“A Season for Reflection”: A Loyalist’s Last Letter to Thomas Jefferson and to America

Near Charing Cross, not far from Nelson’s Monument at Trafalgar Square, is Spring Gardens.  In the 18th century, as today, it was at the heart of Whitehall and surrounded by British government offices.  And on October 25, 1779, in the long-gone Cannon Coffee House, it was a place where one man said goodbye to his history and his home.  Just a few years before, John Randolph had been one of the most prominent lawyers in British Virginia.  The colony’s Attorney General, he also lived in the capital’s most impressive private home, also now long-gone.  His two daughters were described by more than one visitor to Williamsburg as “the most beautiful girls in America.”  He was also an accomplished violinist, who often spent evenings playing duets with his close friend and relation, Thomas Jefferson.

But then the American Revolution changed all of that, almost in the twinkling of an eye. Choosing to remain remain loyal to the British constitution that his father, Sir John Randolph, had taught him to treasure and defend as the only true gaurantor of freedom in the world, he watched as his world collapsed around him.  His daughters were threatened on the streets of their town and he was attacked as a “tory,” an epithet as ridiculous as it was inaccurate. In the summer of 1775, as his brother, Peyton, went to Philadelphia as a member of the Continental Congress, and his son, Edmund, rode to join George Washington’s staff, John took his family to London, where he thought he could perform the same diplomatic magic that both his father and brother had worked when relations between Virginia and Britain had seemed at their breaking point.  He failed, of course, but he never stopped trying, even as fewer doors in that area of Whitehall, near Charing Cross, were opened to him.

Having time on his hands, and the past on his mind, John sat down at the Cannon Coffee House and decided to write a letter to his dear friend, Thomas Jefferson, who had become governor of the new independent state of Virginia.  In it his pours out explanations, philosophical observations, literary allusions, opinions, hopes, and fears.  He writes his own revolutionary history.  And he warns of the fickleness of pretended allies.  In the field of political thought, it’s a remarkable statement of the sort of Augustan moderation that had once dominated British political culture, and which might have held the empire together as a place where differences of opinion could be accommodated rather than considered as differences in principle.  But it also reveals a torrent of emotions bordering on unreality, nowhere expressed more clearly than in his plea “to rescind your Declaration of Independance” and “be happily reunited to your ancient and natural Friend,” written to the man who wrote the declaration and saw it adopted more than 3 years before.

I have provided it here in its entirety, although somewhat lengthy, as a reflection of the American Revolution as a civil war, and as a reminder for the legions of historians who have never considered the “lives, fortunes, and sacred honour” risked and lost by those who differed from patriots in opinion, rather than principle.  John died in London on January 31, 1784, his last wishes to be buried in Williamsburg, where he rests today in the crypt of the Wren Chapel of the College of William & Mary, next to his brother and father.  This letter to Jefferson was never sent.  It was not found until 1840, when it was discovered among the papers of Sir Edward Walpole, the son of John’s father’s dear friend, Sir Robert Walpole.  The letter has since been reprinted in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson.  This is my transcription of the original.

London, Cannon Coffee House Spring Gardens

Dear Sr
October 25. 1779

The Letters, with which you some considerable Time ago, honourd me, got to Hand; tho’, from their appearance, their Contents were known to many, before they reach’d the Person, for whom they were intended. The gloomy Cloud, which hung over our public affairs, and the general Suspicion, which prevail’d at that Time, recommended Caution, and prevented my answering them. But, as Matters now are fully understood, and the Ultimatum seems to be fix’d between the contending Parties; if You are not unwilling to read, I am under no Apprehension, in delivering my Sentiments to you.

Mr. J. Power, who is just arrived from Virginia, informs me, that you have been lately elected Successor to Mr. Henry, who presided over your Colony for three Years, the utmost successive Time allow’d for holding that office. I must take the Liberty to say, that your Constituents cou’d not have chosen a man of greater abilities to conduct their affairs, than you possess; and permit me to add my Hope, that Futurity may speak as favourably, of your Moderation.

