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volume is devoted to the relations of the American Colonies to the mother country; and the preëminence, thus indicated of the American question in Burke's mind, continued to be evident till the outbreak of the Revolution.
Burke entered Parliament in 1765, and in January, 1766, he delivered his maiden speech in opposition to the Stamp Act. The effort was not simply successful,-it showed so much compass and power that Pitt publicly complimented him as “a very able advocate.” In 1771, he received the appointment of agent for their the Colony of New York, a position which he continued to hold till the outbreak of the war. Thus, not only by his general attainments and abilities, but also as the result of his special application to the subject, he brought to the discussion of the question qualifications that were unequalled even by those of Chatham himself.
Of the speeches delivered by Burke, in all several hundred in number, only six of the more important ones have been preserved. These were written out for publication by the
orator himself. In point of compass and variety of thought as well as in lofty declamation and withering invective it is probable that the most remarkable of all his efforts was that on the “Nabob of Arcot's debts." But it is marked by the author's greatest faults as well as by his greatest merits. For five hours he poured out the pitiless and deluging torrents of his denunciations; and the reader who now sits down to the task of mastering the speech is as certain to be wearied by it as were the members of the House of Commons when it was delivered. The speech on “Conciliation with America" is marred by fewer blemishes, and its positive merits are of transcendant importance. That this great utterance exerted a vast influence on both sides of the Atlantic admits of no doubt. It is worthy of note, however, that during the greater part of Burke's political life he was in the opposition, and that by those in power, he was regarded as simply what Lord Lauderdale once called him, “a splendid madman.” To this characterization Fox replied:
“ It is difficult to say whether he is mad or inspired, but whether the one or the other, every one must agree that he is a prophet.” And at a much later period Lord Brougham observed that “All his predictions, except one momentary expression, have been more than fulfilled."
ON MOVING RESOLUTIONS FOR CONCILIATION WITH AMERICA. HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 22, 1775.
THE repeal of the Grenville Stamp Act had not brought a return of friendly feeling, for the reason that the Commons had preferred to adopt the policy of George III. instead of the policy of Pitt. The right to tax America was affirmed in the very act withdrawing the tax, When Lord North came into power he adopted a weak and fatal mixture of concession and coercion. After the destruction of the tea in Boston harbor the policy of coercion became dominant. In 1774, the Charter of Massachusetts was taken away, and the port of Boston was closed to all commerce. The British Government labored under the singular delusion that the inconvenience thus inflicted would bring the colonies at once to terms. It was boldly said that the question was merely one of shillings and pence, and that the colonists would give way as soon as they came to see that their policy entailed a loss. There were a few who held the opposite ground. On the night of April 19, 1774, Mr. Fuller moved to go “into Committee of the whole House to take into consideration the duty of threepence a pound on tea, payable in all his Majesty's dominions in America.” It was understood that the aim of the motion was the repealing of the Act; and it was in seconding the motion that Mr. Burke made his famous speech on American taxation. But the policy advocated in the speech was voted down by
182 to 49. Thus the ministry determined to drift on in the old way. It soon became evident, however, that some change was imperatively necessary. The method determined upon by Lord North was an insidious scheme for sowing dissensions among the colonies, and thus breaking that strength which comes from united action. His plan was to offer that whenever a colony, in addition to providing for its own government, should raise a fair proportion for the general defence, and should place this sum at the disposal of Parliament, that colony should be exempted from all further taxation, except such duties as might be necessary for the regulation of commerce. He thus designed to array the colonies against one another, and so open the way for treating with them individually. This was put forward by North as a plan for conciliation. While Burke saw clearly the mischief that lurked in the scheme of the ministry, he was anxious to avail himself of the idea of conciliation ; and with this end in view he brought forward a series of resolutions “ to admit the Americans to an equal interest in the British Constitution, and to place them at once on the footing of other Englishmen.” It was in moving, these resolutions that the following speech was made.
The method of treatment by the orator is so elaborate, that a brief analysis of the argument may be of service. The speech is divided into two parts : first, Ought we to make concessions ? and if so, secondly, What ought we to concede ? Under the first head the orator enters with surprising minuteness of detail into an examination of the condition of the colonies. He surveys (1) their population ; (2) their commerce ; (3) their agriculture, and (4) their fisheries. Having thus determined their material condition, he shows that force cannot s hold a people possessing such advantages in subjection to the mother country, if they are inspired with a spirit of liberty. He shows that such a spirit prevails, and examining it, he traces it to six sources: (1) the descent of the people; (2) their