how the ancients wrote history, or by what methods the memory of important events was preserved and transmitted from one generation to another before the invention of letters.

The remarks I have now made mould be attended to in reading many of the other accounts in this book of Genesis; and particularly those of the Creation, the Fall, and the Deluge.—But waving all observations of this kind, I would take occasion from the account I have read, to desire you to consider a circumstance in the scripture history which is very remarkable, and which distinguishes it from all other histories; I mean, the tendency which it has to display the justice and spotless holiness of the Deity, as the moral governor of the world. Other histories carry our views no higher than second causes, or the natural means by which events are produced; but this history constantly and uniformly carries our views to the first cause, and leads us to conceive of the providence of God as guiding the course of nature, and of his love of righteousness, and hatred of iniquity, as the springs of all the blessings enjoyed by nations, and of all the calamities which befall them. Thus, in the present instance, we are taught distinctly that the cause of the destruction of Sodom was the anger of the Deity against the inhabitants for their wickedness; and we are further led to form the most lively ideas of this truth, by being acquainted that had there been in it but ten righteous persons it would have been saved. The natural Causes which produced its destruction would, in” this case, either never have existed, or their operations would have been so directed as to suspend or prevent the calamity they produced. Nothing certainly can be more unreasonable, than to conclude that because an event has been brought about by natural means, therefore the hand of God has not been in it; or that, because we can trace the blessings and the sufferings of beings to certain powers, which are their immediate causes, therefore they can be under no direction from the moral government of the first and supreme cause, A little philosophy may incline a person to this conclusion; but a deep insight into philosophy, and’ an enlarged view of the laws and constitution of nature, will convince us of the contrary. Irreligion and atheism must be derived from miserable inattention and ignorance. True knowledge will necessarily make us devout, and force us to acknowledge that God is the cause of all causes, that his power is the source of all efficacy in nature, and his righteous providence the guide of all that happens.

But to return to the remark which occasioned these observations.—The Scriptures, I have said, direct us to conceive of God’s love of righteousness and aversion to wickedness, as the principles which influence him in determining the fates of kingdoms. He regards communities with particular favor, on account of the number of virtuous persons in them; and he gives them up to Calamity, only when this number is so inconsiderable as not to afford a sufficient reason for saving them. In such circumstances, or when virtuous men are very scarce among a people, they become, as this history teaches us, a devoted people, and they fall a prey to dreadful calamities and judgments.

But we are farther taught by this history, that when a people for their iniquities are visited with judgments, particular care will be taken of such righteous persons as may be left among them. This care will be different in different circumstances; but it will be always, such as will produce an infinite difference between them and the wicked part of a community. Sometimes it may extend so far as even to provide for their temporal security and happiness. When the country, to which they belong, comes to be devoted, they may perhaps be conducted by the hand of Providence to a region of peace and safety, where they shall escape the general desolation. Such was the privilege granted to Lot and his family. He was taken from Sodom, lest he should be consumed in its iniquity. Gen. 19, 15. And it is remarkable, that the messengers of Divine vengeance are represented as so anxious about his safety, that when he lingered, they laid hold of his hand and pulled him away, saying, as we read in the 5th verse, they could, do nothing till he was safe. How high an idea does this give us of God’s care of virtuous men in a time of public calamity? In merciful condescension to our low conceptions, he is described as not having power to destroy this wicked country while there remained in it one virtuous man.

But there is a circumstance in this account still more remarkable. The place to which Lot was allowed to fly was a little town in the plain of Sodom, afterward called Zoar, which was itself one of the five devoted cities, but is represented as spared on purpose to provide an asylum for Lot. His virtue could not weigh so much, or avail so far, as to save the country but, at the same time, such was the regard paid to it, that for the sake of it, a part of the country was preserved and given to Lot as a reward for his probity and piety in the midst of prevailing wickedness. As soon (we read) as he was safe lodged in this little city, the desolating tempest began, and all the country was swallowed up. Gen. 19th and 23d. When Lot entered into Zoar, Jehovah rained fire and brimstone from Heaven, and overthrew all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities. So precious is righteousness in the sight of Heaven; and such favorites with the Judge of all the earth are all who practice it. In conformity to the representation on which I am insisting we are led to conceive, that should there (in a time of public calamity) be no distant country provided by Providence, to which the righteous may fly, yet there may be some part of the devoted country itself spared on their account; and, that though their virtue may not avail so far as to prevent or suspend the effects of Divine resentment, yet it may render them less extensive and destructive.

You must, however, remember, that in the common course of things it is not to be expected, that in either of these ways God will manifest his care of the righteous. There may be no distant country to which they can fly, nor may an exemption for their sakes be proper of any part of the country to be destroyed and, therefore, it may be necessary they should remain in it, and share its fate. The present world, we know, the righteous often suffer with the wicked, and indiscriminate distress is permitted. In such circumstances, however, the Deity will still manifest himself a favorer and friend of the virtuous. The loss of worldly blessings will be made up to them by infinitely nobler blessings. Instead of that treasure on earth, which may be taken from them, they shall have a treasure in Heaven, and instead of a temporal, they shall be blest with an eternal deliverance. The distress, in which they may be obliged to share, will be alleviated to them by the reflection on their having done their part to save their country; by the unspeakable satisfaction attending the consciousness of their own integrity; by communications of grace and support to their souls; by a sense of God’s love to them; and the assured hope of an interest in his favor, and of a place under a government of perfect virtue and peace in the Heavens. These are springs of relief and felicity, which no calamities can destroy. They will communicate sweetness to the bitterest draughts and render distress an occasion of joy and triumph. The worst that any calamity can do to a good man, is to take from him that which he does not value. His proper happiness is always secure; and the enemy that tears him from this life removes him to a better. There full amends will be made to him for all those sufferings in which he may be involved by his connections with wicked men in the present state. It is, indeed, in the other world only that a perfect discrimination will be made between men, according to their different moral characters. It is there only that the wicked will cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest; the righteous receive an adequate reward, and the wicked an adequate punishment. Let us, amidst the shocking scenes to which we are witnesses in this world, keep our eyes fixed on that awful state of universal retribution; and never forget the period when (according to the assurance of our Savior) the wicked shall be severed from the just, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father.

These reflections may help to give you an idea of the importance of righteous men in a kingdom, and of the favor that will be shown them. It is to them that states owe their preservation. It is on them that the very being of a society depends; and when they cease or are reduced to a very small number, a nation necessarily sinks into ruin. But when this happens, and the Supreme Governor visits a nation with judgments, his providence watches over them, and we may consider him as saying to them in the words of Isaiah, 26th chapter and 20th verse, Come ye into your chambers, and shut your doors. Hide yourselves for a little moment, till the indignation be overpast; for behold I come out of my place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. Or we may apply to good men in such circumstances the words in the 91st Psalm, thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flieth by day. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold the reward of the wicked. Because thou haft made the Lord thy refuge, there shall no evil befall thee. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and shew him my salvation.Behold, says the prophet Malachi, the day cometh that shall burn, as an oven, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble, the day cometh which shall burn them up, faith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings. Mal. 4; 1, 2.

