FROM CATO's LETTERS. ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
WITHOUT freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech: which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and controul the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.
This sacred privilege is so essential to free go∣vernment, that the security of property and the freedom of speech always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the liberty of speech; a thing terrible to public traitors.
This secret was so well known to the court of King Charles the first, that his wicked ministry procured a proclamation to forbid the people to talk of parliaments, which those traitors had laid aside. To assert the undoubted right of the subject, and defend his majesty's legal prerogative, was called disaffection, and punished as sedition. Nay, people were forbid to talk of religion in their fa∣milies: for the priests too had combined to cook up tyranny, and suppress truth and the law. While the late King James, when Duke of York, went avowedly to mass, men were fined, imprisoned, and undone, for saying he was a papist: and that King Charles the second might live more securely a pa∣pist, there was an act of parliament made, declar∣ing it treason to say that he was one.
That men ought to speak well of their governors, is true, while their governors deserve to be well spoken of; but to do public mischief without hear∣ing of it, is only the prerogative and felicity of Page 4tyranny; a free people will be shewing they are •o, by their freedom of speech.
The administration of government is nothing else but the attendance of the trustees of the peo∣ple, upon the interest and affairs of the people. And as it is the part and business of the people, for whose sake alone all public matters are, or ought to be transacted, to see whether they be well or ill transacted; so it is the interest, and ought to be the ambition, of all honest magistrates, to have their deeds openly examined, and publicly scanned: only the wicked governors of men dread what is said of them.
Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liber∣ty; they prosper and die together: and it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius. Tacitus tells us, that the Roman commonwealth bred great and nu∣merous authors, who wrote with equal boldness and eloquence: but when it was enslaved, those great wits were no more. Tyranny had usurped the place of equality, which is the soul of liberty, and destroyed public courage. The minds of men, terrified by unjust power, degenerated into all the vileness and methods of servitude: abject, syco∣phancy and blind submission grew the only means of preferment, and indeed of safety; men durst not open their mouths but to flatter.
Pliny the younger observes, that this dread of tyranny had such effect, that the senate, the great Roman senate, became at last stupid and dumb. Hence, says he, our spirit and genius are stupified, broken and sunk for ever. And in one of his epistles, speaking of the works of his uncle, he makes an apology for eight of them, as not written with the same vigour which was to be found in the rest; for that these eight were written in the reign of Nero, when the spirit of writing was cramped with fear.
Page 5I have long thought that the world are very much mistaken in their idea and distinction of li∣bels. It has been hitherto generally understood that there are no other libels but those against magis∣trates, and those against private men: now to me there seems to be a third sort of libels, full as de∣structive as any of the former can possibly be, I mean libels against the people. It was otherwise at Athens and Rome; where, though, particular men, and even great men, were often treated with much freedom and severity, when they deserved it; yet the people, the body of the people, were spoken of with the utmost regard and reverence; the sacred privileges of the people, the inviolable majesty of the people, and the unappealable judg∣ment of the people, were phrases common in those wise, great, and free cities. Other modes of speech are since grown fashionable, and popular madness is now almost proverbial; but this madness of theirs, whenever it happens, is derived from external causes. Oppression, they say, will make a wise man mad; and delusion has not less force; but where there are neither oppression nor imposters, the judgment of the people in the business of pro∣perty, the preservation of which is the principal business of government, does rarely err. Perhaps they are destitute of grimace, mystery, reserve, and other accomplishments of courtiers; but as these are only masks to conceal the absence of honesty and sense, the people, who possess as they do th• substance, have reason to despise such insipid and contemptible shadows.
Machiavel, in the chapter where he proves that a multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince, complains, that the credid which the peo∣ple should be in declines daily: For, says he, every man has liberty to speak what he pleases against them, but against a prince no man can talk without a thousand apprehensions and dangers. I have in∣deed Page 6often wondered, that the inveighing against the interest of the people, and calling their liber∣ties in question, as has been, and is commonly done amongst us by old knaves and young fools, has never been made an express crime.
I must own, I know not what treason is, if sap∣ping and betraying the liberties of a people be not treason, in the eternal and original nature of things. Let it be remembered for whose sake government is, or could be appointed; then let it be consider∣ed who are more to be regarded, the governors, or the governed; they indeed owe one another mu∣tual duties; but if there be any transgressions com∣mitted, the side that is most obliged, ought doubt∣less to bear the most: and yet it is so far otherwise, that almost all over the earth, the people, for one injury that they do their governors, receive ten thousand from them: any, in some countries, it is made death and damnation, not to bear all the oppressions and cruelties which men, made wanton by power, inflict upon those that gave it them.
The truth is; If the people are suffered to keep their own, it is the most th•t they desire: but even that is a happiness which in few places falls to their lot; they are frequently robbed by those whom they pay to protect them. I know that it is a ge∣neral charge against the people. that they are tur∣bulent, restless, fickle, and unruly; than which there can be nothing more untrue, for they are only so, where they are made so. As to their being fickle, it is so false, that, on the contrary, they have almost ever a strong bent to received customs, and as strong a partiality to names and families that they have been used to: and as to their being turbulent, it is as false; since there is scarce and ex∣ample in an hundred years of any people's giving governors any uneasiness, till their governors had made them uneasy: nay, for the most part, they bear many evils without returning one, and seldom throw off their burdens so long as they can stand under them.