The Kentish PetitionFaced with the prospect of war with France, William asked Parliament to authorize the creation of a standing army in England. This they refused. Many in England were angered by the decision and sent appeals to Parliament to that effect. The people of Kent (the county closest to France and so the most likely to be ruined) wrote a petition and chose five men to carry it to London to present it to Parliament in May 1701. The Commons declared the petition seditious, and the men were arrested and imprisoned.
Legion's Memorial. [London, 1701.][See additional images] Defoe responded to the imprisonment of the Kentish men with a strongly worded pamphlet, addressed to Speaker Harley, in which he demanded, in the name of “Two Hundred Thousand Englishmen” that he deliver the pamphlet to the House of Commons. The pamphlet lays out the ways in which Parliament has acted illegally and dishonorably and demands, among other things, the immediate release of the Kentish petitioners. It threatens several times that if action is not taken, they will live to regret it, closing with, “if you continue to neglect it, you may expect to be treated according to the Resentment of an injur’d Nation; for Englishmen are no more to be Slaves to Parliament, than to a King.” It is signed, “Our name is Legion, and we are Many.” The Memorial had the desired effect. The petitioners were released on 24 June.
History of the Kentish Petition. London, Printed in the Year, 1701.[See larger image] Later that year, Defoe wrote this brief history of the petition, from its writing by the men in Kent in early May to the resolution of the affair in June. Speaking of the presentation of the Memorial, he says “that Paper struck such a Terror into the Party in the House, that from that time there was not a Word ever spoken in the House, of proceeding against the Kentish Petitioners, and the Members of that party began to drop off, and get into the Country, for their Management began to be so disliked over the whole Nation, that their own Fears dictated to them they had run things too far.” The work ends with a rather grim poem on the nature of power in general. It states, “Nature has left this Tincture in the Blood, That all Men wou’d be Tyrants if they cou’d.” This sentiment reappeared in later works by Defoe, notably Jure Divino.