Navan Corporation, 1754

A Letter From a Burgess of Monaghan to the Parish - Clerk of Ardbraccan, Dublin:

Printed in the Year M,DCC,LIV. (1754)

Mr. Pentland,

I have had vast pleasure in reading your very sensible and spirited answer to the Reverend Mr. Preston’s extraordinary letter:  The sentiments in your reply are so just in themselves, and so agreeable to the principles upon which we act here, that I have often most heartily wished for a personal acquaintance with the author of them; but as the distance of situation denies that satisfaction, I am resolved to repair the loss in the best manner I can, commencing an epistolary correspondence with you, from which I promise myself both entertainment and instruction.

The conduct of our Corporation on a late occasion has drawn the attention of the public in a very particular manner upon us, - you, sir, no doubt, have heard, how we have by one glorious effort defeated court influence, rescued ourselves from servitude and infamy, and effectually re-established our independency. I will now, Sir, lay before you the political principles, by virtue of which we have been enabled to act so great a part.

We hold that the Commons are an essential part of the Constitution, that they are the true representatives of the people, chosen to guard their rights and liberties, and preserve the balance of power against the encroachments of the Crown, or the usurpation of the Lords.  We are fully convinced, that a corrupt and venal House of Commons will give up the balance of power, and betray the rights and liberties of the people; that poverty, disgrace, servitude and misery must unavoidably ensue.

That a virtuous House of Commons will maintain the constitution in an equal state, and consequently establish happiness, credit and liberty among us.  That it entirely depends upon us electors, whether we will have a corrupt or virtuous House of Commons, whether we will be slaves or freemen, happy or miserable.

That every elector for a Borough or County indispensably obliged by divine and human laws, to vote for that man, who he believes in his conscience is best qualified in point of integrity and ability to be the guardian of his fellow subject’s rights and liberties.  That whoever takes a bribe for his vote, sells his conscience, and, as far as in him lies, his country.

That whoever votes through fear is a coward, and a betrayer of his country, and to avoid a small possible inconvenience, involves himself and his posterity in certain servitude and wretchedness.

That whoever votes from what he calls gratitude, imposes grossly on himself; for instead of practising a virtue, he is guilty of the foulest act of injustice, as he pays private obligations at the expense of public duties.  That he might with as much honesty and less guilt rob the treasury, and apply the public money to the discharge of his private debts.  In short, we are convinced in our consciences, that whoever voted from any of these motives, is accountable to God and his country, to the present and future generations for all the slavery and misery that can possibly befall this nation to the last period of its existence, in consequence of corruption; because as far as in his power, he subjects a whole nation to those evils.  These reasonings are so plain and simple, that the weakest understanding can comprehend them.  These principles are so just and constitutional, that they must be received and adhered to by every man who has the least remains of conscience.

How then, Mr. Pentland, has it happened, that so many Freemen of Navan have acted counter to these self evident maxims and these indispensable duties?  Perhaps you’ll say, that most of them mean to act according to the dictates of their reason and conscience, but that they find it difficult to resolve whether they ought to join the court or the country party.  Though I am not a deep politician, nor an inhabitant of Navan, I think I know enough of public affairs in general, and of the Corporation in particular, to be fully able to determine that point; and my sincere attachment to the cause of liberty strongly disposes me to undertake the talk.  If you meet with any of your brother freemen, who are really in suspense on this occasion, and wish to be informed, be so kind to propose to them the following queries.

Who sunk the Linen bill, by which this Kingdom was brought to the verge of ruin? A C-----r.

Who screened an ignorant engineer, and a corrupt officer? C-----rs.

Who endeavoured to give the Crown a new and unconstitutional power over the public money? C------rs.

Who occasioned the loss of the Pedlars and Hawkers Bill, by which the Charter Schools have suffered to the amount of £4,000? C------rs.

Who occasioned the loss of the Tillage Bill, a bill contrived to give bread to two millions of people? C------rs.

Who caused a stagnation of trade, by threatening two great treasury Officers? C------rs.

