Item of the Day: Plain Truth (1776)

Full Title: Plain Truth; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America. Containing Remarks on a late Pamphlet, Intitled Common Sense; Wherein are shewn, that the Scheme of Independence is ruinous, delusive, and impracticable; that were the Author’s Asseverations, respecting the Power of America, as real as nugatory, Reconciliation on liberal Principles with Great Britain would be exalted Policy; and that, circumstanced as we are, permanent Liberty and true Happiness can only be obtained by Reconciliation with that Kingdom. Written by Candidus. Second Edition. Philadelphia, printed; London: reprinted for J. Almon, opposite Burlington House, in Piccadilly, M.DCC.LXXVI.

I have now before me the pamphlet intitled Common Sense; on which I shall remark with freedom and candour. It may not be improper to remind my reader, that the investigation of my subject demands the utmost freedom of enquiry; I therefore entreat his indulgence, and that he will carefully remember, that intemperate zeal is an injurious to liberty, as a manly discussion of facts is friendly to it. “Liberty, says the great Montesquieu, is a right of doing whatever the laws permit; and if a citizen could do what they forbid, he would no longer be possessed of liberty, because all his fellow citizens would have the same power.” In the beginning of his pamphlet the author asserts, that society in every state is a blessing. This in the sincerity of my heart I deny; for it is supreme misery to be associated with those who, to promote their ambitious purposes, flagitiously pervert the ends of political society. I do not say that our author is indebted to Burgh’s Political Disquisitions, or to Rousseau’s Social Compact for his definiton on government, and his large tree; although I wish he had favoured his reader with the following extract from that sublime reasoner: “To investigate those conditions of society which may best answer the purpose of nations, would require the abilities of some superior intelligence, who should be witness to all the passions of men, but be subjects itself to none, who should have no connections with human nature, but should have a perfect knowledge of it; a being, in short, whose happiness should be independent of us, and who would nevertheless enploy itslef about us. It is the province of Gods to make laws for men.” With the utmost deference to the celebrated Rousseau, I cannnot indeed imagine, that laws even so constructed, would materially benefit our imperfect race, unless Omniscience designed previously to exalt our nature. The judicious reader will therefore perceive, that malevolence only is requisite to decaim against, and arraign the most perfect governments. Our political quack avails himself of this trite expedient, so cajole the people into the most abject slavery, under the delusive name of independence. His first indecent attack is against the English constitution, which, with all its imperfections, is, and ever will be, the pride and envy of mankind. To this panegyric involuntarily our author subscribes, by granting individuals to be safer in England, than in any other part of Europe. He indeed isidiously attributes this pre-eminent excellency to the constitution: to such contemptible subterfuge is our author reduced. I would ask him why did not the constitution of the people afford them superior safety, in the reign of Richard the third, Henry the eighth, and other tyrannic princes? Many pages might indeed be filled with encomiums bestowed on our excellent constitution by illustrious authors of different nations.

This beautiful system (according to Montesquieu) our constitution is a compound of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. But it is often said, that the sovereign, by honours and appointments, influences the commons. The profound and elegant Hume agitating this question, thinks, to this circumstance, we are in part indebted for our supreme felicity; since, without such controul in the crown, our constitution would immediately degenerate into democracy; a goverment which, in the sequel, I hope to prove ineligible. Were I asked marks of the best government, and the purpose of political society, I would reply, the encrease, preservation, and prosperity of its members; in no quarter of the globe are those marks so certainly to be found, as in Great Britain and her dependencies. After our author has employed several pages to break the mounds of society by debasing monarchs, he says, “the plain trugh is, that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into.”

Hume, treating of the original contract, has the following melancholy, but sensible observation; “yet reason tells us, that there is no property in durable objects, such as lands and houses, when carefully examined, in passing from hand to hand, but must in some period have been founded on fraud and injustice. The necessities of human society, neither in private or public life, will allow of such an accurate enquiry; and there is no virtue or moral duty, but what may, with facility, be refined away, if we indulge a false philosophy, in sifting and scrutinizing, by every captious rule of logic, in every light or position in which it may be placed.”

Say, ye votaries of honour and truth, can we adduce a stronger proof of our author’s turpitude, than his quoting the anti-philosophical story of the Jews, to debase monarchy and the best of monarchs. Briefly examing the story of this contemptible race, more barbarous than our savages, we find their history a continued succession of miracles, astonishing our imaginations, and exercising our faith. After wandering forty years in horrid desarts [sic], they are chiefly condemned to perish for their perverseness, although under the immediate dominion of the king of Palestine, which they conquer by exterminating the inhabitants and warring like demons. The inhabitants of the adjoining regions justly, therefore, held them in detestation, and the Jews finding themselves constantly abhorred, have ever since hated all mankind. This people, as destitute of arts and industry as humanity, had not even in their language a word expressive of education. We might indeed remind our author, who so readily drags in the Old Testament to support his sinister measures, that we could draw from that source many texts favourable to monarchy, were we not conscious that the Mosaic law gives way to the gospel dispensation. The reader no doubt will be gratified by the following extract from a most primitive christian: “Christianity is a spiritual religion, relative only to celestial objects. The christian’s inheritance is not of this world. He performs his duty it is true, but this he does with a profound indifference fo the good or ill success of his endeavours; provided he hath nothing to reproach himself, it is of little consequence to him whether matters go well or ill here below. If the state be in a flourishing condition, he can hardly venture to rejoice in the public felicity, lest he should be puffed up with the inordinate pride of his country’s glory. If the state decline, he blesses the hand of God, that humbles his people to the dust.” . . .

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Filed under 1770's, Common sense, Liberty, Loyalists, Political Commentary, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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