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Speech on American Taxation, April 19, 1774 . 1

Speeches on Arrival at Bristol and at the Conclu-
sion OF the Poll, October 13 and November 3, 1774 . 81

Speech on moving Resolutions for Conciliation with
America, March 22, 1775 99

Letter to the Sheriffs op Bristol, on the Affairs
OF America, April 3, 1777 187

Two" Letters to Gentlemen of Bristol, on the Bills


of Ireland, April 23 and May 2, 1778 . . . . 247

Speech on presenting to the House of Commons a
Plan for the Better Security qf the Indepen-
dence OF Parliament, and the Economical Refor-
mation OF the Civil and other Establishments,
February 11, 1780 . . . . ' . . . .265

Speech at Bristol previous to the Election, Septem-
ber 6, 1780 365

Speech at Bristol on declining the Poll, Septem-
ber 9, 1780 ......... 425

Speech on Mr. Fox's East India Bill, December 1, 1783 431

A Representation to his Majesty, moved in the
House of Commons, June 14, 1784 .... 537




April 19, 1774.



THE following speech has been much the sub-
ject of conversation, and the desire of having it
printed was last summer very general. The means
of gratifying the public curiosity were obligingly fur-
nished from the notes of some gentlemen, members
of the last Parliament.

This piece has been for some months ready for the
press. But a delicacy, possibly over-scrupulous, has
delayed the publication to this time. The friends of
administration have been used to attribute a great
deal of the opposition to their measures in America
to the writings published in England. The editor of
this speech kept it back, until all the measures of
government have had their full operation, and can be
no longer affected, if ever they could have been affect-
ed, by any publication.

Most readers will recollect the uncommon pains
taken at the beginning of the last session of the last
Parliament, and indeed during the whole course of it,
to asperse the characters and decry the measures of
those who were supposed to be friends to America,
in order to weaken the effect of tlieir opposition to
the acts of rigor then preparing against the colonies.
The speech contains a full refutation of the charges
against that party with which Mr. Burke has all
along acted. In doing this, he has taken a review of


the effects of all the schemes which have been succes-
sively adopted in the government of the plantations.
The subject is interesting ; the matters of informa-
tion various and important ; and tlie publication at
this time, the editor hopes, will not be thought un-


During the last session of the last Parliament, on the
19th of April, 1774, Mr. Rose Fuller, member for Rye,
made the following motion : —

" That an act made in the seventh year of the reign of
his present Majesty, intituled, ' An act for granting certain
duties in the British colonies and plantations in America ;
for allowing a drawback of the duties of customs upon the
exportation from this kingdom of coffee and cocoa-nuts, of
the produce of the said colonies or plantations ; for discon-
tinuing the drawbacks payable on china earthenware ex-
ported to America ; and for more effectually preventing the
clandestine running of goods in the said colonies and plan-
tations,' might be read."

And the same being read accordingly, he moved, —

" That this House will, upon this day sevennight, resolve
itself into a committee of the whole House, to take into con-
sideration the duty of three-pence per pound weight upon
tea, payable in all his Majesty's dominions in America, im-
posed by the said act ; and also the appropriation of the
said duty."

On this latter motion a warm and interesting debate arose,
in which Mr. Burke spoke as follows.

SIR, — I agree with the honorable gentleman * who
spoke last, that this subject is not new in this
House. Very disagreeably to this House, very un-

* Charles Wolfran Cornwall, Esq., lately appointed one of the
Lords of the Treasury.


fortunately to this nation, and to the peace and pros-
perity of this whole empire, no topic has been more
familiar to us. For nine long years, session after
session, we have been lashed round and round this
miserable circle of occasional arguments and tempo-
rary expedients. I am sure our heads must turn
and our stomachs nauseate with them. We have
had them in every shape ; we have looked at them
in every point of view. Invention is exhausted;
reason is fatigued ; experience has given judgment ;
but obstinacy is not yet conquered.

