studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas, (1767-1769)

Edmund Burke – A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777)

  • This letter is regarding the last 2 acts passed in Parliament regarding the troubles in America. They stem from the same policy. They not only hurt Americans but us over here in England as well.
    • I hate the idea of a civil war & all the steps that have led up to it. There will be some bad consequences on both sides, whether they be actual military conflicts or legislative regulations that will subvert their liberties & undermine our own.
    • These acts & their execution are contradictory to our principles & constitutional policy of Great Britain but also to civilization.
  • 1 – Enables administration to confine anyone it considers a pirate. I take this to mean any commander or sailor on privateers or warships belonging to the colonies. They are to be detained in prison, put on trial & punishment whenever it is most convenient for vengeance to be executed on them.
    • Firstly, I dislike this law because it doesn’t describe what it says it does. The people captured might be rebels but to call them pirates is mixing up the crimes. That’s a dangerous disordering of the frame of jurisprudence, while both crimes have the same punishment of death, forfeiture & corruption of blood.
    • My general sense of mankind says offenses out of mistaken virtue aren’t really “infamous actions”. Lord Coke backs me up on that saying that the things considered the most criminal may be of the least disgrace. The act is a masked proceeding dishonorable to justice.
      • If Lord Balmerino (Scottish rebel) was caught taking cows from the clans of Scotland while committing treason, it would scandalous to try him for theft of cows.
    • This stigmatizes as pirates those who’d been put out of the protection of the law by an Act of Parliament. The legislature ordered their ships & cargo be divided as spoils. To consider the reprisal of an unhappy, proscribed & interdicted people as pirates is cruel & unjust.
  • 2 – Detains in England for trial those who commit high treason in America.
    • This is an extension of a law passed during the reign of Henry VIII which was passed long before England even dreamed of having colonies in America. It was designed to bring people into the country if they had committed treason abroad, in another country.
      • In 1769, Parliament refreshed the crown’s memory, asking him to bring people charged with treason in America to be brought into the kingdom for trial.This takes away anything substantial & beneficial of a trial-by-jury from the accused. To try a man under this act is to condemn him unheard.
      • The man would be thrown into the hold of a ship, thrown into a prison on land, chained, unfurnished with money, unsupported by friends 3000 miles away “from all means of calling upon or confronting evidence, where no one local circumstance that tends to detect perjury can possibly be judged of”. The man can be executed according to form but he can never be tried according to justice.
    • This is an effort to remove all inconveniences from a trial. Not only would I not remove all the difficulties from this goal, I would heap new difficulties on it if I could..
      • All the principles & institutions of England are clogs to check & retard the headlong course of violence & oppression this act is sending us on.
      • The principles & institutions were invented for one thing – for what is just, not what is convenient. The old, cool-headed, general law is the best course of action & should be left as it was.
    • I can’t find any reason at all to support this suspension of liberty. What a strange idea to think that the defeats we suffer in America can ever be compensated by the execution of POWs.
      • If the colonies are defeated, there has to be enough tribunals over there to administer justice on all the offenders. We can’t seriously believe that a whole continent’s resistance can be converted into a criminal act. If we try, we may call our victory over them “peace” or “obedience” but the war would not be over. The hostile mind would carry on under a worse form. The quiet would be a meditation of revenge & an even worse rancor would arise. If the bloody fields are not enough to subdue the Americans, slaughter of the judicial system would never bring them around.
    • We tend to think of strict punishment as acceptable so long as it serves as an example. Who is this example to be set for?
      • We’re told here in England that we’re at war for our own dignity against rebellious children. To be instructive, how would it teach parents their duty out of an example of the punishment of an undutiful son?
      • Executions may satisfy our need for revenge, harden our hearts & puff us up with pride but it’s not instruction.
    • So, the war right now is between the King’s troops & foreign mercenaries, & the English living in America.
      • There has been a regular exchange of prisoners between the 2 sides. But if we expect the war to go our way, the government will treat those prisoners still in their own hands as traitors. This is unjust because those already exchanged have been effectively pardoned. When you make the exchange, it’s got to be even or it’s a sham.
