Letter XVIII

From Letter XVIII:

[94] Perhaps there is no subject on which the generality are more likely to be influenced by delusive representations, or betrayed into intemperate violence, than that of politics. I should once have thought it very unnecessary to have said any thing, on this topic, to persons so young; but the universal interest which is, at certain periods, excited, may not render it altogether improper; for where the wisest are apt to err, the inexperienced may surely be cautioned.

Although observation, investigation, and experience, are necessary, in order to form an accurate and unbiassed judgment, on any subject; yet, on that of politics, every one thinks himself competent to decide. Doubtless, there is a right and a wrong, on this, as well as on every other subject of human discussion. But, is it from studying the nature of man, and the tendencies of each mode of government, or of representation, [95] to promote his welfare, (which is the sole end of all government,) that opinions are generally formed? Look into the characters, or enquire into the reasons, of the most violent abetters of a party, and it will generally be found that they think as they do, because their fathers thought so before them; or, it may be, they depend on some person who is on the side they have espoused; or all their information is, perhaps, derived from a certain newspaper. When any national question is agitated, or a representative is to be chosen, such persons often lay aside their business; neglect their families; and, by every means in their power, serve the cause of their party. At first, probably, they do not think of doing any thing unjust or dishonourable; but when all the faculties are employed in attaining an end, there is seldom much scrupulosity about the means: and these very convenient tools of a party are generally employed by higher agents, to perform the business in which themselves would be ashamed to appear. Unhappily, there are persons of this sort in every town; and they find access to many respectable families, in which they obtain considerable influence. Amiable and unsuspicious youth can seldom witness ardour in any cause, without imbibing somewhat of the same spirit; and many have been drawn, before they were aware, into dangerous [96] situations and disgraceful compliances; and have, at length, hazarded their safety, and degraded their characters, amidst an infuriated election mob! while all the elegant accomplishments and useful arts, which are so agreeable in the individual, and so beneficial to society, are neglected and forgotten.* From such scenes, and from such connexions, it is impossible too strongly to guard those who respect themselves, or who would be truly respectable amongst others. We ought to adopt no opinions because they are those of such a person, or such a party; and the further the character is from excellence, and the understanding from cultivation, the less disposed ought we to be to yield implicit deference to assertion.

To those who enter furiously into the zeal of a party, to serve a man of whose principles and [97] practices they know nothing, merely because he is opposed by an opposite party which they hate, the reasoning I could offer would be of no avail: it is the connexions, conversation, and prejudices likely to lead to this, against which I would guard you.


* It is much to be lamented, that even ladies, and those whose rank and education ought to have heightened the native modesty and refinement of the sex, should so often throw aside their natural delicacy, and become public canvassers at elections! exposed to all the insults on the one hand, and the familiarities on the other, of the lowest rabble. Mothers, guardians, and husbands, who can authorise such a violation of all decorum, have only themselves to blame for whatever conduct follows.