Edmund Burke.

Letters, speeches and tracts on Irish affairs online

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design, or a provincial or local purpose. It is there-
fore not so absolutely clear that the measure is
wrong, or likely to be injurious to the true interests
of any place, or any person.

The reason, gentlemen, for taking this step at this
time is but too obvious and too urgent. I cannot
imagine that you forget the great war which has been
carried on with so little success (and, as I thought,
with so little policy) in America ; or that you are not
aware of the other great wars which are impending.
Ireland has been called upon to repel the attacks of
enemies of no small power, brought upon her by
councils in which she has had no share. The very
purpose and declared object of that original war, which
has brought other wars and other enemies on Ireland,
was not very flattering to her dignity, her interest, or
to the very principle of her liberty. Yet she sub-
mitted patiently to the evils she suffered from an



110 TWO LETTERS TO 1778-

attempt to subdue to your obedience, countries whose
very commerce was not open to her. America was to
be conquered in order that Ireland should not trade
thither, whilst the miserable trade which she is per-
mitted to carry on to other places has been torn to
pieces in the" struggle. In this situation, are we
neither to suffer her to have any real interest in our
quarrel, or to be flattered with the hope of any future
means of bearing the burdens which she is to incur
in defending herself against enemies which we have
brought upon her ?

I cannot set my face against such arguments. Is it
quite fair to suppose that I have no other motive for
yielding to them but a desire of acting against my
constituents ? It is for you, and for your interest, as
a dear, cherished, and respected part of a valuable
whole, that I have taken my share in this question.
You do not, you cannot suffer by it. If honesty be
true policy with regard to the transient interest of
individuals, it is much more certainly so with regard
to the permanent interest of communities. I know
that it is but too natural for us to see our own certain
ruin in the possible prosperity of other people. It is
hard to persuade us that everything which is got by
another is not taken from ourselves. But it is fit that
we should get the better of these suggestions, which
come from what is not the best and soundest part of
our nature, and that we should form to ourselves a way



1778- GENTLEMEN IN BRISTOL. Ill

of thinking more rational, more just, and more reli-
gious. Trade is not a limited thing ; as if the objects
of mutual demand and consumption could not stretch
beyond the bounds of our jealousies. God has given
the earth to the children of men, and He has un-
doubtedly, in giving it to them, given them what
is abundantly sufficient for all their exigencies — not a
scanty, but a most liberal provision for them all. The
Author of our nature has written it strongly in that
nature, and has promulgated the same law in His
written word, that man shall eat his bread by his
labour ; and I am persuaded that no man, and no
combination of men, for their own ideas or their parti-
cular profit, can, without great impiety, undertake to
say that he shall not do so ; that they have no sort of
right either to prevent the labour, . or to withhold the
bread. Ireland having received no compensation,
directly or indirectly, for any restraints on their trade,
ought not, in justice or common honesty, to be made
subject to such restraints. I do not mean to impeach
the right of the Parliament of Great Britain to make
laws for the trade of Ireland. I only speak of what
laws it is right for Parliament to make.

It is nothing to an oppressed people to say that in
part they are protected at our charge. The military
force which shall be kept up in order to cramp the
natural faculties of a people, and to prevent their
arrival to their utmost prosperity, is the instrument of



112 TWO LETTERS TO 1778-

their servitude, not the means of their protection. To
protect men, is to forward, and not to restrain, their
improvement. Else what is it more than to avow to
them and to the world that you guard them from
others only to make them a prey to yourself ? This
fundamental nature of protection does not belong to
free, but to all governments ; and is as valid in Turkey
as in Great Britaia. No government ought to own
that it exists for the purpose of checking the prosperity
of its people, or that there is such a principle involved
in its policy.

