Edmund Burke.

Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 2) online

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sentiments in such a way, that I do not think
I have ever on any occasion seemed to affect
the House more forcibly. However, such was
the confusion, that they could not be kept from
coming to a resolution which I thought unbecom-
ing and pusillanimous ; which was, that we should
take that flagitious petition, which came from
that base gang called " the protestant association,"
into our serious consideration. I am now glad
that we did so ; for if we had refused it, the
subsequent ravages would have been charged
upon our obstinacy. For four nights I kept
watch at Lord Rockingham's, or Sir George
Savile's, whose houses were garrisoned by a strong


body of soldiers, together with numbers of true
friends of the first rank, who were willing to share
their danger. Savile-house, Rockingham- house,
Devonshire-house, to be turned into garrisons !

tempora ! We have all served the country for
several years, some of us for near thirty, with
fidelity, labour, and affection ; and we are obliged
to put ourselves under military protection for our
houses and our persons. The bell rings, and

1 have filled my time and paper with a mere
account of this house; but it is what you will
first inquire about, though of the least concern
to others. God bless you ; remember me to
your worthy host. We can hardly think of leav-
ing town ; there is much to be done to repair
the ruins of our country and its reputation ; as
well as to console the number of families ruined
by wickedness, masking itself under the colour
of religious zeal. Adieu, my dear friend; our
best regards to your daughter.

Yours ever,


A a 2



Charles-street, June 15, 1780.


Before I say any thing on business, permit me to
congratulate you on your office and your honours.
I hope you will auspicate both, by your firmness
in the course of real government ; and that instead
of bringing the littleness of parliamentary politics
into a court of justice, you will bring the square-
ness, the manliness, and the decision of a judicial
place into the house of parliament, into which you
are just entering. Ut tu fortunam. If you do
this, no difference of sentiment or of connexion
shall hinder me from rejoicing in your elevation.
If I know any thing of myself, I have taken my
part in political connexions and political quarrels,
for the purpose of advancing justice and the do-
minion of reason ; and I hope I shall never prefer
the means, or any feelings growing out of the use
of those means, to the great substantial end itself.
I send you a copy of the* resolutions I had
sketched 1 . You will do what you please with

9 Alexander Wedderburne, appointed in this month lord
chief justice of the common pleas, and created Baron Lough-

1 No copy has been found of these resolutions.


them. If parliament were possessed of its natural
authority, the resolutions might be as short as those
of Queen Anne's reign, from whence the idea was
taken ; but I conceive at the present time it would
be necessary to make them a little more argu-
mentative ; but you will best judge which of them
it is best to reject or to receive ; or whether they
might not be consolidated into one. I imagine
this last will not be easy. You see that the policy
of wording the first of them is, to let the dis-
senters perceive that all toleration is on the same
bottom. The scheme of the rest is, to mark the
security of the church, and the danger to which
this protestant fury may expose their brethren

Forgive me, in repeating to you, that govern-
ment must speedily come to a decision, and must
make that decision known to all those who sup-
port it. From a great part of the popular side in
a popular question, that decision cannot possibly
be expected. But it will certainly confirm several
that are wavering, both on your side and on ours ;
and will put a stop to those loose ideas which are
wandering about to find an owner. The idea of
reviving departed penalties on Roman Catholics,
to reward the rebellion, and other atrocious crimes
of their adversaries, I hold to be unnatural ; and
when it comes to be tried, will be found impracti-
cable. But the House (or Houses) ought, in my


opinion, to get the start of any proposition of that
kind, by the clear unequivocal nature of their de-
claratory resolutions. Until this step is firmly
taken, the House will continue under the impres-
sion of fear, the most unwise, the most unjust,
and the most cruel of all counsellors.