I cannot close these remarks without observing, that the striking lesson on which I am insisting, is farther taught us in a very extraordinary manner, by the account given us in this book of Genesis of the universal deluge. There are undoubted proofs that such a calamity has happened. The whole face of nature, as well as universal tradition, bear witness to it. The history in Genesis represents it as an effect of God’s justice, or a judgment inflicted by him on mankind for their wickedness. All flesh (it tells us) was become corrupt, and the whole earth was filled with violence, insomuch that only Noah and his family were found righteous. Of this small remnant the Deity is represented as taking particular care, by forewarning them of the calamity, and directing an ark to be built for their preservation. Gen. 7:1. And the Lord said unto Noah, come thou and all thy house into the ark, for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Thus was a whole world destroyed for the wickedness of its inhabitants, except one virtuous family, which was preserved in an ark, and selected from the rest of mankind to be the founders of a new race.

The warning and admonitions, which such accounts give, should engage us to love and to seek righteousness above all things. When we consider what it is, we cannot wonder that it stands so high in the estimation of the Deity. It is his image in our souls. It is the foundation of all honor and dignity. It is the order by which the universe subsists. God, therefore, must delight in those who practice it, and we may with reason expect that his favor will extend itself to their connections; and that, on their account, .their families, their friends, and their country will be blest. I have been showing you that the Sacred History strongly inculcates this upon us. God will pardon a guilty nation for the sake of the righteous in it, if they are not too few. So we read in Jer. v. i. Run ye through the streets of Jerusalem, and see in the broad places thereof if you can find any one who executeth judgment, and seeketh the truth, and I will pardon Jerusalem. I can scarcely set before you a properer motive to the practice of virtue. If you are virtuous, you may save your country, by engaging God’s favor to it. Do you then love your country? Have you any desire to be the means of preserving and blessing it? If you have, do all you can to increase the number of the virtuous in it; or, should you despair of success in this, resolve at least that you will unite yourselves to that number. Thus will you be your country’s best friends; make yourselves powerful intercessors with the Deity for it, and stand in the gap between it and calamity. But should wickedness become so prevalent as to render calamity necessary, though, in this case, your country must suffer, yet care will be taken of you. Perhaps, you may be directed to some means of escaping from the common ruin; and a Zoar, or an Ark, may be provided for you, from whence you may view the storm, and find yourselves safe. Methinks, the friends of truth and virtue may now look across the Atlantic, and entertain some such hope. But should there be no resource of this kind left, the righteous will at least find resources of infinite value in their own minds; in the testimony of a good conscience; in the consolations of Divine grace; and the prospect of that country where they shall possess an undefiled and incorruptible inheritance.

My inclinations would lead me to address you some time longer in this way. But I must hasten to some observations of a different kind. My principal design on this occasion was to set before you the chief particulars in the characters of those righteous men who are a blessing to their country; and to point out to you the necessary dependence of the salvation of a country on such characters. I shall now desire your attention to what I shall say on these heads.

With respect to the character of those righteous men, who are likely to save a country, I would observe, First, that they love their country and are zealous for its rights. They obey the laws of the legislature that protects them, contribute cheerfully to its support, and are solicitous, while they give to God the things that are God’s, to give also to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,. They are, therefore, loyal subjects. That is, they do all they can to promote the good order of the state by complying with its laws, and bearing a constant and inviolable allegiance to it. This alone is genuine loyalty; and not any attachment to the persons of princes, arising from a notion of their sacredness. There cannot be any notion more stupid or debasing. The people are the fountain of all civil jurisdiction, and theirs is the true majesty in a state. There is no individual, who, as a member of any community, is more sacred than another, except as far as he is invested with the authority of the community, and employed in executing its will. Civil governors are, in the intention of nature and reason, the servants (2) of the public; and whenever, forgetting this, they imagine they possess inherent rights of dominion, and attempt to establish their own authority, and to govern by their own will, they become dangerous enemies; and all that is valuable to a state requires they should be opposed. The righteous citizen, therefore, whose character I am describing, at the same time that he is loyal, can have no notion of passive obedience and non-resistance. His duty obliges him to enquire into his rights, and to be jealous of them; to attend to the manner in which the trust of government is discharged; and to do his part towards keeping the springs of legislation pure, and checking the progress of oppression. Thus only can he prove himself a worthy and useful citizen (3). It is a sad mistake to think that private men have nothing to do with the administration of public affairs; that there are mysteries in civil government of which they are not judges; and that, instead of ever complaining, it is their duty always to yield and follow. This is the same with saying that in every community the body of the people are only a herd of cattle, made to be led and disposed of as their owners please. Had such a vile principle been always acted upon, there would now have been no such thing as a free government upon earth, and every human right would have been overwhelmed under an universal and savage despotism.—It is thus, that in Religion, a set of holy usurpers have pretended that there are mysteries in religion of which the people are not judges, and into which they mould not enquire and that, for this reason, they ought to resign to them the direction of their faith and consciences. It would be a disgrace to virtue to suppose that it requires an acquiescence in such insolent claims; or that it is a part of the character of a righteous man that he is always ready to crouch to every tyrant, and never exercises his own judgment, or shows any sense of his own dignity as a rational creature and a freeman. Away with all such degrading and miserable sentiments. Let us remember that we are men and not cattle; that the sovereignty in every country belongs to the people; and that a righteous man is the best member of every community, and the best friend to his species, by being the most irreconcilable to slavery, the most sensible to every encroachment on the rights of mankind, the most zealous for equal and universal liberty, and the most active in endeavoring to propagate just sentiments of religion and government. In short, a virtuous man must be a firm and determined patriot. Power cannot awe him. Money cannot bribe him. He scruples no labor or expense in supporting any necessary measures of government; but at the same time he will resist any oppressive measures. If he is an elector, he is sure to give an uninfluenced and honest vote. If he is a magistrate, he is strictly just and impartial, a terror to evil doers, and a praise to all who do well. If he is a senator, he is uncorrupt and faithful. In every station he studies to promote the peace and prosperity of his country. He possesses integrity to assist in directing its councils, and courage to defend its honor and to fight its battles against all enemies.

Such is a righteous man in his public capacity, or as a member of a state. I must go on to observe that in his private capacity he practices every private and social virtue. He is industrious in his calling, upright in his dealings, and true to his engagements. He is a good husband, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good friend, as well as a good citizen. Within the circle of his family and acquaintance, he maintains the same regard to equity and liberty, that he does in the more extended circle of his fellow subjects and fellow men. He renders to all their dues, honor to whom honor, custom to whom custom, and always acts to others as he desires that others would act to him. He is charitable and generous, as far as his abilities reach; but he avoids all parade and ostentation; and fixes his expenses below his income, that he may enjoy that happy independence which will place him above temptation. In every transaction of commerce, his fairness may be depended on. In the execution of every trust he is exact and faithful. He shuns all the excesses of pleasure and voluptuousness, never suffers his passions to carry him beyond the bounds of chastity and temperance, and within the enclosure of his own breast, where only one eye observes him, he is as just, and fair, and candid, as he appears to be on the open stage of the world.

