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fied with Burke on account of his persevering efforts to lighten the burdens and oppressions of his native Ireland. So, in the fall of 1780, after being their representative for six years, he found the current there so strong against him, that he withdrew from the canvass; but was forthwith returned again for Malton, which borough he continued to represent during the rest of his twenty-eight years in the House of Commons. The Spring of 1783 witnessed the formation of what was called the Coalition Ministry, which was composed of men of several parties. Burke again became Paymaster, still without a seat in the Cabinet. But the Ministry proved an ill-starred arrangement, and soon went to pieces; and Burke's greatest political mistake was the part he took in forming it. Some time before this, he began to interest himself deeply in the wrongs of India. His sensibilities, always most keenly alive to the sufferings of others, got wrought up to an extraordinary pitch in this behalf. On the 30th of July, 1784, he brought the matter before Parsiament, and in the course of that day made no less than four speeches, ever growing more vehement as he went on, and in each denouncing woe and vengeance on the nation which allowed such iniquities to go unpunished; and he made a solemn oath before the House that the wrongs done to humanity in the East should be avenged on the authors of them. For several years he gave his whole soul to this cause, prosecuting it with incredible industry and energy. All through the arraignment and trial of Warren Hastings, which lasted some ten years, he was the leader and the master-spirit. It is true, both his greatness of genius and his rectitude of purpose were sometimes not a little obscured by his infirmities of temper: in his raptures of prophetic fury, he was sometimes the pity of his friends and the derision of his enemies; but time has amply proved that his folly was wiser than the wisdom of all who maligned or opposed him. The trial ended, to be sure, in a formal acquittal of Hastings. This made his long labour seem a failure; and he himself so considered it. But it was in effect a grand success; for it wrought a silent but thorough change in the government of India, and may be justly regarded as having saved the British empire in the East. From the Summer of 1784 to that of 1789 Burke was probably the most unpopular man in England. . At every turn he was met by the most-envenomed hostility; from week to week he was hunted down by the most unrelenting obloquy. This was indeed partly owing to his own intemperance of conduct, for his great warm heart kept boiling at the cruelties and iniquities he had undertaken to expose; but it was chiefly because he held himself unflinchingly to the task of speaking odious truth. At length, the outbreak of the French Revolution, in 1789, gave things a new turn, and brought about an entire recast of parties in England. Burke seems for a while to have been struck dumb by that tremendous social and political whirlwind; but he watched its progress with the utmost concentration of mind. Early in February, 1790, the subject came up incidentally in the House of Commons, when Burke astounded both the House and the nation by his strong declarations of judgment. Up to this time, he and Charles Fox had been fast political friends; — I say political, for Fox was too profligate in his morals for the personal friendship of such a man as Burke. But Fox and the younger portion of the Whigs were now whirled away with the new revolutionary enthusiasm. A most decided and incurable rupture between Fox and Burke was the consequence. As things in France kept growing on from bad to worse, Burke's feelings got so wrought up, that he declared he would break with his dearest friends, and join hands with his bitterest foes, on that question. In short, his great mind, through all its faculties, was fired into extraordinary activity on that allabsorbing theme. A French gentleman, whose acquaintance he had made some time before, requested an expression of his judgment on the doings in France. This seems to have kindled and started in him a regular train of thought; and the result appeared in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in the Fall of 1790. This marvellous production carried all before it, and the name of Edmund Burke suddenly became greater and more powerful than it had ever been. It was the theme of every tongue; hardly any thing else was talked of or read; edition after edition was called for; and thirty thousand copies were soon in the hands of the public. Nor was its effect confined to England; “all Europe rung from side to side.” with the fame of it. From this time forward his powers were mainly concentrated on the same great theme, the opposition to him being of just the right kind and degree to keep his mind in a steady glow. His Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, his Letter to a Noble Lord, his four %. on a Rogicide Peace, and several other papers, were the