The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page -> Johnson's Political commentary
From "The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D." printed for F. C. and J. Rivington, et al, 1823; volume 12, pages 47-70. Originally published in issue number 1 of the Literary Magazine.
POLITICAL STATE OF GREAT BRITAIN
The present system of English politics may properly be said to have taken rise in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. At this time, the protestant religion was established, which naturally allied us to the reformed state, and made all the popish powers our enemies.
We began in the same reign to extend our trade, by which we made it necessary to ourselves to watch the commercial progress of our neighbours; and if not to incommode and obstruct their traffick, to hinder them from impairing ours.
We then likewise settled colonies in America, which was become the great scene of European ambition; for, seeing with what great treasures the Spaniards were annually enriched from Mexico and Peru, every nation imagined, that an American conquest or plantation would certainly fill the mother country with gold and silver. This produced a large extent of very distant dominions, of which we, at this time, neither knew nor foresaw the advantage or incumbrance; we seem to have snatched them into our hands, upon no very just principles of policy, only because every state, according to a prejudice of long continuance, concludes itself more powerful as its territories become larger.
The discoveries of new regions, which were then every day made, the profit of remote traffick, and the necessity of long voyages, produced, in a few years, a great multiplication of shipping. The sea was considered as the wealthy element; and, by degrees, a new kind of sovereignty arose, called naval dominion.
As the chief trade of the world, so the chief maritime power was at first in the hands of the Portuguese and Spaniards, who, by a compact, to which the consent of other princes was not asked, had divided the newly discovered countries between them; but the crown of Portugal having fallen to the king of Spain, or being seized by him, he was master of the ships of the two nations, with which he kept all the coasts of Europe in alarm, till the Armada, which he had raised at a vast expence for the conquest of England, was destroyed, which put a stop, and almost an end, to the naval power of the Spaniards.
At this time the Dutch, who were oppressed by the Spaniards, and feared yet greater evils than they felt, resolved no longer to endure the insolence of their masters: they therefore revolted; and after a struggle, in which they were assisted by the money and forces of Elizabeth, erected an independent and powerful commonwealth.
When the inhabitants of the Low-Countries had formed their system of government, and some remission of the war gave them leisure to form schemes of future prosperity, they easily perceived, that as their territories were narrow, and their numbers small, they could preserve themselves only by that power which is the consequence of wealth; and that, by a people whose country produced only the necessaries of life, wealth was not to be acquired, but from foreign dominions, and by the transportations of the products of one country into another.
From this necessity, thus justly estimated, arose a plan of commerce, which was for many years prosecuted with industry and success, perhaps never seen in the world before, and by which the poor tenants of mud-walled villages and impassable bogs erected themselves into high and mighty states, who put the greatest monarchs at defiance, whose alliance was courted by the proudest, and whose power was dreaded by the fiercest nation. By the establishment of this state there arose to England a new ally, and a new rival.
At this time, which seems to be the period destined for the change of the face of Europe, France began first to rise into power; and, from defending her own provinces with difficulty and fluctuating success, to threaten her neighbours with incroachments and devastations. Henry the Fourth having, after a long struggle, obtained the crown, found it easy to govern nobles exhausted and wearied with a long civil war, and having composed the disputes between the Protestants and Papists, so as to obtain at least a truce for both parties, was at leisure to accumulate treasure, and raise forces which he purposed to have employed in a design of settling for ever the balance of Europe. Of this great scheme he lived not to see the vanity, or to feel the disappointment; for he was murdered in the midst of his mighty preparations.
The French, however, were in this reign taught to know their own power; and the great designs of a king, whose wisdom they had so long experienced, even though they were not brought to actual experiment, disposed them to consider themselves as masters of the destiny of their neighbours; and, from that time, he that shall nicely examine their schemes and conduct, will, I believe, find that they began to take an air of superiority to which they had never pretended before; and that they have always been employed more or less openly upon schemes of dominion, though with frequent interruptions from domestic troubles, and with those intermissions which human counsels must always suffer, as men instructed with great affairs are dissipated in youth, and languid in age, are embarrassed by competitors, or, without any external reason, change their minds.