      • But if we say those already exchanged have been pardoned but will exact our vengeance on those who remain unexchanged, something bad will result: You judge the delinquency of a man by the time of his guilt, not by the heinousness of it, & you make fortune & accident the rule of law, not moral qualities of human action.
      • This ought to confuse even the people who mix up civil dissension with treason. When a rebellion actually occurs, the government is not in a military convention. It has to decline all intermediate treaties that give the rebels the legitimacy of acting as a state, such as an exchange of prisoners. The answer to any demand should be: “No, you are at the king’s pleasure”.
        • So, if they really are rebels, the king’s generals have no right to release them & would be just as answerable to the law as the rebels.
    • Lawyers can’t really get what I’m talking about because they go by strict rules. But we legislators out to do what they can’t. We are bound by the great principles of reason & equity, as well as the general sense of mankind. We are to obey & follow, & enlarge & enlighten law by the liberality of legislative reason – not to fetter & bind their capacity by subordinate & artificial justice.
    • This act is attempting to end our troubles by trials of piracy & treason, & executing the act of Henry VIII under a new & unconstitutional interpretation with neutral instruments. The means of this act are as exceptional as the end.
      • The main purpose is to suspend Common Law & the statute of Habeas Corpus to all hose who’ve been outside the real or at sea within a given time. The rest of the people are as they were.
      • As bad as this is in principle, the consequence of this limiting qualification is much worse than a universal suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. It actually makes it worse.
        • Liberty is a general principle, & the right of all subjects in the realm or of none. Partial freedom is a form of slavery most easily allowed in times of civil discord. Parties are too eager to forget about their future safety in their pursuit of their enemies. People allow injustice that they won’t be immediate victims of. It’s never the predominant power that is in danger. It’s the obnoxious & suspected who need the protection of the law. There is nothing to hold back the partial violence but the concept that whenever there is a cessation of law, the whole people should be universally subjected to the same suspension of freedom. In this case, the alarm would be universal & operate as a call of the nation & become everyone’s immediate concern – total eclipse of liberty.
        • The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients & by parts. The Habeas Corpus Act supposes that a magistrate may see particular men with a malignant eye. But when men marked out by the magistrate are handed over by Parliament to this possible malignity, it’s not Habeas Corpus that is suspended but the spirit is violated & its principle subverted. Nothing is security to any individual but the common interest of all.
    • This act is the first partial suspension of Habeas Corpus. The precedent is now established & a distinction is made among people within the realm. Before, every man who set foot on English ground was as free as any other. Now a line is drawn that can be moved at pleasure under the same argument of expedience it was first made with. There is no equality among us & we are not fellow-citizens if the mariner on the docks is not on the same legal footing as the merchant in his house. Some laws may injure the community. This dissolves it.
      • As it is now, an man in the colonies or on the seas is under a temporary proscription. If those are proved against him, the suspicion of the crown makes him outlaw. It’s not clear if the burden of proof of innocent is not on the apprehended person.
      • I haven’t debated this bill in the House because it would’ve been useless to oppose & impossible to correct. It’s clear any opposition to measures mentioning America is in vain.
        • We’re told everything proposed against America is supposed to be in favor of Great Britain. Failures are used as reasons for keeping the current methods. Many wise & well-intentioned people have found that opposition inflamed the distemper of public counsels, rather than lessening it.
        • Seeing as I can’t support what I don’t agree with & can’t contend with the irresistible, I keep to more rational endeavors. So, it’s not even worth showing up to Parliament.
    • It would be sad if anything that contradicted the spirit of our Constitution didn’t immediately produce the worst evils inherent in its nature. If it sits dormant for long or is rarely ever exercised, arbitrary power sneaks up on people. With the next unconstitutional act, people will say how little of what I warned of people came true. It’s be working by degrees that careful softening of arbitrary power will be received as an aphorism.