Who misrepresented the glorious and ever memorable patriots, the Speaker, Carter, Cox, Malone, Dilks and Boyle, by which they left their employments? C------rs.

By whose unpardonable negligence, has P------ Boulter’s immense fund for charity lain so long useless to the public? An arch C-----r.

Who represented the people of Ireland to His Majesty as disaffected subjects? C-------rs.

Who put it out of the power of the representatives of the people, by proroguing the parliament, to justify them to His Majesty in a regular way? C----rs.

Who have used threats and promises, bribery and corruption to gain a party? C------rs.

On the other hand, who have refused bribes and employments and have withstood menaces and oppression? Pa------ts.

Who have sacrificed pensions, places and honours to the true interest of their country? Pa-----ts.

Now what is a Preston? An abandoned C------r. What is a carter? A true and unshaken P------t.

Pray, Mr. Pentland, ask the most sanguine C------rs in your neighbourhood, what merits have two chiefs of that party to plead?

One of them holds Ireland and everything it in the utmost contempt, (except his estate) the revenues of which he will always spend in another country.  He does not treat gentlemen of distinction with common decency, and seldom deign to speak to the middling people, except to demand their votes, by which he thinks himself sufficiently entitled to, by condescending to ask them at all.  All that can be said of the other is that it will never be in his power to do his country any considerable service, and that he has not discovered the least disposition to employ that limited power to any good purpose.  Nay the Borough of Navan has been so far from reaping any advantages from these gentlemen, that they have constantly opposed all schemes for its convenience and interest, and particularly the navigation of the Boyne, and a bridge over that river, by which a communication has been opened between the town and a large tract of a fine improved, and well inhabited country.

For shame, Mr. Pentland, don’t suffer your brother Freemen to be made the dupes and slaves of such men as these.  Were they proprietors of the town, nay of the County of Monaghan, and would dare to set up for our Borough, they would be rejected with the utmost scorn.  A plain honest linen draper would carry his election against their united interests, even our wives and children would hoot at them.  But, I find they have endeavoured to supply their want of merit, by their extraordinary talents for conducting elections.

One of the party was chosen Portrieve on Sunday evening, in the corner of a room in a tavern, and unknown to some of the company, without one requisite of an election; and yet this man assumed the office with all the confidence of a legal magistrate, and acted in it with all the tyranny of an usurper.  But he was at last obliged to come into court, and acknowledge his usurpation.  Have your Freemen already forgot this gross abuse, by which they were deprived of a right of voting, and made slaves to an impudent invader?  But, I understand, the party finding such daring violations of law would not pass uncensored through a court of justice, have changed their measures, by employing your reverend correspondent to propagate a most pernicious and unheard of doctrine, no less than “that every Freeman and Freeholder is indispensably obliged to vote for him and his family, who procured him his Freedom and let him his Freehold."  Thus he has by one detestable position, endeavoured not only to strip the people of their natural and civil rights, but to deprive them of all freedom of will, and liberty of conscience.  They would be reduced to a more wretched state than transported felons or American Negroes; for, according to this system when they sign their leases they indent themselves slaves in soul and body.

Surely, every Freeman among you, who has a soul capable of choice, of liberty or virtue, will for the honour of human nature, spurn at the authors and abettors of such a doctrine, and exert his utmost power to defeat their base designs against the natural, civil and religious privileges of their fellow creatures, fellow subjects and fellow Christians.  You, Mr Pentland, have furnished them with an example highly worthy of imitation, in that true spirit of virtue and independency which breathes through your letter to the reverend politician, a letter which would reflect honour on a patriot of the first rank and abilities.

You may further inform your brother Freemen, that the conduct of this party was suitable to their doctrines.  Did they not lock up a voter, and forcibly detain him for nine days?  Is it not justly suspected, and generally believed, that a letter from Lady Frances Hanbury Williams to two of her tenants, was forged as a genuine one of a contrary purport from Sir Charles her husband, dated the day after the one supposed to be wrote by her ladyship was publicly communicated, and had the desired effect.  You well know, that many Freemen and well wishers of public liberty were greatly surprised, to see a secretary under C----t   influence sent down to vote against his friends, his relations and family.