France was no longer in dread of insults and invasions from England. She was not only able to maintain her own territories, but prepared, on all occasions, to invade others; and we had now a neighbour whose interest it was to be an enemy, and who has disturbed us, from that time to this, with open hostility or secret machinations.
Such was the state of England and its neighbours, when Elizabeth left the crown to James of Scotland. It has not, I think, been frequently observed by historians at how critical a time the union of the two kingdoms happened. Had England and Scotland continued separate kingdoms, when France was established in the full possession of her natural power, the Scots, in continuance of the league, which it would now have been more than ever their interest to observe, would, upon every instigation of the French court, have raised an army with French money, and harassed us with an invasion, in which they would have thought themselves successful, whatever numbers they might have left behind them. To a people warlike and indigent, an incursion into a rich country is never hurtful. The pay of France and the plunder of the northern countries, would always have tempted them to hazard their lives, and we should have been under a necessity of keeping a line of garrisons along our border.
This trouble, however, we escaped by the accession of King James; but it is uncertain, whether his natural disposition did not injure us more than this accidental condition happened to benefit us. He was a man of great theoretical knowledge, but of no practical wisdom: he was very well able to discern the true interest of himself, his kingdom, and his posterity, but sacrificed it, upon all occasions, to his present pleasure or his present ease; so conscious of his own knowledge and abilities, that he would not suffer a minister to govern, and so lax of attention, and timorous of opposition, that he was not able to govern for himself. With this character James quietly saw the Dutch invade our commerce; the French grew every day stronger and stronger; and the Protestant interest, of which he boasted himself the head, was oppressed on every side, while he writ, and hunted, and dispatched ambassadors, who, when their master's weakness was once known, were treated in foreign courts with very little ceremony. James, however, took care to be flattered at home, and was neither angry nor ashamed at the appearance that he made in other countries.
Thus England grew weaker, or, what is in political estimation the same thing, saw her neighbours grow stronger, without receiving proportionable additions to her own power. Not that the mischief was so great as it is generally conceived or represented; for, I believe, it may be made to appear, that the wealth of the nation was, in this reign, very much increased, though that of the crown was lessened. Our reputation for war was impaired; but commerce seems to have been carried on with great industry and vigour, and nothing was wanting, but that we should have defended ourselves from the incroachments of our neighbours.
The inclination to plant colonies in America still continued, and this being the only project in which men of adventure and enterprise could exert their qualities in pacific design, multitudes, who were discontented with their condition in their native country, and such multitudes there will always be, sought relief, or at least a change in the western regions, where they settled in the northern part of the continent, at a distance from the Spaniards, at that time almost the only nation that had any power or will to obstruct us.
Such was the condition of this country when the unhappy Charles inherited the crown. He had seen the errors of his father, without being able to prevent them, and, when he began his reign, endeavoured to raise the nation to its former dignity. The French Papists had begun a new war upon the Protestants: Charles sent a fleet to invade Rhée and relieve Rochelle, but his attempts were defeated, and the Protestants were subdued. The Dutch, grown wealthy and strong, claimed the right of fishing in the British seas: this claim the king, who saw the increasing power of the states of Holland, resolved to contest. But for this end it was necessary to build a fleet, and a fleet could not be built without expence: he was advised to levy ship-money, which gave occasion to the Civil War, of which the events and conclusion are too well known.
While the inhabitants of this island were embroiled among themselves, the power of France and Holland was every day increasing. The Dutch had overcome the difficulties of their infant commonwealth; and, as they still retained their vigour and industry, from rich grew continually richer, and from powerful more powerful. They extended their traffick, and had not yet admitted luxury; so that they had the means and the will to accumulate wealth without any incitement to spend it. The French, who wanted nothing to make them powerful, but a prudent regulation of their revenues, and a proper use of their natural advantages, by the successive care of skilful ministers, became every day stronger, and more conscious of their strength.