If a Difference in opinion, was a good Ground for an Intermission of Friendship, Mankind might justly be said, to live in a State of Warfare; since the Imperfection of human knowledge, has render’d Mens Minds as various as the Author of their Being, has shap’d their Persons. The Man who condemns another, for thinking differently from himself, sets up his Judgment as the Standard of Conception; wounds the great Liberty we enjoy, of thinking for ourselves; and tyrannizes over the Mind, which Nature intended shoud be free and unconfin’d. That Tyrant, I cannot suppose You, to be. The Liberality of Sentiment, which ever distinguish’d you amongst your Acquaintance, when you were upon a Level with them, has not, I hope, forsaken you, since you have been rais’d to a Sphere, which has made you, superior to them. Shou’d I therefore be so unfortunate, as to make any observations, which may not meet with your approbation, for the Honour of your Understanding treat them with Benignity. I will allow you in such Case, to consider them, as the overflowings of a Mind, too zealous in the Cause in which it is engaged; but I must demand of you to admit, that they are the legitimate offspring, of an uncorrupted Heart. But, before you pass Sentence, I shall call on your Candour, to give them a fair Hearing.

When our unhappy Dispute commenc’d, (tho it arose from Circumstances, which left an opening for an honorable accomodation, yet) I saw that it was big with Mischief, and portended Ruin and Desolation, Somewhere. I thought that it behov’d me to reflect with the utmost Deliberation, on the Line of Conduct, which I ought to pursue, on so critical an Occasion. I clear’d every avenue to Information, and laid myself open to Conviction, let it come from what Quarter it wou’d. I read with avidity every thing which was publish’d on the Subject, and I put my own Thoughts in Writing, that I might see how they wou’d stand on Paper. I found myself embarrass’d by a thousand Considerations, acting in direct opposition to each other. In this Situation I had no Resource left but to submit myself Solely to the Dictates of my Reason. To that impartial Tribunal I appeal’d. There I reciev’d Satisfaction; and from her Decision, I am determin’d never to depart.

Si fractus illabatur Orbis

impavidum ferient Ruinæ.

Adversity is a School, in which few Men wish to be educated; yet, it is a Source, from whence the most useful Improvements, may be derived. When the Mind shrinks not from its approach, it offers a Season for Reflection, calls forth the Powers of the Understanding, fixes its Principles, and inspires a Fortitude, which shews the true Dignity of Man. In that School I have been tutor’d; from its Tuition I have drawn those advantages, and I am unalterably resolved, that all other Motives shall give Way, to the fullest and most unequivocal Enjoyment of them.

The Insults I reciev’d from a People, (whose Interest I always considerd as my own) unrestrain’d by the Influence of Gentlemen of Rank gave me much Uneasiness: But, the unmanly and illiberal Treatment, which the more delicate Part of my Family met with, I confess, fill’d me with the highest Resentment. As there is Nothing which I forget so soon as an Injury; and as animosity never rankles in my Bosom, I have cast the whole into oblivion. There let it lie buried; for Implacability belongs only to the unworthy.

Independance, it is agreed on all Hands, is the fix’d Purpose of your Determination. Annihilation is preferable to a Reunion with Great Britain. To support this desirable End, you have enter’d into an alliance with France and Spain, to reduce the Power of this Country, and make Way for the Glory of America. What Effect this Connection will have on you, or this Kingdom, Time alone can discover; But be it rememberd, that France is perfidious, Spain insignificant, and Great Britain formidable. The united Fleets of the House of Bourbon, lately cover’d the Seas, and paraded off Plymouth. A Descent was threaten’d, and universally expected. The british Fleet was then in a distant Part of the Channel, and there was nothing remain’d to defend this Kingdom, but the internal Strength and Valour of its Inhabitants. The Space of three Days remov’d the Alarm, by producing a fruitless Departure of this mighty Squadron. Soon after this, the two Fleets came in Sight of each other, (a Great Superiority in Number lying on the Side of the Enemy) and a bloody barrage was expected to follow. The british Fleet in the Evening, form’d themselves into a Line of Battle and brought to, imagining that the combin’d Fleet, wou’d in the Morning begin the attack; but when that Period arriv’d, there was not an Enemy to be seen, from any one of our Ships. On which, our Fleet steer’d into Port, and there has continued unmolested, ever since. Individual Ships have been taken, but all our valuable Fleets from every Quarter of the Globe, for the present Year, are arriv’d in Safety; yet, our Ports are filled with French and Spanish Ships, and our Gaols with their Subjects.