The honorable gentleman has made one endeavor
more to diversify the form of this disgusting argu-
ment. He has thrown out a speech composed al-
most entirely of challenges. Challenges are serious
things ; and as he is a man of prudence as well as
resolution, I dare say he has very well weighed those
challenges before he delivered them. I had long
the happiness to sit at the same side of the House,
and to agree with the honorable gentleman on all
the American questions. My sentiments, I am sure,
are well known to him ; and I thought I had been
perfectly acquainted with his. Though I find my-
self mistaken, he will still permit me to use the
privilege of an old friendship; he will permit me
to apply myself to the House under the sanction
of his autliority, and, on the various grounds he has
measured out, to submit to you the poor opinions
wliich I have formed upon a matter of importance
enough to demand the fullest consideration I could
bestow upon it.

He has stated to the House two grounds of deliber-
ation: one narrow and simple, and merely confined
to the question on your paper ; the other more large


and more complicated, — comprehending the whole
series of the Parliamentary proceedings with regard to
America, their causes, and their consequences. With
regard to the latter ground, he states it as useless,
and thinks it may be even dangerous, to enter into so
extensive a field of inquiry. Yet, to my surprise, he
had hardly laid down this restrictive proposition, to
which his authority would have given so much weight,
when directly, and with the same authority, he con-
demns it, and declares it absolutely necessary to
enter into the most ample historical detail. His zeal
has thrown him a little out of his usual accuracy. In
this perplexity, what shall we do, Sir, who are willing
to submit to the law he gives us ? He has reprobated
in one part of his speech the rule he had laid down
for debate in the other, and, after narrowing the
ground for all those who are to speak after him, he
takes an excursion, himself, as unbounded as the sub-
ject and the extent of his great abilities.

Sir, when I cannot obey all his laws, I will do the
best I can. I will endeavor to obey such of them as
have the sanction of his example, and to stick to
that rule which, though not consistent with the other,
is the most rational. He was certainly in the right,
when he took the matter largely. I cannot prevail
on myself to agree with him in his censure of his own
conduct. It is not, he will give me leave to say,
either useless or dangerous. He asserts, that retro-
spect is not wise ; and the proper, the only proper
subject of inquiry, is " not how we got into this diffi-
culty, but how we are to get out of it." In other
words, we are, according to him, to consult our inven-
tion, and to reject our experience. The mode of de-
liberation he recommends is diametrically opposite to


eveiy rule of reason and every principle of good sense
established amongst mankind. For that sense and
that reason I have always understood absolutely tc
prescribe, whenever we are involved in difficulties
from the measures we have pursued, that we should
take a strict review of those measures, in order to
correct our errors, if they should be corrigible, — or
at least to avoid a dull uniformity in mischief, and
tlie unpitied calamity of being repeatedly caught in
the same snare.

Sir, I will freely follow the honorable gentleman in
bis historical discussion, without the least manage-
ment for men or measures, further than as they shall
seem to me to deserve it. But before I go into that
large consideration, because I would omit notliing
that can give the House satisfaction, I wish to tread
the narrow ground to w^hich alone the honorable gen-
tleman, in one part of his speech, has so strictly con-
fined us.

He desires to know, whether, if we were to repeal
this tax, agreeably to the proposition of the honora-
ble gentleman who made the motion, the Americans
would not take post on this concession, in order to
make a new attack on the next body of taxes ; and
whether they would not call for a repeal of the duty
on wine as loudly as they do now for the repeal of
the duty on tea. Sir, I can give no security on this
subject. But I will do all that I can, and all that
can be fairly demanded. To the experience which the
honorable gentleman reprobates in one instant and
reverts to in the next, to that experience, without
the least wavering or hesitation on mypai-t, I steadily
appeal : and would to God there was no other arbiter
to decide on the vote with which the House is to con-
clude this day !


When Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in the
year 1766, 1 affirm, first, that the Americans did not
in consequence of this measure call upon you to give
up the former Parliamentary revenue which subsisted
in that country, or even any one of the articles which
compose it. I affirm also, that, when, departing from
the maxims of that repeal, you revived the scheme of
taxation, and thereby filled the minds of the colonists
with new jealousy and all sorts of apprehensions,
then it was that they quarrelled with the old taxes
as well as the new ; then it was, and not till then,
that they questioned all the parts of your legislative
power, and by the battery of such questions have
shaken the solid structure of this empire to its deep-
est foundations.

Of those two propositions I shall, before I have
done, give such convincing, such damning proof, that,
however the contrary may be whispered in circles or
bawled in newspapers, they never more will dare to
raise their voices in this House. I speak with great
confidence. I have reason for it. The ministers are
with me. TJiey at least are convinced that the repeal
of the Stamp Act had not, and that no repeal can
have, the consequences which the honorable gentle-
man who defends their measures is so much alarmed
at. To their conduct I refer him for a conclusive
answer to his objection. I carry my proof irresist-
ibly into the very body of both Ministry and Parlia-
ment : not on any general reasoning growing out of
collateral matter, but on the conduct of the honorable
gentleman's ministerial friends on the new revenue

The act of 1767, which grants this tea-duty, sets
forth in its preamble, that it was expedient to raise a


revenue in America for the support of the civil gov-
erument there, as well as for purposes still more ex-
tensive. To this support the act assigns six branches
of duties. About two years after this act passed, the
ministry, I moan tlie present ministry, thought it ex-
pedient to repeal five of the duties, and to leave (for.
reasons best known to themselves) only the sixth
^tanding. Suppose any person, at the time of that
repeal, had thus addressed the minister : * " Condem-
ning, as you do, the repeal of the Stamp Act, why do
you venture to repeal the duties upon glass, paper,
and painters' colors ? Let your pretence for the re-
peal be what it will, are you not thoroughly con-
vinced that your concessions will produce, not satis-
faction, but insolence in the Americans, and that
the giving up these taxes will necessitate the giving
up of all the rest ? " This objection was as palpable
then as it is now ; and it was as good for preserving
the five duties as for retaining the sixth. Besides,
the minister will recollect that the repeal of the
Stamp Act had but just preceded his repeal ; and the
ill policy of that measure, (had it been so impolitic as
it has been represented,) and the mischiefs it pro-
duced, were quite recent. Upon the princii»los, there-
fore, of the honoral)le gentleman, upon the principles
of the minister himself, the minister has nothing at
all to answer. He stands condemned by himself, and
by all his associates old and new, as a destroyer, in
the first trust of finance, of the revenues, — and in the
first rank of honor, as a betrayer of the dignity of liis

Most men, especially great men, do not always
know thdir well-wisliers. I come to rescue that no-

♦ Lord North, then Chancellor of the Exchequer.


ble lord out of the hands of those he calls his friends,
and even out of his own. I will do him the justice
he is denied at home. He has not been this wicked
or imprudent man. He knew that a repeal had no
tendency to produce the mischiefs which give so much
alarm to his honorable friend. His work was not bad
in its principle, but imperfect in its execution ; and
the motion on your paper presses him only to com-
plete a proper plan, which, by some unfortunate and
unaccountable error, he had left unfinished.

I hope. Sir, the honorable gentleman who spoke
last is thoroughly satisfied, and satisfied out of the
proceedings of ministry on their own favorite act,
that his fears from a repeal are groundless. If he is
not, I leave him, and the noble lord who sits by him,
to settle the matter as well as they can together ;
for, if the repeal of American taxes destroys all our
government in America, — he is the man ! — and he
is the worst of all the repealers, because he is the

But I hear it rung continually in my ears, now and
formerly, — " The preamble ! what will become of
the preamble, if you repeal this tax ? " — I am sorry
to be compelled so often to expose the calamities and
disgraces of Parliament. The preamble of this law,
standing as it now stands, has the lie direct given to
it by the provisionary part of the act : if that can be
called provisionary which makes no provision. I
should be afraid to express myself in this manner,
especially in the face of such a formidable array of
ability as is now drawn up before me, composed of
the ancient household troops of that side of the
House and the new recruits from this, if the matter
were not clear and indisputable. Nothing but truth


could give me this firmness; but plain truth and
clear evidence can be beat down by no ability. The
clerk will be so good as to turn to the act, and to
read this favorite preamble.