About this time it was, that the French first began to turn their thoughts to traffick and navigation, and to desire like other nations an American territory. All the fruitful and valuable parts of the western world were already either occupied or claimed, and nothing remained for France but the leavings of other navigators, for she was not yet haughty enough to seize what the neighbouring powers had already appropriated.
The French therefore contented themselves with sending a colony to Canada, a cold uncomfortable uninviting region, from which nothing but furs and fish were to be had, and where the new inhabitants could only pass a laborious and necessitous life, in perpetual regret of the deliciousness and plenty of their native country.
Notwithstanding the opinion which our countrymen have been taught to entertain of the comprehension and foresight of French politicians, I am not able to persuade myself, that when this colony was first planted, it was thought of much value, even by those that encouraged it; there was probably nothing more intended than to provide a drain into which the waste of an exubrerant nation might be thrown, a place where those who could do no good might live without the power of doing mischief. Some new advantage they undoubtedly saw, or imagined themselves to see, and what more was necessary to the establishment of the colony was supplied by natural inclination to experiments, and that impatience of doing nothing, to which mankind perhaps owe much of what is imagined to be effected by more splendid motives.
In this region of desolate sterility they settled themselves, upon whatever principle; and as they have from that time had the happiness of a government by which no interest has been neglected, nor any part of their subjects overlooked, they have by continual encouragement and assistance from France, been perpetually enlarging their bounds and increasing their numbers.
These were at first, like other nations who invaded America, inclined to consider the neighbourhood of the natives, as troublesome and dangerous, and are charged with having destroyed great numbers: but they are grown wiser, if not honester, and instead of endeavouring to frighten the Indians away, they invite them to intermarriage and cohabitation, and allure them by all practicable methods to become the subjects of the king of France.
If the Spaniards, when they first took possession of the newly-discovered world, instead of destroying the inhabitants by the thousands, had either had the urbanity or the policy to have conciliated them by kind treatment, and to have united them gradually to their own people, such an accession might have been made to the power of the king of Spain, as would have made him far the greatest monarch that ever yet ruled in the globe; but the opportunity was lost by foolishness and cruelty, and now can never be recovered.
When the parliament had finally prevailed over our king, and the army over the parliament, the interests of the two commonwealths of England and Holland soon appeared to be opposite, and a new government declared war against the Dutch. In this contest was exerted the utmost power of the two nations, and the Dutch were finally defeated, yet not with such evidence of superiority as left us much reason to boast our victory: they were obliged however to solicit peace, which was granted them on easy conditions; and Cromwell, who was now possessed of the supreme power, was left at leisure to pursue other designs.
The European powers had not yet ceased to look with envy on the Spanish acquisitions in America, and therefore Cromwell thought, that if he gained any part of these celebrated regions, he should exalt his own reputation and enrich the country. He therefore quarrelled with the Spaniards upon some such subject of contention as he that is resolved upon hostility may always find, and sent Penn and Venables into the western seas. They first landed in Hispaniola, whence they were driven off with no great reputation to themselves; and that they might not return without having done something, they afterwards invaded Jamaica, where they found less resistance, and obtained that island, which was afterwards consigned to us, being probably of little value to the Spaniards, and continues to this day a place of great wealth, and dreadful wickedness, a den of tyrants, and a dungeon of slaves.
Cromwell, who perhaps had not leisure to study foreign politicks, was very fatally mistaken with regard to Spain and France. Spain had been the last power in Europe which had openly pretended to give law to other nations, and the memory of this terror remained when the real cause was at an end. We had more lately been frighted by Spain than by France, and though very few were then alive of the generation that had their sleep broken by the Armada, yet the name of the Spaniards was still terrible, and a war against them was pleasing to the people.
Our own troubles had left us very little desire to look out upon the continent, and inveterate prejudice hindered us from perceiving, that for more than half a century the power of France had been increasing, and that of Spain had been growing less; nor does it seem to have been remembered, which yet required no great depth of policy to discern, that of two monarchs, neither of which could be long our friend, it was our interest to have the weaker near us; or that if a war should happen, Spain, however wealthy or strong in herself, was by the dispersion of her territories more obnoxious to the attacks of a naval power, and consequently had more to fear from us, and had it less in her power to hurt us.
