Item of the Day: Junius Revisited (1769)
Letters of Junius. Printed in London by Henry Sampson Woodfall, 1772.
[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.