Admiral Keppels Engagement off Brest about 15 Months ago, tho’ a shameful one, as he had it in his Power to strike a Decisive Blow and omitted it, was converted into a meer Party Business here. His Conduct is now, very generally reprobated; The City of London has with-held the Golden Box, which the Rage of Party had prepared as a Present for him. Yet ill as he is supposed to have behav’d, the french fleet sustain’d such Damage on that Occasion, that it did not come out of Port, for near a twelve Month after. History does not furnish us with Instances of greater acts of Heroism, than have been exhibited in the Course of the last Summer, in some of our naval Engagements. National Party is very much on the Decline, and the Safety of the State, seems to supersede all other Considerations.

The Junction of the Spaniards, was more a Matter of Joy in England, than a Terror. The fingering of their Gold, is no small object with a commercial People. When his Catholic Majesty’s Rescript was deliver’d at St. James’s, and became known, instead of lowering, the Stocks immediately took a Rise. And the Dutch, who have already an immense Property in our Funds are still buying in, notwithstanding the various Difficulties, with which this Kingdom is surrounded. This Sir is a Short, but true Narrative of the State of british affairs, in Europe.

It must be confess’d, that the French have gain’d advantages in the West Indies; but it may be observ’d, that they have recover’d no more than what they lost in the last war. In Contests between great Nations, Events must be uncertain, and no Party can expect an uninterrupted Series of Success. Disappointments some times beget Exertions, which may give a new Face to Affairs. When the Troops, which are to be sent for the Protection of our Island, arrive, and the ships are on float, which the succeeding Spring will produce, these will unfold to us, Truths, about which, we at present, may form very different Ideas. The French may boast of their Prowess in Destaings Engagement with Barrington, but few think here, that the Glory of the british Navy was in any Degree diminish’d in that Encounter.