Once more, He is conscientious and diligent in the discharge of all the duties of religion. This is the crowning part of his character. It is religion that gives dignity and efficacy to all our moral and public principles; nor is it possible there should be a consistent character of virtue without it. A virtuous man, therefore, must be a religious man. He worships God in private, in his family, and in public. He is governed in his whole conduct by a regard to the Deity; looks to him in all that happens; and joins constantly with his fellow-creatures in those social exercises of piety, which are the proper expressions of the homage and fealty which he owes to him as the Supreme Governor and Judge.

I will on this subject only add that the three particulars I have named are inseparable in a righteous character. Public virtue cannot subsist without private; nor can public and private virtue subsist without religion. As a truly virtuous and religious man must be a patriot, so a true patriot must be a virtuous and religious man. The obligations of righteousness are the same in all their branches, and a righteous man cannot violate them habitually in any instance Is it likely, that a man who is false to private engagements, will not be also false to public ones; or that a man, who, in his family is a tyrant, will not be likewise a tyrant as a magistrate? Is it likely that a man, who has given up to his passions his internal liberty, should be a true friend to liberty; or that a man, who will cheat his tradesmen or betray his friends, will not give a wicked vote, and betray his country? Can you imagine that a spendthrift in his own concerns will make an economist in managing the concerns of others; that a wild gamester will take due care of the stake of a kingdom; or that an unprincipled debauchee will make an upright judge or a sound statesman? Can a man who shows no regard to God his Maker, or to Christ his Savior; who is such an enemy to society as to neglect countenancing, by his example, those forms of worship on which the order of society depends; and so void of the fundamental principles of goodness, as to be capable of being habitually atheistical in his conduct: Can, I say, such a person possess any great regard for the interests of society?—Let us reject all such absurd imaginations. Treachery, venality and villainy must be the effects of dissipation, voluptuousness and impiety. These vices sap the foundations of virtue (4). They render men necessitous and supple, and ready at any time to sacrifice their consciences, or to fly to a court, in order to repair a mattered fortune, and procure supplies for prodigality. Let us remember these truths in judging of men. Let us consider that true goodness is uniform and consistent; and learn never to place any great confidence in those pretenders to public spirit, who are not men of virtuous characters. They may boast of their attachment to a public cause, but they want the living root of persevering virtue, and should not be depended on.

Having given you this account of righteous men, I am next to take notice of the causes which produce that dependence, intimated in my text, of the fate of a country on such men. This dependence is derived, first, from the natures of things. Such men are the health and vigor of a state. They are the order that preserve it from anarchy, and the vital springs which give it life and motion. When they are withdrawn, a nation as necessarily falls into ruin as a building falls when its pillars are destroyed, or as an animal body putrefies when the fluids stagnate, and the animal functions cease to be performed.—There is a distant country, once united to us, where every inhabitant has in his house (as a part of his furniture) a book on law and government [the Bible], to enable him to understand his civil rights; a musket to enable him to defend these rights; and a Bible to enable him to understand and practice his religion.—What can hurt such a country?—We have invaded, and for some time have been endeavoring to subdue this country. Is it any wonder that we have not succeeded? How secure must it be, while it preserves its virtue, against all attacks?

But Secondly; the dependence of states on the virtuous men in it is not only thus derived from the necessary course and operations of causes and effects, but from the positive will of the Deity. There is an invisible and almighty power which over-rules the operations of natural causes, and presides over all events. This power is a righteous power, and it must be friendly to the righteous; and therefore, will direct events for the advantage of the country where they reside. In consequence of the particular favor of God to them, and his delight in them, they stay his hand when lifted up to scourge a nation and we may consider him as saying, in the words already quoted, Gen. 19: 22, I cannot do anything till you are gone.

I am in danger of being too tedious on this subject. Nothing now remains but that I conclude with briefly applying the whole to the present state of this country.

On this occasion, I feel myself much at a loss how to address you, not knowing whether I should do it in the way of encouragement or despair. When I think of this congregation; when I recollect the many worthy persons among my acquaintance and friends; and consider what multitudes more there must be that I can never know, and in situations where perhaps I should not expect to find them—when I make only such reflections, I feel comfort, and am disposed to conclude, that all may be well, and that the number of the virtuous among us is still considerable enough to save us.

But when I extend my views, and look abroad into the world; when I consider the accounts I am often hearing of the court, the camp, and the senate, and the profligacy [shamelessly immoral or debauched] that prevails almost everywhere; I fall back into diffidence [meekness, humility], and am ready to believe there is no room for hope. . There are, it is true, among all our parties, political and religious, many excellent characters still left; but the comfort they give me is damped by the following considerations.

First; They are a smaller number than they were. Public and private virtue has been for some time declining. Never, perhaps, was there a time when men showed so little regard to decency in their vices, or were so shameless in their venality and debaucheries. When men are wanted for the business of any department of the state, do you ever find that only honest men are sought for; or that it is, on such an occasion, any objecting to a man that he scoffs at religion, or that he is known to be a drunkard, a gamester, an adulterer, or an atheist? What vacancies would be made in public offices, were all but men of pure manners and independent integrity taken from them?

As to Religion, nothing is plainer than that it was never at so low an ebb, Even among Protestant Non-conformists, the places of worship are almost deserted. In this great metropolis, several of our best congregations have sunk to nothing. Many are sinking, and few flourish. Our religious zeal is dying; and the most valuable part of the dissenting interest is likely soon to be ground to death between enthusiasm on the one hand, and luxury and fashion on the other.

But Secondly; Another discouraging circumstance in our present state is, that a considerable part of the righteous themselves, or of that description of men to whom we must look for the salvation of the kingdom, are only nominally righteous. They are a smaller number than they were; and of this number many are false and hollow. Nothing, indeed, is more discouraging, than to find that a man has been secretly wicked, who, for many years, has carried with him every appearance of the strictest probity and piety. We are all of us often making discoveries of this kind; and they have a tendency to destroy in us all confidence in our fellow-creatures. Take away from the honest men all that are dishonest, and from the religious men all the hypocrites, and what a melancholy reduction will be made of a party, which, without such a reduction, would be too small?—Among the persons to whom it is natural for us to look for the defense of our country, are those in high life, and among our senators, who have taken up the cry of public liberty and virtue, and oppose the oppressions of power. They seem, indeed,, a glorious band; and it is impossible not to admire their zeal. But alas! How often have we been duped by their professions? How often has their zeal proved to be nothing but a cover for ambition, and a struggle for places? How many instances have there been of their forgetting all their declarations, as soon as they have got into power? How often do you hear of their extravagance and immoralities? I have more than once, in the preceding discourse, spoken of Patriotism. I have mentioned it as one of the first and best qualities of a righteous man. But I have done this with pain, on account of the disgrace into which, what is so called has fallen. Patriotism, like Religion, is an excellent thing. But true Patriotism, like true Religion, is a scarce thing. In the State, as well as in the Church, there are , abominable impostors, who have blasted the credit of these divine excellencies to such a degree, that they cannot be mentioned as parts of a good character without an apology. Is it possible there should be a worse symptom in the state of a kingdom?—How mortifying is it to find the nation’s best friends falling so short as they do of our wishes? What measures for restoring a dying constitution? What reformation of abuses, what public points do they hold forth to us, and pledge themselves to accomplish? How little does it signify who are in, or who are out of power, if the constitution continues to bleed, and that system of corruption is not destroyed, which has been for some time destroying the kingdom? In short, where will you find the disinterested patriots, who are ready, in this time of distress, to serve their country for nothing?(5) Where will you find the honest statesmen, who are above making use of undue influence, and will trust for support to the rectitude of their measures; the virtuous electors or representatives, who fear an oath and have no price; or the professors of religion, who cannot be induced to do anything mean or base?—I wish not to be mistaken. I am far from meaning that none such can be found. I have acknowledged (and it is all my encouragement) that such may, be found among (6) all our parties. I only mean to intimate a doubt whether they are not blended with so many hypocrites, and decreased so much in number, as now no longer to make a body of men very discernible, and of sufficient consequence to save us. Would to God there was no reason for entertaining this doubt.