In order to clear the way for government in
this business, it will (I dare say you will agree
with me) be absolutely necessary for the Roman
Catholics to appear before parliament with a
moderate and firm petition, asserting the rights
derived to them from their innoxious behaviour ;
and from the solemn stipulation of the state, when
the late oath of fidelity and the qualification oath
were given to them, as well as to contradict (as I
am persuaded they may do with great safety) the
calumnies which are the origin of this unhear4-of,
unprovoked persecution. To have our table
loaded with petitions to do wrong to any one sub-
ject, without any application on his part to be
screened from it and protected in his rights, is a
situation of things so unusual and so unnatural,
implying so much guilt or so much folly, that it
cannot fail of producing the very worst effects.
It is that way of skulking, to which, under the
idea of a prudent caution, the Roman Catholics
have been advised at other times, that has tended
in a very great degree to bring that odium upon
them, which men, who conceal their faces and are


supposed to entertain secret and concealed dog-
mas, are always sure to excite ; men, who hold no
other opinions than what were a while ago held
by the whole world, and which are now held by
great nations, and not only not concealed as mys-
teries, but publicly avowed, are treated as if they
were a new and obscure sect of fanatics, who en-
tertained principles which they did not avow, and
were growing thereby into a conspiracy dangerous
to all government. I have long had an opportu-
nity of observing the mischief of this ridiculous
wisdom of theirs ; or rather, which is infused into
them by those who advise them, not for their
benefit, but for the ease and convenience of the
advisers. But in. the present case, government is
strongly interested that it should not seem to
protect those who do not appear fit to be pro-
tected ; who fly as much from the sobriety of par-
liament as from the fury of the populace, and who
desert and abandon even their own innocence. I
can answer for it, that such petitions could not
fail of a good effect. What think you of their
being advised to petition for what ? for penalty,
imprisonment, and confiscation !

I have seen a publication from Fisher 2 , which
tends to throw the load of public indignation,
which was falling upon his gang, on persons ob-

2 He was secretary to the Protestant Association.


scure or untraceable. Be assured, my lord, that
this can do no good whatsoever. The credit of
that association, which is the true origin of the
mischief, can never stand along with the wise and
just law that we have passed two years ago. That
he, who burned the books of his society, should
be suffered to appear as a verbal evidence, to
exculpate those to whom they belonged, I believe
you will not think so proper. Instead of doing
this, in my humble opinion, the names of those
who signed the infamous petition which disgraces
our table 3 , should be classed alphabetically, which
would serve as a clue for finding their habitations
and connexions, and thereby discover their prac-
tices. By separating the parchment, and putting
three or four clerks to it, it may be done in a few
hours. I beg pardon for troubling your lordship
at a time when you have probably but little leisure;
I shall not add to it by making many apologies.
I am, with great regard and esteem,

My lord,

Your lordship's most obedient and
humble servant,


If you please, I will send you the sketch of what
I thought a proper petition.

J The petition from " the Protestant Association," presented
by Lord George Gordon on the 3rd of June, accompanied by
an immense body of the rioters.



Downing-street, Sunday.


I hope you will not think me troublesome or im-
pertinent, if I trouble you with a few lines to
inform you of the conduct we mean to observe,
when the petition presented by Lord George
Gordon shall be taken into consideration, in
pursuance of the resolution of the House of Com-

We intend to oppose any motion for the repeal
of the Bill, 18th George III., or for any bill what-
soever. We do not intend to go into any inquiry
of facts, or to call any witnesses, but to confine our-
selves merely to examine whether the act of the 1 8th
of his majesty, is liable to the objections thrown
out against it by the petition. As the result of
that consideration, the inclosed resolutions will be
proposed 4 . You will see I have made free with

4 The inclosure has not been found. In the sentence which
follows, Lord North means to say, that he adopted Mr. Burke's
third resolution. The resolutions moved and carried are as
follow ; the last being probably that described as the " third."

