Monthly Archives: March 2006

Item of the Day: John Wilkes’ The North Briton (1770)

Full Title:

The North Briton. From Vol. I to No XLVI. Complete. With several useful and explanatory Notes, Not printed in any former Edition To which is added, a copious Index to every Name and Article. Corrected and Revised by A Friend to Civil and Religious Liberty. Vol. II Printed in London.

Number XLV. Saturday, April 23, 1763.

The following Advertisement appeared in all the Papers on the 13th of April.

[John Wilkes’ famous essay Number 45 outraged George III, resulted in his arrest for seditious libel under a general warrant (in which the crime but not the criminal was named) and landed forty-nine other people in jail. The arrests incited Wilkes to bring a counter-suit against his arrestors for trespass, forcing the courts to examine the legality of Wilkes’ seizure as a member of the House of Commons. The court vindicated Wilkes but more importantly the incident signaled a “momentous shift in the locus of power in government from the privileged to the masses.” Colonists idealized the radical Wilkes as their champion of liberty whose cause celebre demonstrated to their great satisfaction that the British government was all too eager to curtail freedom of the press and the people’s lawful rights.]

The King’s Speech has always been considered by the legislature, and by the public at large, as the Speech of the Minister. It has regularly, at the beginning of every session of parliament, been referred by both houses to the consideration of a committee, and has been generally canvassed with the utmost freedom, when the minister of the crown has been obnoxious to the nation. The ministers of this free country, conscious of the undoubted privileges of so spirited a people, and with the terrors of parliament before their eyes, have ever been cautious, no less with regard to the matter, than to the expressions of speeches, which they have advised the sovereign to make from the throne, at the opening of each session. They well knew that an honest house of parliament, true to their trust, could not fail to detect the fallacious arts, or to remonstrate against the daring acts of violence committed by any minister. The speech at the close of the session has ever been considered as the most secure method of promulgating the favourite court-creed among the vulgar; because the parliament, which is the constitutional guardian of the liberties of the people, has in this case no opportunity of remonstrating, or of impeaching any wicked servant of the crown.

. . .

This week has given the public the most abandoned instance of ministerial effrontery ever attempted to be imposed on mankind. The minister’s speech of last Tuesday is not to be paralleled in the annals of this country. I am in doubt, whether the imposition is greater on the sovereign or on the nation. Every friend of his country must lament that a prince of so many great and amiable qualities, whom England truly reveres, can be brought to give the sanction of his sacred name to the most odious measures, and to the most unjustifiable public declarations, from a throne ever renowned for truth, honour, and unsullied virtue.

. . .

A despotic minister will always endeavor to dazzle his prince with high-flown ideas of the prerogative and honour of the crown, which the minister will make a parade of firmly maintaining. I wish as much as any man in the kingdom to see the honour of the crown maintained in a manner truly becoming Royalty. I lament to see it sunk even to prostitution. What a shame was it to see the security of this country in point of military force, complimented away, contrary to the opinion of Royalty itself, and sacrificed to the prejudices and to the ignorance of a set of people, the most unfit, from every consideration, to be consulted on a matter relative to the security of the house of Hanover!

. . .

The King of England is only the first magistrate of this country; but is invested by the law with the whole executive power. He is, however, responsible to his people for the due execution of the royal functions, in the choice of ministers, &c. equal with the meanest of his subjects in his particular duty.

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Filed under 1770's, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Revolution

Item of the Day: Junius Revisited (1769)

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Letters of Junius. Printed in London by Henry Sampson Woodfall, 1772.
Letter XXXV.

[By December 10, 1769, the name “Junius” was well known in London. For nearly a year Junius’ elegant invectives had been appearing in The Public Advertiser, excoriating officials whom he viewed as corrupt and contemptible, most especially the Prime Minister, the Duke of Grafton. A Whig and supporter of Grafton’s predecessor, George Grenville, Junius took up Grenville’s campaign for the public’s right to elect the radical John Wilkes. Wilkes had been expelled from the House of Commons four years earlier on the grounds of seditious libel after attacking the king and his ministers in his newspaper, The North Briton. To Junius, Grafton’s refusal to re-seat Wilkes after his legal re-election was a clear sign that the king was illegally manipulating his ministers and restricting the people’s right to elect their own representatives.In the following letter, Junius has shifted his focus from publicly lacerating Grafton to appealing to King George III himself on Wilke’s behalf . The letter stirred significant indignation against Junius and his publisher, Henry Woodfall. Grafton resigned his ministry in 1770 but the victory did not go to Junius. The King replaced Grafton with an even more conservative supporter, Lord Frederick North, best known as the architect of the Intolerable Acts. Although Junius’ real identity is widely believed to be that of Sir Philip Francis, it has never been unequivocally established.)

