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can continent will remain in the power of your enemies. Where your feets and armies are stationed, the possession will be secured while they continue; but all the rest will be lost. In the great scale of empire, you will decline, I fear, from the decision of this day; and the Americans will rise in independence, to power, to all the greatness of the most renowned states—for they build on the solid basis of general public liberty.

How according to Wilkes were the Americans provoked to rebellion ?

What rights did Wilkes believe the colonies wished England to grant them?

What reason did Wilkes give for believing that the Americans would gain independence and rise to great power?

Did his prophecy prove true in all details?
To what motives did Wilkes appeal in this speech?


March 22, 1775

As the objectionable measures suggested by King George III were formulated by Lord North's ministry and passed one after another, discontent in America steadily increased. With a fine sarcasm one legislative body after another declared that the colonies would train soldiers in order to save the Mother Country the necessity of taxing Americans to provide troops for their defense. In nearly all the provinces companies of soldiers had in fact been equipped and drilled.

In Parliament Pitt, Wilkes, Barre, and others had espoused the cause of America in vain. The King and his ministry were determined, in the face of all expediency, to assert their right to tax America. The most that Lord North was willing to concede was that any colony should be exempted from taxation if it had granted for the common defense of the Empire an amount “according to the condition, circumstances, and situation of such colony" satisfactory to the Government. Although this bill conferred on the assemblies merely the form of making grants and still retained for Parliament the right of taxation, the measure was intended to be conciliatory. As Parliament seemed for the moment inclined to consider a gentler policy, Burke seized the opportunity to offer, on March 22, 1775, conciliatory resolutions that met adequately nearly all the constitutional demands of the colonists. The partition of the Empire would probably have been avoided had not the House of Commons by a vote of 270 to 78 rejected his proposals.

Members of Parliament who listened to Burke's words were not at the time sufficiently impressed to lend their votes, but many, after perusal of the printed speech, when it was too late, were won over to his views. Fox, an orator of the first rank and a contemporary of Burke was so thoroughly convinced of the justice and soundness of Burke's plan that he urged Members of Parliament “to peruse the Speech on Conciliation again and again, to study it, to imprint it on their minds, to impress it on their hearts." Although Burke's speech failed to secure for Americans the rights to which as English subjects they were entitled, it recorded in imperishable form the principles of a just and generous policy that must hereafter form a part of all humane and enlightened government.



1. I HOPE,1 Sir, that, notwithstanding the austerity of the Chair, your good nature will incline you to some degree of indulgence toward human frailty. You will not think it unnatural that those who have an object depending which strongly engages their hopes and fears should be somewhai inclined to superstition. As I came into the House, full of anxiety about the event of my motion, I found, to my infinite surprise, that the grand penal bill, by which we had passed sentence on the trade and sustenance of America, is to be returned to us from the other House. I do confess I could not help looking on this event as a fortunate omen. I look upon it as a sort of providential favor by which we are put once more in possession of our deliberative capacity, upon a business so very questionable

in its nature, so very uncertain in its issue. By the return of this bill, which seemed to have taken its Aight forever, we are at this very instant nearly as free to choose a plan for our American government as we were on the first day of the session. If, Sir, we incline to the side of conciliation, we are not at all embarrassed, unless we please to make ourselves so, by any incongruous mixture of coercion and restraint. We are therefore called upon, as it were, by a superior warning voice, again to attend to America; to attend to the whole of it together; and to review the subject with an unusual degree of care and calmness.

2. Surely it is an awful subject, or there is none so on this side of the grave. When I first had the honor of a seat in this House, the affairs of that continent pressed themselves upon us as the most important and most delicate object of parliamentary attention. My little share in this great deliberation oppressed me. I found myself a partaker in a very high trust; and having no sort of reason to rely on the strength of my natural abilities for the proper execution of that trust, I was obliged to take more than common pains to instruct myself in everything which relates to our colonies. I was not less under the necessity of forming some fixed ideas concerning the general policy of the British Empire. Something of this sort seemed to be indispensable, in order, amidst so vast a fluctuation of passions and opinions, to concenter my thoughts, to ballast my conduct, to preserve me from being blown about by every wind of fashionable doctrine. I really did not think it safe or manly to have fresh principles to seek upon every fresh mail which should arrive from America.

3. At that period I had the fortune to find myself in perfect concurrence with a large majority in this House. Bowing under that high authority, and penetrated with the sharpness and strength of that early impression, I have continued ever since, without the least deviation, in my original sentiments. Whether this be owing to an obstinate perseverance in error, or to a religious adherence to what appears to me truth and reason, it is in your equity to judge.

4. Sir, Parliament, having an enlarged view of objects, made during this interval more frequent changes in their sentiments and their conduct than could be justified in a particular person upon the contracted scale of private information. But though I do not hazard anything approaching to censure on the

motives of former parliaments to all those alterations, one fact is undoubted—that under them the state of America has been kept in continual agitation. Everything administered as remedy to the public complaint, if it did not produce, was at least followed by, a heightening of the distemper; until, by a variety of experiments, that important country has been brought into her present situation—a situation which I will not miscall, which I dare not name, which I scarcely know how to comprehend in the terms of any description.

5. In this posture, Sir, things stood at the beginning of the session. About that time 2 a worthy member of great parliamentary experience, who in the year 1766 filled the chair of the American Committee with much ability, took me aside and, lamenting the present aspect of our politics, told me things were come to such a pass that our former methods of proceeding in the House would be no longer tolerated; that the public tribunal, never too indulgent to a long and unsuccessful opposition, would now scrutinize our conduct with unusual severity; that the very vicissitudes and shiftings of ministerial measures, instead of convicting their authors of inconstancy and want of system, would be taken as an occasion of charging us with a predetermined discontent which nothing could satisfy, while we accused every measure of vigor as cruel, and every proposal of lenity as weak and irresolute. The public, he said, would not have patience to see us play the game out with our adversaries: we must produce our hand. It would be expected that those who for many years had been active in such affairs should show that they had formed some clear and decided idea of the principles of colony government, and were capable of drawing out something like a platform of the ground which might be laid for future and permanent tranquillity.

6. I felt the truth of what my honorable friend represented, but I felt my situation, too. His application might have been made with far greater propriety to many other gentlemen. No man was indeed ever better disposed or worse qualified for such an undertaking than myself. Though I gave so far in to his opinion that I immediately threw my thoughts into a sort of parliamentary form, I was by no means equally ready to produce them. It generally argues some degree of natural impotence of mind or some want of knowledge of the world, to hazard plans of government except from a seat of authority. Propositions are made not only ineffectually but somewhat

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