Oglethorpe’s three letters supporting the Ministry of Frederick, Lord North (1732–92), appeared in the Public Advertiser on March 14, 19, and 22, 1782. They appear to be his last publications and are unusual in bearing his signature. Ettinger was the first biographer to mention them.1 Although many Americans associate the name of Lord North with oppressive measures taken against the Colonies, in 1782 North certainly wanted reconciliation with America, but was placed in an impossible position by King George III, who refused North’s pleas for peace and rejected his offers to resign. The opposition, led by Fox, was just as confused. At the end of February 1782 it passed a motion against continuing the war with America, but refused to state a position regarding peace terms.2
Oglethorpe’s suggestions concerning taxation, in his third letter, reflect the principles and measures already stated by North on March 11, 1782;3 but the precise manner of differentiation is Oglethorpe’s own. His exception of the playhouse from the new taxation had been anticipated in the debates by Charles Howard, Earl of Surrey and later eleventh Duke of Norfolk.4 Oglethorpe’s support of North was of course futile for a minister whose resignation was inevitable. It came on March 20—the day after Oglethorpe’s second letter appeared.
My text follows that in the Public Advertiser.
MINISTERS keep their PLACES.
IF the Independent Country Gentlemen were to speak out their honest Sentiments, it would defeat the Purposes of designing Men, who like the Quack Doctor, talk a great deal of a Disorder without proposing a Remedy, and without having, like him, any Thing more in View than the Gratification of their own Purposes, at the Expence of our National Credulity.
I was led to this serious Refection, Mr. Woodfall, by the honest Exertions of Sir John Delaval,5 who, after asserting his Independency on every Set of Ministers and Men, and that he spoke from Conviction and Principle, declared in Favour of Administration for the great Reasons which should regulate the Conduct of every upright Representative of the People, namely, because “the Men in Opposition to Government had no Plan; and that as they complained of public Evils without offering a Remedy, they acted at Random,” which convinced Sir John, as it should convince every candid Man that we cannot have a better Ministry than the present, and that they ought in Reason to keep their Places until a better Set of Men produce themselves to succeed them.
Mr. Woodfall, I honour the worthy Baronet for his sterling Sense and sound Policy, which conveys to my Mind stronger Reasons against the Declamation of the Minority, and in Favour of Lord North’s Administration, than all the long Speeches made for and against Ministers.
The Minority say “our Struggle with numerous and powerful Enemies is great.” Admitted.—They add, that “the unequal Contest rendering the Event precarious, our Situation is dangerous and alarming.” Admitted also. —But while we admit the National Struggle, and are sensible of the Danger, what is the Conclusion? The Minority can certainly take no Merit in telling us what we know. We cannot be blind to what we all see, nor ignorant of what we all feel, as the inevitable Consequence of contending with numerous, though unprovoked, Enemies!
Then where is the great Merit of the Minority? Where is the Wisdom and Virtue of which they boasted so much with the good-natured, credulous, and deluded Public?
In the Name of Common-sense let me ask the honest Gentlemen in Opposition and their Partizans in what their Merit consists? They say we are in Danger, and yet do not offer a Remedy. Not a single Thing, Mr. Woodfall, have these State Physicians prescribed to save the Body Politic in the Hour of Danger and approaching Dissolution! Indeed in the Stile of the Mountebank, they modestly advise us to discard all the Faculty,6 as ignorant, unprincipled Men, and to trust our Lives and Fortunes intirely to them, of whose Wisdom we have but slight Proofs, and of whose Virtue we have strong Suspicions.
But, to be serious, Mr. Printer, how long is the Nation to be amused and abused by these Men of Words? Let me tell them, in the Language of Sir John Delaval, that they have no Plan of Operations for the Public Service, and therefore the present Set of Ministers ought to be supported, until others can be found, with more Wisdom and Virtue, to fill their Places; which, in my Conscience, I do not believe will easily be found.
For the Public Advertiser.
On a CHANGE OF MINISTERS.
To Lord NORTH.
ALTHOUGH Opposition thought themselves sure of turning out the present Set of Ministers, and putting other Men in, who are better calculated to promote the Purposes of the Leaders of the Minority; yet the Letters of “One in the Secret” have,7 I believe, convinced the Public in general, that they are quite mistaken and disappointed, and, by consequence, that Administration will stand their Ground, and persevere, with the best Intention, to promote a Reconciliation with America, that his Majesty’s Forces may be more effectually employed against foreign Enemies, until a good Cause and the Assistance of Providence shall reduce our Foes to Reason, and to such a Peace as shall be consistent with the Dignity of his Majesty’s Crown, and the Security and Happiness of his Subjects.