19. December, 1769


It is the misfortune of your life, and originally the cause of every reproach and distress, which has attended your government, that you should never have been acquainted with the language of truth, until you heard it in the complaints of your people. It is not, however, too late to correct the errors of your education. We are still inclined to make an indulgent allowance for the pernicious lessons you received in your youth, and to form the most sanguine hopes from the natural benevolence of your disposition. We are far from thinking you capable of a direct, deliberate purpose to invade those original rights of your subjects, on which all their civil and political liberties depend. Had it been possible for us to entertain a suspicion so dishonourable to your character, we should long since have adopted a style of remonstrance very distant from the humility of complaint. The doctrine inculcated by our laws, That the King can do no wrong, is admitted without reluctance. We separate the amiable, good natured prince from the folly and treachery of his servants, and the private virtues of the man from the vices of his government. Were it not for this just distinction, I know not whether your Majesty’s condition, or that of the English nation, would deserve most to be lamented. I would prepare your mind for a favourable reception of truth, by removing every painful, offensive idea of personal reproach. Your subjects, Sir, wish for nothing but that, as they are reasonable and affectionate enough to separate your person from your government, so you, in your turn, should distinguish between the conduct, which becomes the permanent dignity of a King, and that which serves only to promote the temporary interest and miserable ambition of a minister.

. . .

Far from suspecting you of so horrible a design, we would attribute the continued violation of the laws, and even this last enormous attack upon the vital principles of the constitution, to an ill-advised, unworthy, personal resentment. From one false step you have betrayed into another, and as the cause was unworthy of you, your ministers were determined that the prudence of the execution should correspond with the wisdom and dignity of the design. They have reduced you to the necessity of choosing out of a variety of difficulties; — to a situation so unhappy, that you can neither do wrong without rui , nor right without affliction. These worthy servants have undoubtedly given you many singular proofs of their abilities. Not contented with making Mr.Wilkes a man of importance, they have judiciously transferred the question, from the rights and interest of one man , to the most important rights and interests of the people, and forced your subjects, from wishing well to the cause of an individual, to unite with him in their own. Let them proceed as they have begun, and your Majesty need not doubt that the catastrophe will do no dishonour to the conduct of the piece.
. . .

These sentiments, Sir, and the stile they are conveyed in, may be offensive, perhaps, because they are new to you. Accustomed to the language of courtiers, you measure their affections by the vehemence of their expressions; and when they only praise you indirectly, you admire their sincerity. But this is not a time to trifle with your fortune. They deceive you, Sir, who tell you that you have many friends, whose affections are founded upon a principle of personal attachment. The first foundation of friendship is not the power of conferring benefits, but the equality with which they are received, and may be returned. The fortune, which made you a King, forbad you to have a friend. It is a law of nature which cannot be violated with impunity. The mistaken prince, who looks for friendship, will find a favourite, and in that favourite the ruin of his affairs.

The people of England are loyal to the House of Hanover, not from a vain preference of one family to another, but from a conviction that the establishment of that family was necessary to the support of their civil and religious liberties. This, Sir, is a principle of allegiance equally solid and rational; fit for Englishmen to adopt, and well worthy of your majesty’s encouragement. We cannot long be deluded by nominal distinctions. The name of Stuart, of itself, is only contemptible; armed with the sovereign authority, their principles are formidable. The prince who imitates their conducts should be warned by example; and, while he plumes himself upon the security of his title to the crown, should remember that, as it was acquired by one revolution, it may be lost by another.

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Filed under 1760's, 1770's, Legal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Revolution

Item of the Day: Police of the Metropolis (1797)

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A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis; Containing a Detail of the Various Crimes and Misdemeanors By Which Public and Private Property and Security Are, at Present, Injured and Endangered: And Suggesting Remedies for Their Prevention. The Fourth Edition, Revised and Enlarged. By a Magistrate, Acting for the Counties of Middlesex, Surry, Kent, and Essex. — For the City and Liberty of Westminster — and for the Liberty of the Tower of London. Meminerint legum conditores, illas ad proximum hunc finem accommodare; Scelera videlicet arcenta, refraenandaque vitia ac morum pravitatem. Judices pariter leges illas cum vigore, aequitate, integritae, publicaeque utilitatis amore curent exequi; ut justitia et virtus omnes societatis ordines pervadant. Industriaque simul et Temperantia inertiae locum assumant et prodigalitatis.

