The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 06 (of 12) (TREDITION CLASSICS)

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Did you find this document useful? Is this content inappropriate? Report this Document. Download Now. For Later. Jump to Page. Search inside document. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www. BOOK I. Establishment of Christianity--of Monastic Institutions. Harold II. The whipper-in of an old premier, being an influential peer or near relative of an influential peer, had a right to expect the premiership in his turn. His business was to study the temper of the House of Commons, and to lead it by the nose; to cajole or intimidate the monarch, and to drain the Treasury to enrich his friends, supporters and parasites.

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It was not likely that under such a system statesmanship could rise to a very high level. Chatham became gradually weary of the supremacy of men whose title to power lay outside their personal capabilities.


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It was a signal failure, and was probably the most miserable administration that England has ever seen. The consequences were disastrous. The Whigs went over to it in bodies, America was lost, and England was brought to the verge of Revolution. The principal historical thread which runs through the Edition: current; Page: [ [15] ] present volume is that of this contest between the King and the Whigs. Edition: orig; Page: [ xv ] The King fought his battle manfully, held each position, as it yielded to him, tenaciously, and gained his victory—though ingloriously.

It would have been otherwise had America been compelled to submission. But America and Reform were the sacrifices made to secure his success.

A dispassionate critic might possibly sympathise with him in this struggle for what many would regard as his natural rights. He bribed; he bullied; he darkly dissembled on occasion; he exercised a slippery perseverance, which one almost admires, as one thinks his character over. His courage was never to be beat.

It trampled North under foot; it beat the stiff neck of the younger Pitt; even his illness never conquered that indomitable spirit. Corruption, in fact, was the only weapon with which to combat corruption.

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The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 07 (of 12) by Burke, Edmund, 1729-1797

The chief point for the student to observe is, that all his measures were innovations, attacks on existing interests, and reforms more or less impolitic and mischievous. The setting up of Lord Bute was intended as a reform. The sham Chatham cabinet, however, was at bottom the boldest innovation, and if Townshend had carried out, as he probably would had he lived, the idea of parcelling out America into Royal Governments, the foundation would have been laid of a reform which, supposing a little less public spirit than actually existed among the upper classes, might have ended in reducing England to the model of contemporary continental governments.

The taxation of America was the Edition: current; Page: [ [16] ] thin end of the wedge, and it was a happy thing for England and the world that it was so heroically resisted. The experiment of a ministry headed by a favourite was a conspicuous failure: but the succeeding administrations were an apprenticeship in kingcraft, and with Lord North as an instrument, the King appears, if not a finished master, at least as something better than a bungler.

Like most monarchs by hereditary title, he was totally unfitted to direct the policy Edition: orig; Page: [ xvi ] of his country. He was, however, a fair specimen of the active and popular monarch. Modelling himself, not on those who preceded him, but on the noblemen by whom he was surrounded, he devoted such talents as he had to the duties which he conceived to claim them, and he was rewarded by a full measure of popularity.

The impression he left on the hearts of the nation, an index not without its value, comes nearer than any other we could mention to that left by the great Queen Elizabeth. He was certainly not more ignorant or prejudiced than the bulk of his subjects.

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Where he erred, he erred with the nation. The reaction against the Whigs, which ended in their practical extinction, was a national reaction. The American War was favoured by pampered national pride, and its great failure was a national lesson. The topics of Whiggism in do not in themselves greatly stir the reader of history. Some of them were stale, others worn to rags. Years before the terrible spectre of a Double Cabinet arose to confound the Whigs and alarm the Edition: current; Page: [ [17] ] susceptibilities of a free nation, statesmen were pretty well agreed as to the meaning of Parliamentary independence.

The whole nation, writes Pulteney to Swift, is so abandoned and corrupt, that the Crown can never fail of a majority in both Houses of Parliament. The precarious nature of the Whig domination, for which Burke contends as earnestly as for some elementary principle of morals, had long been known.

Their fall, under changed circumstances, was imminent.

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Edition: orig; Page: [ xvii ] Chesterfield said that until he read that tract he did not know what the English language was capable of. It contains nothing specially of a Tory nature in its arguments, and is in fact a piece of the purest Whiggism. Modern liberalism has a creed which differs Edition: current; Page: [ [18] ] widely from either.


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  4. Bolingbroke had no hopes except from a liberal monarch. Burke rested his system upon an oligarchy of liberal noblemen and landowners. We can now, thanks to the diffusion of wealth and education, appeal securely to a liberal people. How shall we reconcile all this with the reputation which Burke justly enjoys of being himself a great reformer, and the father of the present generation of reformers?

    The fact is, that liberalism has always rested upon the positions which it has won, and that the same man may often be fairly regarded in two aspects. An early employment of his pen was to ridicule, by imitation, the Irish democrat Lucas. Another was to expose in a similar way the all-unsettling speculations of Bolingbroke. Johnson bore a remarkable testimony Edition: orig; Page: [ xviii ] to the nature of these early principles. He hated the party in which his friend had found himself by accident, and confirmed himself by consideration; and he charged Burke with selling himself, and acting contrarily to his convictions.

    It is certain that Burke never thought he was deserting any principle of his own, in joining the Rockinghams. He had an old and most respectable Edition: current; Page: [ [19] ] connexion to support, and a new and disreputable one to oppose; and his party were at the time devoted to opposing certain most impolitic innovations. Hazlitt has observed a remarkable anticipation of the political method of Burke in a speech of the Earl of Egmont, 14 a nobleman of remarkable originality and capacity who had been the head of opposition to Dodington in the court of Leicester House.

    Sir, it is not common sense, but downright madness, to follow general principles in this wild manner, without limitation or reserve; and give me leave to say one thing, which I hope will be long remembered and well thought upon by those who hear me, that those gentlemen who plume themselves upon their open and extensive understanding, are in fact the men of the narrowest principles in the kingdom.

    For what is a narrow mind?

    The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 07 (of 12) - Edmund Burke - Google Books

    And pray, what is that understanding that looks upon naturalization only in this general view, that naturalization is an increase of the people, and an increase of the people is the riches of the nation? Never admitting the least reflection, what the people are you let in upon us; how in the present bad regulation Edition: orig; Page: [ xix ] of our police, they are to be employed or maintained; how their principles, opinions, or practice may influence the religion or politicks of the State, or what operation their admission may have upon the peace and tranquillity of the country; is not such a genius equally contemptible and narrow with that of the poorest mortal upon earth, who grovels for his whole life within the verge of the opposite extreme?

    It is not difficult to trace this anti-theoretical and conservative method in the works before us, written whilst Burke was labouring on the Whig side. Never did the spirit of conservatism appear more plainly than in the two famous Speeches contained in the present volume, which he composed, delivered, and wrote out for the press on two important occasions in the debates before the war actually broke out. The view of Montesquieu, Blackstone, and De Lolme was not yet treated, as it came to be treated in the succeeding generation, as a plausible romance.

    But the false picture of a supposed Saxon constitution was constantly held up to view by reformers, in contrast with that which subsisted.


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    This picture Burke treated with the slight regard it deserved. But these are themselves historical. It is well known that every title in the House of Lords was anciently, if not elective, intended to represent local interests.

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