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ON PRESENTING TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
(ON THE 11TH FEBRUARY, 1780)
THE BETTER SECURITY OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF PARLIAMENT, AND THE ECONOMICAL REFOR MATION OF THE CIVIL AND OTHER
R. SPEAKER, -I rise, in acquittal of my en
gagement to the House, in obedience to the strong and just requisition of my constituents, and, I am persuaded, in conformity to the unanimous wishes of the whole nation, to submit to the wisdom of Parliament " A Plan of Reform in the Constitution of Several Parts of the Public Economy."
I have endeavored that this plan should include, in its execution, a considerable reduction of improper expense; that it should effect a conversion of unprofitable titles into a productive estate ; that it should lead to, and indeed almost compel, a provident administration of such sums of public money as must remain under discretionary trusts; that it should render the incurring debts on the civil establishment (which must ultimately affect national strength and national credit) so very difficult as to become next to impracticable.
But what, I confess, was uppermost with me, what I bent the whole force of my mind to, was the reduction of that corrupt influence which is itself the perennial spring of all prodigality and of all disorder, which loads us more than millions of debt, — which takes away vigor from our arms, wisdom from our councils, and every shadow of authority and credit from the most venerable parts of our Constitution.
Sir, I assure you very solemnly, and with a very clear conscience, that nothing in the world has led me to such an undertaking but my zeal for the honor of this House, and the settled, habitual, systematic affection I bear to the cause and to the principles of government.
I enter perfectly into the nature and consequences of my attempt, and I advance to it with a tremor that shakes me to the inmost fibre of my frame. I feel that I engage in a business, in itself most ungracious, totally wide of the course of prudent conduct, and, I really think, the most completely adverse that can be imagined to the natural turn and temper of my own mind. I know that all parsimony is of a quality approaching to unkindness, and that (on some person or other) every reform must operate as a sort of punishment. Indeed, the whole class of the severe and restrictive virtues are at a market almost too high for humanity. What is worse, there are very few of those virtues which are not capable of being imitated, and even outdone in many of their most striking effects, by the worst of vices. Malignity and envy will carve much more deeply, and finish much more sharply, in the work of retrenchment, than frugality and providence. I do not, therefore, wonder that gentlemen have kept away from such a task, as well from good-nature as from prudence. Private feeling might, indeed, be overborne by legislative reason ; and a man of a long-sighted and a strong-nerved humanity might bring himself not so much to consider from whom he takes a superfluous enjoyment as for whom in the end he may preserve the absolute necessaries of life.
But it is much more easy to reconcile this measure to humanity than to bring it to any agreement with
prudence. I do not mean that little, selfish, pitiful, bastard thing which sometimes goes by the name of a family in which it is not legitimate and to which it is a disgrace; - I mean even that public and enlarged prudence, which, apprehensive of being disabled from rendering acceptable services to the world, withholds itself from those that are invidious. Gentlemen who are, with me, verging towards the decline of life, and are apt to form their ideas of kings from kings of former times, might dread the anger of a reigning prince ; – they who are more provident of the future, or by being young are more interested in it, might tremble at the resentment of the successor; they might see a long, dull, dreary, unvaried visto of despair and exclusion, for half a century, before them. This is no pleasant prospect at the outset of a political journey.
Besides this, Sir, the private enemies to be made in all attempts of this kind are innumerable; and their enmity will be the more bitter, and the more dangerous too, because a sense of dignity will oblige them to conceal the cause of their resentment. Very few men of great families and extensive connections but will feel the smart of a cutting reform, in some close relation, some bosom friend, some pleasant acquaintance, some dear, protected dependant. Emolument is taken from some ; patronage from others; objects of pursuit from all. Men forced into an involuntary independence will abhor the authors of a blessing which in their eyes has so very near a resemblance to a curse. When officers are removed, and the offices remain, you may set the gratitude of some against the anger of others, you may oppose the friends you oblige against the enemies you provoke. But ser