All these considerations were overlooked by the wisdom of that age, and Cromwell assisted the French to drive the Spaniards out of Flanders, at a time when it was our interest to have supported the Spaniards against France, as formerly the Hollanders against Spain, by which we might at least have retarded the growth of the French power, though, I think, it must have finally prevailed.
During this time our colonies, which were less disturbed by our commotions than the mother-country, naturally increased; it is probable that many who were unhappy at home took shelter in those remote regions, where, for the sake of inviting greater numbers, every one was allowed to think and live his own way. The French settlement in the mean time went slowly forward, too inconsiderable to raise any jealousy, and too weak to attempt any encroachments.
When Cromwell died, the confusions that followed produced the restoration of monarchy, and some time was employed in repairing the ruins of our constitution, and restoring the nation to a state of peace. In every change there will be many that suffer real or imaginary grievances, and therefore many will be disillusioned. This was, perhaps, the reason why several colonies had their beginning in the reign of Charles the Second. The Quakers willingly sought refuge in Pennsylvania; and it is not unlikely that Carolina owed its inhabitants to the remains of that restless disposition, which had given so much disturbance to our country, and had now no opportunity of acting at home.
The Dutch still continuing to increase in wealth and power, either kindled the resentment of their neighbours by their indolence, or raised their envy by their prosperity. Charles made war upon them without much advantage; but they were obliged at last to confess him the sovereign of the narrow seas. They were reduced almost to extremities by an invasion from France; but soon recovered from their consternation, and, by the fluctuation of war, regained their cities and provinces with the same speed as they had lost them.
During the time of Charles the Second the power of France was every day increasing; and Charles, who never disturbed himself with remote consequences, saw the progress of her arms, and the extension of her dominions, with very little uneasiness. He was indeed sometimes driven by the prevailing faction into confederacies against her: but as he had, probably, a secret partiality in her favour, he never persevered long in acting against her, nor ever acted with much vigour: so that, by his feeble resistance, he rather raised her confidence than hindered her designs.
About this time the French first began to perceive the advantage of commerce, and the importance of a naval force; and such encouragement was given to manufactures, and so eagerly was every project received by which trade could be advanced, that, in a few years, the sea was filled with their ships, and all the ports of the world crowded with their merchants. There is, perhaps, no instance in human history of such a change produced in so short a time in the schemes and manners of a people, of so many new sources of wealth opened, and such numbers of artificers and merchants made to start out of the ground, as was seen in the ministry of Colbert.
Now it was that the power of France became formidable to England. Her dominions were large before, and her armies numerous; but her operations were necessarily confined to the continent. She had neither ships for the transportation of her troops, nor money for their support in distant expeditions. Colbert saw both these wants, and saw that commerce only would supply them. The fertility of their country furnishes the French with commodities; the poverty of the common people keeps the price of labour low. By the obvious practice of selling much and buying little, it was apparent that they would soon draw the wealth of other countries into their own vessels, a numerous body of sailors would be quickly raised.
This was projected, and this was performed. The king of France was soon enabled to bribe those whom he could not conquer, and to terrify with his fleets those whom his armies could not have approached. The influence of France was suddenly diffused all over the globe; her arms were dreaded, and her pensions received in remote regions, and those were almost ready to acknowledge her sovereignty, who, a few years before, had scarcely heard her name. She thundered on the coasts of Africa, and received ambassadors from Siam.
So much may be done by one wise man endeavouring with honesty the advantage of the publick. But that we may not rashly condemn all ministers as wanting wisdom or integrity whose counsels have produced no such apparent benefits to their country, it must be considered, that Colbert had means of acting, which our government does not allow. He could enforce all his orders by the power of an absolute monarch; he could compel individuals to sacrifice their private profit to the general good; he could make one understanding preside over many hands, and remove difficulties by quick and violent expedients. Where no man thinks himself under any obligation to submit to another, and, instead of co-operating in one great scheme, every one hastens through by-paths to private profit, no great change can suddenly be made; nor is superior knowledge of much effect, where every man resolves to use his own eyes and his own judgment, and every one applauds his own dexterity and diligence, in proportion as he becomes rich sooner than his neighbour.
