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many, that a rich man is best fitted to represent you, because least liable to corruption, deserves no further notice than to be despis'd. Yet, ridiculous as this and such like arguments seem, they must secretly please every honest man, who can consider them no otherwise than as the last groans of expiring faction. When you have found an able and a good man, let this be your maxim, unite and be free, be resolute in chusing him alone, so shall the meanest among you share in the merit of his actions, and your posterity, when they record the advantages they enjoy, will bless the fathers who bequeathed them. Extend your views, dare to hope that your Spirit will animate the whole Nation, and that one day this Island will be a seat of wealth and power.
The Gentlemen who have tasted the sweets of polite learning and the advantages of a liberal education, must confess that they are the effects of liberty, the rich produce of a generous soil, and fruits that never could be grafted upon slavery. Look into the annals of Athens and Rome, those Commonwealths so famous while liberty was the great cause for which they fought; Arts and Sciences flourish'd, Philosophy and polite Literature were the amusements of the camp, and the business of retirement; the Forum was the field of excellence, and Eloquence the Child of Liberty prepar'd the way to all the offices of the State; but when a free spirit was stifled by Faction, when corruption like a deluge flow'd in, and Slavery usurped the Throne of Justice, Arts like faithful clients fell with their patron.
I cannot conclude, my fellow-Subjects (for that is the only name by which I am authorized to call you) without minding you, that from this Election, you not only date your future Freedom or Slavery, but by it openly confess and avow yourselves Freemen or Slaves. HELVIDIUS PRISCUS.1
1 A crude satire (Dublin. Printed for Halked Garland at Welsh's Coffee House in Essex Street) entitled The Schoolmaster's Letter or A Rod for the Author of the Election was published 1748-9. It is an attack on the author of a Play called The Election, which the "Schoolmaster" says, "was lately published highly reflecting on some Friends of mine, and as the author lies so latent I have thought proper to write him the following publick Epistle." It is subscribed "Quintinus Plagosus, Paedagogorum Paedagogus, Helvidii Prisci Maximae spei Juvenis nunc Romanae Historiae Studiosissime Incumbentis, Praeceptor.
The writer evidently knew who it was that wrote as "Helvidius Priscus." He terms him a youth of highest promise, then deeply engaged in the study of Roman History. A description appropriate to Edmund Burke at the time, and supporting the contention that it was he who wrote as "Helvidius Priscus." The Election was apparently a Satire on the “Firebrand” (Lucas) whom the "Schoolmaster" acclaims as
"That Patriot whose uncommon zeal
"The Grave and Wise T-M SH-RR-D-N."
"We know you by your Spiteful Scrawl
And also on.
-i.e. Paul Hiffernan, a bitter antagonist of Lucas and Sheridan. The Election does not appear to be extant. A copy of The Schoolmaster's Letter is in the Cambridge University Library, Bradshaw Collection, Hib. 3, 748. 115.
Qui Parti Civium consulunt, Partem negligunt, inducunt
CICERO. Off. L. i.
Printed by and for OLI. NELSON, at Milton's-Head
Tho' it cannot be said of any man who writes for the Publick, of publick affairs, that he is not a Party Writer; yet it may be said of some that they are not writers for faction. While friends to the Constitution can be found, the man who embarks in the defence of it, embarks on the side of those friends; and every attempt to preserve the Constitution must be directly or indirectly an attack on those who would destroy it. That neither private interest nor personal dislike or personal friendship, but the bare love of their country may be a motive for some men to act, if it cannot be believed, can at least be suppos'd. And that those who seek the welfare of their country only, what ever be the motive, cannot be justly enrolled among those who make up the cry in a faction, is too clear to need demonstration. It is equally true, tho' less clear, that there may be friends to the Constitution, who are enemies to the Administration. The Constitution is the property of every individual. Ministers are the stewards or guardians empower'd to preserve and improve it. But if bad guardians are found,
(which is very possible) who destroy or attempt to destroy it, those persons invade the rights of, and are accountable to, every individual. And if the person or persons, if such there be, appointed to redress the grievances of the people, do not redress them, then, not only the agressors, but those who deny them redress, have broke the Constitutional Tye, by which the Society is united, and resolved themselves into a state of nature.