Under the impression of these sentiments (and not
as wanting every attention to my constituents which
affection and gratitude could inspire), I voted for these
bills which give you so much trouble. I voted for
them, not as doing complete justice to Ireland, but as
being something less unjust than the general prohibi-
tion which has hitherto prevailed. I hear some dis-
course as if in one or two paltry duties on materials
Ireland had a preference ; and that those who set
themselves against this act of scanty justice assert
that they are only contending for an equality. "What
ec[uality? Do they forget that the whole woollen
manufacture of Ireland, the most extensive and profit-
able of any, and the natural staple of that kingdom,
has been in a manner so destroyed by restrictive laws
of ours, and (at our persuasion, and on our promises)
by restrictive laws of their own, that in a few years, it



1778- GENTLEMEN IN BRISTOL. 113

is probable, they will not be able to wear a coat of
their own fabric ? Is this equality ? Do gentlemen
forget that the understood faith upon which they were
persuaded to such an unnatural act has not been kept,
and that a linen-manufacture has been set up and
highly encouraged against them ? Is this equality ?
Do they forget the state of the trade of Ireland in beer
— so great an article of consumption — and which now
stands in so mischievous a position with regard to their
revenue, their manufacture, and their agriculture ? Do
they iind any equality in all this ? Yet, if the least
step is taken towards doing them common justice in
the slightest article fbr the most limited markets, a cry
is raised as if we were going to be ruined by partiality
to Ireland.

Gentlemen, I know that the deficiency in these
arguments is made up (not by you, but by others) by
the usual resource on such occasions — the confidence
in military force and superior power. But that ground
of confidence, which at no time was perfectly just, or
the avowal of it tolerably decent, is at this time very
unseasonable. Late experience has shown that it
cannot be altogether relied upon; and many, if not
all of our present difficulties, have arisen from putting
our trust in what may very possibly faU, and if it
should fail, leaves those who are hurt by such a reli-
ance without pity. Whereas honesty and justice,
reason and equity, go a very great way in securing
prosperity to those who use them; and, in case of



114 TIVO LETTERS TO 1778-

failure, secure the best retreat, and the most honour-
able consolations.

It is very unfortunate that we should consider
those as rivals whom we ought to regard as feUow-
labourers in a common cause. Ireland has never
made a single step in its progress towards prosperity
by which you have not had a share, and perhaps the
greatest share, in the benefit. That progress has been
chiefly owing to her own natural advantages and her
own efforts, which, after a long time, and by slow
degrees, have prevailed in some measure over the mis-
chievous systems which have been adopted. Tar
enough she is still from having arrived even at an
ordinary state of perfection, and if our jealousies were
to be converted into politics as systematically as some
would have them, the trade of Ireland would vanish
out of the system of commerce. But, believe me, if
Ireland is beneficial to you, it is so not from the parts
in which it is restrained, but from those in which it is
left free, though not left unrivalled. The greater its
freedom the greater must be your advantage. If you
should lose in one way, you wiU gain in twenty.

Whilst I remain under this unalterable and power-
ful conviction, you will not wonder at the decided part
I take. It is my custom so to do when I see my way
clearly before me, and when I know that I am not
misled by any passion or any personal interest, as in
this case I am very sure I am not. I find that dis-
agreeable things are circulated among my constituents.



1778- GENTLEMEn^ IN BRISTOL. 115

and I wish my sentiments, which form my justification,
may be equally general with the circulation against
me. I have the honour to be, with the greatest regard
and esteem. Gentlemen, your most obedient and humble
servant, E. B.

Westminstee, Mmj 2, 1778.



116 SPEECH AT THE 1780.



V

Me. BURKE'S SPEECH at the Guildhall, in Bris-
tol, PEEVIOUS TO THE LATE ELECTION IN THAT

City, upon Certain Points Relative to his
Parliamentary Conduct. 1780.

Mr. Mayor and Gentlemen,
I AM extremely pleased at the appearance of this large
and respectable meeting. The steps I may be obliged
to take will want the sanction of a considerable autho-
rity ; and in explaining any thing which may appear
doubtful in my public conduct, I must naturally desire
a very fuU. audience.

I have been backward to begin my canvass. The
dissolution of the Parliament was uncertain; and it did
not become me, by an unseasonable importunity, to
appear diffident of the fact of my six years' endeavours
to please you. I have served the city of Bristol
honourably ; and the city of Bristol had no reason to
think that the means of honourable service to the
public were become indifferent to me.