My Lord, this Intelligence is very important to the Nation, and I will contribute my Share of Justice to “One in the Secret,” by acknowledging that the Reasons he has assigned against the Minority, and in favour of your Lordship’s Administration, have convinced me, as, I dare say, they have every candid Man, that the sudden Attempt of the Minority (though well meant by a few worthy Members) was, in general, a Party Trick to surprize Ministers, and to take the Posts of Honour by Storm, in which they were so secret, so active, and had advanced so far, that they would not give Ministers Time to capitulate, insisting on their surrendering at the Discretion of Enemies who discovered, by the violence of their Conduct, that they had little Discretion in them.
My Lord, as the Attack of the Minority was precipitate, so their Expectations were sanguine; and as they have totally failed in the former, so they are intirely disappointed in the latter.
My Lord, you have been more than a Dozen Years at the Helm, and if you are not a Dozen more it will be your own Choice. I am sure you are too well fixed in the Saddle to be shaken off, by any Man, or Set of Men, in the Kingdom. I know, my Lord, that notwithstanding your acknowledged Talents, we want the Abilities of some Men in Opposition, but we do not want their Principles. It may be said of the Minority as that brave Tar, Admiral Boscawen, said of the Scotch, “They make excellent Soles, but damned bad Upper Leathers.”
My Lord, as Ministers have weathered the Storm with which they were threatened by the Minority, and as the Fortune of War seems again in our Favour, I congratulate your Lordship on the Prospect of Success, and on the Appearance that the Wisdom and Virtue of your Administration will disappoint domestic Foes and foreign Enemies, and (as “One in the Secret” has prophecied) with the Blessings of Heaven upon a good Cause, that Lord North will still render this Nation happy, great and flourishing.
For the Public Advertiser.
To Lord NORTH.
THE Method of raising Taxes, when they are inevitable, discovers the Ability and Principle of the Financier. Taxes being an unavoidable Contribution of People, to the necessary Support of the State, they are only oppressive and odious in Proportion as they are injudiciously laid. When they are laid upon the proper Objects that can and ought to contribute to the Burthens of Government, and the industrious Part of the Community are excused, as much as the Nature of Things will admit, then the Minister becomes popular, because the Tax (being unavoidable) is laid on the proper Objects of Taxation.
Your Lordship is the most popular Financier we have had for many Years, because you have paid due Attention to the Objects of Taxation for the Purpose of Revenue; and by charging them where they can be best borne, you have excused, as much as possible, those which were not so able to bear them. Hence it is evident that your Lordship discovers a great Knowledge of the Art of Finance, and a great Regard to the Interest of a trading Nation, by making as light as possible the Burthens of the industrious Part of the Community.
The People feel and acknowledge the good Effects of this sound Policy, and your Lordship is, by Consequence, a very popular Minister in regard to Finance, which is the greatest Object of a commercial Nation, that is greatly in Debt. I wish, my Lord, with all my Heart, that you were as fortunate in every other Circumstance of your Administration. But, to be all Perfection, is more than the People can, in Reason, expect, or your Lordship aspire to. It may be the noble Ambition of a great Mind, but it is beyond the Acquisitions of human Accomplishments.
To confine myself to the single Business of FINANCE, as Money will be much wanted, permit me, my Lord, to prepare the Way to a Supply which will produce much Good to the Government, without Inconvenience to the Subject.
The Art of Taxation consist in Taxes being productive for Government, and proportioned to the Ability of the People, who will bear the Burthens of their Country, when they arise from Necessity, and are laid with Judgment.
A Tax upon LUXURY is sound Policy in the first Instance, by raising a large Supply of Money when it is much wanted; and in the Second, by excusing other Objects, which are more useful to Society, but less profitable.
Were all Public houses to take out an annual Licence at Three Guineas, Coffee-houses at Four, Taverns at Five, and Places of Dissipation and public Entertainment and Amusement* (the Playhouses excepted) more in Proportion,8 it would raise a considerable annual Sum for the Use of the Nation, upon the most constitutional and rational Principle. I will venture to prophecy that the Tax would not lessen the Frequency of the People, nor, by Consequence, the Number of such Houses.
My Lord, these and similar Objects, which are greatly indulged and much benefited by a very mild Government, should be made to contribute very handsomely to the Support of that State to which they are indebted for every Indulgence and Blessing they enjoy, which is allowed to be very great.
* Written before the Taxes were known.