How far the French have been useful to you in Amer[ica], you must be better qualified to determine, than myself: Yet, I cannot avoid expressing my Wish, that you had never enterd into any Engagements with them. They are a People cover’d with Guile, and their Religion countenances the Practice of it, on all of a different Persuasion. They are educated in an Aversion to the English, and hold our Constitution in the utmost Detestation. They have the Art to insinuate, and the Wickedness to betray when they gain an admittance. Laws, they have none but such as are prescrib’d by the Will of their Prince. This is their only Legislature. They know your Coast, are acquainted with your Manners, and no Doubt have made Establishments amongst You. A Footing in the Northern Provinces, is what they most devoutly wish to obtain. As a Means to effect their Purpose, they have sufferd you to run in Debt to them, and as a Security for the Payment of it, they say that your Lands are answerable. If you are not able to satisfy their Demands, how will you have it in Your Power to frustrate this Claim? But if you are able to discharge the Debt, how will you recompense them, for the Services, which they will urge that they have renderd to you. Your Trade is of no Consequence, it is not an object with them. Nothing but a Partition of your Country will silence them. When that happens, you may bid adieu to all social Happiness; the little finger of France will be more burthensome to you, than the whole weight of George the 3d. his Lords and Commons. Can it be imagin’d that a Prince, who is a Tyrant in his own Dominions, can be a Friend to the Rights and Priviledges of another People? Can it be Policy in him to waste his Blood and Treasure, in reducing one Rival, in order to raise another, more formidable perhaps, than his ancient Competitors? Your good Sense I am persuaded, will not suffer You to cherish such an opinion, and you cannot be so wanting in Discernment, as not to see the base Designs of this treacherous Nation. If France engaged in this Quarrel, for no other Purpose, than to fight your Battles, and vindicate your injured Rights, her Generosity will lead her to confer all the Benefit of her Conquests on you. When you become invested with the Possession of their acquisitions, you may then believe them to be your Friends; but until that happens, you ought to consider their Designs as dangerous, and not suffer yourselves to be deciev’d by such an artful and despotic People. But let us suppose in theory, what, facts I am convinced will not verify, that the Powers now contending with G. Britain are too great for it to withstand. What do you imagine will be the Sentiments of the other States of Europe on this Subject? These Potentates stand in such a Relation to each other, that as a Security to the whole, a Ballance of Power must be preserv’d amongst them. G. Britain has always held that Ballance. How dangerous a Neighbour would France become, if her principal opponent, and the great Arbiter of Europe shou’d be overwhelm’d? The Empress of Russia sees with a jealous Eye, the Strides which the french are taking towards universal Monarchy. The King of Prussia is too old a Soldier, to suffer a Rival to strengthen himself, on the Ruins of an old and natural ally. The Dutch are governd too much by their Interest, to see it in Danger, and never to make an Effort to preserve it. The Danes are the fast Friends of England. All these Nations wou’d have taken a decided Part long before this, had the Situation of G. Britain made it necessary: But the Truth is, our Councils are as vigorous, our Resources as great and the national Firmness as inflexible, as they have ever been, even in the most flourishing Periods recorded in the History of this Country. If you regard the assertions of a set of Men, who are distinguish’d by the appellation of the Opposition, you must I own form a different opinion, from that which I have endeavour’d to inculcate. They will tell you that the Glory of England is pass’d away, its Treasures exhausted, and that the Kingdom stands on the Brink of inevitable Destruction, owing to the Weakness and Wickedness of Administration. Believe not, my Friend, such Prophets. The Luxury of this Nation, and of Course its Expences, are unbounded. These Excesses must unavoidably make Mankind necessitous. The Department of a Minister is lucrative and alluring. The King, in order to silence the Clamour of Party, having frequently chang’d his Servants, has by this Means excited an Idea, that Noise will always procure a Removal of the Ministry. It is for this Reason, that they who have a Chance for the Succession, ring such alarms thro the Nation, in order to throw an odium on them, and get them out of their Places; yet these very People who are the Authors of so much Turbulence, don’t think as they speak. Some join in the Cry; others suspend their opinions, till they recieve more convincing Proofs; and a third, thinking that Government ought to be supported strengthen as far as they can, the Hands of their Rulers. But still, the great Machine moves on, the Ministry Keep their Places, and look as if their Possession would be of long Duration. But a Change wou’d be of little Service to the Nation; for if it silenc’d one Party, it wou’d open the Mouth of another; and the Kingdom be just in the same Situation that it is in at this Time, and has been for many Years past.

If you form an opinion of our public affairs, by the Picture which is drawn of them in our daily Exhibitions, I acknowledge, that you must concieve my account of them to be, chimerical. But whoever wishes to avoid Error, must steer clear of an english Newspaper. There are of daily Papers publish’d in the Year, 27. Millions: The Types, the Ink, the Paper and a Stamp &c. distinctly pay a Duty to Government. Judge then, what a Revenue these Publications must produce. It is for this Reason that Ministry throw no Impediment in their Way; for punishing the Libels they contain, wou’d reduce their Number, and lessen of Course, the Emoluments arising from them. I have often thought, that the Toleration of such indecent Compositions, was a Reflection on Government, but it is a Maxim in England, that as soon as an Evil produces Good, it ceases to be an Evil.

The short Representation of the british affairs, which I have given you above, is intended to prepare you, for one important Question, momentous not only to America, and Great Britain, but also to Europe in General: Wou’d it not be prudent, to rescind your Declaration of Independance, be happily reunited to your ancient and natural Friend, and enjoy a Peace, which I most religiously think would pass all Understanding? I can venture to assure you, that your Independance, will never be acknowledg’d by the Legislative Authority of this Kingdom: The Nation would not agree to such a Concession; and your suppos’d Friends, who are so lavish in your Praise on other Occasions, wou’d on this, be against you. Every Immunity, which you can reasonably ask for, will be granted to you; the rapacious Hand of Taxation will never reach you. Your Laws and Regulations will be establish’d on the solid Basis of the british Constitution; and your Happiness will be attended to, with all the Solicitude, which belongs to an affectionate Parent. Reflect, I beseach you, on what I have said. Let not the flattering Possession of Power, which may be wrested from you in a Moment, stand in Competition with the Good of your Country, which you have now an opportunity of making, as lasting as Time itself. But if you still persist in your Resolution, never to listen to the voice of Reconciliation, Remember, that I, who know your Situation, and wish you every Degree of Happiness, tell you, that what you take to be the End, will be only the Beginning of your political Misfortunes.

