« PreviousContinue »
the firebrands of the furies. They who call upon you to belong wholly to the people are those who wish you to return to your proper home, to the sphere of your duty, to the post of your honour, to the mansion-house of all genuine, serene, and solid satisfaction. We have furnished to the people of England (indeed we have) some real cause of jealousy. Let us leave that sort of company which, if it does not destroy our innocence, pollutes our honour; let us free ourselves at once from every thing that can increase their suspicions and inflame their just resentment; let us cast away from us, with a generous scorn, all the love-tokens and symbols that we have been vain and light enough to accept, all the bracelets, and snuff-boxes, and miniature pictures, and hair-devices, and all the other adulterous trinkets that are the pledges of our alienation and the monuments of our shame. Let us return to our legitimate home, and all jars and all quarrels will be lost in embraces. Let the Commons in Parliament assembled be one and the same thing with the commons at large. The distinctions that are made to separate us are unnatural and wicked contrivances. Let us identify, let us incorporate ourselves with the people. Let us cut all the cables and snap the chains which tie us to an unfaithful shore, and enter the friendly harbour that shoots far out into the main its moles and jetties to receive us. “War with the world, and peace with our constituents.” Be this our motto, and our principle. Then indeed we shall be truly great. Respecting ourselves, we shall be respected by the world. At present all is troubled, and cloudy, and distracted, and full of anger and turbulence, both abroad and at home; but the air may be cleared by this storm, and light and fertility may follow it. Let us give a faithful pledge to the people, that we honour indeed the Crown, but that we belong to them ; that we are their auxiliaries, and not their task-masters, – the fellowlabourers in the same vineyard, not lording over their rights, but helpers of their joy; that to tax them is a grievance to ourselves, but to cut off from our enjoyments to forward theirs is the highest gratification we are capable of receiving. I feel, with comfort, that we are all warmed with these sentiments, and while we are thus warm, I wish we may go directly and with a cheerful heart to this salutary work. Sir, I move for leave to bring in a bill, “For the better regulation of his Majesty’s civil establishments, and of certain public offices; for the limitation of pensions, and the suppression of sundry useless, expensive, and inconvenient places, and for applying the moneys saved thereby to the public service.”*
4 This motion being seconded by Fox, Lord North thereupon rose and said:
OBEDIENCE TO INSTRUCTIONS.
CERTAINLY, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions to theirs, and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.
But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure, -no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that in which the determination precedes the discussion, in which one set of men deliberate and another decide,
“The speech is one of the ablest I have ever heard, and it is one which, though I have had the happiness of knowing many men of very brilliant talents, I believe the honourable gentleman only could have made.” Gibbon also, the wellknown historian, then a member of Parliament, and a staunch Tory, afterwards wrote as follows: “Never can I forget the delight with which that diffusive and ingenious orator, Mr. Burke, was heard, and even by those whose existence he proscribed.” I must also quote a passage from Macknight's Life and Times of Burke: “For three hours he held his audience under his irresistible spell. Ministerialists, courtiers, sycophants, sinecurists, all gave the most complete testimony to the orator's success. Tumultuous cheers and roars of laughter attended him throughout the course of his speech. At the close of his peroration, when he called on the Commons in Parliament to be one and the same with the commons at large, and entreated them to throw aside the temptations of the government and return to their natural home, it almost seemed, from the simultaneous burst of enthusiasm from all quarters, that there were not nearly a hundred ministerial retainers, whose political aspirations extended only to the receipt of their next quarter's salaries.”— On the whole, this mighty speech may be safely pronounced the finest piece of parliamentary eloquence in the language, or perhaps in the world. Nevertheless the stolid strength of the King's phalanx in the House proved too much for Burke. The measure was not carried till more than two years later, when Burke himself was in office under Lord Rockingham.
