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tunities of obtaining a thorough knowledge of American affairs. In the short session which ended 1772, nothing of much consequence was done. He distinguished himself chiefly in opposing the petition of certain clergymen, who prayed to be relieved from the necessity of subscription to the Articles; in advocating with consummate ability the repeal of the Test Act, a motion for which passed by a great majority in the lower house but was rejected in the lords ; in opposing the “ Royal Marriage Act;” in defending a bill for securing private property against dormant claims of the church ; and another for the relief of Protestant dissenters. In this summer and that of 1773 he visited France, where he saw that splendid vision of royal beauty and grandeur, which he afterwards described with such rare felicity in his “ Reflections on the French Revolution.” Even at this early period he observed with alarm and sorrow, that combination of genius and atheism, which was slowly preparing the Revolution. He even made allusion to this state of things in the following parliament.
The “East India Company” formed the great subject of dissension throughout nearly the whole of the next session ; a subject on which Burke, even at this period, displayed extensive knowledge. Just about this time, it was proposed by Mr. Flood in the Irish parliament, to impose a tax on absentees,-a measure which was approved by government. Sir Charles Bingham wrote to Mr. Burke for his opinion; this he gave against it, in the strongest manner, in a letter which will be found in these volumes. The measure was abandoned, and, as it is thought, mainly through Mr. Burke's arguments.
England was now on the eve of the American war. Boston was in a state of actual insurrection, and it was become but too obvious to the most careless observer, that the dispute must be submitted to the arbitration of the sword.
The ministry still obstinately devoted to their frantic policy, adopted the most rash measures against the state of Massachusetts. Mr. Burke, though almost alone, steadily opposed them. He also took a leading part in the Grenville Election bill, the Quebec bill, and several others that affected America. But his most splendid effort was his speech in favour of Mr. Fuller's motion for repealing the abhorred tea-duty. It is equal in beauty to any speech Mr. Burke ever composed ; and in nerve and force,-in all the essentials of powerful eloquence,-surpasses most of them. This is the celebrated speech on “ American Taxation.” It was the first speech he could be prevailed on to publish.
During the summer, Dr. Johnson, and some other friends, spent some time at Gregories, when after viewing the grounds, the moralist uttered the expression, “Non equidem invideo; miror magis ;” and upon leaving him, struggling apparently between his love for his friend and his abhorrence of his friend's politics, said,-“ Farewell, my dear sir, and remember that I wish you all the success which ought to be wished you, which can possibly be wished you indeed-by an honest man."
In the autumn parliament was dissolved ; and a difference with Lord Verney excluding him from Wendover, he was elected for Malton. Malton, however, was not yet to have the honour of being so magnificently represented, for just as the election had terminated, a deputation from Bristol arrived with the flattering invitation to become a candidate for that city. Burke immediately decided ; threw himself into a post-chaise, and by travelling night and day with incredible speed, in about four and forty hours reached Bristol. Without resting a moment, he repaired to the Guildhall, and addressed a powerful speech to the electors. He had been nominated at a late period, and the canvass of his opponents was already far advanced; yet, nothing daunted, he ventured on the contest, which continued to the very last moment. It terminated in his favour. In returning thanks for his election, he took
opportunity of entering largely into the mutual duties of representatives and their constituents.-Other observations on this speech will be postponed.
The “ Boston Port” measures produced, as had been predicted, the most disastrous results. They exasperated the spirit of all America; they necessitated and they justified
defence; and they led, (worst of all,) to the Congress, thus giving unity and concentration to the hitherto vague and wavering spirit of hostility. The ill-omened nature of the impending war was now beginning to be seen at home, and petitions flowed into the houses without number, imploring a change of policy.
A powerful testimony to Burke's far-sighted wisdom was at this time given by the ministry, though too late. Lord Chatham was now willing to adopt the DECLARATORY ACT. Abundant evidence was also given at the bar of the house, that America would have been tranquil, had the policy of the Rockingham administration been adhered to.