I must now put a Period to a long Letter, the writing of which, is a very unusual Labour to me. How you may recieve it I know not. Be that as it will, I shall enjoy one Consolation, which is, a quiet Conscience. I see such Determination in Government, to proceed to the last Extremity with you; such a Disposition in the Powers of Europe to go to War; and such Mischiefs hovering over America, that I shou’d think myself an undutiful Son, and criminally guilty, if I did not impart to you, the Distress I feel on your Account. Let our opinions vary as they will, I shall nevertheless retain a very sincere Regard for you. How far your Politics may be blended with your Friendships, I cannot tell; but as I have ever preserv’d my esteem from improper Mixtures, I shall subscribe myself now as I always have done, Dr Sr, Your very affectionate Friend & humble Servt,

John Randolph

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“Having never been a Favourite of the Great”: A Revolutionary Printer’s Commitment to His Principles

The Ludwell-Paradise House.
The Ludwell-Paradise House.

This post is about the sincerity with which people up and down the social scale applied political thought to personal action in the revolutionary world.  Here I’m referring to William Rind, one of Williamsburg’s printers, who lived at the Ludwell-Paradise House on Duke of Gloucester Street, and probably there printed his edition of the Virginia Gazette.

Neither one of the well-known (and well-heeled) “Founders” who led provincials into secession from the British Empire, nor one of the almost-as-celebrated (and probably almost-as-apocryphal) men and women of the lower sorts who pushed the elites into rebellion, Rind was one of those folks whom often get lost in the historiographical scrum over who mattered most in the American Revolution. His American Revolution seems not to have been one imposed from the top down, nor one instigated from the bottom up, but perhaps was one that developed from the middle out (I’ll direct any more considered inquiry of the role of printers in the Revolution and Early Republic to my friends Joe AdelmanJeff Pasley. and Todd Andrlik). In any case, Rind was a particular favorite of the patriots in Williamsburg and seems to have taken the lofty motto he chose for his newspaper–“Open to all Parties but Influenced by None”–quite seriously, as the letter below suggests.

This unpublished letter (until recently stuck in a drawer at Eyre Hall on the Eastern Shore) was written in February 1769 in response to a complaint from a Northampton County patriot, Severn Eyre, that Rind had not been quick enough about printing an essay criticizing the new governor, Lord Botetourt. While unique in a number of respects, it is of especial interest for the window it opens–however briefly–into a particular moment in the lives of people who lived in this place during the constitutional crisis.  Rind and his assistant, William Lumley, permit us to follow them on a cold winter’s day from Blovet Pasteur’s shop (next to the Raleigh Tavern), down the street to Rind’s office, into Lumley’s trunk, and then inside Rind’s own head as he considers the practical issues of printing a newspaper and its connection to his political faith. It allows us a glimpse into the ways political thought informed the daily lives of people such as Rind, and does so in a way that helps us attend to the complex intersection of constitutional abstraction, political culture, and individual behavior in Revolutionary Williamsburg, which makes studying that time and place so terribly interesting.