That the greatest security of the people, against the encroachments and usurpations of their superiors, is to keep the Spirit of Liberty constantly awake, is an undeniable truth. How necessary to the being of any community it is to have a proper balance of power among the parts; and of what consequence the Spirit of Liberty is, towards the establishment and preservation of such a balance, may, I think, be seen from a short view of the first ages of the Commonwealth of Rome. If the meanest are able to glean any advantage from this paper, and no honest man is offended therewith, my purpose will be answered.
After the expulsion of Tarquin, the Constitution of Rome suffered a considerable change. The power, which was before lodged in the King and the Senate, was now transferred to the Senate and two Consuls, annual Magistrates elected from the Senate. The legislative and executive authority was confin'd to these two bodies. And tho' the people retain❜d the privilege of electing Senators, which was inherent to them since the first framing of the Constitution, yet they gain'd none by the Revolution, and even that privilege was so restrain'd, that it was little more than a name; for the inhabitants of Rome were divided into Nobles and Commons, between whom even intermarriages were forbid, and from the Nobles only had the people a right of electing Senators. Both parties had indeed bound themselves and their posterity, as far as was possible, by an inviolable oath, never to suffer kingly power to be re-established; but still the people were in danger from the Senate and Consuls; a body of men might combine to enslave them, and many tyrants are more grievous than one. The first increase of their power, and check upon the Nobles, was given by Valerius Publicola, a wise Consul, who enacted a law allowing to every citizen who was condemned to death or corporal punishment a right of appealing to the people. This right belong'd to the Commons in the time of the kings, but the violation of their liberties by Tarquin made it necessary to revive it. And it was ordered by a second law, that no person, upon pain of death, should take upon him the office of a Magistrate, without the consent of the people. This was some relief, some security against injustice; but still they were liable to oppression, and oppressed they were. The Commons fought the battles of the Republick. They had no pay. The love of their country and the love of glory were sufficient motives in those days. Their lands were wasted by the invasions of their neighbours, their goods ravish'd, and their houses burn'd. Unable to support themselves or pay the taxes, which were demanded, they had recourse to borrowing from the Nobles, who supplied their wants, but exacted interest upon interest, to such excess, that their grievances became unsupportable. They were confin'd and shackl'd, they look'd out for an immediate redress; but it was only in the power of the
Nobles to give it. The spirit of liberty then began to exert itself. They demanded a remittance of all debts, and till that was granted, refus'd to take arms in defence of the city. The Senators were solicitous to maintain their power. They knew that the people complain'd with justice; but were so far from complying with their demands, that they took occasion from this division to increase their own power. They propos'd the creation of a new Magistrate, call'd Dictator, whose office should expire at the end of six months, whose will should be absolute, and from which there should be no appeal: They amus'd the people with hopes that this Magistrate would redress their grievances, and the people, (whose love to the Republick and moderation in their proceedings, is remarkable thro' their whole history) believ'd it. A Dictator was created from among the Senators, but they found, too late, that their complaints were unheeded; and that the right of appeal given by the Valerian Law, was by this new Magistracy destroy'd. New Consuls succeeded one another annually; but some who were willing to serve them wanted abilities, others had abilities without the inclination, and those who had both, were oppos'd by the majority of the Senate. The people ever kept within bounds. The common danger united them to a man. Kind promises from the Senate led them to the field; and they fought as if they had been absolutely free: but the Senate so often eluded and broke their promises, that they found their only expedient was to have recourse to themselves, to separate from the Nobles, and abandon them to the fury of the enemies who threatened them. Accordingly they quitted the camp in one body. The Nobles were now in the greatest perplexity. The danger from abroad was imminent, and they were not able to oppose it. Frequent messages were sent to the people to intreat their return, but they were inflexible. At last the