« PreviousContinue »
any opinion of their own. Deprived of his guiding influence, they were whirled about, the sport of every gust, and easily driven into any port; and as those who joined with them in manning the vessel were the most directly opposite to his opinions, measures, and character, and far the most artful and most powerful of the set, they easily prevailed, so as to seize upon the vacant, unoccupied, and derelict minds of his friends, and instantly they turned the vessel wholly out of the course of his policy. As if it were to insult as well as to betray him, even long before the close of the first session of his administration, when every thing was publicly transacted, and with great parade, in his name, they made an Act declaring it highly just and expedient to raise a revenue in America. For even then, Sir, even before this splendid orb was entirely set, and while the western horizon was in a blaze with his descending glory, on the opposite quarter of the heavens arose another luminary, and for his hour became lord of the ascendant.
This light, too, is passed and set for ever. You understand, to be sure, that I speak of Charles Townshend, officially the reproducer of this fatal scheme, whom I cannot even now remember without some degree of sensibility. In truth, Sir, he was the delight and ornament of this House, and the charm of every private society which he honoured with his presence. Perhaps there never arose in this country, nor in any country, a man of a more pointed and finished wit, and (where his passions were not concerned) of a more refined, exquisite, and penetrating judgment. If he had not so great a stock as some ha had, who flourished formerly, of knowledge long treasured up, he knew, better by far than any man I ever was acquainted with, how to bring together within a short time all that was necessary to establish, to illustrate, and to decorate that side of the question he supported. . He stated his matter skilfully and powerfully. He particularly excelled in a most luminous explanation and display of his subject. His style of argument was neither trite and vulgar nor subtile and abstruse. He hit the House just between wind and water. And, not being troubled with too anxious a zeal for any matter in question, he was never more tedious or more earnest than the preconceived opinions and present temper of his hearers required, to whom he was always in perfect unison. He conformed exactly to the temper of the House; and he seemed to guide, because he was always sure to follow it.
I beg pardon, Sir, if, when I speak of this and of cther great men, I appear to digress in saying something of their characters. In this eventful history of the revolutions of America, the characters of such men are of much importance. Great men are the
guideposts and landmarks in the State. The credit of such men at Court or in the nation is the sole cause of all the public
It would be an invidious thing (most foreign, I trust, to what you think my disposition) to remark the errors into which the authority of great names has brought the nation, without doing justice at the same time to the great qualities whence that authority arose. The subject is instructive to those who wish to form themselves on whatever of excellence has gone before them. There are many young members in the House (such of late has been the rapid succession of public men) who never saw that prodigy, Charles Townshend, nor of course know what a ferment he was able to excite in every thing by the violent ebullition of his mixed virtues and failings. For failings he had undoubtedly,-many of us remember them: we are this day considering the effect of them. But he had no failings which were not owing to a noble cause,- to an ardent, generous, perhaps an immoderate passion for fame; a passion which is the instinct of all great souls. He worshipped that goddess, wherosoever she appeared; but he paid his particular devotions to her in her favourite habitation, in her chosen temple, the House of Commons. Besides the characters of the individuals who compose our body, it is impossible, Mr. Speaker, not to observe that this House has a collective character of its own. That character, too, however imperfect, is not unamiable. Like all great public collections of men, you possess a marked love of virtue and an abhorrence of vice. But among vices there is none which the House abhors in the same degree with obstinacy. Obstinacy, Sir, is certainly a great vice; and in the changeful state of political affairs it is frequently the cause of great mischief. It. happens, however, very unfortunately, that almost the whole line of the great and masculine virtues, constancy, gravity, magnanimity, fortitude, fidelity, and firmness, are closely allied to this disagreeable quality, of which you have so just an abhorrence; and, in their excess, all these virtues very easily fall into it. He who paid such a punctilious attention to all your feelings certainly took care not to shock them by that vice which is the most disgustful to you.— Speech on American Taxation.
STATE OF THINGS IN FRANCE.10
SINCE the House had been prorogued in the Summer, much work was done in France. The French had shown themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world. In that very short space of time they had completely pulled down to the ground their monarchy, their Church, their pobility, their law, their revenue, their army, their navy, their commerce, their arts, and their manufactures. They had done their business for us as rivals, in a way in which twenty Ramillies or Blenheims could never have done it. Were we absolute conquerors, and France to lie prostrate at our feet, we should be ashamed to send a commission to settle their affairs, which could impose so hard a law upon the French, and so destructive of all their consequence as a nation, as that they had imposed on themselves.
In the last age we were in danger of being entangled by the example of France in the net of a relentless despotism. It is not necessary to say any thing upon that example. It exists no longer. Our present danger from the example of a people, whose character knows no medium, is, with regard to government, a danger from anarchy; a danger of being led, through an admiration of successful fraud and violence, to an imitation of the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody, and tyrannical democracy. On the side of religion, the danger of their example is no longer from intolerance, but from atheism ; a foul, unnatural vice, foe to all the dignity and consolation of mankind; which seems in France, for a long time, to have been embodied into a faction, accredited, and almost avowed.