Sir,
I received yours of the 22d ultimo by which I am sorry to see you have taken offence at my not publishing the Piece signed Curtius sooner. It would have been very inconvenient to me to have printed it then, as it would have put me to the Expence of giving a Supplement, at a Time I was so scarce of Paper, as to be afraid I should be obliged to stop my Gazette for want of it. You say, “you know the Piece was delivered into my own Hands ….” What Wm Lumley, who lives with me, Subjoins to this will, I doubt not, convince you that you was misinformed in that Point, as also that no “Court Sycophant” (having never been a Favourite of the Great) nor any Person out of my House, had ever Seen it till it was printed. I have ever made it a Rule to consult no Man what Pieces I shall publish, and shall ever adhere to it. But, I think, the Authors should give their Names to the Printer for his private Satisfaction, which should by no means be divulged, when the Pieces are of such a Tendency as to create him Enemies, and as he is ignorant in anonymous Pieces whether they come from Friends or Foes, the Consequences may be often hurtful to him. I do not expect any Gentleman will insure me his Vote; but I hope you will do me the Justice to believe that I act up to my Motto, and I think I have often proved it, Sometimes to my great Loss; both by the Expense of printing 2000 Supplements a Week, and by losing many subscribers, who prefer old News, to new Pieces, of what Nature soever. I will therefore still hope for the Continuance of your Friendship, which I desire no longer that I shall be thought to maintain a free Press. I am, with Gratitude and Respect, Sir,
Your much obliged humble
Servant,
Wm. Rind

Sir Williamsburg, Feby 11th 1769
The piece signed Curtius was left at Mr. B. Pasteurs Shop, where I happened to step in, when he gave it me. I know not whether it was the same Day that it was left with him, or the next.
I opened it in the Shop, & seeing it was a Piece for the Press, I put it into my Pocket without reading it. When I came home I shewed it to Mr. Rind, & we both read it; & then I took it into my own Room, & locked it up in my Trunk, with some other Pieces; & there it has remained til given to the Compositor to set for the Press. These particulars I could very safely make Oath to, were it necessary.
I am very respectfully
Sir, Your unknown hbl Sevt
Wm. Lumley

[Eyre Family Papers, VHS]

“But a forty days tyranny”: A reflection on executive authority in 18th-century British constitutionalism

On 11 November 1766, Parliament listened to a speech by George III that dealt mainly with a severe grain shortage then gripping Britain, and the embargo that the ministry consequently imposed to keep wheat and wheat-flour in the country. Lords Chatham (William Pitt) and Camden (Charles Pratt) strenuously defended the embargo, in the face of widespread opposition in the Lords and Commons, as “the right and duty of the crown to suspend the execution of a law, for the safety of the people.” Camden stated “The crown is the sole executive power, and is therefore intrusted by the constitution to take upon itself whatever the safety of the state may require, during the recess of parliament, which is at most but a forty days tyranny.” Opposition leaders, such as Lords Mansfield (William Murray), Temple (Richard Grenville-Temple), and Lyttleton (George Lyttleton), made the counterpoint that the effect was to “…establish a dispensing power, and you cannot be sure of either liberty or law for forty minutes.”  They invoked the preamble of the 1689 bill of rights which “expressly mentions the evils resulting to the kingdom from the practice adopted by James II, of assuming a power to dispense with, and suspend, the execution of laws without the consent of parliament.”

Chatham’s support for an exercise of executive authority that ran counter to established Whig tenets seriously weakened his influence in parliament and the strength of his entire ministry. His arguments, along with those of Camden, are also interesting for the light they shed on the development of patriot constitutional thought in America, providing at least anecdotal evidence for Thomas Jefferson’s presumptions in his Summary View of the Rights of British America that the Crown possessed more constitutional authority than it could actually exercise.

[Source: John Adolphus’ The History of England, from the Accession of King George the Third, to the Conclusion of Peace in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Three (1805), a fascinating multi-volume work that contains parliamentary speeches one cannot easily find elsewhere.]

“Their particular fortune to be called to the trial”: American loyalists make an appeal to the King

On this date in 1788, a year before French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille in a bid for their constitutional rights, American loyalists from the War for Independence published an address to George III that perfectly articulated their own view of those rights–rights for which they, too, had pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honour.”  They had presented it to the King on July 2, including their thanks to him for recommending their claims to Parliament.  It’s a poignant reminder that the loyalists in the American Revolution, whom Bernard Bailyn once derided as “the losers,” were hardly the oversimplified “tory” menace created by patriot propagandists–and enshrined by generations of subsequent Whig historians. Those historians, and the patriots who preceded them, needed to create a narrative with antagonists who stood clearly against what only the American patriots could have been fighting for–the whiggish principles of individual rights and representative government.  Without them, the orthodox story of the American Revolution celebrated in 19th-century history books, modern school textbooks, and the tomes that continue to appear in the popular press, which provide a powerful impetus to the development and maintenance of American identity, just doesn’t work; the narrative collapses and the American Revolution becomes much more complex, and in need of a closer look, if the enemy was actually, as Edmund Randolph–the son of just such an oversimplified and maligned (in his time and ours) “tory”–put it: “spotless as to treason even in thought.”

