Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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Mr. Bryan. Then, Mr. Chairman, I presume to Monte
Carlo he would go, and that there he would give up to the
wheel of fortune all the wealth of which he would not
give a part to support the government which enabled him
to accumulate it. [Laughter and applause.]

Are there really any such people in this country? Of
all the mean men I have ever known, I have never known
one so mean that I would be willing to say of him that his
patriotism was less than 2 per cent. deep. [Laughter and

There is not a man whom I would charge with being
willing to expatriate himself rather than contribute from
his abundance to the support of the government that pro-
tects him.

If "some of our best people" prefer to leave the coun-
try rather than pay a tax of 2 per cent., God pity the worst.

If we have people who value free government so little
that they prefer to live under monarchical institutions, even
without an income tax, rather than live under the stars and
stripes and pay a 2 per cent, tax, we can better afford to


lose them and their fortunes than risk the contaminating
influence of their presence. [Applause.]

I will not attempt to characterize such persons. If Mr.
McAllister is a true prophet, if we are to lose some of our
"best people" by the imposition of an income tax, let them
depart, and as they leave without regret the land of their
birth, let them go with the poet's curse ringing in their
ears :

"Breathes there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my NATIVE LAND !

Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned.

As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand ?

If such there breathe, go, mark him well;

For him no minstrel raptures swell;

High though his titles, proud his name,

Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;

Despite those titles, power, and pelf,

The wretch, concentered all in self,

Living, shall forfeit fair renown,

And, doubly dying, shall go down

To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,

Unwept, unhonored, and unsung."

[Loud and long-continued applause.]


[Edmund Burke, a British statesman of distinguished oratorical
powers, was born in Dublin in 1729, his mother being a Roman
Catholic while his father was a Protestant, Burke himself adhering to
his father's religion. He was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, and first
attracted general attention by a " Vindication of Natural Society," in-
tended to parody the literary methods of Bolingbroke. Next appeared
the essay on the "Sublime and Beautiful," and, under distinguished
auspices he entered parliament, where he astonished his hearers with
a style of eloquence never heard there before. Burke's tall stature, his
dignity, and his loud voice, the effect of which was heightened by an
Irish accent, added to the novelty of his style. During the thirty years
of his public life he made speeches in the House of Commons which
have never been surpassed in impressiveness. He spoke in favor of the
abolition of the slave-trade, resisted the exploitation of India by fortune-
seekers, urged conciliation with America, and denounced despotism
on one hand and lawlessness on the other. One of his most famous
speeches opened the trial of Warren Hastings, and a second, equally
famous, closed it. He published, likewise, various treatises, including
"Cause of the Present Discontents," and "Reflections on the French
Revolution." Burke retired with a liberal pension after having held
important offices, and died in 1797. The following address, the most
frequently quoted of any of his orations, was delivered in parliament
in 1775, shortly before the beginning of the American Revolution.]

MR. SPEAKER : I hope, sir, that, notwithstanding the
austerity of the chair, your good-nature will incline
you to some degree of indulgence toward human frailty.
You will not think it unnatural that those who have an
object depending, which strongly engages their hopes and
fears, should be somewhat inclined to superstition. As I
came into the house full of anxiety about the event of my
motion, I found, to my infinite surprise, that the grand
penal bill, by which we had passed sentence on the trade


and sustenance of America, is to be returned to us from the
other house. I do confess I could not help looking on this
event as a fortunate omen. I look upon it as a sort of
providential favor, by which we are put once more in pos-
session of our deliberative capacity, upon a business so very
questionable in its nature, so very uncertain in its issue.
By the return of this bill, which seemed to have taken its
flight forever, we are, at this very instant, nearly as free to
choose a plan for our American government, as we were on
the first day of the session. If, sir, we incline to the side
of conciliation, we are not at all embarrassed (unless we
please to make ourselves so) by any incongruous mixture of
coercion and restraint. We are therefore called upon, as
it were, by a superior warning voice, again to attend to
America; to attend to the whole of it together; and to
review the subject with an unusual degree of care and

Surely it is an awful subject, or there is none so on this
side of the grave. When I first had the honor of a seat in
this house, the affairs of that continent pressed themselves
upon us as the most important and most delicate object of
parliamentary attention. My little share in this great de-
liberation oppressed me. I found myself a partaker in a
very high trust ; and having no sort of reason to rely on the
strength of my natural abilities for the proper execution of
that trust, I was obliged to take more than common pains
to instruct myself in everything which relates to our col-
onies. I was not less under the necessity of forming some
fixed ideas concerning the general policy of the British Em-
pire. Something of this sort seemed to be indispensable,
in order, amid so vast a fluctuation of passions and opin-
ions, to concenter my thoughts; to ballast my conduct;
to preserve me from being blown about by every wind of
fashionable doctrine. I really did not think it safe or manly
to have fresh principles to seek upon every fresh mail which
should arrive from America.

At that period I had the fortune to find myself in per-
fect concurrence with a large majority in this house. Bow-
ing under that high authority, and penetrated with the
sharpness and strength of that early impression, I have con-
tinued ever since in my original sentiments without the


least deviation. Whether this be owing to an obstinate
perseverance in error, or to a religious adherence to what
appears to me truth and reason, it is in your equity to

Sir, parliament having an enlarged view of objects,
made, during this interval, more frequent changes in their
sentiment and their conduct than could be justified in a
particular person upon the contracted scale of private infor-
mation. But though I do not hazard anything approach-
ing to a censure on the motives of former parliaments to
all those alterations, one fact is undoubted that under
them the state of America has been kept in continual agita-
tion. Everything administered as remedy to the public
complaint, if it did not produce, was at least followed by,
a heightening of the distemper; until, by a variety of ex-
periments, that important country has been brought into
her present situation a situation which I will not miscall,
which I dare not name, which I scarcely know how to com-
prehend in the terms of any description.

In this posture, sir, things stood at the beginning of the
session. About that time, a worthy member of great par-
liamentary experience, who, in the year 1766, filled the
chair of the American committee with much ability, took
me aside, and, lamenting the present aspect of our politics,
told me things were come to such a pass that our former
methods of proceeding in the house would be no longer
tolerated. That the public tribunal (never too indulgent
to a long and unsuccessful opposition) would now scrutinize
our conduct with unusual severity. That the very vicissi-
tudes and shiftings of ministerial measures, instead of con-
victing their authors of inconstancy and want of system,
would be taken as an occasion of charging us with a pre-
determined discontent, which nothing could satisfy; while
we accused every measure of vigor as cruel, and every pro-
posal of lenity as weak and irresolute. The public, he said,
would not have patience to see us play the game out with
our adversaries : we must produce our hand. It would be
expected that those who, for many years, had been active
in such affairs, should show that they had formed some
clear and decided idea of the principles of colonial govern-
ment, and were capable of drawing out something like a


platform of the ground which might be laid for future and
permanent tranquillity.

I felt the truth of what my honorable friend represented,
but I felt my situation too. His application might have
been made with far greater propriety to many other gentle-
men. No man was, indeed, ever better disposed or worse
qualified for such an undertaking than myself. Though I
gave so far into his opinion that I immediately threw my
thoughts into a sort of parliamentary form, I was by no
means equally ready to produce them. It generally argues
some degree of natural impotence of mind, or some want of
knowledge of the world, to hazard plans of government,
except from a seat of authority. Propositions are made,
not only ineffectually, but somewhat disreputably, when
the minds of men are not properly disposed for their recep-
tion ; and, for my part, I am not ambitious of ridicule not
absolutely a candidate for disgrace.

Besides, sir, to speak the plain truth, I have in general
no very exalted opinion of the virtue of paper government,
nor of any politics in which the plan is to be wholly sepa-
rated from the execution. But when I saw that anger and
violence prevailed every day more and more, and that things
were hastening toward an incurable alienation of our col-
onies, I confess my caution gave way. I felt this as one of
those few moments in which decorum yields to a higher
duty. Public calamity is a mighty leveler, and there are
occasions when any, even the slightest, chance of doing
good must be laid hold on, even by the most inconsider-
able person. .

To restore order and repose to an empire so great and
so distracted as ours, is merely in the attempt an undertak-
ing that would ennoble the flights of the highest genius, and
obtain pardon for the efforts of the meanest understanding.
Struggling a good while with these thoughts, by degrees I
felt myself more firm. I derived, at length, some confi-
dence from what in other circumstances usually produces
timidity. I grew less anxious, even from the idea of my
own insignificance. For, judging of what you are by what
you ought to be, I persuaded myself that you would not
reject a reasonable proposition because it had nothing but its
reason to recommend it. On the other hand, being totally


destitute of all shadow of influence, natural or adventitious,
I was very sure that if my proposition were futile or dan-
gerous if it were weakly conceived or improperly timed,
there was nothing exterior to it of power to awe, dazzle,
or delude you. You will see it just as it is, and you will
treat it just as it deserves.

The proposition is peace. Not peace through the
medium of war; not peace to be hunted through the laby-
rinth of intricate and endless negotiations; not peace to
arise out of universal discord, fomented from principle, in
all parts of the empire; not peace to depend on the juridical
determination of perplexing questions, or the precise mark-
ing the shadowy boundaries of a complex government. It
is simple peace, sought in its natural course and its ordinary
haunts. It is peace sought in the spirit of peace, and laid
in principles purely pacific. I propose, by removing the
ground of the difference, and by restoring the former unsus-
pecting confidence of the colonies in the mother country, to give
permanent satisfaction to your people; and, far from a
scheme of ruling by discord, to reconcile them to each other
in the same act, and by the bond of the very same interest,
which reconciles them to British government.

My idea is nothing more. Refined policy ever has been
the parent of confusion, and ever will be so as long as the
world endures. Plain good intention, which is as easily dis-
covered at the first view as fraud is surely detected at last,
is (let me say) of no mean force in the government of man-
kind. Genuine simplicity of heart is a healing and cement-
ing principle. My plan, therefore, being formed upon the
most simple grounds imaginable, may disappoint some peo-
ple when they hear it. It has nothing to recommend it to
the pruriency of curious ears. There is nothing at all new
and captivating in it. It has nothing of the splendor of the
project which has been lately laid upon your table by the
noble lord in the blue ribbon. It does not propose to fill
your lobby with squabbling colony agents, who will require
the interposition of your mace at every instant to keep the
peace among them. It does not institute a magnificent
auction of finance, where captivated provinces come to
general ransom by bidding against each other, until you
knock down the hammer, and determine a proportion of


payments beyond all the powers of algebra to equalize and

The plan which I shall presume to suggest derives, how-
ever, one great advantage from the proposition and registry
of that noble lord's project. The idea of conciliation is
admissible. First, the house, in accepting the resolution
moved by the noble lord, has admitted, notwithstanding
the menacing front of our address, notwithstanding our
heavy bill of pains and penalties, that we do not think our-
selves precluded from all ideas of free grace and bounty.

The house has gone further: it has declared concilia-
tion admissible, previous to any submission on the part of
America. It has even shot a good deal beyond that mark,
and has admitted that the complaints of our former mode
of exerting the right of taxation were not wholly unfounded.
That right, thus exerted, is allowed to have had something
reprehensible in it, something unwise, or something griev-
ous ; since, in the midst of our heat and resentment, we, of
ourselves, have proposed a capital alteration, and, in order
to get rid of what seemed so very exceptionable, have insti-
tuted a mode that is altogether new; one that is, indeed,
wholly alien from all the ancient methods and forms of

The principle of this proceeding is large enough for my
purpose. The means proposed by the noble lord for carry-
ing his ideas into execution, I think, 'indeed, are very in-
differently suited to the end ; and this I shall endeavor to
show you before I sit down. But, for the present, I take
my ground on the admitted principle. I mean to give
peace. Peace implies reconciliation ; and, where there has
been a material dispute, reconciliation does in a manner
always imply concession on the one part or on the other.
In this state of things I make no difficulty in affirming that
the proposal ought to originate from us. Great and ac-
knowledged force is not impaired, either in effect or in
opinion, by an unwillingness to exert itself. The superior
power may offer peace with honor and with safety. Such
an offer from such a power will be attributed to magnanim-
ity. But the concessions of the weak are the concessions
of fear. When such a one is disarmed, he is wholly at the
mercy of his superior, and he loses forever that time and


those chances which, as they happen to all men, are the
strength and resources of all inferior power.

The capital leading questions on which you must this
day decide, are these two: First, whether you ougJit to con-
cede; and, secondly , what your concession ought to be,

On the first of these questions we have gained, as I have
just taken the liberty of observing to you, some ground.
But I am sensible that a good deal more is still to be done.
Indeed, sir, to enable us to determine both on the one and
the other of these great questions with a firm and precise
judgment, I think it may be necessary to consider distinctly:
The true nature and the peculiar circumstances of the ob-
ject Avhich we have before us; because, after all our strug-
gle, whether we will or not, we must govern America accord-
ing to that nature and to those circumstances, and not
according to our imaginations; not according to abstract
ideas of right ; by no means according to mere general the-
ories of government, the resort to which appears to me, in
our present situation, no better than arrant trifling. I shall
therefore endeavor, with your leave, to lay before you some
of the most material of these circumstances in as full and
as clear a manner as I am able to state them.

(i) The first thing that we have to consider with regard
to the nature of the object is the number of people in the
colonies. I have taken for some years a good deal of pains
on that point. I can by no calculation justify myself in
placing the number below two millions of inhabitants of
our own European blood and color, besides at least five
hundred thousand others, who form no inconsiderable part
of the strength and opulence of the whole. This, sir, is,
I believe, about the true number. There is no occasion to
exaggerate, where plain truth is of so much weight and im-
portance. But whether I put the present numbers too high
or too low is a matter of little moment. Such is the strength
with which population shoots in that part of the world, that,
state the numbers as high as we will, while the dispute con-
tinues, the exaggeration ends. While we are discussing any
given magnitude, they are grown to it. While we spend
our time in deliberating on the mode of governing two
millions, we shall find we have two millions more to man-
age. Your children do not grow faster from infancy to


manhood than they spread from families to communities,
and from villages to nations.

I put this consideration of the present and the growing
numbers in the front of our deliberation ; because, sir, this
consideration will make it evident to a blunter discernment
than yours that no partial, narrow, contracted, pinched,
occasional system will be at all suitable to such an object.
It will show you that it is not to be considered as one of
those minima which are out of the eye and consideration of
the law; not a paltry excrescence of the state; not a mean
dependent, who may be neglected with little damage, and
provoked with little danger. It will prove that some degree
of care and caution is required in the handling such an
object; it will show that you ought not, in reason, to trifle
with so large a mass of the interests and feelings of the human
race. You could at no time do so without guilt; and, be
assured, you will not be able to do it long with impunity.

But the population of this country, the great and grow-
ing population, though a very important consideration, will
lose much of its weight, if not combined with other circum-
stances. The commerce of your colonies is out of all pro-
portion beyond the numbers of the people. This ground
of their commerce, indeed, has been trod some days ago,
and with great ability, by a distinguished person at your
bar. This gentleman, after thirty-five years it is so long
since he appeared at the same place to plead for the com-
merce of Great Britain has come again before you to plead
the same cause, without any other effect of time than that,
to the fire of imagination and extent of erudition which even
then marked him as one of the first literary characters of his
age, he has added a consummate knowledge in the commer-
cial interest of his country, formed by a long course of
enlightened and discriminating experience.

(2) Sir, I should be inexcusable in coming after such a per-
son with any detail, if a great part of the members who now
fill the house had not the misfortune to be absent when he
appeared at your bar. Besides, sir, I propose to take the
matter at periods of time somewhat different from his.
There is, if I mistake not, a point of view from whence, if
you will look at this subject, it is impossible that it should
not make an impression upon you.


I have in my hand two accounts: one a comparative
state of the export trade of England to its colonies as it
stood in the year 1704, and as it stood in the year 1772;
the other a state of the export trade of this country to its
colonies alone, as it stood in 1772, compared with the whole
trade of England to all parts of the world, the colonies in-
cluded, in the year 1704. They are from good vouchers;
the latter period from the accounts on your table, the earlier
from an original manuscript of Davenant, who first estab-
lished the inspector-general's office, which has been, ever
since his time, so abundant a source of parliamentary

The export trade to the colonies consists of three great
branches: the African, which, terminating almost wholly in
the colonies, must be put to the account of their commerce;
the West Indian, and the North American. All these are
so interwoven, that the attempt to separate them would
tear to pieces the contexture of the whole, and, if not en-
tirely destroy, would very much depreciate the value of all
the parts. I therefore consider these three denominations
to be, what in effect they are, one trade.

The trade to the colonies, taken on the export side, at
the beginning of this century, that is, in the year 1704,
stood thus:

Exports to North America and the West Indies . ^483,265
To Africa 86,665


In the year 1772, which I take as a middle year between
the highest and lowest of those lately laid on your table,
the account was as follows :

To North America and the West Indies . ^4,791,734

To Africa 866,398

To which, if you add the export trade from Scotland,

which had in 1704 no existence .... 364,000


From five hundred and odd thousand, it has grown to
six millions. It has increased no less than twelvefold.
This is the state of the colony trade, as compared with


itself at these two periods within the century; and this is
matter for meditation. But this is not all. Examine my
second account. See how the export trade to the colonies
alone in 1772 stood in the other point of view, that is, as
compared to the whole trade of England in 1704:

The whole export trade of England, including that

to the colonies, in 1704 ^6,509,000

Exported to the colonies alone, in 1772 . . 6,024,000

Difference ^485,000

The trade with America alone is now within less than
500,000 of being equal to what this great commercial
nation, England, carried on at the beginning of this cen-
tury with the whole world ! If I had taken the largest year
of those on your table, it would rather have exceeded.
But, it will be said, is not this American trade an unnatural
protuberance, that has drawn the juices from the rest of the
body? The reverse. It is the very food that has nourished
every other part into its present magnitude. Our general
trade has been greatly augmented, and augmented more or
less in almost every part to which it ever extended, but
with this material difference: that of the six millions which
in the beginning of the century constituted the whole mass
of our export commerce, the colony trade was but one
twelfth part ; it is now (as a part of sixteen millions) con-
siderably more than a third of the whole. This is the
relative proportion of the importance of the colonies of
these two periods ; and all reasoning concerning our mode
of treating them must have this proportion as its basis, or
it is a reasoning weak, rotten, and sophistical.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot prevail on myself to hurry over
this great consideration. It is good for us to be here. We
stand where we have an immense view of what is, and what
is past. Clouds, indeed, and darkness, rest upon the future.
Let us, however, before we descend from this noble emi-
nence, reflect that this growth of our national prosperity
has happened within the short period of the life of man.

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 36 of 43)