In the session of 1775, Mr. Burke introduced his famous propositions on the subject of “ American Conciliation.” This is the most elaborate of his speeches on the subject of America, and one of the most powerful he ever delivered. In this speech he went somewhat further than he had as yet done, though he still cautiously avoided the question of right, and contented himself with denying altogether the possible expediency of taxing America. The time had arrived, in his opinion, when something more was necessary for the tranquillization of the colony, than the abandonment of an odious tax. The Americans would formerly have been satisfied with that; they would now be satisfied with it no longer. They demanded a pledge against the possible recurrence of the system. His defence of this advance on his old position was, that a great change of circumstances demanded a change of policy.—The whole speech is full of the most important principles, adorned and enforced with all the prodigal illustrations of his fancy. Mr. Fox said of it, “Let gentlemen read this speech by day, and meditate upon it by night; let them peruse it again and again, study it, imprint it on their minds, impress it on their hearts-they would there learn that representation was the sovereign remedy for every evil.”
The eloquent warnings of Burke, however, were poured forth in vain. The infatuated ministry had no ear for Cassandra's melancholy prophecies. Hostilities, in fact, had already commenced at Lexington, at Concord, and at Bunkers Hill; and, more than all, General Washington had been appointed to the command of the colonial forces.
At home the violence of party-spirit seemed the echo of the turbulent state of affairs on the other side of the Atlantic; and Mr. Burke, as the principal organ of the opposition, was, of course, assailed with a prodigious quantity of abuse. In the summer of 1775 he again visited France.
In the following session, the haughty tone of the address again called him to offer a powerful but ineffectual protest against an obstinate appeal to force in the disputes with America. Nor did he stop here ; five weeks afterwards he brought forward a second scheme of conciliation with America, founded on the statute of Edward I. de tallagio non concedendo. This speech is said to have been a very wonderful effort of oratory, but as scarcely a vestige of it remains, it is impossible to judge of its merits. The fate of this motion lingered through a long debate, which pressed into it all the abilities of the house. It was then negatived. The division, however, afforded a more favourable indication of the state of public feeling with respect to America, than had been given for a long time. It was 105 against 210; making the minority precisely one half.
A few days after this Burke poured forth his indignant eloquence against what was called the “ Starvation Plan.” But it was of no avail; the ministry still madly persevered. Petitions and remonstrances from merchants, both at home and abroad, were treated with a sort of ostentation of insolent neglect, which at length provoked Mr. Burke to move a resolution in the shape of a taunt, to the effect that “the house knowing all things relative to America, needed no further information.”
Humour was not one of Burke's main characteristics. This session, however, he signalized himself by a piece of wit worth relating. Mr. David Hartley, who was as strenuously opposed to the American war as Burke himself, proposed a measure of conciliation. He was acknowledged to be an estimable and enlightened man; but the defects of his elo
quence were, at least, as conspicuous as any of his other qualities. But as men are often apt to pride themselves most where they have least reason, and to affect just that character which they are least capable of sustaining, it can excite no surprise that Mr. Hartley should have sometimes favoured the house with some very lengthened specimens of his oratory. On the present occasion, having driven from the house the larger part of his audience, he suddenly asked that the Riot Act might be read for the purpose of illustrating some part of his argument. Burke had been long expecting in agony the conclusion of his harangue. It was beyond mortal patience to endure it longer. Suddenly starting up, he exclaimed, “ The Riot Act! my dear friend, the Riot Act! to what purpose ? don't you see that the mob is completely dispersed?"
The session of 1776-7 set in with the most tempestuous debates. The address again called forth from Mr. Burke remarks which have been charged with unjustifiable violence. Their defence must be laid in the urgency of the occasion. At length finding all their efforts to oppose the insane obstinacy of ministers ineffectual, Lord Rockingham's party determined to absent themselves from parliament, and no longer endure the humiliation of seeing measures passed which they believed fraught with calamities to the country, and to which they could offer no availing resistance. Two addresses, one to the king and the other to the colonies, were drawn up in explanation of this conduct by Mr. Burke. These documents are inserted in his works.
This step has been often blamed, and with reason. It certainly is not justifiable, and nothing but the almost unprecedented exigencies of the situation could afford even a shadow of an apology for it. No circumstance, however, can fully excuse a member of parliament in abandoning his post, any more than the most terrific tempest could excuse a pilot for leaving the helm while the ship held together. When a statesman cannot frustrate a ruinous policy, he must endeavour to ameliorate it; and when he can neither prevent nor ameliorate, it is still his duty to protest against it. He must encourage future patriots in situations of trial and difficulty by an example of constancy and fortitude, and not furnish them, perhaps in less pressing circumstances, with a precedent for a pusillanimous abandonment of their duty Such thoughts as these appear to have operated on the minds of the seceders ; at all events, this unprecedented policy was not persisted in. While persisted in, however, it was to be defended; and this called forth the eloquent letter to the “ Sheriffs of Bristol.”