Colonies are always the effects and causes of navigation. They who visit many countries find some in which pleasure, profit, or safety invite them to settle; and these settlements, when they are once made, must keep a perpetual correspondence with the original country to which they are subject, and on which they depend for protection in danger, and supplies in necessity. So that a country once discovered and planted, must always find employment for shipping, more certainly than any foreign commerce, which, depending on casualties, may be sometimes more and sometimes less, and which other nations may contract or suppress. A trade to colonies can never be much impaired, being, in reality, only an intercourse between distant provinces of the same empire, from which intruders are easily excluded; likewise the interest and affection of the correspondent parties, however distant, is the same.
On this reason all nations, whose power has been exerted on the ocean, have fixed colonies in remote parts of the world; and while those colonies subsisted, navigation, if it did not increase, was always preserved from total decay. With this policy the French were well acquainted, and therefore improved and augmented the settlements in America, and other regions, in proportion as they advanced their schemes of naval greatness.
The exact time in which they made their acquisitions in America, or other quarters of the globe, it is not necessary to collect. It is sufficient to observe, that their trade and their colonies increased together; and, if their naval armaments were carried on, as they really were, in greater proportion to their commerce, than can be practised in other countries, it must be attributed to the martial disposition at that time prevailing in the nation, to the frequent wars which Lewis the Fourteenth made upon his neighbours, and to the extensive commerce of the English and Dutch, which afforded so much plunder to privateers, that war was more lucrative than traffick.
Thus the naval power of France continued to increase during the reign of Charles the Second, who, between his fondness of ease and pleasure, the struggles of faction which he could not suppress, and his inclination to the friendship of absolute monarchy, had not much power or desire to repress it. And of James the Second, it could not be expected that he should act against his neighbours with great vigour, having the whole body of his subjects to oppose. He was not ignorant of the real interest of his country; he desired its power and its happiness, and thought rightly, that there is no happiness without religion; but he thought very erroneously and absurdly, that there is no religion without popery.
When the necessity of self-preservation had impelled the subjects of James to drive him from the throne, there came a time in which the passions, as well as interest of the government, acted against the French, and in which it may perhaps be reasonably doubted, whether the desire of humbling France was not stronger than that of exalting England: of this, however, it is not necessary to enquire, since, though the intention may be different, the event will be the same. All mouths were now open to declare what every eye had observed before, that the arms of France were become dangerous to Europe; and that, if her encroachments were suffered a little longer, resistance would be too late.
It was now determined to re-assert the empire of the sea; but it was more easily determined than performed: the French made a vigorous defence against the united power of England and Holland, and were sometimes masters of the ocean, though the two maritime powers were united against them. At length, however, they were defeated at La Hogue; a great part of their fleet was destroyed, and they were reduced to carry on the war only with their privateers, from whom there was suffered much petty mischief, though there was no danger of conquest or invasion. They distressed our merchants, and obliged us to the continual expence of convoys and fleets of observation; and, by skulking in little coves and shallow waters, escaped our pursuit.
In this reign began our confederacy with the Dutch, which mutual interest has now improved into a friendship, conceived by some to be inseparable: and from that time the States began to be termed, in the style of politicians, our faithful friends, the allies which Nature has given us, our Protestant confederates, and by many other names of national endearment. We have, it is true, the same interest, as opposed to France, and some resemblance of religion, as opposed to popery; but we have such a rivalry, in respect of commerce, as will always keep us from very close adherence to each other. No mercantile man, or mercantile nation, has any friendship but for money, and alliance between them will last no longer than their common safety or common profit is endangered; no longer than they have an enemy, who threatens to take from each more than either can steal from the other.
We were both sufficiently interested in repressing the ambition, and obstructing the commerce of France; and therefore we concurred with as much fidelity and as regular co-operation as is commonly found. The Dutch were in immediate danger, the armies of their enemies hovered over their country, and therefore they were obliged to dismiss for a time their love of money, and their narrow projects of private profit, and to do what a trader does not willingly at any time believe necessary, to sacrifice a part for the preservation of the whole.