Perhaps we are, in general, too much disposed always to think the present times the worst. I am, probably, myself under the influence of this disposition; but, after studying to be upon my guard against it, I find myself incapable of believing that miserable declensions have not taken place among us.

As an evidence of this, and a farther alarming circumstance in the state of the nation, I would mention to you that levity and dissipation, and rage for pernicious diversions, which prevail among us. Not long ago play-houses were confined to London. But now there is scarcely a considerable town in the kingdom without them. In manufacturing towns they produce very bad effects; and yet there are not many of these towns where they are not established. Think here, particularly, of those scenes of lewdness and intemperance, our masquerades. These are late improvements in our public pleasures; but I question whether in Sodom itself anything much worse could have been found. We answer, indeed, too nearly to the account given by our Savior of this city before its destruction. They eat and drank. ‘They married and were given in marriage. They bought and sold, and planted and builded. That is, they enjoyed themselves in ease and mirth. They gave themselves up to sensuality and criminal indulgences, without thinking of any danger. But the same day that Lot went out, it rained fire and brimstone from Heaven and destroyed them all. Luke 17: 28. “With similar gaiety and security do we now give ourselves up to intrigue and dissipation in the midst of danger. Heaven is angry with us, and our existence is threatened; but it seems to give us no concern. In the course of a few years we have been reduced from the highest pinnacle of glory to the brink of ruin. A third of the empire is lost; and at the same time we see powerful enemies combining against us, our commerce languishing, and our debts and taxes, already insupportable, increasing fast, and likely soon to crush us. Not long ago, this would have produced an alarm which nothing could have quieted. In the last war, particularly, I remember that only the loss of Minorca threw the kingdom into a commotion, which cost an admiral his life, and produced a change of measures. But now, though in a condition unspeakably worse, the kingdom is insensible. We fly to feasts and amusements, and dance the round, of pleasure. The same measures go on. The same ministers direct these measures and sometimes we hear of new emoluments conferred upon them, just as if, instead of having brought us into imminent danger, they had saved us. One would have thought it impossible, that the stupefaction of luxury and vice could have proceeded so far in so short a period. But such torpors, like mortifications before death, have been the common forerunners of calamity. Seldom has it happened, when debauchery and extravagance and a pompous manner of living have come to their height, that they have not been followed by a sudden transition to slavery and misery.

I shall mention to you but one circumstance more that checks my hopes. I mean the fact just alluded to, or the uniform effect of all our public measures for the last four or five years. This is so remarkable, as naturally to dispose us to conclude that we are indeed forsaken by Heaven. Nothing has prospered. Several opportunities for getting back to security and peace have been neglected. Offers of reconciliation, which once would have been joyfully accepted, have been made too late. Every step has plunged us deeper into difficulties; so that now we see a quarrel about tea, which lenity and wisdom might have accommodated immediately, increased into a war more destructive than any in which this country has been ever engaged. Must we not in this see the hand of Providence? Does it not give us reason to fear that God, having no intentions of mercy towards us, ‘has infatuated our councils?—Will you give me leave to mention one particular, proof of this observation?

At the time the alliance with France was notified, it seems to me that an opening was left, by which we might have got back to safety and peace. The alliance was commercial and not exclusive;(7)  We might have consented to it, and determined to withdraw our forces from the colonies. Our situation was such as rendered this necessary; and, in consequence of it, we might in time have recovered their confidence, and secured, by a family compact, every advantage that could be derived from a connection with them. But we had not fortitude enough to consider properly our situation; nor wisdom and magnanimity enough to conform to it. National safety was forced to give way to national dignity. Hostilities against France were begun immediately. And now, with our strength spent, and public credit tottering, we seem to be just entering into a war with the combined powers of France, Spain, and America.

This is, indeed, a prospect so frightful, that I must turn my attention from it. Never did so dark a cloud hang over this nation. May Heaven avert the storm; or, if it must break, may its fury be mitigated, and the issue directed to the general advantage of the interest of truth, liberty and virtue. But, whatever happens, may you and I be found of the number of those righteous persons who have acted the part of faithful citizens, and with whom all shall go well for ever.




(1)  That is, the lake of brimstone. The name of the Dead Sea has been given it from the immoveable stillness of its waters, produced by the bituminous and unctuous matter mixed with it, and floating upon it. Diodorus Siculus, (Lib. 10th, chap. 6.) in describing this lake, says, that though several rivers of sweet water empty themselves into it, the water of it is so bitter and stinking, that no fish can live in it; that great pieces of brimstone frequently rise from the bottom of it, and rest upon its surface like islands; and that the air on its coasts is so hot and infected by sulphureous steams, that the inhabitants are very unhealthy and short-lived. Tacitus calls it, lacus immense ambit u, specie marts, sapore corruptior, gravitate odoris accolis pestifer, Nejue venta mpellitur, neque piscet patitur,

(2) King James the First, in his first speech to his parliament, declared, that he “should never be ashamed to confess it his principal honor to be the Great Servant of the commonwealth.” But in the very same speech, he calls his people his Natural Vassals. It is, therefore, plain, he made this declaration from the same affected humility, or rather insolence, which has led the Pope to give himself the title of Servant of Servants.

(3) It is common to assert that resistance can be justified only in cases of extreme oppression. Mankind, in consequence of indolence and want of union, have generally acted agreeably to this principle; but it has lost the world its liberty. It implies, that resistance ought to be avoided, while oppression is growing, and till it becomes too late to resist successfully without setting every thing afloat, and producing dreadful convulsions. The truth is, that oppression cannot be resisted too soon; and that all the tendencies to it ought to be watched. Had this been always done, tyranny would have been crushed in its birth; and mankind would have been always happy. If an equal and virtuous representation of the people of a state makes an essential part of its legislature, this may be done easily, and every grievance may be redressed, as soon as it appears, without disturbance or tumult; and this forms one of the distinguishing excellencies of such a constitution of government as ours. But if through a general degeneracy, the representation becomes partial and corrupt, a despotism may arise from such a form of government, which will be the very worst possible, and under which no hope may be left, except from a calamity that shall destroy the means of corruption, and awaken to repentance.

