The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/Advice to the Freemen of Dublin in the Choice of a Member of Parliament

The following piece was published in the year 1733; and, as it may be useful upon a like occasion, we think proper to insert it here.





THOSE few writers, who, since the death of alderman Burton, have employed their pens in giving advice to our citizens, how they should proceed in electing a new representative for the next sessions, having laid aside their pens; I have reason to hope, that all true lovers of their country in general, and particularly those who have any regard for the privileges and liberties of this great and ancient city, will think a second, and a third time, before they come to a final determination upon what person they resolve to fix their choice.

I am told, there are only two persons who set up for candidates; one is the present lord mayor[1], and the other[2], a gentleman of good esteem, an alderman of the city, a merchant of reputation, and possessed of a considerable office under the crown. The question is, which of these two persons it will be most for the advantage of the city to elect? I have but little acquaintance with either, so that my inquiries will be very impartial, and drawn only from the general character and situation of both.

In order to this, I must offer my countrymen and fellow citizens some reasons why I think they ought to be more than ordinarily careful at this juncture, upon whom they bestow their votes.

To perform this with more clearness, it may be proper to give you a short state of our unfortunate country.

We consist of two parties, I do not mean popish and protestant, high and low church, episcopal and sectarians, whig and tory; but of those of English extraction, who happen to be born in this kingdom, (whose ancestors reduced the whole nation under the obedience of the English crown) and the gentlemen sent from the other side, to possess most of the chief employments here: this latter party is very much enlarged and strengthened by the whole power in the church, the law, the army, the revenue, and the civil administration deposited in their hands: although for political ends, and to save appearances, some employments are still distributed (yet gradually in a smaller number) to persons born here: this proceeding, fortified with good words and many promises, is sufficient to flatter and feed the hopes of hundreds, who will never be one farthing the better, as they might easily be convinced, if they were qualified to think at all.

Civil employments of all kinds have been for several years past, with great prudence, made precarious, and during pleasure; by which means the possessors are, and must inevitably be, for ever dependant: yet those very few of any consequence, which being dealt with so sparing a hand to persons born among us, are enough to keep hope alive in great numbers, who desire to mend their condition by the favour of those in power.

Now, my dear fellow citizens, how is it possible you can conceive, that any person, who holds an office of some hundred pounds a year, which may be taken from him whenever power shall think fit, will, if he should be chosen a member for any city, do the least thing when he sits in the house, that he knows or fears may be displeasing to those who gave him, or continue him in that office? Believe me, these are not times to expect such an exalted degree of virtue from mortal men. Blazing stars are much more frequently seen than such heroical worthies. And I could sooner hope to find ten thousand pounds by digging in my garden, than such a phoenix, by searching among the present race of mankind.

I cannot forbear thinking it a very erroneous, as well as modern maxim of politicks, in the English nation, to take every opportunity of depressing Ireland; whereof a hundred instances may be produced in points of the highest importance, and within the memory of every middle aged man: although many of the greatest persons among that party which now prevails, have formerly, upon that article, much differed in their opinion from their present successors.

But so the fact stands at present. It is plain, that the court and country party here (I mean in the house of commons) very seldom agree in any thing but their loyalty to his present majesty, their resolutions to make him and his viceroy easy in the government, to the utmost of their power, under the present condition of the kindgom. But the persons sent from England, who (to a trifle) are possessed of the sole executive power in all its branches, with their few adherents in possession who were born here, and hundreds of expectants, hopers, and promisees, put on quite contrary notions with regard to Ireland. They count upon a universal submission to whatever shall be demanded; wherein they act safely, because none of themselves except the candidates, feel the least of our pressures.

I remember a person of distinction, some days ago affirmed in a good deal of mixed company, and of both parties, That the gentry from England, who now enjoy our highest employments, of all kinds, can never be possibly losers of one farthing by the greatest calamities that can befal this kingdom, except a plague that would sweep away a million of our hewers of wood, and drawers of water; or an invasion that would fright our grandees out of the kingdom. For this person argued, that while there was a penny left in the treasury, the civil and the military list must be paid; and that the episcopal revenues, which are usually farmed out at six times below the real value, could hardly fail. He insisted farther, that as money diminished, the price of all necessaries for life must of consequence do so too, which would be for the advantage of all persons in employment, as well as of my lords the bishops, and to the ruin of every body else. Among the company there wanted not men in office, beside one or two expectants; yet I did not observe any of them disposed to return an answer: but the consequences drawn were these; That the great men in power sent hither from the other side, were by no means upon the same foot with his majesty's other subjects of Ireland. They had no common ligament to bind them with us; they suffered not with our sufferings, and if it were possible for us to have any cause of rejoicing, they could not rejoice with us.