" Whereas it is expedient that a revenue should be
raised in your Majesty's dominions in America, for
making a more certain and adequate provision for de-
fraying the charge of the admi^iistration of justice and
support of civil government in such provmces where it
shall be found necessary, and towards further defray-
ing the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing
the saiddonmiions.*'

You have heard this pompous performance. Now
where is the revenue which is to do all these mighty
things ? Five sixths repealed, — abandoned, — sunk,
— gone, — lost forever. Does the poor solitary tea-
duty support the purposes of this preamble ? Is not
the supply there stated as effectually abandoned as
if the tea-duty had perished in the general wreck ?
Here, Mr. Speaker, is a precious mockery : — a pre-
amble without an act, — taxes granted in order to be
repealed, — and the reasons of the grant still care-
fully kept up ! This is raising a revenue in Amer-
ica ! This is preserving dignity in England ! If you
repeal this tax, in compliance with the motion, I read-
ily admit that you lose this fair preamble. Estimate
your loss in it. The object of the act is gone already ;
and all you suffer is the purging the statute-book of
the opprobrium of an empty, absurd, and false recital.

It has been said again and again, that the five
taxes were repealed on commercial principles. It is
so said in the paper in my hand : * a paper which I

* Lord Hillsborough's Circular Letter to the Governors of the Coio-
uics, concerning the repeal of some of the duties laid in the Act of 1767.


constantly carry about; which I have often used,
and shall often use again. What is got by this pal-
try pretence of commercial principles I know not;
for, if your government in America is destroyed by
the repeal of taxes, it is of no consequence upon what
ideas the repeal is grounded. Repeal this tax, too,
upon commercial principles, if you please. These
principles will serve as well now as they did formerly.
But you know that either your objection to a repeal
from these supposed consequences has no validity, or
that this pretence never could remove it. This com-
mercial motive never was believed by any man, either
in America, which this letter is meant to soothe, or
in England, which it is meant to deceive. It was im-
possible it should : because every man, in the least
acquainted with the detail of commerce, must know
that several of the articles on which the tax was re-
pealed were fitter objects of duties than almost any
other articles that could possibly be chosen, — without
comparison more so than the tea that was left taxed,
as infinitely less liable to be eluded by contraband.
The tax upon red and white lead was of this nature.
You have in this kingdom an advantage in lead that
amounts to a monopoly. When you find yourself in
this situation of advantage, you sometimes venture to
tax even your own export. You did so soon after
the last war, when, upon this principle, you ventured
to impose a duty on coals. In all the articles of
American contraband trade, who ever heard of the
smuggling of red lead and white lead ? You might,
therefore, well enough, without danger of contraband,
and without injury to commerce, (if this were the
whole consideration,) have taxed these commodities.
The same may be said of glass. Besides, some of the


things taxed were so trivial, that the loss of the ob-
jects themselves, and their utter annihilation out of
American commerce, would have been comparatively
as nothing. But is the article of tea such an object
in the trade of England, as not to be felt, or felt but
slightly, like white lead, and red lead, and painters'
colors? Tea is an object of far other importance.
Tea is perhaps the most important object, taking it
with its necessary connections, of any in the mighty
circle of our commerce. If commercial principles
had been the true motives to the repeal, or had they
been at all attended to, tea would have been the last
article we should have left taxed for a subject of con-