I found on my arrival here that three gentlemen
had been long in eager pursuit of an object which but



1780. GUILDHALL, IN BRISTOL. 117

two of us can obtain. I found that they had all met
with encouragement. A contested election, in such a
city as this, is no light thing. I paused on the brink
of the precipice. These three gentlemen, by various
merits and on various titles, I made no doubt were
worthy of your favour. I shall never attempt to raise
myself by depreciating the merits of my competitors.
In the complexity and confusion of these cross pursuits,
I wished to take the authentic public sense of my
friends upon a business of so much delicacy. I wished
to take your opinion along with me ; that if I should
give up the contest at the very beginning, my sur-
render of my post may not seem the effect of incon-
stancy, or timidity, or anger, or disgust, or indolence,
or any other temper unbecoming a man who has
engaged in the public service. If, on the contrary,
I should undertake the election, and fail of success,
I was full as anxious that it should be manifest to
the whole world, that the peace of the city had not
been broken by my rashness, presumption, or fond
conceit of my own merit.

I am not come by a false and counterfeit show
of deference to your judgment, to seduce it in my
favour. I ask it seriously and unaffectedly. If you
wish that I should retire, I shall not consider that
advice as a censure upon my conduct, or an alteration
in your sentiments, but as a rational submission
to the circumstances of affairs. If, on the contrary,
you should think it proper for me to proceed on my



118 . SPEECH AT THE 1780.

canvass, if you will risk the trouble on your part,
I will risk it on mine. My pretensions are such as
you cannot be ashamed of, whether they succeed or
fail.

If you call upon me, I shall solicit the favour of
the city upon manly ground. I come before you with
the plain confidence of an honest servant in the equity
of a candid and discerning master. I come to claim
your approbation,-^-not to amuse you with vain apologies,
or with professions still more vain and senseless. I
have lived too long to be served by apologies, or to
stand in need of them. The part I have acted has
been in open day ; and to hold out to a conduct
which stands ia that clear and steady light for all its
good and all its evil, — to hold out to that conduct the
paltry winking tapers, of excuses and promises — I
never will do it. They may obscure it with their
smoke ; but they never can illumine sunshine by
such a flame as theirs.

I am sensible that no endeavours have been left
untried to injure me in your opinion. But the use of
character is to be a shield against calumny. I could
wish, undoubtedly (if idle wishes were not the most
idle of all things), to make every part of my conduct
agreeable to every one of my constituents. But in so
great a city, and so greatly divided as this, it is weak
to expect it.

In such a discordancy of sentiments, it is better to
look to the nature of things than to the humours of



178°. GUILDHALL, IN BRISTOL. 119

men. The very attempt towards pleasing everybody
discovers a temper always flashy, and often false and
insincere. Therefore, as I have proceeded straight
onward in my conduct, so I will proceed in my
account of those parts of it which have been most
excepted to. But I must first beg leave just to hint
to you that we may suffer very great detriment by
being open to every talker. It is not to be imagined
how much of service is lost from spirits full of
activity and full of energy, who are pressing, who
are rushing forward, to great and capital objects, when
you oblige them to be continually looking back.
Whilst they are defending one service, they defraud
you of a hundred. Applaud us when we run ; con-
sole us when we fall ; cheer us when we recover ; but
let us pass on — for God's sake, let us pass on.

Do you think, gentlemen, that every public act in
the six years since I stood in this place before you —
that all the arduous things which have been done
in this eventful period, which has crowded into a few
years' space the revolutions of an age, can be opened
to you on their fair grounds in half an hour's con-
versation.

But it is no reason, because there is a bad mode
of inquiry, that there should be no examination at
aU. Most certainly it is our duty to examine ; it
is our interest too. But it must be with discretion ;
with an attention to all the circumstances, and to all
the motives : like sound judges, and not hke cavilling



120 SPEECH AT THE 1780.

pettifoggers and quibbling pleaders, prying into flaws
and hunting for exceptions. Look, gentlemen, to the
whole tenor of your member's conduct. Try whether
his ambition or his avarice have justled him out of
the straight line of duty ; or whether that grand foe
of the offices of active life, that master- vice in men of
business, a degenerate and inglorious sloth, has made
him flag and languish in his course ? This is the
object of our inquiry. If our member's conduct can
bear this touch, mark it for sterling.. He may have
fallen into errors ; he must have faults ; but our error
is greater, and our fault is radically ruinous to our-
selves, if we do not bear, if we do not even applaud,
the whole compound and mixed mass of such a char-
acter. Not to act thus is folly ; I had almost said it
is impiety. He censures God, who quarrels with the
imperfections of man.