" That the effect and operation of the act passed in the 18th
year of the reign of his present majesty, intituled, ' An Act
for relieving his majesty's subjects professing the popish reli-
gion, from certain penalties and disabilities imposed on them
by an act, made in the llth and 12th years of the reign of


your third resolution, and do not greatly differ
with you in your other two ; but I think that
many people would be alarmed, if the House of
Commons were to adopt so large and extensive a
plan of toleration as they seem to hold out. Though
I do not think that the bulk of my countrymen

King William the Third, intituled, ' An Act for the further
preventing the growth of popery,' ' have been misrepresented
and misunderstood.

" That the said act, passed in the 18th year of the reign of
his present majesty, does not repeal or alter, or in any manner
invalidate or render ineffectual, the several statutes made to
prohibit the exercise of the popish religion, previous to the
statute of the llth and 12th years of King William the Third.

" That no ecclesiastical or spiritual jurisdiction, or authority,
is given, by the said act of the 18th year of the reign of his
present majesty, to the pope or to the see of Rome.

" That this house does, and ever will, watch over the inte-
rests of the Protestant religion with the most unremitted
attention ; and that all attempts to seduce the youth of this
kingdom from the established church to popery, are highly
criminal, according to the laws in force, and are a proper sub-
ject of further regulation.

" That all endeavours to disquiet the minds of the people,
by misrepresenting the said act of the 18th year of the reign
of his present majesty, as inconsistent with the safety, or
irreconcileable to the principles of the protestant religion, have
a manifest tendency to disturb the public peace, to break the
union necessary at this time, to bring dishonour on the national
character, to discredit the protestant religion in the eyes of
other nations, and to furnish occasion for the renewal of the
persecution of our protestant brethren in other countries."


wish to see the penal laws strictly executed, I
cannot help being of opinion that any suspicion of
an intention to repeal them, would be of the worst
consequence, if it were to spread among the people
at large, and countenanced by any vote of the
House of Commons.

I have a particular objection to your first reso-
lution, as it seems to be grounded on an inquiry
into facts, which, for many reasons, it would be
improper to open and prosecute at this moment.
I have the honour to be, sir,

Your very faithful, humble servant,


Charles-street, July 24, 1780.


I have been favoured with your obliging letter,
accompanying the last resolutions of the Devon-
shire committee 5 . I beg your lordship to accept
my best thanks for the trouble you have taken,
and to convey my most grateful acknowledgments
to the gentlemen of the committee for the com-
mencement of that important paper.

I am deeply sensible of the distinguished honour
I have received by your confiding the execution
of your orders to my hands. I heartily wish that

s One of the committees described in a former note. (See
page 339.)


my power of serving the committee were in any
degree proportioned to the high respect I bear
them, and to the strong and decided opinion
I entertain of the propriety of the general object
of their desires.

This country, lately the strongest and the most
flourishing, perhaps, in the world, has been brought
into an ill condition. It has been brought into
that condition by errors in policy and by neglects
in government, and by a perseverance in both that
has no example. If we can indulge ourselves in
a hope of being restored to any thing resembling
our former state, it must be by the pursuit of as
regular a series of different measures, and by
as steady a perseverance in different principles as
have been in the course that has brought us so
very near the brink of irreparable ruin. There is
no short remedy for our disease.

I exerted myself in favour of the plan which
you adopt, and the revival of which you recom-
mend, with unremitting diligence, during the
greatest part of a long session 6 . The time, the
circumstances, and the disposition of mind which
prevailed in a very great part of the house, were
highly and unusually favourable to reformation. I

6 Mr. Burke here alludes to the introduction and discussion
of his bill for " Economical reform," in the session just then
closed. The object of that bill was recommended in the
resolutions of the Devonshire committee, as well as in the
proceedings of other county committees of the same period.


am convinced that if it were possible that a plan,
consisting of a combination of a great variety of
parts, could be executed by a single vote or reso-
lution, the object you recommend would have been
carried into execution that session. But every com-
plex, practical measure, must be a matter of detail ;
and every circumstance must be debated as a dis-
tinct question on its own merits. The bill which
contains that detail can only take its turn with
the other business of the session ; and it requires
a degree of vigour, perseverance, and unceasing
attention, which in the ordinary course of things
can scarcely ever be looked for, to force through
a reform of such a nature and extent, in defiance
of all the official power of the kingdom, assisted
with very much of the personal credit, family
influence, and property, which are usually con-
nected with the power of government.

