Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 January 2021
Party was widely regarded in the eighteenth century as an enduring and crucial part of British politics. As one foreign commentator wrote towards the end of the century: ‘Various causes, since the latter part of the reign of king James I have occasioned state-parties to subsist in England without interruption.’ The names of these parties were changeable. This particular writer mentioned Whigs and Tories – the two most persistent ones – along with High-flyers, Jacobites, Patriots, Courtiers, and Ins and Outs. What had been continuous, however, was one party representing monarchy and one the people, or one party of government and one of opposition, referred to by this writer as Ins and Outs, but by most eighteenth-century British commentators as Court and Country.1 In many cases this was an unenthusiastic admission, as this chapter’s epigraph illustrates. However, as we saw in Chapter 9, the way John Brown framed his argument about unity demonstrates the limitations of the common characterisation of the eighteenth-century debate on party as one of nearly universal condemnation before Burke realised the necessity of political parties. Partial acceptance of party had indeed become established political wisdom by the time of Burke’s writing, even though most writers qualified their case, and Burke did more than anyone else to make party allegiance honourable. A typical mid-century case would be the anonymous pamphleteer who, writing at the time of Brown’s Estimate, said that ‘Parties, which in Time of publick Tranquility are useful, and perhaps essential to our Constitution, are as destructive when we are threatened by a foreign Enemy.’2 As we saw, Brown himself believed that it was a ‘mistaken Maxim (adopted by almost all political Writers)’ that internal division had to be tolerated in a free state. He referred directly to Machiavelli and Montesquieu in this context, but many of the major thinkers in this study – Rapin, Bolingbroke, and Hume – could also have been mentioned. In opposition to this idea, and by pointing to the example of Sparta in ancient Greece, Brown tried to show that a state could both be free, in his particular understanding of liberty, and unified at the same time. In any case, however, ‘party’ had to be examined and discussed; rarely was it taken for granted.