Mr. Linguet, in a letter to Voltaire, says of the people, that they are condemned to have only hands, and that mischief arises, and all is lost, the moment they are put upon thinking, Voltaire observes in reply, that, on the contrary, all is lost when they are treated like a herd of bulls; for, in this case, they will use their horns, and sooner or later gore their owners to death. See Letter 8th and 9th in the collection of Mr, de Voltaire’s original letters.—Certain it is, indeed, that much greater evils are to be dreaded from the fury of a people, ignorant and blind, than from the resistance and jealousy of a people inquisitive and enlightened,

(4) Some of the expressions in this passage, and a few others in the latter part of this discourse, may perhaps be too strong. But I am not at liberty to suppress them. Every candid person must see that my views are general; and, should any one imagine the contrary, he will greatly injure me.

(5) One such the nation has lately heard of with admiration. I believe I am happy enough to know some more; and though their services may not be called for, God will recompense them

(6) In this I differ extremely from the learned and worthy and very liberal Bishop of Exeter, who (in a sermon preached on the 30th of January last, before the Lords spiritual and temporal) calls the great men who for some time have been opposing measures which have brought the kingdom near its last struggles, a desperate and daring faction. It is probable, therefore, that he thinks no good men can be found among them. This, at least, must be the opinion of the Archbishop of York, who, in a noted sermon, has called them a body of men, who are held together by the same bond that keeps together the “lowest and wickedest combinations” that is, “rogues and thieves,” as this censure was expressed in the pulpit. I have in this discourse been a little free in delivering censures; but had I delivered any such censures as these, I should have thought myself inexcusable.

(7) It was to become what it now is (offensive and defensive) Only in the event of its being resisted by this country.

What Measures are actually taken by wicked and desperate Ministers to ruin and enslave their Country

Thomas Paine quote Politicians

NOTE: My comments in brackets […] and italics.

Cato Letters No. 17: Saturday, February 18, 1721; What Measures are actually taken by wicked and desperate Ministers to ruin and enslave their Country. by John Trenchard


As under the best princes, and the best servants to princes alone, it is safe to speak what is true of the worst; so, according to my former promise to the public, I shall take the advantage of our excellent King’s most gentle government, and the virtuous administration of an uncorrupt ministry, to warn mankind against the mischiefs which may hereafter be dreaded from corrupt ones. It is too true, that every country in the world has sometimes groaned under that heavy misfortune, and our own as much as any; though I cannot allow it to be true, what Monsieur de Witt has long since observed, that the English court has always been the most thievish court in Europe.

Few men have been desperate enough to attack openly, and barefaced, the liberties of a free people. Such avowed conspirators can rarely succeed: The attempt would destroy itself. Even when the enterprise is begun and visible, the end must be hid, or denied. It is the business and policy of traitors, so to disguise their treason with plausible names, and so to recommend it with popular and bewitching colors, that they themselves shall be adored, while their work is detested, and yet carried on by those that detest it.

Thus one nation has been surrendered to another under the fair name of mutual alliance: The fortresses of a nation have been given up, or attempted to be given up, under the frugal notion of saving charges to a nation; and commonwealths have been trepanned into slavery, by troops raised or increased to defend them from slavery.

It may therefore be of service to the world, to shew what measures have been taken by corrupt ministers, in some of our neighboring countries, to ruin and enslave the people over whom they presided; to shew by what steps and gradations of mischief nations have been undone, and consequently what methods may be hereafter taken to undo others: And this subject I rather choose, because my countrymen may be the more sensible of, and know how to value the inestimable blessing of living under the best prince, and the best established government in the universe, where we have none of these things to fear.

Such traitors will probably endeavor first to get their prince [the majority of the people] into their possession, and, like Sejanus, shut him up in a little island, or perhaps make him a prisoner in his court; whilst, with full range, they devour his dominions, and plunder his subjects. When he is thus secluded from the access of his friends, and the knowledge of his affairs, he must be content with such misrepresentations as they shall find expedient to give him. False cases will be stated, to justify wicked counsel; wicked counsel will be given, to procure unjust orders. He [The people] will be made to mistake his foes for his friends, his friends for his foes; and to believe that his their affairs are in the highest prosperity, when they are in the greatest distress; and that public matters go on in the greatest harmony, when they are in the utmost confusion.

They will be ever contriving and forming wicked and dangerous projects, to make the people poor, and themselves rich; well knowing that dominion follows property; that where there are wealth and power, there will be always crowds of servile dependents; and that, on the contrary, poverty dejects the mind, fashions it to slavery, and renders it unequal to any generous undertaking, and incapable of opposing any bold usurpation. They will squander away the public money in wanton presents to minions, and their creatures of pleasure or of burden, or in pensions to mercenary and worthless men and women, for vile ends and traitorous purposes. [They are doing this today with the National Debt]

They will engage their country in ridiculous, expensive, fantastical wars, to keep the minds of men in continual hurry and agitation, and under constant fears and alarms; and, by such means, deprive them both of leisure and inclination to look into public miscarriages. Men, on the contrary, will, instead of such inspection, be disposed to fall into all measures offered, seemingly, for their defence, and will agree to every wild demand made by those who are betraying them. [They do not only do this with wars these days; they use all manner of manufactured crisis also]

When they have served their ends by such wars, or have other motives to make peace, they will have no view to the public interest; but will often, to procure such peace, deliver up the strong-holds of their country, or its colonies for trade, to open enemies, suspected friends, or dangerous neighbors, that they may not be interrupted in their domestic designs. [We see all this also happening today]

They will create parties in the commonwealth, or keep them up where they already are; and, by playing them by turns upon each other, will rule both. By making the Guelfs afraid of the Ghibelines, and these afraid of the Guelfs, they will make themselves the mediums and balance between the two factions; and both factions, in their turns, the props of their authority, and the instruments of their designs. [This is talking about class warfare, racial divisions, i.e. strife among the people against each other]

They will not suffer any men, who have once tasted of authority, though personally their enemies, and whose posts they enjoy, to be called to an account for past crimes, though ever so enormous. They will make no such precedents for their own punishment; nor censure treason, which they intend to commit. On the contrary, they will form new conspiracies, and invent new fences for their own impunity and protection; and endeavor to engage such numbers in their guilt, as to set themselves above all fear of punishment. [Benghazi, DOJ, NSA, IRS, AP, James Rosen; Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, IRS Commissioners, Lois Lerner. This is all happening today]

They will prefer worthless and wicked men, and not suffer a man of knowledge or honesty to come near them, or enjoy a post under them. They will disgrace men of virtue, and ridicule virtue itself, and laugh at public spirit. They will put men into employments, without any regard to the qualifications for those employments, or indeed to any qualifications at all, but as they contribute to their designs, and shew a stupid alacrity to do what they are bid. They must be either fools or beggars; either void of capacity to discover their intrigues, or of credit and inclination to disappoint them. [We see this happening with the political leadership against the members of the Tea Party]

They will promote luxury, idleness, and expense, and a general deprivation of manners, by their own example, as well as by connivance [immoral or illegal act] and public encouragement. This will not only divert men’s thoughts from examining their behavior and politics, but likewise let them loose from all the restraints of private and public virtue. From immorality and excesses they will fall into necessity; and from thence into a servile dependence upon power.