As the loyalist writers–one of whom was Edmund’s brother-in-law, John Randolph Grymes–argued in their address of 1788, they had “devoted their fortunes, and hazarded their lives in defence of the just rights of the Crown, and the fundamental principles of the British Constitution,” which was “no more than their duty demanded of them.”  However, history had put their constitutional faith to the test in the War for Independence because the great Whig schism of 1776 made it “their particular fortune to be called to the trial.” But there was little question for them about the path to take, regardless of the hazards, as they believed that the British constitution held out “out to mankind the glorious principles of justice, equity, and benevolence, as the firmest basis of Empire.” They did not presume to claim more loyalty than other British subjects but, distinguished by their suffering, “they deem themselves entitled to the foremost rank among the most zealous supporters of the Constitution.” The loyalists stressed, despite their want, that at all times and on all occasions, they were equally ready, as they had been, “to devote their lives and properties to your Majesty’s service, and the preservation of the British Constitution.”

[Sources: Edmund Randolph’s History of Virginia, p. 219; 14 July 1788, Morning Chronicle or London Advertiser]

“Fearless, incorruptible, free”: Lucian’s 2000-year-old hope for historians

LucianThis, then, is the sort of man the historian should be: fearless, incorruptible, free, a friend of free expression and the truth, intent, as the comic poet says, on calling a fig a fig and a trough a trough, giving nothing to hatred or to friendship, sparing no-one, showing neither pity nor shame nor obsequiousness, an impartial judge, well disposed to all men up to the point of not giving one side more than its due, in his books a stranger and a man without a country, independent, subject to no sovereign, not reckoning what this or that man will think, but stating the facts.

SOURCE: Lucianus Samosatensis, Quomodo Historia Conscribenda Sit, ed. Karl Jacobitz.

The Death of the Divine Right of Kings

NPG 167; John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth studio of Jean Baptiste van Loo
John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth.

While working in the bowels of the John Carter Library at Brown, I came across a fascinating reflection by Lord John Hervey (1696-1743) on the state of politics in England. This brief selection is his remembrance of the depths to which any notion of the divine right of kings had fallen in the British world.  And it should at least give pause to historians of British America who might think that it played any meaningful role in the debates over monarchy and constitutionalism in the revolutionary era.

By 1727, “…the notion of hereditary right at home had been so long ridiculed and exploded, that there were few people whose loyalty was so strong, or whose understanding was so weak, as to retain and act upon it. The conscientious attachment to the natural right of this or that king, and the religious reverence to God’s anointed, was so far eradicated by the propagation of revolutionary principles, that mankind was become much more clear-sighted on that score than formerly, and so far comprehended and gave into the doctrine of a king being made for the people and not the people for the king, that in all their steps it was the interest of the nation or the interest of particular actors that was considered, and never the separate interest of one or the other king. And though one might be surprised (if any absurdity arising from the credulity and ignorance of mankind could surprise one) how the influence of power could ever have found means to establish the doctrine of Divine right of kings, yet no one can wonder that the opinion lost ground so fast when it became the interest even of the princes on the throne for three successive reigns to expel it. The clergy, who had been paid for preaching it up, were now paid for preaching it down; the Legislature had declared it of no force in the form of our government, and contrary to the fundamental laws and nature of our Constitution; and what was more prevailing than all the rest. it was no longer the interest of the majority of the kingdom either to propagate or act on this principle, and consequently those who were before wise enough from policy to teach it, were wise enough now from the same policy to explode it; and those who were weak enough to take it up only because they were told it, were easily brought to lay it down by the same influence.”

SOURCE: John, Lord Hervey, Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second, from his Accession to the Death of Queen Catherine, vol. 1 (London, 1855), 6-7.