In the last session, it was not my business,
when the time seemed to require every man's best
exertion, to hold back upon the mere speculation
of those difficulties. The plan was supported by
the first abilities, and by the most eminent and
acknowledged virtues, that ever adorned this king-
dom ; for which reason, though I found myself,
in the earliest stages of the proceeding, inextri-
cably entangled in those embarrassments which
I had always foreseen, I persevered to the end of
the session, with temper and patience, debating


and explaining, even after all sort of hope was
extinguished, every article of a tedious and intri-
cate detail. This sort of proceeding was the more
easy to me, as, I acknowledge with gratitude, that
the fairness of my intentions procured to me a
much stronger expression of good will from those
who opposed, as well as those who supported me,
than I could reasonably have expected.

It is not, therefore, from weariness and disgust,
but from the most decisive experience, that I find
myself obliged to state to your lordship the utter
impossibility of carrying such a plan, as you do me
the honour to recommend to me, into execution,
without a much more systematic support than
those who have hitherto carried on this measure
in parliament have had the fortune to meet with.
If these gentlemen do not deserve the good
opinion of the nation, they certainly ought not to
have it. If they are unworthy of an opinion from
which so much importance is derived, other per-
sons should be sought who can do the necessary
business with more skill or more fidelity. But if,
by the whole line of their conduct, they have
deserved an eminent share of the confidence of
their country, they ought to receive such proofs
of it as are necessary for the public service. If
they do not, it is more the public loss than it can
be any loss to them.

Your lordship will be persuaded that, in stating


to you these doubts and difficulties, I do not mean
to decline any part which the voice of my country,
concurring with my own principles, shall assign to
me, whenever the least probability of success shall
appear, perfectly assured, that I never can aspire
to a greater honour, than to be chosen as an in-
strument for promoting, in any degree, the good
of mankind.

I have the honour to be, with the most perfect
esteem and regard,

My lord,

Your lordship's most faithful and
obedient servant,


Charles-street, August 10, 1780.


1 am much obliged to you for your very kind re-
membrance of me on the present occasion ; as on
former occasions, I have been obliged to you for
your hearty and effectual services.

I do not know by what means a report should
have prevailed, so contrary to truth, and so injuri-
ous to me, as that I do not intend to repeat the
offer of my humble services to Bristol for another
parliament. I cannot conceive why it should be


thought that I now undervalue an honour which,
for seven years past, I have taken so much pains
to merit ; and I should pay an ill compliment to
Bristol if I thought that, to serve them without
regard to my own ease, pleasure, or profit, were
the way to lose the favour of my constituents.

I cannot deny that there is great truth in what
you say of the number of employments which
have been in disposal of our opponents, and of the
prudent use they have made of them, to the ad-
vancement of their interest and the depression of
ours. But you know, from the beginning, that
the course which I pursued in public was no cer-
tain road to the disposal of the favours of the
crown ; and I beg leave to say, that if I have not
obtained any more places for my friends than I
have for myself, I have not disappointed the just
expectations of any citizen. As, therefore, none
have been deceived by me, it remains to be seen
whether there be enough of independence among
us to support a representative who throws himself
on his own good behaviour, and the good disposi-
tions of his constituents, without playing any little
game either to bribe or to delude them. I hope to
put this to the proof within a few days, when I
hope to have the pleasure of taking you by the
hand. I shall certainly make the experiment. It
must have a good effect, one way or the other ; for
it is always of use to know the true temper of the
time and country one lives in.