In order to this, they will bring into fashion gaming, drunkenness, gluttony, and profuse and costly dress. They will debauch their country with foreign vices, and foreign instruments of vicious pleasures; and will contrive and encourage public revels, nightly disguises, and debauched mummeries [mummeries i.e. A pretentious or hypocritical show or ceremony.]

They will, by all practicable means of oppression, provoke the people to disaffection [hate, anger]; and then make that disaffection an argument for new oppression, for not trusting them any further, and for keeping up troops; and, in fine, for depriving them of liberties and privileges, to which they are entitled by their birth, and the laws of their country.

If such measures should ever be taken in any free country, where the people choose deputies to represent them, then they will endeavor to bribe the electors in the choice of their representatives, and so to get a council of their own creatures; and where they cannot succeed with the electors, they will endeavor to corrupt the deputies after they are chosen, with the money given for the public defence; and to draw into the perpetration of their crimes those very men, from whom the betrayed people expect the redress of their grievances, and the punishment of those crimes. And when they have thus made the representatives of the people afraid of the people, and the people afraid of their representatives; then they will endeavor to persuade those deputies to seize the government to themselves, and not to trust their principals any longer with the power of resenting their treachery and ill-usage, and of sending honester and wiser men in their room.

But if the constitution should be so stubbornly framed, that it will still preserve itself and the people’s liberties, in spite of all villainous contrivances [a thing that is created skillfully and inventively to serve a particular purpose] to destroy both; then must the constitution itself be attacked and broken, because it will not bend. There must be an endeavor, under some pretense of public good, to alter a balance of the government, and to get it into the sole power of their creatures, and of such who will have constantly an interest distinct from that of the body of the people. [We see Obama and the Democrat party doing this, in trying to get the majority back in the House of Representatives like they had in the first two years of his presidency, when they forced Obamacare on US]

But if all these schemes for the ruin of the public, and their own impunity, should fail them; and the worthy patriots of a free country should prove obstinate in defence of their country, and resolve to call its betrayers to a strict account; there is then but one thing left for such traitors to do; namely, to veer about, and, by joining with the [United Nations] enemy of their prince [the people] and country, complete their treason.

I have somewhere read of a favorite and first minister to a neighboring prince, long since dead, who played his part so well, that, though he had, by his evil counsels, raised a rebellion, and a contest for the crown; yet he preserved himself a resource, whoever got the better: If his old master succeeded, then this Achitophel, by the help of a baffled rebellion, ever favorable to princes, had the glory of fixing his master in absolute power: But, as his brave rival got the day, Achitophel had the merit of betraying his old master to plead; and was accordingly taken into favor.

Happy therefore, thrice happy, are we, who can be unconcerned spectators of the miseries which the greatest part of Europe is reduced to suffer, having lost their liberties by the intrigues and wickedness of those whom they trusted; whilst we continue in full enjoyment of ours, and can be in no danger of losing them, while we have so excellent a King, assisted and obeyed by so wise a Parliament.

T. I am, &c.

Freedom of Speech the Same is Inseparable From Public Liberty: Cato Letter No. 15


Cato Letter No. 15, Saturday, February 4, 1721: Freedom of Speech: That the same is inseparable from public Liberty; by Thomas Gordon


Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech: Which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.

This sacred privilege is so essential to free government, that the security of property; and the freedom of speech, always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the freedom of speech; a thing terrible to public traitors.

This secret was so well known to the court of King Charles I that his wicked ministry procured a proclamation to forbid the people to talk of Parliaments, which those traitors had laid aside. To assert the undoubted right of the subject, and defend his Majesty’s legal prerogative, was called disaffection, and punished as sedition. Nay, people were forbid to talk of religion in their families: For the priests had combined with the ministers to cook up tyranny, and suppress truth and the law. While the late King James, when Duke of York, went avowedly to mass; men were fined, imprisoned, and undone, for saying that he was a papist: And, that King Charles II might live more securely a papist, there was an act of Parliament made, declaring it treason to say that he was one.

That men ought to speak well of their governors, is true, while their governors deserve to be well spoken of; but to do public mischief, without hearing of it, is only the prerogative and felicity of tyranny: A free people will be shewing that they are so, by their freedom of speech.

The administration of government is nothing else, but the attendance of the trustees of the people upon the interest and affairs of the people. And as it is the part and business of the people, for whose sake alone all public matters are, or ought to be, transacted, to see whether they be well or ill transacted; so it is the interest, and ought to be the ambition, of all honest magistrates, to have their deeds openly examined, and publicly scanned: Only the wicked governors of men dread what is said of them; Audivit Tiberius probra queis lacerabitur, atque perculsus est. [Tiberius heard the reproaches of those of you whom are to be rent in pieces, and is struck by them] The public censure was true, else he had not felt it bitter.

Freedom of speech is ever the symptom, as well as the effect, of good government. In old Rome, all was left to the judgment and pleasure of the people; who examined the public proceedings with such discretion, and censured those who administered them with such equity and mildness, that in the space of three hundred years, not five public ministers suffered unjustly. Indeed, whenever the commons proceeded to violence, the great ones had been the aggressors.

Guilt only dreads liberty of speech, which drags it out of its lurking holes, and exposes its deformity and horror to day-light. Horatius, Valerius, Cincinnatus, and other virtuous and undesigning magistrates of the Roman commonwealth, had nothing to fear from liberty of speech. Their virtuous administration, the more it was examined, the more it brightened and gained by enquiry. When Valerius, in particular, was accused, upon some slight grounds, of affecting the diadem; he, who was the first minister of Rome, did not accuse the people for examining his conduct, but approved his innocence in a speech to them; he gave such satisfaction to them, and gained such popularity to himself, that they gave him a new name; inde cognomen factum Publicolae est; to denote that he was their favorite and their friend. Latae deinde leges. Ante omnes de provocatione, adversus magistratus ad populum, Livii lib. ii. cap. 8.

The best princes have ever encouraged and promoted freedom of speech; they knew that upright measures would defend themselves, and that all upright men would defend them. Tacitus, speaking of the reigns of some of the princes above-mentioned, says with ecstasy, Rara temporum felicitate, ubi sentire quae velis, & quae sentias dicere liceat: A blessed time, when you might think what you would, and speak what you thought!

The same was the opinion and practice of the wise and virtuous Timoleon, the deliverer of the great city of Syracuse from slavery. He being accused by Demoenetus, a popular orator, in a full assembly of the people, of several misdemeanors committed by him while he was general, gave no other answer, than that he was highly obliged to the gods for granting him a request that he had often made to them; namely, that he might live to see the Syracusians enjoy that liberty of speech which they now seemed to be masters of.

And that great commander, M. Marcellus, who won more battles than any Roman captain of his age, being accused by the Syracusians, while he was now a fourth time consul, of having done them indignities and hostile wrongs, contrary to the League, rose from his seat in the Senate, as soon as the charge against him was opened, and passing (as a private man) into the place where the accused were wont to make their defence, gave free liberty to the Syracusians to impeach him: Which, when they had done, he and they went out of the court together to attend the issue of the cause: Nor did he express the least ill-will or resentment towards these his accusers; but being acquitted, received their city into his protection. Had he been guilty, he would neither have shewn such temper nor courage.