Gentlemen, we must not be peevish with those
who serve the people. For none will serve us whilst
there is a court to serve, but those who are of a nice
and jealous honour. They who think everything, in com-
parison of that honour, to be dust and ashes, will not
bear to have it soiled and impaired by those for whose
sake they make a thousand sacrifices to preserve it
immaculate and whole. We shall either drive such
men from the public stage, or we shall send them to
the court for protection : where, if they must sacrifice
their reputation, they will at least secure their interest.
Depend upon it, that the lovers of freedom wiU be free.



i78o. GUILDHALL, IN BRISTOL. 121

None will violate their conscience to please us, in order
afterwards to discharge that conscience, which have
violated, by doing us faithful and affectionate service.
If we degrade and deprave their minds by servility,' it
will be absurd to expect that they who are creeping
and abject towards us, will ever be bold and incorrupt-
ible assertors of our freedom, against the most seducing
and the most formidable of all powers. No ! human
nature is not so formed ; nor shall we improve the
faculties or better the morals of public men by our
possession of the most infaUible receipt in the world
for making cheats and hypocrites.

Let me say with plainness, I who am no longer in
a public character, that if by a fair, by an indulgent,
by a gentlemanly behaviour to our representatives, we
do not give confidence to their minds and a liberal
scope to their understandings ; if we do not permit our
members to act upon a very enlarged view of things ;
we shall at length infallibly degrade our national
representation into a confused and scuffling bustle of
local agency. When the popular member is narrowed
in his ideas and rendered timid in his proceedings, the
service of the crown will be the sole nursery of states-
men. Among the frolics of the court it may at length
take that of attending to its business. Then the
monopoly of mental power will be added to the power
of all other kinds it possesses. On the side of the
people there will be nothing but impotence : for ignor-
ance is impotence ; narrowness of mind is impotence ;



122 SPEECH AT THE 1780.

timidity is itself impotence, and makes all other
qualities that go along with it, impotent and useless.

At present it is the plan of the court to make its
servants insignificant. If the people should fall into
the same humour, and should choose their servants on
the same principles of mere obsequiousness, and flex-
ibility, and total vacancy or indifference of opinion in
all public matters, then no part of the State will be
sound ; and it will be in vain to think of saving it.

I thought it very expedient at this time to give
you this candid coimsel ; and with this counsel I
would willingly close, if the matters which at various
times have been objected to me in this city concerned
only myself and my own election. These charges I
think, are four in number \- — my neglect of a due
attention to my constituents, the not paying more
frequent visits here ; — my conduct on the affairs of the
first Irish trade acts ; — -my opinion and mode of pro-
ceeding on Lord Beauchamp's debtors bills ; — and my
votes on the late affairs of the Eoman Catholics. All
of these (except perhaps the first) relate to matters of
very considerable public concern ; and it is not lest
you should censure me improperly, but lest you should
form improper opinions on matters of some moment to
you, that I trouble you at all upon the subject. My
conduct is of small importance.

With regard to the first charge, my friends have
spoken to me of it in the style of amicable expostula-
tion ; not so much blaming the thing, as lamenting the
effects. Others, less partial to me, were less kind in



i78o. GUILDHALL, IN BRISTOL. 123

assigning the motives. I admit there is a decorum
and propriety in a member of Parliament's paying a
respectful court to his constituents. If I were con-
scious to myself that pleasure or dissipation, or low
unworthy occupations, had detained me from personal
attendance on you, I would readily admit my fault
and quietly submit to the penalty. But, gentlemen, I
live at a hundred miles distance from Bristol ; and
at the end of a session I come to my own house,
fatigued in body and in mind, to a little repose, and
to a very little attention to my family and my private
concerns. A visit to Bristol is always a sort of
canvass ; else it wUl do more harm than good. To
pass from the toils of a session to the toils of a can-
vass, is the farthest thing in the world from repose.
I could hardly serve you as I have done, and court you
too. Most of you have heard that I do not very
remarkably spare myself in public business ; and in
the private business of my constituents I have done
very nearly as much as those who have nothing else
to do. My canvass of you was not on the 'change, nor
in the county meetings, nor in the clubs of this city :
It was in the House of Commons ; it was at the
Custom-house ; it was at the Council ; it was at the
Treasury ; it was at the Admiralty. I canvassed you
through your affairs, and not your persons. I was not
only your representative as a body ; I was the agent,
the solicitor of individuals ; I ran about wherever your
affairs could call me ; and in acting for you I often



124 SPEECH AT THE 1780.

appeared rather as a ship broker, than as a Member of
Parliament. There was nothing too laborious, or too
low for me to undertake. The meanness of the busi-
ness was raised by the dignity of the object. If some
lesser matters have slipped through my fingers it was
because I filled my hands too full ; and, in my eager-
ness to serve you, took in more than any hands could
grasp. Several gentlemen stand round me who are
my willing witnesses ; and there are others who, if
they were here, would be still better ; because they
would be unwilling witnesses to the same truth. It
was in the middle of a summer residence in London,
and in the middle of a negotiation at the Admiralty for
your trade, that I was called to Bristol ; and this late
visit, at this late day, has been possibly in prejudice to
your affairs.

Since I have touched upon this matter, let me say,
gentlemen, that if I had a disposition, or a right to
complain, I have some cause of complaint on my side.
"With a petition of this city in my hand, passed through
the corporation without a dissenting voice — a petition
in unison with almost the whole voice of the kingdom
(with whose formal thanks I was covered over) — while
I laboured on no less than five bills for a public
reform, and fought against the opposition, of great
abilities and of the greatest power, every clause and
every word of the largest of those bills, almost to the
very last day of a very long session ; — all this time a
canvass in Bristol was as calmly carried on as if I



i78o. GUILDHALL, IN BRISTOL. 125

were dead. I was considered as a man wholly out of
the question. Whilst I watched, and fasted, and
sweated in the House of Commons — ^by the most easy
and ordinary arts of election, by dinners and visits, by
" How do you do's," and " My worthy friends," I was
to be quietly moved out of my seat — and promises
were made, and engagements entered into, without any
exception or reserve, as if my laborious zeal in my
duty had been a regular abdication of my trust.

To open my whole heart to you on this subject, I
do confess, however, that there were other times
besides the two years in which I did visit you when I
was not wholly without leisure for repeating that mark
of my respect. But I could not bring my mind to see
you. You remember that, in the beginning of this
American war (that era of calamity, disgrace, and
downfall, an era which no feeling mind will ever
mention without a tear for England), you were greatly
divided ; and a very strong body, if not the strongest,
opposed itself to the madness which every art and
every power were employed to render popular in order
that the errors of the rulers might be lost in the
general blindness of the nation. This opposition con-
tinued until after our great but most unfortunate
victory at Long Island. Then aU the mounds and
banks of our constancy were borne down at once ; and
the frenzy of the American war broke in upon us
like a deluge. This victory, which seemed to put an
immediate end to all difficulties, perfected us in that



126 SPEECH AT THE 1780.

spirit of domination which our unparalleled prosperity
had but too long nurtured. We had been so very
powerful and so very prosperous, that even the humblest
of us were degraded into the vices and follies of kings.
We lost all measure between means and ends ; and
our headlong desires became our politics and our
morals. AU men who wished for peace, or retained
any sentiments of moderation, were overborne or
silenced ; and this city was led by every artifice (and
probably with the more management because I was
one of your members) to distinguish itself by its zeal
for that fatal cause. In this temper of your and of
my mind, I should have sooner iled to the extremities
of the earth than have shown myself here. I, who
saw in every American victory (for you have had a
long series of these misfortunes) the germ and seed of
the naval power of Prance and Spain, which all our
heat and warmth against America was only hatching



Online LibraryEdmund BurkeLetters, speeches and tracts on Irish affairs → online text (page 8 of 28)