    • The Act that I was talking about is the fruit of the American War. Our policy is messed up, our empire is distracted, & our laws & legislative spirit are perverted. We’ve made war on the colonies by arms & law. Hostility & law don’t go well together & every step we take in this has trampled on some maxim of justice & principle of wise government. Precedents are established & principles overturned in the long line of Parliamentary acts. If these principles had been first exerted on English soil, they would have been rejected immediately. But since we aren’t affected by them, they are now in our law & we’ll have to deal with the consequences of them.
    • The worst effect is on our manners. Manners usually correct flaws in the law. But lately we’ve seen few signs of generosity, humanity & dignity we usually think of in this nation. War suspends moral obligation & what is long suspended is likely to killed off. Civil wars are the worst form of this because they weaken our politics, corrupt our morals & pervert our taste for equity & justice. We now see our fellow-citizens in a hostile light & the whole of our nation becomes less dead. While we agreed, affection & kindred were the bond of charity, & now become incentives to hatred & rage. We’re lying to ourselves if we think this won’t happen to us.
    • It’s sad to see people enjoying the misery of the colonies. We now see our land reduced to dependence on Europe’s mercy. Our liberal government is supported by hired German goons while 3 million British subjects are looking for protection from the French.
    • I’m too old & set in my ways to be ready to conform to popular opinion. I wouldn’t know how to believe what the papers tell me to believe. When I hear of the slaughter & captivity of the men fallen under foreign forces in our employ, I don’t relish in any glory acquired by Germans in British dominions.
    • It might be some consolation that all this brought us to think of our interests as individual citizens & private conscience as moral agents.
    • Those who wanted war & got it are in a bad way. They & their German allies have only dealt with with the unprepared strength of our own infant colonies. But We haven’t subdued America yet. Not a single unattacked village has submitted. You only have the ground you camp on & nothing more.
    • The events of this war are worse than anyone ever hoped for or feared. Wise men often tremble at things that fill the thoughtless with security. Even if I were sure of being safe, I couldn’t easily forgive those who exposed me to danger. It’s only by accident that I’ve escaped them.
    • We’ve got a very tricky path to walk. Those who think they know the way out may even lead us out. We might even trust them as much as we think is proper but why would we distract their reason by inflaming their passions? I might be unable to help but I’d be ashamed of myself if I were to rile them up & encourage them to take doubtful & dangerous courses.
      • A conscientious man should be cautious in how he deals in blood. He should feel apprehension for engaging in things he has no knowledge of. There’s no excuse for ignorance directed by passion. I can’t think of anything worse than a helpless, powerless creature without civil wisdom or military skill to be bloated with pride, calling for battles he is not to fight.
      • No man pays the forfeit of our rashness with his life & no widow cries over our ignorance. We should keep the peace in a strong distrust of ourselves & recommend the same to others.
    • The zeal for civil war is showing little magnanimity. The people crying for war have hired German soldiers to fight the war & mortgage their country for it. They have the merit of volunteers but don’t risk their person or wealth. When the foreigners spill English blood in America, these guys feel triumph as if they had something to do with it. They often cry of American cowardice which tends to alienate our minds from where they natural are & cause a schism in the British nation. Those who don’t want this out to restrain this impulse & remind others how unworthy this kind of talk is. It’s vital to do that to keep the English nation together.
    • As long as the English government tries to be supported over Englishmen by the sword alone, things will continue like this. I’m thinking about if the Germans win this war for us. The weakness & violence will come to light. If we lose in America, the delusion of partisans of military government might continue. They’ll feed imaginations with all the possible good that would’ve followed success. Whatever happens, you’ll never see revenue from America. So, why are we at war?
      • To conquer what was our own. Have any of the men who are so eager to govern all of mankind ever had the first qualification towards government or knowledge on the subject?
      • You won’t be where you called for war to supply you with what your political establishment was lacking. Only violence will result from it.
    • I think I understand America. The means of originally holding it, reconciling with it, recovering it & keeping it depends on total renunciation of unconditional submission. Those maxims we’ve made & continued the war on must be abandoned. We need to make an arrangement at home promising them security. We’ll only add to our credibility for our moderation.