Mr. Benson was also drove to the unhappy necessity of either breaking his promise to Mr. C------r’s friends, or of having his brother turned out of a lucrative employment in the treasury, and his nephew disappointed of the great school of Armagh, which was solemnly promised to two other gentlemen before.  You see Mr. Pentland, how arbitrarily they exercise dominion over the consciences of their dependants, and how cruelly they control even the natural affections.  But surely, the reverend politician has far outdone in practice as well as theory all election agents.  Witness his attempt to suborn (bribe) a voter in the Courthouse during the election, in which he was publicly detected.  But notwithstanding all these practices, you know Mr. Carter had a fair and undoubted majority and would have been declared duly elected, had not the poll been held by a person, whose interest and connections seduced him from that rectitude of conduct which he observes on other occasions; but he is Receiver to Mr. L--dl-w and brother-in-law to Mr. Barry, the candidate.

I have heard it affirmed, with what truth I appeal to the parties concerned, that old Mr. Arthur Meredyth, being in the decline of life and unable to attend public business, confided in the Preston family to guarantee his interest in the Borough of Navan for his only son, who was then a Lieutenant General, Colonel of a Regiment and Governor of Portsmouth and was fighting in the cause of liberty under the great Duke of Marlborough and had the honour of being dismissed from all his employments because he would not act with a disaffected Ministry and was restored to his former honours by his late Majesty.  But the Trustees have not yet restored his family to their rights in that Corporation though there is still extant a most solemn engagement in writing, obliging them to discharge their trust.

You see, Mr. Pentland, that I am well acquainted with the state of your Borough, and not a little anxious about its independency, I heartily wish my affairs would allow me to second in person your laudable endeavours to rescue it from slavery, but as that is impossible at this juncture, I hope some of the materials of this letter will be useful when urged by you in a proper manner to the Freemen.

Perhaps some of them will say they are engaged to the other side and cannot in honour break their promises, but you can readily inform them that a promise cannot alter the nature of things, nor in any case authorise a person to do an action which is in itself unwarrantable.

Other will say they have but single votes and that they are of little consequence in the determination of the contest.  But surely the majority is made up of single votes.  Besides every man is obliged to vote according to his conscience, though he was sure to be in the minority, which will not be the case of Mr. Carter’s friends, as he will have a considerable majority of indisputable votes.  Let not the friends of liberty among you be dismayed, for the conduct of the House of Commons is highly applauded throughout all England and the late Administration much censured even at St. James.  For be assured, His Majesty now views his loyal subjects of Ireland in a true and advantageous light and will send us another Lord Lieutenant next session who will place himself at the head of the Country Party from whence they may justly expect to be amply rewarded for their virtue and steadiness.  The herd of jobbers, pensioners and courtiers will be expelled the society of mankind and distinguished by every mark of infamy that can point out the betrayers of their country.

Exert yourself, worthy Mr. Pentland, and don’t suffer your brother Freemen to submit to the galling and ignominious yoke of slavery while ‘tis yet in their power to secure their liberty by voting for the assertors of the liberty of their country.  Advise them to thread in the steps of the honest and steady Clerk of Ardbraccan, the Gerrards and Barrys, whose names are revered and health drank throughout the whole Kingdom and who will be handed down with honour to posterity while the names of courtiers and petty tyrants will disgrace and blacken the annals of these times.

Assure your brother Freemen that the lowest man among them who can reject a bribe or despise a threat and so vote for the liberty of his country will be ever considered as a Carter, a Malone or a Cox and as his station is lower, so his virtue on this occasion will, if possible rise higher.  That they may all act in this glorious part in discharge of their consciences and in defence of their liberties, is the most sincere wish of good sir,

Your Real Friend,

And Humble Servant.