In this session, Mr. Burke attacked the ministry for that prodigal expenditure which was so rapidly swelling the amount of the civil list. But one of his happiest efforts was his speech on the debate respecting Lord Pigot's recall from Madras. “ It excited,” we are told,“ such sudden and extraordinary bursts of approbation as were not warranted by the usual practice of the house.” This speech is remarkable as the first in which Burke hinted his suspicions of Hastings.
The session of 1778 was still more laborious than those which preceded it. All that can be attempted here is a bare enumeration of the chief points to which his ever active mind directed itself. On the 6th of February, he demanded certain papers relative to the employment of the Indians in the American war, and on that occasion poured forth, it is recorded, one of the most overpowering displays of eloquence. Unhappily not a shred of this celebrated speech remains. Of its surpassing excellence, however, some idea may be formed, from the fact that a very competent judge has said, “that he who had not heard that speech had not witnessed the greatest triumph of eloquence within memory.” A very few days after this, Lord North, too late repenting of his folly, proposed a plan of conciliation almost wholly founded on the very scheme of Mr. Burke rejected three years before. But the opportune moment had gone by; America would no longer listen to it; she would no longer be a mere colony; absolute independence alone would satisfy her.
The attempt to remove certain heavy restrictions on the trade of Ireland, of course, met with the approbation and support of Burke. But the narrow spirit of Bristol, jealous for its
commercial interests, was alarmed. Burke, however, was resolved to preserve his independence, though at the expense of his popularity. He accordingly persisted in his course ; and as the consequence, his patriotism cost him much of the favour of his constituency. He defended his conduct in “ Two letters to Gentlemen of Bristol, on the Bills relative to the Trade of Ireland." These letters are full, not only of manly sentiments, sentiments such as it becomes an independent representative to maintain, but of the most enlarged and comprehensive commercial principles ; principles which unfortunately were, at that time, far in the advance of the age.
Nor was this the only point in which he gave umbrage to his constituents. As narrow-minded in their general policy as they were selfish in their commerce, the people of Bristol could not sympathize with his support of Sir George Saville's bill for the relief of the Roman catholics. The loss of popularity, however, at Bristol, was counterbalanced by an accession of that most exchangeable commodity at Dublin, which, in a sudden paroxysm of gratitude and admiration, even proposed a statue to his honour.
At this period an occurrence took place, which displayed to great advantage Burke's constancy in friendship. Admiral Keppel had been guilty, it appears, of an indecisive action with the French fleet during the summer! For this he was summoned before a court-martial. Mr. Burke had long felt for him the most ardent friendship, and was now indefatigable in showing it. He attended him throughout the anxious scene of his trial at Portsmouth; cheered and encouraged him; and is even reported to have aided in preparing his defence.
A well-known piece of parliamentary wit, with which he amused the house about this time, deserves to be recorded. The catholics in Scotland having suffered from the violence of certain popular tumults, prayed for compensation. Mr. Burke was deputed to present the petition. Seeing Lord North asleep, (an indecorum of which that nobleman was frequently guilty,) just when he was tracing the outrages of the people to the indolence of government, he exclaimed, “ Behold what I have again and again said; government, if not defunct, at least slumbers; brother Lazarus is not dead, only sleepeth."
The political horizon at the commencement of 1779 wore a yet more tempestuous and threatening aspect than in the preceding year. America still in arms and Ireland nearly in rebellion, were almost equally subjects of alarm. It may be readily imagined that the embarrassments of ministers met with little mercy from Burke, who taunted them in the severest strain of irony with their unsuccessful attempts to subdue America, and told them that nothing but impotence prevented them from pursuing the same desolating policy with respect to Ireland.