A peace was at length made, and the French with their usual vigour and industry rebuilt their fleets, restored their commerce, and became in a very few years able to contest again the dominion of the sea. Their ships were well-built, and always very numerously manned; their commanders, having no hopes but from their bravery or their fortune, were resolute, and being very carefully educated for the sea, were eminently skilful.
All this was soon perceived, when queen Anne, the then darling of England, declared war against France. Our success by sea, though sufficient to keep us from dejection, was not such as dejected our enemies. It is, indeed, to be confessed, that we did not exert our whole naval strength; Marlborough was the governor of our counsels, and the great view of Marlborough was a war by land, which he knew well how to conduct, both to the honour of his country, and his own profit. The fleet was therefore starved that the army might be supplied, and naval advantages were neglected for the sake of taking a town in Flanders, to be garrisoned by our allies. The French, however, were so weakened by one defeat after another, that, though their fleet was never destroyed by any total overthrow, they at last retained it in their harbours, and applied their whole force to the resistance of the confederate army, that now began to approach their frontiers, and threatened to lay waste their provinces and cities.
In the latter years of this war, the danger of their neighbourhood in America seems to have been considered, and a fleet was fitted out and supplied with a proper number of land forces to seize Quebec, the capital of Canada, or New France; but this expedition miscarried, like that of Anson against the Spaniards, by the lateness of the season, and our ignorance of the coasts on which we were to act. We returned with loss, and only excited our enemies to greater vigilance, and perhaps to stronger fortifications.
When the peace of Utrecht was made, which those who clamoured among us most loudly against it, found it their interest to keep, the French applied themselves with the utmost industry to the extension of their trade, which we were so far from hindering, that for many years our ministry thought their friendship of such value, as to be cheaply purchased by whatever concession.
Instead therefore of opposing, as we had hitherto professed to do, the boundless ambition of the House of Bourbon, we became on a sudden solicitous for its exaltation, and studious of its interest. We assisted the schemes of France and Spain with our fleets, and endeavoured to make those our friends by servility, whom nothing but power will keep quiet, and who must always be our enemies while they are endeavouring to grow greater, and we determine to remain free.
That nothing might be omitted which could testify our willingeness to continue on any terms the good friends of France, we were content to assist not only their conquests but their traffick; and though we did not openly repeal the prohibitory laws, we yet tamely suffered commerce to be carried on between the two nations, and wool was daily imported, to enable them to make cloth, which they carried to our markets and sold cheaper than we.
During all this time, they were extending and strengthening their settlements in America, contriving new modes of traffick, and framing new alliances with the Indian nations. They began now to find these northern regions, barren and desolate as they are, sufficiently valuable to desire at least a nominal possession, that might furnish a pretence for the exclusion of others; they therefore extended their claim to tracts of land, which they could never hope to occupy, took care to give their dominions an unlimited magnitude, have given in their maps the name of Louisiana to a country, of which part is claimed by the Spaniards, and part by the English, without any regard to ancient boundaries, or prior discovery.
When the return of Columbus from his great voyage had filled all Europe with wonder and curiosity, Henry the Seventh sent Sebastian Cabot to try what could be found for the benefit of England: he declined the track of Columbus, and steering to the westward, fell upon the island, which, from that time, was called by the English, Newfoundland. Our princes seem to have considered themselves as entitled by their right of prior seizure to the northern parts of America, as the Spaniards were allowed by universal consent their claim to the southern region for the same reason; and we accordingly made our principal settlements within the limits of our own discoveries, and, by degrees, planted the eastern coast from Newfoundland to Georgia.
As we had, according to the European principles, which allow nothing to the natives of these regions, our choice of situation in this extensive country, we naturally fixed our habitations along the coast, for the sake of traffick and correspondence, and all the conveniencies of navigable rivers. And when one port or river was occupied, the next colony, instead of fixing themselves in the inland parts behind the former, went on southward, till they pleased themselves with another maritime situation. For this reason our colonies have more length than depth; their extent from east to west, or from the sea to the interior country, bears no proportion to their reach along the coast from north to south.