Senate agreed that Commissioners should be sent to them, with absolute power to act as should seem best for the welfare of the whole. A remittance of debts to all who were insolvent, and a release to such as were confined, were agreed on: and the present miseries relieved. But the eyes of the people were now open. They saw that a real balance of power in the community was wanting. They saw too of what consequence they were to the being of it; and therefore, determin'd to be co r'd in another light than that of slaves. They demanded that new Magistrates should be chosen, out of their own body, whose business should be to defend their rights and privileges; and support them against the oppressions and usurpations of the Nobles. It was no time to contend with them, and immediately five Tribunes were created, whose persons were held sacred, and whose power was such, that the negative of one only put a stop to any proceedings of the Senate. I hope the publick will not be offended with a short view of the Constitution of that city, after the election of these new Magistrates. The Consuls were the supreme officers in Rome. To them was entrusted the executive power, together with that of summoning assemblies and presiding at elections. In time of war, their power was almost absolute. In the camp there was no appeal from their judgement, and the publick treasure was expended at their discretion. To the Senate belong'd the power of trying all extraordinary crimes, of judging private causes which
related to the State, of sending embassies, of causing war to be declar'd, of giving audience and answers to ambassadors, and of deciding differences between their allies. The accounts of the publick revenues were laid before them, and the treasurers could dispose of no part of the finances without their leave except to the Consuls. To the people belong'd the privileges of rewarding and punishing, of conferring offices, of instituting and abolishing laws, and of determining war, peace, and alliances.
From these different powers, vested in different parts of the Republic, resulted a mutual dependency on each other; while each part, in its own proceedings, was absolutely free and independent; and from this harmony sprung the greatness of that city, which made so glorious a figure, and extended her conquests over all the known world. But all was the effect of a true Spirit of Liberty. Had the people been supine, corrupt or ignorant; the Republic had continued in the state it was in immediately after the extinction of kingly government; and instead of arriving at that pitch of grandeur and preserving its freedom above four hundred years, would probably have sunk into corruption and slavery, and become a prey to its neighbours within the space of one century. But the creation of the Tribunes put a stop to the oppression and incroachment of the nobles. The two great bodies were now a mutual check on each other. No cabals could be formed, no proposals made which the people were not aware of, and able, by the voice of one Tribune only, to oppose. Thus I have at least endeavoured to prove, that no community can subsist long where there is not a proper balance of power among the parts; and of what consequence a Spirit of Liberty is to establish such a balance. It will not perhaps be unpleasing to the publick to shew, in another paper, how the Spirit of Liberty decayed, and by what various ways a Spirit of Faction grew up, and at last reduced that great Republic to absolute slavery.
Whether the constitution of your city, in any way resembles that of old Rome; whether a power, like that of the Tribunes, was lodged in any part of your community to put a stop to the proceedings of another part, and whether such power, together with that of electing Magistrates of any class or denomination, has been unjustly wrested from that body, you can determine. But if this be the case, and any faction (taking advantage of the circumstances of the times, or the weakness or supineness of the parts invested with such powers) have plundered the people; it becomes you, as you would be thought free, as you would really be free, to exert yourselves vigorously; to leave no means untryed to recover your lost privileges, and difficult as it may seem, it must be allowed to be more easy then it is to obtain new privileges; yet even this the Spirit of Liberty could effect in Rome. Besides; your malady must every day grow more inveterate, and every addition to the power of your enemies is a diminution of yours. Suppose these men should go into your assemblies, and with uncommon unheard-of insolence, assume the Chair, and prescribe to you in your private councils, would you sit down tamely and bear such indignities? Pardon the supposition, but when the good of my Fellow-Subjects is in debate, I can and will suppose even worse consequences. If there be any