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EDMUND BURKE was born in Dublin in January 1729 and died at Beaconsfield in July 1797. For nearly thirty years he served in the House of Commons, and though almost continuously in opposition, exercised a powerful influence upon the political life of his time. During this period four great controversies of lasting interest chiefly absorbed his energies — the relations between England and her American colonies, the state of Ireland, the administration of India, and the French Revolution.


With the first of these themes alone do the pieces included in this volume deal. Happily it is that which exhibits Burke at his highest level of sagacity and persuasiveness. Though he has himself told us that when he first entered public life that which was uppermost in his thoughts was the hope of being somewhat useful to the land of his birth, and though he retained always in respect of it a dearness of instinct more than he could justify in reason," yet Ireland did not inspire him to any such Titanic effort as he put forth in other directions. Burke's Indian speeches, again, are in many respects among the greatest ever delivered by him, but marred by the violence of his invective; whilst some at least of his later utterances regarding the French Revolution appear devoid of all measure or sanity. No such depreciation is possible in respect of the American speeches. In these Burke found a theme exactly suited to his powers and within the compass of his natural sympathies. Equally detesting the doctrines of arbitrary government, rash innovation, and the intrusion


of metaphysical theories into the political sphere, he judged guilty of all three those who, in the face alike of past usage and present facts, were bent upon asserting the right of imposing direct taxes upon the colonists. Not Franklin or Adams but Grenville and Lord North were for him revolutionary incendiaries.

When Burke entered the House of Commons in 1765, American affairs were already at a critical stage. A long train of events had been leading on to the final catastrophe. Laws for the regulation and restraint of colonial trade had been in existence for more than a century; and as the colonies grew in importance, the right to bind them by Acts of the British legislature was more and more frequently asserted. Not only did the Navigation Acts, the first of which was passed in 1651, seriously affect their imports and exports, but the manufacture of certain goods was altogether prohibited. Moreover, so far back as 1672, duties had been placed upon certain articles in passing from one colony to another; and fifty years later duties were laid upon molasses, sugar, and rum imported into the colonies from any but the British West India Islands. It is, therefore, at first sight, somewhat surprising that these and similar Acts having been submitted to without serious disturbance over so long a period, such a storm should have been raised by the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Tea Duty of 1767. The fact that the Stamp Duty was a tax imposed for purposes of revenue, as distinct from the regulation of trade, is clearly insufficient to explain the altered demeanour of the colonists. The explanation is rather to be found in the complete triumph of the British arms in the war with France, which had ended in the cession of Canada in 1763. Relieved from any danger of attack from the North, the colonists were enabled to assume an attitude of independence hitherto unknown. Whilst at home it was very naturally considered just that the colonists, having gained more than any one else by the issue of the war, should bear a larger share of the financial burthen which the war entailed, in America both the inclination and the power to resent any such demands were growing

steadily. It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that at that time, or, indeed, for long after, the idea of secession was widely entertained. On neither side of the Atlantic was it foreseen to what end affairs were drifting. In America, even after the rebellion had actually begun, there is ample evidence that accommodation with the mother country, not separation, was aimed at. The Delegates in Congress were in almost every case instructed, in terms similar to those used by Virginia, to seek “ a return of that harmony and union so beneficial to the whole empire and so ardently desired by all British America." Some there were who already looked to independence; but we have the testimony of one of the chief men among them, John Adams, that when his opinions were disclosed, he was avoided like a man infected with leprosy," and "walked the streets of Philadelphia in solitude, borne down by the weight of care and unpopularity."

However, the temper of all classes of people at home made reconciliation increasingly difficult. From the king down, people were persuaded that the whole trouble was the work of a few agitators, and that all that was required was "firmness." Soldiers like General Gage declared that the Americans "will be lions while we are lambs, but if we take the resolute part they will undoubtedly prove very meek." Mere civilians could make no head against professional soldiers-four regiments "would be sufficient to prevent any disturbance." Statesmen and politicians were concerned lest the dignity of Parliament should be compromised by any withdrawal of the obnoxious tax or of the claim which it embodied. As for the mass of the people, their feelings are best expressed in Burke's own language. "It is but too true," he said, "that the love and even the idea of genuine liberty is extremely rare. It is but too true that there are many whose scheme of freedom is made up of pride, perverseness, and insolence. They feel themselves in a state of thraldom, they imagine that their souls are cooped and cabined in, unless they have some men, or some body of men, dependent on their

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mercy. This disposition is the true source of the passion which many men, in my humble life, have taken to the American war. Our subjects in America, our colonies, our dependents. This lust of party power is the liberty they hunger and thirst for; and this siren song of ambition has charmed ears that we would have thought were never organised to that sort of music." To these mingled instincts of arrogance, pedantry, and prejudice Burke, standing almost alone, opposed the reasoned dictates of common sense and of justice. There were those who were for forcing the tea down the throats of the colonists. Of such he asked "Has seven years' struggle yet been able to force them?" Others, whilst admitting that the revenue which could be derived from the obnoxious duty was contemptible, yet declared that national prestige and parliamentary dignity required their maintenance. "I know not how it happens," said Burke, “but this dignity of yours is a terrible incumbrance to you; for it has of late ever been at war with your interest, your equity, and every idea of your policy. Show the thing you contend for to be reason; show it to be common sense; show it to be the means of attaining some useful end, and then I am content to allow it what dignity you please. But what dignity is derived from perseverance in absurdity is more than ever I could discern." The familiar dictum that nothing must be conceded, whether the concession were right or wrong in itself, as long as America was openly resisting the authority of Parliament, was met by the timely reminder that in the past the Repeal of the Stamp Act, which had similarly given rise to treasonable disturbances, had been immediately followed by a renewal of loyalty and tranquillity. As for the pedantry which insisted, in the face of every counsel of prudence and expediency, upon the right to impose taxes as inherent in the notion of sovereignty, it is dismissed with thinly-veiled contempt. "I do not intend to be overwhelmed in that bog, though in such respectable company. The question with me is, not whether you have a right to render your people miserable, but whether it is not your interest to make

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