    • A lot of people have been taught to think that moderation in this case is a form of treason & the best you can do is to rail at the rebels & blame them for all our miseries. But they ought to consider that to criminate & recriminate never leads to reconciliation, that the Americans can neither be provoked at our railing or bettered by our instruction. All communication is severed & we can’t reclaim them. But we can reform ourselves. We’ll suffer nothing from it & even be bettered by it.
    • The outrageous language has been stoked by every means possible. For a long time, the American leaders had the hardest time in convincing the people to declare a full independence. But when railing & flattery was compiled & shown as proof of the united sentiments of Britain, the attitude in America changed. Popular affect to the parent county turned away.
      • The author of the pamphlet (Common Sense by Thomas Paine) prepared the minds of the people for independence by insisting on the idea that the loudest voices in Britain were the united opinion of America. He built his argument on that & suggested it was an irresistible force.
      • I’ve never heard of a writer on government who was so partial to authority that he didn’t allow the legitimacy of the people to change their government based on the rulers’ hostility to the people. Why would anyone yield power to another but on a supposition of affection & benevolence?
        • But your rulers took notice of that principle & have done all they could to alienate you from your kindred, & excite hatred.
        • They say your kindness is only alienated because of American resistance, & if they surrender, all regard & indulgence will be returned to them in the future. But can those pushing this war be responsible for a future use of a power bound by no compacts & restrained by no terror?
        • No conqueror ever professed to make a cruel, harsh & insolent use of his conquest. Even the most proud declares that in his own heart. & no man who professes to reduce another to the insolent mercy of a foreign arm ever had goodwill towards him. The profession of kindness with sword in hand & demand of surrender is one of the most provoking acts of his hostility. But I’ll be told that this is being lenient against rebellious adversaries.
        • Lord Howe & General Howe have power to restore the king’s peace & restore free trade to any men or district that submits. But is it actually done? The city of New York submitted voluntarily. But they have not been restored to trade or rights. The governor, Mr. Tryon, has to apply for permission to protect the king’s loyal subjects & grant them common rights. Why don’t the commissioners do this?
          • Because trade of America is to be dealt out in private indulgences & grants in jobs to recompense the incendiaries of war. That is, American trade is to be turned into a personal monopoly for merchants claiming to be zealous for the war.
      • But one thing I find totally amazing is those who aren’t satisfied with just war against America but rage against those who wish them to be more reasonable & not sacrifice their interests to their passions.
        • They probably don’t think they are in the right because what else do they want? A war? They’ve got one. If it’s not as violent as they want, do they want the whole force of the kingdom? They’ve got it already. Why don’t they go there themselves & fight in it. No one’s stopping them. Do they think we aren’t spending enough on the war? Look at the Commons budget. It’s nothing but spending on war. Let them open up their own wallets.
        • They ought not persecute the moderation of their fellow-citizens . If everyone joined in with them against enjoyment of freedom it would not solve one problem in this war. The leaders have everything they wanted & asked for, & can’t possibly have more.
      • They boast of unanimity or call for it. But delusion & weakness don’t produce less mischief because they are universal. We would not gain a single advantage if we could persuade the colonies they didn’t have a single friend in Britain. We would be better off if they could turn to their parent state so their turbulence & sedition could vent. There’s not a man who wouldn’t wish that the Americans win some concessions with the help of men here than to be forced to ask the French for protection.
      • When a community is subordinately connected to another, the danger is that the superior is proud & self-complacent because it will usually decide in its own favor. It would go a long way to reduce fear if the inferior body can believe that they can counteract blind & tyrannical partiality.
        • Power rarely puts too many strict limitations on itself. But when the authority has an amicable & protecting connect, those who have conferred favors to get influence, can persuade men who have received obligations to return them. That way, disputes can be settled & every controversy isn’t brought to a civil war.
      • If the colonies feel Britain is united in this opinion of them & any request they make is a quarrel, they won’t feel like a part of the nation & will look elsewhere for connections.
      • Discord is the effect of the unanimity so many have been seduced or bullied into. They’ve been told their dissent from violence encourages rebellion. All of history would contradict that. General rebellions of a whole people are never encouraged, they are always provoked.
