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THE PRESENT STATE OF THE NATION.
ARTY divisions, whether on the whole operating for good or evil, are things inseparable from free government. This is a truth which, I believe, admits little dispute, having been established by the uniform experience of all ages. The part a good citizen ought to take in these divisions, has been a matter of much deeper controversy. But God forbid, that any controversy relating to our essential morals should admit of no decision. It appears to me, that this question, like most of the others which regard our duties in life, is to be determined by our station in it. Private men may be wholly neutral, and entirely innocent; but they who are legally invested with publick trust, or stand on the high ground of rank and dignity, which is trust implied, can hardly in any case remain indifferent, without the certainty of sinking into insignificance; and thereby in effect deserting that post in which, with the fullest authority, and for the wisest purposes, the laws and institutions of their country have fixed them. However, if it be the office of those who are thus circumstanced, to take a decided part, it is no less their duty that it should be a sober one. It ought to be circumscribed by the same laws of decorum, and balanced by the same temper, which bound and regulate all the
virtues. In a word, we ought to act in party with all the moderation which does not absolutely enervate that vigour, and quench that fervency of spirit, without which the best wishes for the publick good must evaporate in empty speculation.
It is probably from some such motives that the friends of a very respectable party in this kingdom have been hitherto silent. For these two years past, from one and the same quarter of politicks, a continual fire has been kept upon them; sometimes from the unwieldy column of quartos and octavos; sometimes from the light squadrons of occasional pamphlets and flying sheets. Every month has brought on its periodical calumny. The abuse has taken every shape which the ability of the writers could give it; plain invective, clumsy raillery, misrepresented anecdote.* No method of vilifying the measures, the abilities, the intentions, or the persons which compose that body, has been omitted. On their part nothing was opposed but patience and character. It was a matter of the most serious and indignant affliction to persons, who thought themselves in conscience bound to oppose a ministry, dangerous from its very constitution, as well as its measures, to find themselves, whenever they faced their adversaries, continually attacked on the rear by a set of men, who pretended to be actuated by motives similar to theirs. They saw that the plan long pursued with but too fatal a success, was to break the strength of this kingdom; by frittering down the bodies which compose it; by fomenting bitter and sanguinary animosities, and by dissolving every tie of social affection and publick trust. These virtuous men, such I am warranted by publick opinion to call them, were resolved rather to endure every thing, than co-operate in that design. A diversity of opinion upon almost every principle of politicks had indeed drawn a strong line of separation between them and some others. However, they were desirous not to extend the misfortune by unnecessary bitterness; they wished to prevent a difference of opinjon on the commonwealth from festering into rancorous and
History of the Minority. History of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act. Considerations on Trade and Finance. Political Register, &c. &c.
incurable hostility. Accordingly they endeavoured that all past controversies should be forgotten; and that enough for the day should be the evil thereof. There is however a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. Men may tolerate injuries, whilst they are only personal to themselves. But it is not the first of virtues to bear with moderation the indignities that are offered to our country. A piece has at length appeared, from the quarter of all the former attacks, which upon every publick consideration demands an answer. Whilst persons more equal to this business may be engaged in affairs of greater moment, I hope I shall be excused, if, in a few hours of a time not very important, and from such materials as I have by me (more than enough however for this purpose), I undertake to set the facts and arguments of this wonderful performance in a proper light. I will endeavour to state what this piece is; the purpose for which I take it to have been written; and the effects (supposing it should have any effect at all) it must necessarily produce.
This piece is called, The present State of the Nation. It may be considered as a sort of digest of the avowed maxims of a certain political school, the effects of whose doctrines and practices this country will feel long and severely. It is made up of a farrago of almost every topick which has been agitated in parliamentary debate, or private conversation, on national affairs, for these last seven years. The oldest controversies are hauled out of the dust with which time and neglect had covered them. Arguments ten times repeated, a thousand times answered before, are here repeated again. Publick accounts formerly printed and re-printed revolve once more, and find their old station in this sober meridian. All the common-place lamentations upon the decay of trade, the increase of taxes, and the high price of labour and provisions, are here retailed again and again in the same tone with which they have drawled through columns of Gazetteers and Advertisers for a century together. Paradoxes which affront common sense, and uninteresting barren truths which generate no conclusion, are thrown in to augment unwieldy bulk, without adding any thing to weight. Because two accusations are better than one, contradictions are set
staring one another in the face, without even an attempt to reconcile them. And to give the whole a sort of portentous air of labour and information, the table of the house of commons is swept into this grand reservoir of politicks.
As to the composition, it bears a striking and whimsical resemblance to a funeral sermon, not only in the pathetick prayer with which it concludes, but in the style and tenour of the whole performance. It is piteously doleful, nodding every now and then towards dullness; well stored with pious frauds, and, like most discourses of the sort, much better calculated for the private advantage of the preacher than the edification of the hearers.
The author has indeed so involved his subject, that it is frequently far from being easy to comprehend his meaning. It is happy for the publick that it is never difficult to fathom his design. The apparent intention of this author is to draw the most aggravated, hideous, and deformed picture of the state of this country, which his querulous eloquence, aided by the arbitrary dominion he assumes over fact, is capable of exhibiting. Had he attributed our misfortunes to their true cause, the injudicious tampering of bold, improvident, and visionary ministers at one period, or to their supine negligence and traitorous dissensions at another, the complaint had been just, and might have been useful. But far the greater and much the worst part of the state which he exhibits is owing, according to his representation, not to accidental and extrinsick mischiefs attendant on the nation, but to its radical weakness and constitutional distempers. All this however is not without purpose. The author is in hopes, that, when we are fallen into a fanatical terrour for the national salvation, we shall then be ready to throw ourselves, in a sort of precipitate trust, some strange disposition of the mind jumbled up of presumption and despair, into the hands of the most pretending and forward undertaker. One such undertaker at least he has in readiness for our service. But let me assure this generous person, that however he may succeed in exciting our fears for the publick danger, he will find it hard indeed to engage us to place any confidence in the system he proposes for our security.