You tell me besides that religious prejudices have
set me ill in the minds of some people. I do not
know how this could possibly happen ; as I do not
know that I have ever offered, either in a public
or private capacity, a hardship, or even an affront,
to the religious prejudices of any person whatso-
ever. I have been a steady friend, since I came
to the use of reason, to the cause of religious
toleration ; not only as a Christian and protestant,
but as one concerned for the civil welfare of the
country in which I live, and in which I have for
some time discharged a public trust. I never
thought it right, my dear Mr. Watts, to force men
into enmity to the state by ill treatment, upon any
pretence either of civil or religious party ; and if I
never thought it wise in any circumstances, still
less do I think it wise, when we have lost one half
of our empire by one idle quarrel, to distract, and
perhaps to lose too, the other half, by another
quarrel not less injudicious and absurd. No peo-
ple ought to be permitted to live in a country 6 , who
are not permitted to have an interest in its welfare ;
by quiet in their goods, their freedom, and their
conscience. These are not my particular senti-
ments. If they were, I should not be ashamed
of them ; but they are the unanimous sentiments

8 The expression is obscure ; but Mr. Burke's meaning is,
that all who are fit to live in a country, ought to be permitted
to have an interest in its welfare, &c.

VOL. II. B b


of all who are distinguished in this kingdom for
learning, integrity, and abilities, and of all parties
and descriptions of men ; and it is neither safe nor
honest to the country to attempt to enforce plans
of tyranny against any particular persons, contrary
to the uniform judgment of all the wise and in-
formed people that are in it. For one, I would not
consent to a tyranny, though all the parts and all
the dignity of a country were in favour of a scheme
of oppression ; but when they are all against it, to
grow fond of oppression in defiance of every thing
respectable in a nation, is a thing so monstrous,
that there is no danger that you and I should be
ever so deplorably frantic as to fall into such a

Therefore, if any gentleman chooses to quarrel
with me on that ground, he perfectly knows that
he cannot find any respectable person in the
kingdom, who is able to serve him with credit or
effect, as his member. The two Houses were next
to unanimous in this business 7 , for which they
attempt to make me obnoxious; and they can
scarcely find a person to give their vote to, who
ever sat in this parliament, if they except to me ;
as hardly one has spoken their sentiments, nor has
any one attempted a division on them. All this,
therefore, my dear sir, is only a paltry pretence,

7 The relaxation of the popery laws.


made by those who wish to quit the ground they
formerly stood on ; and to qualify some personal
interest or some subordinate faction, at the expense
of every public and manly principle. Those who
pretend to go off on these pretences, in their minds
were gone before.

As to what you say of Mr. Harford, I perfectly
agree with you. A man of more honour and more
ability, in every respect, is not of my acquaintance.
He it was that, with Mr. Champion, first invited
me to Bristol. Without his encouragement I
should not think of Bristol now. I shall have the
honour of being at his house when I pay you my
intended visit. Believe me, with the sincerest
regard, dear Mr. Watts,

Your most faithful and obedient
humble servant,


Mr. Harford is just gone from hence. He is very
earnest that I should lose as little time as possible
in going to Bristol, and I shall be there in a day
or two after him.

B b 2


Charles- street, August 11, 1780.


Just as I came from the Admiralty on your affair,
I received your letter. Lord S. 8 says that he
cannot give a protection to one vessel, without
necessarily subjecting himself to innumerable
demands of the same kind. But we have an
assurance that your vessel shall be amongst
the very first, if not the first which has the benefit
of the relaxation of the rigour of the press.

Mr. Harford was with me last night, and he
is of opinion that I ought to lose no time in
showing myself at Bristol. I shall be there in
a day or two after him, and have accepted of his
obliging invitation to make use of his house.
Paul Farr I have not seen.

As to the rout made about my conduct relative
to the late acts of scanty and imperfect toleration,

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Online LibraryEdmund BurkeCorrespondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 27)