        • Does anyone really think that I’m obliged not to resist projects I think mischievous lest men who suffer should be encouraged to resist? Tendency of such projects to produce rebellion is one of the best reasons against them.
        • Is it a rule that no one in this country may open his mouth in favor of the colonies, defend their rights or express desire for peace?
    • The rebels looked to this country for help. In the beginning they made earnest supplications to government which dignity rejected & with a suspension of commerce, which the wealth of the country allowed to look at with contempt. When they found that requests & threats held no weight but a military force was sent to reduce them to obedience. They had had enough of us. Since they weren’t strong enough on their own, they looked to France for help. Now they’re gone.
      • In order to produce this unanimity in delusion & prevent return to our old happy arrangement, arguments are made to continue on this course. It’s said that since we are at war with the colonies, the only policy we have left is to reduce them. Following this logic, the more an administration screws up, the more we should put trust in them. The government only has to get us into a war & then their power is safe. They want us to forget all their misconduct.
      • Is it true that government is always to be strengthened with the instruments of war? But never with means of peace? In the past there were times ministers were pushed into war for national honor against foreign powers. But the wisdom of the nation was clear that the ministers had to consult the nation’s interests by treaty. The nation demanded the Court of Charles II to abandon the Dutch War. The people of England saw Holland as a dependent state & did not want to drive it to seek protection by the French. The people did not listen to the court pressing for war or be inflamed by the claimed rivalry of the Dutch in trade. They didn’t budge & the war was over.
    • When I was in my constituency last summer, I heard tons of men express a desire for peace with no hope of getting from the commission sent out by Lord Howe. He was earnestly circulating an opinion about the supposed powers of that commission. I told them that Lord Howe had no powers to treat or promise satisfaction in the controversy. Nobody believed me because everyone wanted to believe the war could be ended through accommodation. This was the prevailing attitude in the kingdom.
      • The king’s army was obliged to evacuate Boston due to the superiority of the colonials in battle. But now that our army is finding success, have attitudes change? Isn’t victory the time to think about treating with honor or advantage? Whatever’s changed in the national character, it can hardly be the case we should never treat on terms of accommodation, except only when they are attributed purely to our fears. We’ve all read of the peace commission & troops evacuating the last town in the 13 colonies. No commission went to America to settle trouble until several months after an act had been passed to put the colonies out of the protection of the government & divide their property as spoil without a possibility of restitution. No sort of submission from the colonies could ever redeem them.
      • All attempts to give peace commissioners more powers in America were stifled by confidence of victory & hopes of unconditional submission. There was a moment went the king’s army was favored & despite our mistakes, peace could have been restored. But pride always gets in the way…
    • I’ve always wished that problems whose origins were in Parliament be solved in Parliament. But I’m amazed that those who have been fighting so hard for a war declare that the details be entirely left to the crown. Although I am fan of Parliament, I’ll never put our constitutional rights up for negotiation.
    • I’m charged with being an American. if having affection toward those I have some authority over is a crime, I’m guilty. But I have to reaffirm my commitment to the supremacy of Parliament & rights of the imperial crown. I’m not a historian, a lawyer or professor of philosophy. I don’t put your solid interests on speculative grounds. I decline to do so based on my inability to do so. When I am ignorant, I am modest.
    • When I first started out in Parliament, I found it had unlimited legislative power over the colonies. I couldn’t look at the rule book without see the actual exercise of it. This possession passed with me for a title. No man looks into the legitimacy of the title of his paternal estate or established government. Common sense tells us that a legislative authority not limited by the express terms of its foundation can’t have its powers parceled out by argumentative distinctions.
      • Nobody made any distinctions when the colonies were founded or during their entire existence.
      • If you can see how one power could be given up without giving up the rest, you can see more than I can.
    • I had hoped to keep the authority of Parliament as I had found it not just for our sake but for the sake of those of those on whose account all just authority exists – the people governed.
      • I had hoped that the exercise of power in the broadest idea might be an expedient for peace & union of the colonies & harmony with Britain.
      • Thinking this, I was sure the authority could not be preserved in its members, but by the greatest reserve in its application.