Sir, it is not a pleasant consideration, but nothing
in the world can read so awful and so instructive a
lesson as the conduct of ministry in this business, uj>
on the mischief of not having large and liberal ideas
in the management of great affairs. Never have the
servants of the state looked at the whole of your com-
plicated interests in one connected view. They have
taken things by bits and scraps, some at one time
and one pretence, and some at another, just as they
pressed, without any sort of regard to their relations
or dependencies. They never had any kind of sys-
tem, right or wrong ; but only invented occasionally
some miserable tale for the day, in order meanly to
sneak out of difficulties into which they had proudly
strutted. And they were put to all these shifts and
devices, full of meanness and full of mischief, in order
to pilfer piecemeal a repeal of an act which they had
not the generous courage, when they found and felt
their error, honorably and fairly to disclaim. By such
management, by the irresistible operation of feeble


councils, SO paltry a sum as three-pence in the eyes
of a financier, so insignificant an article as tea in the
eyes of a philosopher, have shaken the pillars of a
commercial empire that circled the whole globe.

Do you forget that in the very last year you stood
on the precipice of general bankruptcy ? Your dan-
ger was indeed great. You were distressed in the af-
fairs of the East India Company ; and you well know
what sort of things are involved in the comprehen-
sive energy of that significant appellation. I am not
called upon to enlarge to you on that danger, which
you thought proper yourselves to aggravate, and to
display to the world with all the parade of indiscreet
declamation. The monopoly of the most lucrative
trades and the possession of imperial revenues had
brought you to the verge of beggary and ruin. Such
was your representation ; such, in some measure,
was your case. The vent of ten millions of pounds
of this commodity, now locked up by the operation of
an injudicious tax, and rotting in the warehouses of
the Company, would have prevented all this distress,
and all that series of desperate measures which you
thought yourselves obliged to take in consequence of
it. America would have furnished that vent, which
no other part of the world can furnish but America,
where tea is next to a necessary of life, and where
the demand grows upon the supply. I hope our dear-
bought East India Committees have done us at least
so much good, as to let us know, that, without a more
extensive sale of that article, our East India revenues
and acquisitions can have no certain connection with
this country. It is through the American trade of
tea that your East India conquests are to be pre-
vented from crushing you with their burden. They


are ponderous indeed ; and they must have that great
country to lean upon, or they tumble upon your head.
It is the same folly that has lost you at once the ben-
efit of the West and of the East. This folly has
thrown open folding-doors to contraband, and will
be the means of giving the profits of the trade of
your colonies to every nation but yourselves. Never
did a people suffer so much for the empty words of a
preamble. It must be given up. For on what prin-
ciple does it stand ? This famous revenue stands, at
this hour, on all the debate, as a description of rev-
enue not as yet known in all the comprehensive ( but
too comprehensive ! ) vocabulary of finance, — a pre-
amhulary tax. It is, indeed, a tax of sophistry, a tax
of pedantry, a tax of disputation, a tax of war and
rebellion, a tax for anything but benefit to the im
posers or satisfaction to the subject.

Well ! but whatever it is, gentlemen will force the
colonists to take the teas. You will force them ? Has
seven years' struggle been yet able to force them ?
Oh, but it seems " we are in the right. The tax is
trifling, — in effect it is rather an exoneration than
an imposition ; three fourths of the duty formerly
payable on teas exported to America is taken off, —
the place of collection is only shifted ; instead of the
retention of a shilling from the drawback here, it is
three-pence custom paid in America." All this. Sir,
is very true. But this is the very folly and mischief
of the act. Incredible as it may seem, you know that
you have deliberately thrown away a large duty, which
you held secure and quiet in your hands, for the
vain hope of getting one three fourths less, through
every hazard, through certain litigation, and possibly
through war.


The manner of proceeding in the duties on paper
and glass, imposed by the same act, was exactly in
the same spirit. There are heavy excises on those
articles, when used in England. On export, these
excises are drawn back. But instead of withholding
the drawback, which might have been done, with
ease, without charge, without possibility of smug-
gling, and instead of applying the money (money
already in your hands) according to your pleasure,
you began your operations in finance by flinging

Online LibraryEdmund BurkeThe works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 40)