It was, however, understood, by a kind of tacit compact among the commercial powers, that possession of the coast included a right to the inland; and, therefore, the charters granted to the several colonies limit their districts only from north to south, leaving their possessions from east to west unlimited and discretional, supposing that, as the colony increases, they may take lands as they shall want them, the possession of the coasts excluding other navigators, and the unhappy Indians having no right of nature or of nations.
This right of the first European possessor was not disputed till it became the interest of the French to question it. Canada, or New France, on which they made their first settlement, is situated eastward of our colonies, between which they pass up the great river of St. Lawrence, with Newfoundland on the north, and Nova Scotia on the south. Their establishment in this country was neither envied nor hindered; and they lived here, in no great numbers, a long time, neither molesting their European neighbours, nor molested by them.
But when they grew stronger and more numerous, they began to extend their territories; and as it is natural for men to seek their own convenience, the desire of more fertile and agreeable habitations tempted them southward. There is land enough to the north and west of their settlements, which they may occupy with as good right as can be shewn by the other European usurpers, and which neither the English nor Spaniards will contest; but of this cold region they have enough already, and their resolution was to get a better country. This was not to be had but by settling to the west of our plantations, on ground which has been hitherto supposed to belong to us.
Hither, therefore, they resolved to remove, and to fix, at their own discretion, the western border of our colonies, which was heretofore considered as unlimited. Thus by forming a line of forts, in some measure parallel to the coast, they inclose us between their garrisons and the sea, and not only hinder our extension westward, but, whenever they have a sufficient navy in the sea, can harass us on each side, as they can invade us at pleasure from one or other of their forts.
This design was not perhaps discovered as soon as it was formed, and was certainly not opposed so soon as it was discovered; we foolishly hoped, that their encroachments would stop, that they would be prevailed on by treaty and remonstrance, to give up what they had taken, or to put limits to themselves. We suffered them to establish one settlement after another, to pass boundary after boundary, and add fort to fort, till at last they grew strong enough to avow their designs, and defy us to obstruct them.
By these provocations long continued, we are at length forced into a war, in which we have had hitherto very ill fortune. Our troops under Braddock were dishonourably defeated; our fleets have yet done nothing more than taken a few merchant-ships, and have distressed some private families, but have very little weakened the power of France. The detention of their seamen makes it indeed less easy for them to fit out their navy; but this deficiency will be easily supplied by the alacrity of the nation, which is always eager for war.
It is unpleasing to represent our affairs to our own disadvantage; yet it is necessary to shew the evils which we desire to be removed; and therefore, some account may very properly be given of the measures which have given them their present superiority.
They are said to be supplied from France with better governours than our colonies have the fate to obtain from England. A French governour is seldom chosen for any other reason than his qualifications for his trust. To be a bankrupt at home, or to be so infamously vicious that he cannot be decently protected in his own country, seldom recommends any man to the government of a French colony. Their officers are commonly skilful either in war or commerce, and are taught to have no expectation of honour or preferment, but from the justice and vigour of their administration.
Their great security is the friendship of the natives, and to this advantage they have certainly an indubitable right; because it is the consequence of their virtue. It is ridiculous to imagine, that the friendship of nations, whether civil or barbarous, can be gained and kept but by kind treatment; and surely they who intrude, uncalled, upon the country of a distant people, ought to consider the natives as worthy of common kindness, and content themselves to rob without insulting them. The French, as has already been observed, admit the Indians, by intermarriage, to an equality with themselves; and those nations, with which they have no such near intercourse, they gain over to their interest by honesty in their dealings. Our factors and traders, having no other purpose in view than immediate profit, use all the arts of an European counting-house, to defraud the simple hunter of furs.
These are some of the causes of our present weakness; our planters are always quarrelling with their governour, whom they consider as less to be trusted than the French; and our traders hourly alienate the Indians by their tricks and oppressions, and we continue every day to shew by new proofs, that no people can be great who have ceased to be virtuous.
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