Suppose a person, born in this kingdom, shall happen by his services for the English interest to have an employment conferred on him worth four hundred pounds a year; and that he has likewise an estate in land worth four hundred pounds a year more; suppose him to sit in parliament; then, suppose a land tax to be brought in of five shillings a pound for ten years; I tell you how this gentleman will compute. He has four hundred pounds a year in land: the tax he must pay yearly is one hundred pounds; by which, in ten years, he will pay only a thousand pounds. But if he gives his vote against this tax, he will lose four thousand pounds by being turned out of his employment, together with the power and influence he has, by virtue or colour of his employment; and thus the balance will be against him three thousand pounds. I desire, my fellow citizens, you will please to call to mind how many persons you can vouch for among your acquaintance, who have so much virtue and self denial, as to lose four hundred pounds a year for life, together with the smiles and favour of power, and the hopes of higher advancement, merely out of a generous love of his country.

The contentions of parties in England, are very different from those among us. The battle there is fought for power and riches; and so it is indeed among us: but, whether a great employment be given to Tom or to Peter, they were both born in England, the profits are to be spent there. All employments (except a very few) are bestowed on the natives: they do not send to Germany, Holland, Sweden, or Denmark, much less to Ireland, for chancellors, bishops, judges, or other officers. Their salaries, whether well or ill got, are employed at home: and whatever their morals or politicks be, the nation is not the poorer.

The house of commons in England have frequently endeavoured to limit the number of members, who should be allowed to have employments under the crown. Several acts have been made to that purpose, which many wise men think are not yet effectual enough, and many of them are rendered ineffectual by leaving the power of reelection. Our house of commons consists, I think, of about three hundred members; if one hundred of these should happen to be made up of persons already provided for, joined with expecters, compliers easy to be persuaded, such as will give a vote for a friend who is in hopes to get something; if they be merry companions, without suspicion, of a natural bashfulness, not apt or able to look forward; if good words, smiles, and caresses, have any power over them, the larger part of a second hundred may be very easily brought in at a most reasonable rate.

There is an Englishman[3] of no long standing among us, but in an employment of great trust, power, and profit. This excellent person did lately publish, at his own expense, a pamphlet printed in England by authority, to justify the bill for a general excise, or inland duty, in order to introduce that blessed scheme among us. What a tender care must such an English patriot for Ireland have of our interest, if he should condescend to sit in our parliament? I will bridle my indignation. However, methinks I long to see that mortal, who would with pleasure blow us up all at a blast: but he duly receives his thousand pounds a year; makes his progress like a king; is received in pomp at every town[4] and village where he travels, and shines in the English newspapers.

I will now apply what I have said to you, my brethren, and fellow citizens. Count upon it, as a truth next to your creed, that no one person in office, of which he is not master for life, whether born here or in England, will ever hazard that office for the good of his country. One of your candidates is of this kind, and I believe him to be an honest sentleman, as the word honest is generally understood. But he loves his employment better than he does you, or his country, or all the countries upon earth. Will you contribute to give him city security to pay him the value of his employment, if it should be taken from him, during his life, for voting on all occasions with the honest country party in the house? although I much question, whether he would do it, even upon that condition.

Wherefore, since there are but two candidates, I intreat you will fix on the present lord mayor. He has shown more virtue, more activity, more skill, in one year's government of the city, than a hundred years can equal. He has endeavoured, with great success, to banish frauds, corruptions, and all other abuses from among you.

A dozen such men in power would be able to reform a kingdom. He has no employment under the crown: nor is likely to get or solicit for any; his education having not turned him that way. I will assure for no man's future conduct; but he who has hitherto practised the rules of virtue with so much difficulty in so great and busy a station, deserves your thanks, and the best return you can make him; and you, my brethren, have no other to give him, than that of representing you in parliament. Tell me not of your engagements and promises to another: your promises are sins of inconsideration, at best; and you are bound to repent and annul them. That gentleman, although with good reputation, is already engaged on the other side. He has four hundred pounds a year under the crown, which he is too wise to part with, by sacrificing so good an establishment to the empty names of virtue, and love of his country. I can assure you, the drapier is in the interests of the present lord mayor, whatever you may be told to the contrary. I have lately heard him declare so in publick company, and offer some of these very reasons in defence of his opinion; although he has a regard and esteem for the other gentleman, but would not hazard the good of the city and the kingdom for a compliment.

The lord mayor's severity to some unfair dealers, should not turn the honest men among them against him. Whatever he did, was for the advantage of those very traders, whose dishonest members he punished. He has hitherto been above temptation to act wrong; and therefore, as mankind goes, he is the most likely to act right as a representative of your city, as he constantly did in the government of it.

  1. Humphry French.
  2. John Macarall.
  3. Edward Thompson, esq., member of parliament for York, and a commissioner of the revenue of Ireland.
  4. Mr. Thompson was presented with the freedom of several corporations in Ireland.