I doubt not but old Spencer and his son, all honest men in England. They dreaded to be called traitors, because they were traitors. And I dare say, Queen Elizabeth’s Walsingham, who deserved no reproaches, feared none. Misrepresentation of public measures is easily overthrown, by representing public measures truly: When they are honest, they ought to be publicly known, that they may be publicly commended; but if they be knavish or pernicious, they ought to be publicly exposed, in order to be publicly detested.

To assert, that King James was a papist and a tyrant, was only so far hurtful to him, as it was true of him; and if the Earl of Strafford had not deserved to be impeached, he need not have feared a bill of attainder. If our directors and their confederates be not such knaves as the world thinks them, let them prove to all the world, that the world thinks wrong, and that they are guilty of none of those villainies which all the world lays to their charge. Others too, who would be thought to have no part of their guilt, must, before they are thought innocent, shew that they did all that was in their power to prevent that guilt, and to check their proceedings.

Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius. Tacitus tells us, that the Roman commonwealth bred great and numerous authors, who writ with equal boldness and eloquence: But when it was enslaved, those great wits were no more. Postquam bellatum apud Actium; atque omnem potestatem ad unum conferri pacis interfuit, magna illa ingenia cessere. Tyranny had usurped the place of equality, which is the soul of liberty, and destroyed public courage. The minds of men, terrified by unjust power, degenerated into all the vileness and methods of servitude: Abject sycophancy and blind submission grew the only means of preferment, and indeed of safety; men durst not open their mouths, but to flatter.

Pliny the Younger observes, that this dread of tyranny had such effect, that the Senate, the great Roman Senate, became at last stupid and dumb: Mutam ac sedentariam assentiendi necessitatem. Hence, says he, our spirit and genius are stupefied, broken, and sunk for ever. And in one of his epistles, speaking of the works of his uncle, he makes an apology for eight of them, as not written with the same vigor which was to be found in the rest; for that these eight were written in the reign of Nero, when the spirit of writing was cramped by fear; Dubii sermonis octo scripset sub Nerone—cum omne studiorum genus paulo liberius & erectius periculosum servitus fecisset.

All ministers, therefore, who were oppressors, or intended to be oppressors, have been loud in their complaints against freedom of speech, and the licence of the press; and always restrained, or endeavored to restrain, both. In consequence of this, they have brow-beaten writers, punished them violently, and against law, and burnt their works. By all which they shewed how much truth alarmed them, and how much they were at enmity with truth.

There is a famous instance of this in Tacitus: He tells us, that Cremutius Cordus, having in his Annals praised Brutus and Cassius, gave offence to Sejanus, first minister, and to some inferior sycophants in the court of Tiberius; who, conscious of their own characters, took the praise bestowed on every worthy Roman, to be so many reproaches pointed at themselves: They therefore complained of the book to the Senate; which, being now only the machine of tyranny, condemned it to be burnt. But this did not prevent its spreading. Libros cremandos censuere patres; sed manserunt occultati & editi: [The books were burned the senate decreed; but they remained hidden and published] Being censured, it was the more sought after. “From hence,” says Tacitus, “we may wonder at the stupidity of those statesmen, who hope to extinguish, by the terror of their power, the memory of their actions; for quite otherwise, the punishment of good writers gains credit to their writings:” Nam contra, punitis ingeniis, gliscit auctoritas. [For on the contrary, the persecution of genius, fosters its influence] Nor did ever any government, who practiced impolitic severity, get any thing by it, but infamy to themselves, and renown to those who suffered under it. This also is an observation of Tacitus: Neque aliud [externi] reges, [aut] qui ea[dem] saevitiae usi sunt, nisi dedecus sibi, atque gloriam illis peperere. [No other of the external kings, or as He who gave them made ​​use of the same brutality, unless he procured infamy for themselves and the glory they won.]

Freedom of speech, therefore, being of such infinite importance to the preservation of liberty, every one who loves liberty ought to encourage freedom of speech. Hence it is that I, living in a country of liberty, and under the best prince upon earth, shall take this very favorable opportunity of serving mankind, by warning them of the hideous mischiefs that they will suffer, if ever corrupt and wicked men shall hereafter get possession of any state, and the power of betraying their master: And, in order to do this, I will shew them by what steps they will probably proceed to accomplish their traitorous ends. This may be the subject of my next.

Valerius Maximus tells us, that Lentulus Marcellinus, the Roman consul, having complained, in a popular assembly, of the overgrown power of Pompey; the whole people answered him with a shout of approbation: Upon which the consul told them, “Shout on, gentlemen, shout on, and use those bold signs of liberty while you may; for I do not know how long they will be allowed you.”

God be thanked, we Englishmen have neither lost our liberties, nor are in danger of losing them. Let us always cherish this matchless blessing, almost peculiar to ourselves; that our posterity may, many ages hence, ascribe their freedom to our zeal. The defence of liberty is a noble, a heavenly office; which can only be performed where liberty is: For, as the same Valerius Maximus observes, Quid ergo libertas sine Catone? non magis quam Cato sine libertate. [So what is liberty without Cato? no more than Cato, without freedom.]

G. I am, &c.



CATO Letters Vol 1 No 12 Of Treason: All Treasons not to be found in Statutes

Sir John TrenchardNo. 12, Saturday, January 14, 1721: Of Treason: All Treasons not to be found in Statutes. The Right of the Legislature to declare Treasons. By John Trenchard


Treason, properly so called, in Latin, Crimen laesae majestatis [The crime of treason], is in all countries the same: It is an endeavour to subvert, or to do some notable mischief to the publick; of which every man is a part, and with which he has joined himself for mutual defence, under what form soever the administration is exercised. I own, that lesser crimes aresometimes called by the same name, and subjected to the same punishment.

An attempt to destroy the chief magistrate of a commonwealth, or the general of an army in the field, or the governor of a town during a siege, are certainly treasons everywhere; because in such attempts, when they succeed, are often involved the ruin of states. They also are doubtless guilty of high treason, who, being entrusted with the wealth, security, and happiness of kingdoms, do yet knowingly pervert that trust, to the undoing of that people whom they are obliged, by undeserved rewards, as well as by all the ties of religion, justice, honour, and gratitude, to defend and protect.

’Tis the same, if any number of men, though in a lesser trust, or in no trust at all, should deliberately and knowingly destroy thousands of their fellow-subjects, and overturn the trade and publick credit of the nation, to enrich themselves and their accomplices.

These, and crimes of the like nature, are treasons from the nature of things themselves, antecedent to all laws that call them so; and will be treasons, though laws gained by subordination should call them otherwise: And every state has a right to treat those who commit them, as traitors and parricides. In truth, there are as many of these kinds of treasons, as there are different methods of conspiring against kingdoms; and the criminals, though ever so great, deserve death and confiscation; that is, they ought to be destroyed by the people whom they would destroy.

The great principal of self-preservation, which is the first and fundamental law of nature, calls for this procedure; the security of commonwealths depends upon it; the very being of government makes it necessary; and whatever is necessary to the publick safety, is just.