Moved by the condition of the sister island, Lord North now tardily brought forward his plan of commercial relief. To this Burke gave a decided, but not very prompt, support ; not because he did not approve it, but because, in his opinion, the long delay had diminished the claims of gratitude, and rendered the measures of government rather the result of necessity than an expression of hearty good-will. Hence he was even slandered in Ireland as a cold friend to his country; an impression which was removed by his letter to Thomas Burgh, Esq. in which he explained the motives which had actuated him; and proved that he was offended not because government had conceded too much, but because it had not conceded enough.
But Mr. Burke was now to display his eloquence and his extensive knowledge of all our political interests in another splendid effort. Taxes had, of course, increased in proportion to the expenses of a costly and ruinous war, and the people at length became clamorous for reform. Mr. Burke undertook the arduous task of constructing a measure on this subject. His celebrated speech on “ Economical Reform" was the result.
On the 15th of December, he gave a simple and perspicuous account of the course he intended to adopt, and on the 11th of February explained and illustrated the plan itself in a
speech, which forms one of the most beautiful and astonishing productions of his great genius. The whole scheme was comprised in five bills, and embraced a compass and variety of objects which none but a mind of the most comprehensive order could have grappled with. No man but himself could have dealt with a subject so wide in its range, and so multifarious in its details, or wound his way through such a labyrinth and complication of perplexities. The real difficulty in all such cases is to do what Burke did—to combine a practical and efficient plan of reform with a due regard to all existing interests—to conciliate the past and the future--to pull down without reckless demolition, and to rebuild with a due adaptation of the new to the old. This it is which renders the work of a wise reform so arduous, which demands such consummate judgment in achieving it, and which must give to every measure that shall really effect it an intricate and anomalous appearance. This complication is the necessary result of the variety of designs which it is intended to subserve. There is, no doubt, a shorter, but not a more excellent way”—the summary method of entire demolition; this, it is true, is very simple; it requires little intellect and no judgment. But the mischief is, that the same short-sightedness which has been unable to estimate the magnitude of such changes, has been equally unable to anticipate half the purposes which the new fabrics ought to serve. They are constructed for simplicity-and it is found that in spite of ingenious theories, human society will, after all, be a very complicated thing. Burke's plan of economical reform was nothing of this kind : with the skill of a consummate politician, he grappled with the great problem, to produce as much practical good as possible with the least possible change, and to effect a really beneficial reform with little incidental evil.
The chief points it embraced were an abolition of all the inferior royal jurisdictions; of an immense number of useless offices in the royal household ; some of the civil departments of the mint and the ordnance; of the patent offices of the exchequer; the regulation of the army, navy, and pension pay-offices; and a new adjustment of the civil list. Of the innumerable testimonies to the extraordinary merit of this speech, few are more remarkable than that of Gibbon. “ Mr. Burke's Reform Bill,” says the historian, was framed with skill, introduced with eloquence, and supported by numbers. Never can I forget the delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator was heard by all sides of the house, and even by those whose existence he proscribed.” That of Mr. Dunning is, to say the least, equally strong “ It must remain as a monument to be handed down to posterity of his uncommon zeal and unrivalled industry, astonishing abilities and invincible perseverance. He had undertaken a task big with labour and difficulty; a task that embraced a variety of the most important objects, extensive and complicated; yet such were the eminent and unequalled abilities, so extraordinary the talents and ingenuity, and such the fortunate frame of the honourable gentleman's mind, his vast capacity and happy conception, that in his hands, what must have proved a vast heap of ponderous matter, com. posed of heterogeneous ingredients, discordant in their nature and opposite in principle, was so skilfully arranged as to become quite simple as to each respective part, dependent on each other; and the whole at the same time so judiciously combined, as to present nothing to almost any mind tolerably intelligent, to divide, puzzle, or distract it.”
Applause, however, was almost all he obtained; his project sharing the usual fate of opposition measures. The principal clauses were debated through the months of March, April, and May. In these debates the motion for abolishing the office of third secretary of state was lost by a majority of seven, but that for extinguishing the board of trade carried by a majority of eight. Shortly after, many of the clauses were rejected by large majorities.Other measures, more especially connected with the renewal of the East India charter, and the resolution of Mr. Dunning respecting the diminishing of the influence of the Crown, occupied Burke during the rest of the session.
After the melancholy riots stirred up by the fanatical Lord George Gordon, Mr Burke,