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power, ought to be the first to offer concessions. The two leading questions before the House, therefore, are, first, whether there ought to be concession, and, second, what the concession ought to be. The determination of these questions depends, not upon abstract ideas of right or general theories of government, but upon the particular nature and circumstances of America.
With this introduction, Burke enters upon an account of the present condition of America, particularly as regards its population, its trade, its agriculture, its fisheries, and the character of its people. It will be noted that, disregarding strict logical arrangement, the vivid description of American character is preceded by an argumentative passage against the use of force
a passage whose more logical place would be in connection with the third part of the speech.
The ground having been thus prepared, Burke then comes directly to the main question of how to deal with America. He points out that the spirit which prevails in the colonies can be dealt with in but three ways : first, changing the spirit by removing its causes; second, prosecuting it as criminal; and third, yielding to it as necessary, that is, giving up the pretended right of taxation. The first is difficult, if not impossible. The second is either impracticable or inexpedient. The third, therefore, is necessary, and the only one which will satisfy colonial complaints. It is further pointed out that such concession will not lead to demands for others, and will be based on historical precedents which show its
practicability, and stamp the present position of the ministry as erroneous.
In conclusion, the resolutions embodying the plan already set forth are submitted, their provisions discussed in detail, the objections to them answered, and Lord North's plan criticised by comparison.
The speech on Conciliation affords a good illustration of Burke's political creed and his characteristics as a writer. Burke reckoned himself a Whig, as the term was then understood in England, but his political opinions were such as would class him now as a Conservative. It must be remembered that in the latter part of the eighteenth century it was the Tories, and not the Whigs, who were the progressive or reform party in England. Burke, who always insisted that he was politically consistent, favored reform, but not such as would endanger the ancient constitution of the government. He abhorred abstract theories and “metaphysical generalities" in politics, and insisted that the guiding question for the statesman ought to be, not so much whether a proposed action was right in law, as whether it was expedient. For democracy, in the usual eighteenth century sense, he had no liking, and never ceased to denounce its pretensions. At the same time, his enormous wealth of political information gave to his outlook a broader range than that of most of his contemporaries, and led him to trust the general sense of mankind as more reliable than the opinions of the moment.
To the student who approaches Burke's speeches for
the first time, their most striking literary characteristic is likely to seem their conversational style. “They have always the air of a spoken appeal from man to man.” I As compared with the fashion of the present day, the style is formal, with here and there a rhetorical ornateness which would now be thought extravagant and overdone. Burke represents, however, a period of transition from the formality of the early eighteenth century to the greater naturalness of the nineteenth; and while his rhetoric, like his thought, is often gorgeous or grand, it is pervadingly natural and suited to the subject. The preference for particular rather than general terms, the skillful alternation of short and long sentences, 4 the numerous and carefully contrived figures of speech, the frequent literary allusions, especially to the Bible and the Greek and Latin classics, and in general the union of forcibleness, naturalness, and comprehensiveness with brevity and compactness," are further characteristics of which the speech on Conciliation affords numerous illustrations.
1 Burke, Select Works, edited by Payne, I, xxxiii. 2 E.g. the reference to Lord Bathurst, p. 51.
3 E.g. the passage beginning “In large bodies the circulation of power,” p. 64, and the description of the political condition of Ireland, pp. 87, 88.
4 E.g. the paragraphs beginning, First, the people of the colonies,” p. 58, and, "Secondly, it is an experiment," p. 115.
5 E.g. the account of Ireland, pp. 87, 88, and the passage beginning, “For that service, for all service," p. 124.
6 The passage beginning, “Sir, here is the repeated acknowledgment,” p. 103, is a good specific illustration of this general quality.
On the other hand, while Burke was a great orator, he was not a great debater, nor did his speeches carry conviction to those who heard them as forcibly as they did to those who read them. “The heavy Quaker-like figure, the scratch wig, the round spectacles, the cumbrous roll of paper which loaded Burke's pocket, were not prepossessing. Some of the members of the House styled him the “ dinner-bell,” and the speech on Conciliation, according to Erskine, emptied the House, though everybody read it afterward. His intense earnestness, impassioned manner, awkward gestures, and pronounced Irish brogue, coupled with not the best of temper under opposition or criticism, often, especially in his later years, weakened the effect of what he said. At the same time, it must be remembered that the oratory of Burke was of a kind to which the House of Commons was not accustomed, and which violated the time-honored traditions of public speaking, so that it was not wholly unnatural that the unfamiliar manner should have tended to obscure the wisdom of what was being said.
IV. BURKE'S SUBSEQUENT CAREER
Burke's subsequent career, though of the highest importance in the history of the time, must be briefly sketched. The speeches on America had established Burke's reputation as an orator and a statesman, and thereafter whatever he said or wrote was sure of attention
1 Green, Short History, p. 770,
even from those who, at the moment, preferred not to listen to his speeches. Consistent opposition to the policy of the ministry in dealing with America led him in 1776, together with others of his party, to absent himself from the House when American affairs were under discussion; and in a notable Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol he defended his course. In February, 1778, however, he made a great speech against the employment of Indians in the war with the colonies. In 1780 he championed the cause of economical reform, with the object not only of reducing expenditures, but also of so reforming the civil service as to put a stop to the political corruption through which the House of Commons was still largely controlled. His support of the claims of Ireland to more liberal commercial treatment, however, offended his Bristol constituency, and in the election of 1780 he was defeated. Through the influence of Rockingham he was shortly returned from Malton. When Rockingham succeeded North as prime minister, in 1782, Burke was made paymaster of the forces, but the death of Rockingham and the elevation of Shelburne brought about a disruption of the Whig party, for which Burke was largely responsible. His excessive vehemence in debate increased, and annoying interruptions in the House were frequent.
The formation of the Coalition ministry, in 1783, brought again into office North, Fox, and Burke. for administrative reform in India was defended by Burke in one of his greatest speeches, but to no purpose. The