      • Taxation likely to cause resentment will be resisted & no other part of legislative rights can be exercised without respect to the general opinion of those governed. General opinion is the most important part of legislative omnipotence. Without it, it is meaningless.
      • The completeness of the legislative authority of Parliament over the kingdom isn’t under question but many things included in the abstract idea of that power & carry no absolute injustice but can’t be exercised because Parliament has no legitimacy in the eyes of its constituents.
      • Religion is really the only thing outside the purview of human legislature. Parliament has altered the established religion of the country a few times. It’s clear now Parliament can’t do this legitimately.
      • Parliament’s true purpose is to follow (not force), to give a direction, form, technical dress, specific sanction & general sense of the community.
    • That’s true with respect to the exercise the powers of our Constitution. The king’s negative to bills is an undisputed of the royal prerogatives & extends to all cases. I’m not sure if several laws had been vetoed that public would be a loss.
      • I’m not calling the propriety of the exercise into question. Its exercise is wisely not used. Its lack of use might be the preservation of its existence. Its existence may be the means of staying the Constitution itself.
    • The disputants think it’s absurd that powers or members of any constitution should exist rarely to be exercised. The Convocation of the Clergy had been called in the past & sat with as much regularity as Parliament did. Now it’s called out of formality only for the purpose of making polite compliments to the king & then goes back into its hole. But it is a part of the Constitution & may be called to act when the occasion rises. It’s wise to permit its existence & wiser just to continue it a legal existence only.
      • Prudence as entire dominion over every exercise of power committed into its hands. But I have lived to see prudence & conformity to circumstances complete set to nought lately & treated as if they are the worst things in the world.
    • This is was led me into think that instead of speculating on the unity of empire, & the identity or distinction of legislative powers, & winding ourselves up with controversy. It’s our duty to conform our government the government to the character & circumstances of the several people who compose the people.
      • I was never silly enough to think one method would due for the whole, that what works for those in Virginia would work for India, etc.
      • I was persuaded that government was a practical thing made for the happiness of mankind & not to furnish the spectacle of uniformity dreamed up by politicians.
    • If there’s one thing that seems perfectly clear it is that the American people are verse to anything other a free government. That’s an indication enough to any honest statesman how he ought to adapt the power he had to their case.
      • If you ask me what free government is, I say it is what the people think, & they are the natural, lawful & competent judges on that. If they allow me a bit more authority over them than is normal, I ought to thank them for their trust & not to prove them they were wrong in their judgment.
    • If any other country had done this, we’d have called them crazy. It’s depressing & ridiculous to see the kind of reasoning foisted on the public to stop them from using common sense. People have split & atomized the doctrine of free government as if it were an abstract question & not a matter of moral prudence & natural feeling.
      • They argue whether liberty is a positive or negative idea, whether it does or doesn’t consist in being governed by laws (without considering what the laws are & who the makers are), whether a man has any natural rights, whether all the property he has is just charity from the government.
      • Others corrupt religion just as they’ve done to philosophy. They say Christians are redeemed into captivity, that the blood of Christ was shed to make them slaves.
      • These extremes provoke other extremes. Speculations are let loose as destructive to all authority. Every government is called tyranny & usurpation if it isn’t done they way they 100% agree with. They aren’t satisfied with distracting our dependents & filling them with blood & slaughter, with corrupting our understandings. They are trying to tear up all foundations of human society – all equity, justice, religion & order.
    • Civil freedom isn’t something obscure. It’s a blessing & benefit, not an abstract speculation. Social & civil freedom are mixed & modified, enjoyed in different degrees & shaped in many forms according to the needs of the community.
      • The extreme of liberty gets you nowhere because extremes are destructive to virtue & enjoyment. Liberty has to be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint is impossible to determine precisely. But it should be the goal of any politician to find out through careful experimentation how little (NOT how much) of this restraint is necessary for a community.
      • Liberty is a good to be improved, not an evil to be lessened. It’s not just a private blessing but the source & energy of the state itself. Whether or not liberty is advantageous or not, no one will deny that peace is a blessing. Peace often has to be bought by some indulgence & toleration to liberty. Government ought to conform to the exigencies of the time, temper & character of the people, & not always to attempt violently to bend the people to their theories of subjection. Most men aren’t too curious of any theories while they are happy. One symptom of a bad state is how often people resort to them.