The fate of millions, and the being of states, must not stand and fall by the distinctions of monks, coined in colleges, or by the chicane of petty-foggers; who would bring everything within the narrow verge of their own knowledge, under their own jurisdiction and cognizance; and would determine all things by the rules of inferior judicatures, the gibberish of private practisers, and the sayings of old women, or of those who are like old women; whose brains are addled by being long jumbled and always turned round within the scanty circle of private courts, not daring to venture at a bold and free thought out of them, however self-evident; like some carriers’ horses, that are used to a track, and know not how to travel in an open road.

But questions of this kind belong ad aliud examen [the other test], and ought to be brought before an higher tribunal: The legislature are the only proper and safe judges: What is done against all, should be judged by all. Nor are their resolutions to be confined by any other rule than Quid est utile, quid honestum [What is useful and what is morally right], general justice, and the general good. Religion, virtue, common sense, and the publick peace and felicity, are the only counsel to be admitted either for the publick or the prisoners.

The conspirators against mankind ought to know, that no subterfuges, or tergiversations; no knavish subtilties, or pedantic quirks of lawyers; no evasions, skulkings behind known statutes; no combinations, or pretended commissions, shall be able to screen or protect them from publick justice. They ought to know, that there is a power in being that can follow them through all the dark labyrinths and doubling meanders; a power that can crush them to pieces, though they change into all the shapes of Proteus, to avoid the fury of Hercules: a power, confined by no limitation, but that of publick justice and the publick good; a power, that does not follow precedents, but makes them; a power, which has this for its principle, that extraordinary crimes ought not to be tried by ordinary rules, and that unprecedented villanies ought to have unprecedented punishments.

But though in all governments, this great power must exist somewhere, yet it can rarely be delegated with prudence to inferior magistrates; who, out of ambition, revenge, or faction, or for bribes and preferments, or out of fear and flattery, or in concert with the ill measures or selfish intrigues of statesmen, may pervert so dangerous a trust to the destruction of those whom it was intended to preserve.

This particularly has been the case of England: We know by what means judges were often made, and from what conduct they expected farther preferment, and from whom they looked for protection: For this reason they were, and ought to be, confined in their jurisdiction relating to treason, and the manner of trying it.

Undoubtedly every intention manifested by act to destroy the constitution and government, was treason by the common law of England. But why do I say of England, since it is, and ever was, treason in every country throughout the world? This treason equally extends to those, who would subvert either house of Parliament, or the rights and privileges of the people, as to those who attempt to destroy the person of the King, or dethrone him. And indeed, what can be more absurd, than to suppose it to be the highest crime to attempt to destroy one man, for no other reason but that he is King; and yet not to suppose it the highest crime to destroy that people for whose benefit alone he was made King, and for whose sake indeed there ever was such a thing in the world?

But though this proposition was self-evident, and must ever be assented to as soon as mentioned, yet, by the flattery of priests and servile lawyers, the salus populi [public safety], or security of the state, soon came to signify only the unbounded power and sovereignty of the prince; and it became treason to hinder one, constituted, and grandly maintained out of the people’s labour and wealth, for the publick safety, from destroying the publick safety. Our ancestors found, by lamentable experience, that unworthy men, preferred by corrupt ministers for unworthy ends, made treasons free only of the court; that the least attempt to oppose unlimited and unlawful authority, was often called treason; and that the highest treasons of all, which were those against the commonwealth, might be committed with impunity, applause, and rewards.

It was therefore high time to apply an adequate remedy to an enormous mischief, which struck at the whole state, and at the fortunes and lives of every subject in England. The statute therefore of the 25th of Edward III was enacted, which enumerates the several species or kinds of treasons, which shall continue to be esteemed treasons, and be adjudged so by the King’s justices; and are chiefly those which relate to the King’s person, his family, and dignity: These the Parliament thought they might safely trust to the examination of the King’s judges, under such limitations and regulations as the act presents.

But it is plain, from the same act, that they did not intend to confine all treasons to those recited there, because it is declared in the following words, viz.

If any other case supposed treason, not before specified, shall happen before any justices, they shall stay judgment, till the cause be shewed before the Parliament, whether it ought to be judged treason or not.

So that here is a plain declaration of the legislature (if any man can possibly think such a declaration wanting) that other crimes were treason, and ought to be punished as treason (though not by the King’s judges), besides those recited in the act; which were, as has been said, designed only to extend to treasons which were committed against our Lord the King, and his Royal Majesty, as the act expressly says. And ’tis evident, from the whole tenor of it, that it was intended purely to restrain the unlimited and exorbitant jurisdiction assumed by the King’s courts, in declaring treasons, and sacrificing by that means, whom they pleased to unlawful power.

But as to the highest and most heinous treasons of all, such as were treasons against the legislature, and against the whole body of the people, for whose safety alone there were any treasons against the King at all, seeing that their safety was, in a great measure, included in his; the Parliament reserved the judgment of every such treason to themselves: They did not alter what was treason, but the judges of it. They knew that treasons against the constitution could seldom be committed but by ministers and favourites of princes, protected by power, and sheltered by authority; and that therefore it would be absurd to trust the punishment of such potent knaves, and criminal favourites, to judges made by themselves; judges, who would neither have inclination, figure, or character, to reach crimes countenanced, and perhaps authorized, by a Richard II or Edward II.

Such crimes, therefore, were the proper objects of the awful power of a legislature; who will always be supported by the people whom they represent, when they exert themselves for the interest of that people. A power, so supported, can make the loftiest traitor quake. It can fetch corrupt ministers out of their dark recesses, and make their heads a victim to publick vengeance. Every wise and good king will lend a willing ear to their dutiful remonstrances; he will hearken to the importunate cries of his people, and readily deliver up the authors of their misery.

One great part of their care, therefore, has ever been, to call those to an account, who have abused the favour of their royal master, and endeavoured to make him little and contemptible to his people; weakening, by such means, his authority, and hazarding his person. This the people, whom they represented, thought they had a right to expect and demand from them; and this justice they have often done to their King and country.

An excellent Discourse concerning Treasons and Bills of Attainder was published soon after his Majesty’s accession to the throne, and shewed unanswerably, that our Parliaments, in almost every reign since the Conquest, claimed and exercised this right, upon extraordinary occasions; and none ever, till lately, opposed it, but the criminals who were to suffer by it, and their party: Some gentlemen now living can give the best account, why that book, and the cries of every honest man, had not their desired effect. I hope that no man will be deluded again by any practising the same arts, and for the same reasons too.

The length of this letter will not allow me to draw from all these reasonings upon treason such applications as I promised in my last, and intended in this. I shall therefore defer these applications to another, and perhaps more proper, occasion. In the mean while, I observe with pleasure the noble spirit shewn by our legislature, to punish, with an exemplary severity, the murderers of our credit, and the publick enemies of our liberty and prosperity. This revives every drooping heart, and kindles joy in every face, in spite of all our miseries. And this brings terror, trembling, and paleness upon the guilty; to see death and destruction pursuing them close, and besetting them hard on every side. They are in the circumstances and the agonies of the guilty Cain, who justly feared that every man whom he met would kill him, though there was no law then in being against murder.

T. I am, &c.