Written anonymously by Patrick Colqhuoun. Containing a fold-out chart, “A Summary View of the Prisoners committed, tried, punished, disposed of, and discharged in the Metropolis, in One Year, ending in October 1795″ listing statistics for Newgate, Poultry Compter, Giltspur Compter, Bridewell Hospital, New Prison at Clerkenwell, House of Correction in Cold Bath Fields, Tothil Fields Bridewell, and New Gaol, Southwark. Printed in London by H. Fry, Finsbury-Place, for C. Dilly, Poultry, 1797. From “To the Reader”:

In contemplating this shocking catalogue of Human Depravity, (which however still does not include every description of Fraud or Dishonesty which is practised) before the mind shall imbibe unfavourable impressions, it may be necessary to remind the Reader, that in order justly to appreciate the moral turpitude which attaches to such a host of individuals, in many respects deluded and misled by the numerous temptations which assail them, it must be measured by a scale proportioned to the unparalleled extent and opulence of the Metropolis, and to the vast amount of moving property there. London is not only the grand Magazine of the British Empire, but also the general receptacle for the idle and depraved of almost every Country, and certainly from every quarter of the dominions of the Crown; –where the temptations and resources for Criminal Pleasures–Gambling–Fraud and Depredation, as well as for Pursuits of honest industry, almost exceed imagination; since besides being the seat of Government, and the centre of Fashion, Amusements, Dissipation, Extravagance, and Folly, it is not only the greatest commercial City in the Universe, but perhaps of the first manufacturing Towns that is known to exist.

Under these circumstances, while immorality, licentiousness, and Crimes, are known to advance in proportion to riches, it is much to be lamented that in the rapid and progressive increase of the latter, sufficient attention has not been bestowed on the means of checking the enormous strides made by the former.

This is to be attributed principally to those deficiencies and imperfections in the System of Police, which are explained and pointed out in the Treatise, now offered to the attention of the Reader.

It opens a wide field for doing good, to men of opulence, talents, and virtue; to Patriots and Philanthropists who love their Country and glory in its prosperity.

Such men will speedily discover through this medium, that, like the Roman Government when enveloped in riches and luxury, the National prosperity may be of short duration; that the same calamities are to be dreaded wherever public morals are neglected, and no effectual measures adopted for the purpose either of checking the alarming growth of Depravity and Crimes, or of guarding the rising generation against evil examples; which are exhibited in the Metropolis, perhaps in a greater degree than was ever before experienced, particularly among the lower ranks of Society.

It is therefore earnestly to be wished, that the subject of this Treatise may excite in the public mind an ardent desire for the adoption of such Remedies as shall apply to the improvement of the morals of the People, as well as to remove the danger and insecurity, which at present exist; and which unquestionably must be greatly augmented at the conclusion of the war, by the return of a multitude of Delinquents to their associates in iniquity.

The sole intention of the Author, in pointing out these accumulated wrongs, is to secure the inhabitants of the Metropolis against the alarming consequences to be dreaded from the existence of such an atrocious and criminal Confederacy. –That this may be the more easily effected, in all instances where Evils are represented to exist, Remedies are uniformly proposed: And these are such as have forced themselves upon the mind, more from practical observation, than by indulging in speculative theories. –They are suggested under a conviction that they perfectly accord with the spirit of the Laws; and that their adoption will be practicable; without disturbing, in any material degree, the System of Criminal Jurisprudence which at present exists.

The object is to extend to that System a greater portion of energy and effect, by establishing agencies, regulations and restraints, rendered necessary by the great magnitude and extent of the enormities committed.

It is by the operation of legal and proper restraints, that the possession of all things valuable in Society is secured.

It is by the general influence of good Laws and regulations, that the blessings of true Liberty and the undisturbed enjoyment of property is preserved; as far as Legislative Authority, aided by a well-regulated and energetic Police, can prove a security against iniquity and depredation.

The restraints, however, proposed in this Work as the means of preventing Crimes, are such as must produce this salutary effect, without abridging the privileges of innocence; since they apply to those classes only, the nature of whose dealings, from being in many instance both unlawful and immoral, immediately affect not only the useful and innocent inhabitants of their Metropolis, but in the remoter consequences, the Country at large.

If the pressure experienced, joined to a more extensive information relative to the Evils and the Remedies, shall operate as a spur to men of influence, property, and consequence, to employ means for improving the Police of the Capital — the purpose of the Author will be attained. — The morals of the People will experience a favourable change; and that species of security will be extended to the inhabitants of this great Metropolis, which has not heretofore been experienced, while many evils will be prevented, which, in their consequences, threaten to be productive of the most serious mischiefs to the Liberty of the People, and the happiness and security of the whole Nation.

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Filed under 1790's, Legal, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt