Page images
PDF
EPUB

land. If they desert their own cause, they deserve to be slaves! My lords, this is not merely the cold opinion of my understanding, but the glowing ex. pression of what I feel. It is my heart that speaks. I know I speak warmly, my lords; but this warmth shall neither betray my argument nor my temper. The kingdom is in a flame. As mediators between the king and people, it is our duty to represent to him the true condition and temper of his subjects

. It is a duty which no particular respects should hinder us from performing; and whenever his majesty shall demand our advice, it will then be our duty to inquire more minutely into the causes of the present discontents. Whenever that inquiry shall come on, I pledge myself to the house to prove, that since the first institution of the house of commons, not a single precedent can be produced to justify their late proceedings. My noble and learned friend (the lord chancellor) has pledged himself to the house, that he will support that assertion.

My lords, the character and circumstances of Mr. Wilkes have been very improperly introduced into this question, not only here, but in that court of judicature where his cause was tried. I mean the house of commons. With one party he was a patriot of the first magnitude ; with the other the vilest incendiary. For my own part, I consider him merely and indifferently as an English subject, possessed of certain rights which the laws have given him, and which the laws alone can take from him. I am neither moved by his private vices, nor by his publick merits. In his person, though he were the worst of men, I contend for the safety and security of the best; and, God forbid, my lords, that there should be a power in this country of measuring the civil rights of the subject by his moral character, or by any

other rule but the fixed laws of the land ! I believe, my lords, I shall not be suspected of any personal partiality to this unhappy man. I am not very conversant in pamphlets or newspapers; but, from what I have heard, and from the little I have

[ocr errors]

read, I may venture to affirm, that I have had my

I share in the compliments which have come from that quarter; and, as for motives of ambition (for I must take to myself a part of the noble duke's insinuation) I believe, my lords, there have been times in which I have had the honour of standing in such favour in the closet, that there must have been something extravagantly unreasonable in my wishes if they might not all have been gratified. After neglecting those opportunities, I am now sus. pected of coming forward in the decline of life, in the anxious pursuit of wealth and power, which it is impossible for me to enjoy. Be it so. There is one

. ambition at least which I ever will acknowledge, which I will not renounce but with my life. It is the ambition of delivering to my posterity those rights of freedom which I have received from my ancestors. I am not now pleading the cause of an individual

, but of every freeholder in England. In what manner this house may constitutionally interpose in their defence, and what kind of redress this case will require and admit of, is not at present the subject of our consi. deration. The amendment, if agreed to, will naturally lead us to such an inquiry. That inquiry may, perhaps, point out the necessity of an act of the legislature, or it may lead us, perhaps, to desire a conference with the other house ; which one noble lord affirms is the only parliamentary way of proceed ing; and which another noble lord assures us the house of commons would either not come to, or would break off with indignation. Leaving their lordships to reconcile that matter between themselves, I shall only say, that before we have inquired, we cannot be provided with materials: consequently we are not at present prepared for a conference.

It is not impossible, my lords, that the inquiry I speak of may lead us to advise his majesty to dissolve the present parliament; nor have I any doubt of our right to give that advice, if we should think it necessary. His majesty will then determine whether he will yield to the united petitions of the people of England, or

[blocks in formation]

maintain the house of commons in the exercise of a legislative power, which heretofore abolished the house of lords, and overturned the monarchy. I wil- . lingly acquit the present house of commons of having actually formed so detestable a design; but they cannot themselves foresee to what excesses they may be carried hereafter; and for my own part, I should be sorry to trust to their future moderation. Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know my lords, that, where law ends, tyranny begins !

[ocr errors][merged small]

ON MOVING HIS RESOLUTIONS FOR CONCILIATION WITH THE

COLONIES. DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, THE 22d OF MARCH, 1775.

FROM the commencement of the disputes between the mother country and the colonies, Mr. Burke seems to have directed a very diligent attentiori to the subject, as involving the primary interests of the empire. By maintaining a constant intercourse with many of the enlightened characters in the different provinces, he acquired a more extensive and intimate knowledge of the physical and moral condition of the country, with its real views, dispositions, and resour. ces than, perhaps, was attained by any of his cotemporaries. The result of this superiour intelligence was a decided conviction, which he carried through every stage of the controversy, that the exasperated feeling existing in the colonies could only be allayed, and their alienated attachment revived and permanently secured by placing them exactly on the same footing on which they stood previous to the introduction of the new and arbitrary system of government. An attempt to sustain the pretensions of the parent state, whether right or wrong, by force, he unifornily predicted would prove impracticable, and must, if adhered to, eventuate in her discomfiture and disgrace.

To reconcile, by an entire repeal of all the offensive measures, coupled with a solemn renunciation of the principles on which they were founded, so as to leave no just cause of complaint, was the counsel which he strenuously urged.

In the genuine spirit of this wise and liberal policy he moved, with the hope of dispersing the dark cloud of calamities which he saw impending over the empire, a series of propositions, on the 22d of March, 1775, which he enforced by an exertion of eloquence that has rarely been equalled. These propositions will be found in the body of the speech as they were severally opened. They were all rejected by a large majority.

In his preceding speech, on taxation, having very luminously traced the different schemes of colonial regulation which arose out of the fluctuating councils of the mother country, Mr. Burke, in the present one, describes with a surprising amplitude and accuracy of information the internal state of the American dependencies, as relates to their population, agriculture, and commerce, and delineates with his usual skill and nicety of discernment the genius and character of the people.

From these two productions, it has truly been said, that more may be learnt of the history of colonial America, and of the causes which led to the revolutionary struggle, than from all the other discussions and writings upon the subject.

SPEECH, &c.

I HOPE, sir, that notwithstanding the austerity of the chair, your good nature will incline you to some degree of indulgence towards 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 su. perstition. 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.*

* The act to restrain the trade and commerce of the provinces of Massachussett's Bay and New Hampshire, and colonies of Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and Providence Plantations, in North America, to Great Britain, Ireland, and the

« PreviousContinue »