    • But when people are inflamed & the state itself is violent, the people have to get more satisfaction than sophistry on law & government. That was our case & we needed to provide more than we did to prevent recourse to arms & toward laying them down. I wish Parliament had considered it more carefully.
    • I’m aware of the difficulty reconciling strong presiding power with the liberty & safety the colonies have to enjoy, or they will leave us. There’s a difficulty in reconciling the arrogance of a ruling nation used to commanding, pampered by wealth & confident from a history of prosperity & winning, with the high spirit of the colonies in their growing stages & taking on the pride that oppresses them.
      • I’m sure that only through compromise can peace be restored or kept. Those who’d end the argument by coming down on one side only aren’t qualified to be mediators.
  • The war’s been going on for 2 years now. The controversy’s been going on longer. In different period, different methods of reconciliation were appropriate.
    • In their beginning, the colones were subject to the legislature of Britain on principles they never examined. We allowed them local privileges without asking how they agreed with the authority. Administration there was formed in a very unsystematic way but they gradually adapted as needed.
    • What was just a kingdom stretched into an empire & an imperial superintendent became necessary. Parliament went from being the people’s representative to being a mighty sovereign. Instead of being a check on the crown, it gave the crown even more powers which could not be trusted to the crown alone. The colonies grew & formed within themselves assemblies that resembled parliaments. It was impossible that they not have a similar authority.
    • At first, these assemblies weren’t much more than municipal gatherings in the colonies. But as the colonies grew & prospered, even spreading around the globe, it was only natural for them to put into the assemblies the dignity that great nations put into their national parliaments. No longer tied to by-laws, the assemblies made all sorts of acts, including levying money according to parliamentary principles. English colonies were always going to be like this. At the time, neither party saw any problem with the double legislature & quite often the 2 were performing the same functions. They didn’t often clash.
      • For one reason or another, by the authority of Parliament, regular revenue for the support of civil & military establishments had never been thought of until the colonies were either too proud to submit, too strong to be forced or too enlightened not to see all the consequences of such a system.
      • Such a taxation scheme pushed against the will of the people had to have discussions. The topic of these double constitutions would show how much each side had veered off from the other’s course & how many contradictions there were. It would be nearly impossible.
    • The smartest thing seemed to be to put an end to the immediate cause of the dispute, to end the dispute (which had 2 sides not easily settled on clear principles & claims that pride wouldn’t allow either side to abandon) by going back to the old & successful course. The colonies went back to their old way of doing things
      • After the repeal of the Stamp Act, the assemblies state “the colonies fell into their ancient state of unsuspecting confidence in the mother country. That phrase “unsuspecting confidence” seems significant because it is an equilibrium. It removes all difficulties & reconciles contradictions in the old & puzzled political establishments. This is the secret to good rule.
    • The whole empire should remember the man (Rockingham or Pitt) who formed a plan of pacification in 1766 to recover this confidence. Without giving a rude shock to the dignity of Parliament, the plan pacified the colonies. Had it not been for this man’s mediation skills & spirit, we would have rushed right into civil war. It was only by departing from his system, we started the war.
      • I gave my first vote in Parliament for that plan. I was one of the almost unanimous body who wanted to preserve the authority & honor of Parliament. I still feel that way. But what Parliament gave up at that time should be seen as grace, favor & affection, not restoring stolen goods. High dignity relented as it was soothed. The colonies were grateful. The unlimited declaration of legislative authority didn’t produce a peep. But if that power has become poisonous since then & the colonies are in horror, it’s because that unsuspecting confidence is gone & turned into hostility.
      • I made a motion for the repeal of all the latest coercive statutes as well as cutting off Parliament from the right to tax the colonies. That is because a different state of things requires a different state of conduct. When the dispute had gone to the extreme, the concessions offered at the beginning weren’t going to be enough. They needed more than that. I did not want to do that but I would have offered more if it was necessary. Anything would be better than this useless war.