He was so strongly opposed to any the least tendency towards the means of introducing a democracy like theirs, as well as to the end itself, that he would abandon his best friends, and join with his worst enemies, to oppose either the means or the end ; and to resist all violent exertions of the spirit of innovation, so
The following paragraphs are a portion of what is entitled, in full, “Sub. stance of the Speech, in the Debate on the Army Estimates, in the House of Commons, on Tuesday, the 9th day of February, 1790; comprehending a Discus. sion of the present Condition of Affairs in France. 1790.” Up to that time, the current of avowed feeling in Parliament seemed to be setting rather in favour of the doinga in France. Fox, especially, had spoken enthusiastically in praise of them. Burke's speecb was the first note of decided opposition to the new opin. jons: it took the House quite by surprise, and produced a very great impression. At first he was heard with mute astonishment; but as he went on the applause became loud and frequent; and when he got through, it was pretty evident that oll England's mighty heart was with him See the next note.
distant from all principles of true and safe reformation, spirit well calculated to overturn States, but perfectly unfit to amend them.- He was no enemy to reformation. Almost every business in which he was much concerned, from the first day he sat in that House to that hour, was a business of reformation ; and when he had not been employed in correcting, he had been employed in resisting, abuses. Some traces of this spirit in him now stand on their statute-book. In his opinion, any thing which unnecessarily tore to pieces the contexture of the State not only prevented all real reformation, but introduced evils which would call, but perhaps call in vain, for new reformation.
The French have made their way, through the destructiсn of their country, to a bad constitution, when they were absolutely in possession of a good one. They were in possession of it the day the states met in separate orders. Their business, had they been either virtuous or wise, or had they been left to their own judgment, was to secure the stability and independence of the states, according to those orders, under the monarch on the throne. It was then their duty to redress grievances.
Instead of redressing grievances, and improving the fabric of their State, to which they were called by their monarch, and sent by their country, they were made to take a very different course. They first destroyed all the balances and counterpoises which serve to fix the State, and to give it a steady direction; and which furnish sure correctives to any violent spirit which may prevail in any of the orders. These balances existed in their oldest Constitution; and in the Constitution of this country; and in the Constitutions of all the countries of Europe. These they rashly destroyed, and then they melted down the whole into one incongruous, ill-connected mass.
When they had done this, they instantly, and with the most atrocious perfidy and breach of all faith among men, laid the axe to the root of all property, and consequently of all national prosperity, by the principles they established, and the example they set, in confiscating all the possessions of the Church. They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the rights of man, in such a pedantic abuse of elementary principles as would have disgraced boys at school: but this declaration of rights was worse than trifling and pedantic in them; as by their name and authority they systematically destroyed every hold of authority by opinion, religious or civil, on the minds of the people. By this mad declaration they subverted the State; and brought on such calamities as no country, without a long war, has ever been known to suffer; and which anay in the end produce such a war, and perhaps many such.
With them the question was not between despotism and lib. erty. The sacrifice they made of the peace and power of their country was not made on the altar of freedom. Freedom, and a better security for freedom than that they have taken, they might have bad without any sacrifice at all. They brought themselves into all the calamities they suffer, not that through them they might obtain a British Constitution; they plunged themselves headlong into those calamities, to prevent themselves from settling into that Constitution, or into any thing resembling it.
The worst effect of all their proceeding was on their military, which was rendered an army for every purpose but that of defence. It was not an army in corps and with discipline, and embodied under the respectable patriot citizens of the State in resisting tyranny. Nothing like it. It was the case of common soldiers deserting from their officers, to join a furious, licentious populace. It was a desertion to a cause, the real object of which was to level all those institutions, and to break all those connections, natural and civil, that regulate and hold together the community by a chain of subordination; to raise soldiers against their officers ; servants against their masters ; tradesmen against their customers ; artificers against their employers; tenants against their landlords; curates against their bishops; and children against their parents. That this cause of theirs was not an enemy to servitude, but to society.
He knew too well, and he felt as much as any man, how difficult it was to accommodate a standing army to a free constitution, or to any constitution. An armed disciplined body is, in its essence, dangerous to liberty ; undisciplined, it is ruinous to society. Its component parts are, in the latter case, neither good citizens nor good soldiers. What have they thought of in France, under such a difficulty as almost puts the human faculties to a stand? They have put their army under such a variety of principles of duty, that it is more ļikely to breed litiganti, pettifoggers, and mutineers, than soldiers. They have set up, to balance their Crown army, another army, deriving under another authority, called a municipal army,-a balance of armies not of orders. These latter they have destroyed with every mark of insult and oppression. States may, and they will best, exist with a partition of civil powers. Armies cannot exist under a divided command. This state of things he thought, in effect, a state of war, or, at best, but a truce instead of peace, in the country.
He felt some concern that this strange thing, called a revolution, in France, should be compared with the glorious event commonly called the Revolution in England; and the conduct of the soldiery, on that occasion, compared with the behaviour