and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments? To deliver an opinion is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear, and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions, mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,—these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenour of our Constitution. Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole,_ where not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest or should form an hasty opinion evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member from that place ought to be as far as any other from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject; I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life : a flatterer you do not wish for. On this point of instructions, however, I think it scarcely possible we ever can have any sort of difference. Perhaps I may give you too much, rather than too little trouble. From the first hour I was encouraged to court your favour, to this happy day of obtaining it, I have never promised you any thing but humble and persevering endeavours to do my duty. The weight of that duty, I confess, makes me tremble; and whoever well considers what it is, of all things in the world, will fly from what has the least likeness to a positive and precipitate engagement. To be a good member of Parliament is, let me tell you, no easy task,-- especially at this time, when there is so strong a disposition to run into the perilous extremes of servile compliance or wild popularity. To unite circumspection with vigour is absolutely necessary, but it is extremely difficult. We are now members for a rich commercial city; this city, however, is but a part of a rich commercial nation, the interests of which are various, multiform, and intricate. We are
members for that great nation, which, however, is itself but part of a great empire, extended by our virtue and our fortune to the farthest limits of the East and of the West. All these wide-spread interests must be considered,—must be compared, —must be reconciled, if possible. We are members for a free country; and surely we all know that the machine of a free constitution is no simple thing, but as intricate and as delicate as it is valuable. We are members in a great and ancient momarchy; and we must preserve religiously the true, legal rights of the sovereign, which form the keystone that binds together the noble and well-constructed arch of our empire and our Constitution. A constitution made up of balanced powers must ever be a critical thing. As such I mean to touch that part of it which comes within my reach. I know my inability, and I wish for support from every quarter. In particular I shall aim at the friendship, and shall cultivate the best correspondence, of the worthy colleague you have given me.—Speech after the election at Bristol, 1774.
SPEECH TO THE ELECTORS OF BRISTOL.5
MR. MAYOR, AND GENTLEMEN: I am extremely pleased at the appearance of this large and respectable meeting. The steps I may be obliged to take will want the sanction of a considerable authority; and in explaining any thing which may appear doubtful in my public conduct, I must naturally desire a very full audience. I have been backward to begin my canvass. The dissolution of the Parliament was uncertain ; and it did not become me, by an unseasonable importunity, to appear diffident of the effect of my six years' endeavours to please you. I had served the city of Bristol honourably, and the city of Bristol had no reason to think that the means of honourable service to the public were become indifferent to me. I found, on my arrival here, that three gentlemen had been long in eager pursuit of an object which but two of us can obtain. I found that they had all met with encouragement. A Contested election in such a city as this is no light thing. I paused on the brink of the precipice. These three gentlemen,"
5 This speech was delivered September 6, 1780. Its full title as given in the printed copy is, “Speech at the Guildhall in Bristol, previous to the late Election in that City, upon certain Points relative to his Parliamentary Conduct. 1780.” Why it was made will appear sufficiently from the body of the speech itself.
by various merits, and on various titles, I made no doubt were worthy of your favour. I shall never attempt to raise myself by depreciating the merits of my competitors. In the complexity and confusion of these cross pursuits, I wished to take the authentic public sense of my friends upon a business of so much delicacy. I wished to take your opinion along with me, that, if I should give up the contest at the very beginning, my surrender of my post may not seem the effect of inconstancy, or timidity; or anger, or disgust, or indolence, or any other temper unbecoming a man who has engaged in the public service. If, on the contrary, I should undertake the election, and fail of success, I was full as anxious that it should be manifest to the whole world that the peace of the city had not been broken by my rashness, presumption, or fond conceit of my own merit. I am not come, by a false and counterfeit show of deference to your judgment, to seduce it in my favour. I ask it seriously and unaffectedly. If you wish that I should retire, I shall not consider that advice as a censure upon my conduct, or an alteration in your sentiments, but as a rational submission to the circumstances of affairs. If, on the contrary, you should think it proper for me to proceed in my canvass, if you will risk the trouble on your part, I will risk it on mine. My pretensions are such as you cannot be ashamed of, whether they succeed or fail. If you call upon me, I shall solicit the favour of the city upon manly ground. I come before you with the plain confidence of an honest servant in the equity of a candid and discerning master. I come to claim your approbation, not to amuse you with vain apologies, or with professions still more vain and senseless. I have lived too long to be served by apologies, or to stand in need of them. The part I have acted has been in open day; and to hold out to a conduct which stands in that clear and steady light for all its good and all its evil, to hold out to that conduct the paltry, winking tapers of excuses and promises,<-I never will do it. They may obscure it with their smoke, but they never can illumine sunshine by such a flame as theirs. I am sensible that no endeavours have been left untried to injure me in your opinion. But the use of character is to be a shield against calumny. I could wish, undoubtedly, (if idle wishes were not the most idle of all things,) to make every part of my conduct agreeable to every one of my constituents; but in so great a city, and so greatly divided as this, it is weak to expect it." 6 Burke's course in Parliament, especially on the American question, had
been so offensive to the bigoted and the interested partisans of government, that they had left no stone unturned, to defeat his reëlection at Bristol. This he