        • I’m told that this form of yield would lead to independence without a war. But I’m sure that it would have the opposite effect. But even if it did lead to independence, it would be better without a war than with one. It would be much more beneficial to this country to have the affection of America under an independent government than have her submissions coupled with disgust & hatred.
      • 110 people voted for my motion & I’m told many not present for the vote would have voted for it. I knew it would made peace as I am sure it’d do the same today if adopted. Nothing could be lost from it but something valuable could be gained from it. People banking on Parliamentary revenue from the colonies are delusional because revenues are so fickle. But your attempts to break them will never pay for the military force you’re using to destroy both their liberties & yours.
  • Those are my opinions on the current state of things & want my constituents to know what I’ve been up to.
    • If my actions & words don’t leave an impression with the old & powerful party I was not supported by at my election, they should know they still have my respect & duty to them.
    • I am the representative of Bristol, a city that seems to have the most of the old English simplicity & purity of manners. It’s got many capable men.
    • I do my best to be worthy of the choice. If I were ready, on call of my vanity or interest, to answer any election purpose, forsake principles I’ve had for a long time, I would forfeit the only thing I think worthy of myself.
    • I don’t have the vain confidence that almost always eludes a man in a trial. I know my weaknesses & try to account for them.
      • The only way I’ve ever found to preserve myself against corruption is a habit of life & communication of councils with the most virtuous & public-spirited men of the age you live in. You can’t keep that company without benefiting or deserting it without shame.
      • I might be negatively referred to as a “party man” but I’m fine with that. I love our Constitution. All reverence to it is a good thing.
      • If I have wandered off the path, I’ve had the good company of my party men to bring me back on side. We have all fought for your liberties. Where could any man, conscious of his own inability to act alone, have arranged himself better?
    • I have my party which I prefer but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire others & agree with many things they have to say. I can work with other parties.
    • I hope nobody’s been corrupted by the doctrine of wicked men. That is that all men who act on the public stage are all alike, corrupt & only influences by salary & pension.
      • I don’t look to find perfection or divine attributes in me but I have found human virtue in my dealings with contemporaries. I’ve seen real public spirit & subordination of interest to duty. This age has undoubtedly produced profligates & hypocrites. But should I not take what little good I find because there’s evil in the world?
    • The terrible doctrine answers their purpose. They claim to be assertors of liberty. But they’re pushing a moral leveling, a servile principle. It leads to passive obedience by eliminating the idea of forcible resistance & civil opposition, disposing men to abject submission. If all public me are equally selfish, corrupt & venal, why would they want any sort of change besides the evil benefits of it?
      • Men active in the state are a sample of the mass. If they’re messed up, then the commonwealth itself is not well.
    • This age isn’t what we want. The only way to stop its degeneration is to concur with what’s best in our time & have a good standard of judging what’s best. Virtue catches on as much as vice does. The public will accumulate honest principles with every day.
      • I’m convinced that the last hope we have of preserving the English Constitution or reuniting estranged parts of the English race is a common plan of tranquility & liberty & depends on a firm & lasting union.
    • There’s never been a time more trying for the steadfastness of men. It’s easy for well-formed minds to abandon their interests, but to separate fame & virtue is difficult. Liberty is in danger of being made unpopular to Englishmen. In trying for imaginary power, we’ve acquired the spirit of domination & lose relish of honest equality.
      • The principles of our forefathers has become suspected to us because we see them in the oppression of our children.
      • The least resistance to power seems more inexcusable than the greatest abuses of authority.
      • Dread of a standing military is looked upon as a superstitious panic. All shame of hiring foreigners & savages to fight our civil war has worn off.
    • It’s not possible for us to remain in a situation that breeds these notions & dispositions without some great alteration in the national character. We’re fortified against so much except whatever approaches in the shape of disgrace.
      • This American war has done more in a few years than all the other causes could have done in a century to change our principles. I consider its continuation as the greatest evil that can befall us.

Yours,

Edmund Burke,

Beaconsfield, April 3, 1777

 

 

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