fruits of this most discursive and far-sighted inspiration: in fact, he may almost be said to have expired with his pen in hand, tracing out some branch of what he conceived to be England's duty and interest in the awful crisis that had arisen. In July, 1794, Burke retired finally from Parliament, and his son Richard, then thirty-six years old, and the only survivor of two children, was elected to succeed him as member for Malton. This was an occasion of great joy to the father; but, alas ! that joy was soon turned to sorrow. On the 2d of August, Richard died. This event was a perfect surprise to his parents; who, though his health had long been delicate, were quite unprepared for his death. Young Burke was a man of great promise and spotless character: his native gifts were of a high order; his attainments were large; and every thing about him was solid, except his physical constitution: he was the pride of his father's heart, the delight of his father's eyes; and probably his gifts and virtues were somewhat magnified by parental partiality. The shock was quite too much for Burke, and he never recovered from it: he was literally overwhelmed with grief, and remained to the hour of his own death utterly unconsolable. The last two of his Letters on a Regicide Peace were written under a sense of impending death; and he expired on the morning of Sunday, July 9, 1797, his last breath being spent in blessing those who were about him. He died “in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope.” Dr. Laurence, who was present, tells us that “his end was suited to the simple greatness of his mind, every way unaffected, without levity, without ostentation, full of natural grace and dignity.” Burke's life, both public and private, was without a stain: his goodness of heart, his beauty of character, were in full measure with his greatness of intellect: his greatest pleasure was in being kind to such as needed kindness, and especially in lending a helping hand to struggling and unrecognised genius and merit: James Barry the painter-artist and George Crabbe the poet owed their deliverance from suffering and obscurity to his discriminating benevolence: Dr. Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith, Langton, and his other fellow-members of the celebrated Club, loved and honoured him deeply. In 1844, when his Correspondence was published, Lord Jeffrey, of the Edinburgh Review, who, sympathizing with the IIollandHouse Whigs, had always been wont to disparage Burke, spoke of him as follows: “The greatest and most accomplished intellect that England has produced for centuries; and of a noble and lovable nature.” Burke's relative place in English literature is not altogether certain. Of course Shakespeare is, beyond all comparison, first; but it is something doubtful whether the second place belongs to Burke or Bacon. Intellectually, the two have strong points of resemblance; there, however, the likeness ends: for Burke had not a tinge or shade of meanness in his composition; his nobleness of character was every way commensurate with his strength and splendour of genius.
GENTLEMEN: I have the honour of sending you the two last Acts which have been passed with regard to the troubles in America. These Acts are similar to all the rest which have been made on the same subject. They operate by the same principle, and they are derived from the very same policy. I think they complete the number of this sort of statutes to nine. It affords no matter for very pleasing reflection to observe that our subjects diminish as our laws increase.
If I have the misfortune of differing with some of my fellowcitizens on this great and arduous subject, it is no small consolation to me that I do not differ from you. With you I am perfectly united. We are heartily agreed in our detestation of a civil war. We have ever expressed the most unqualified disapprobation of all the steps which have led to it, and of all those which tend to prolong it. And I have no doubt that we feel exactly the same emotions of grief and shame on all its miserable consequences, whether they appear on the one side or the other, in the shape of victories or defeats, of captures made from the English on the Continent or from the English in these islands, of legislative regulations which subvert the liberties of our brethren, or which undermine our own.
Of the first of these statutes (that for the letter of marque) I shall say little.” Exceptionable as it may be, and as I think it is in some particulars, it seems the natural, perhaps necessary, result of the measures we have taken and the situation we are in. The other (for a partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus)
1 The full title of this paper as originally published is “A Letter to John Farr and John Harris, Esqrs., Sheriffs of the City of Bristol, on the Affairs of America. 1777.”
2 A letter of marque is, in effect, a special commission granted by the government of a belligerant State to the commander of a vessel, authorizing him to capture and take possession of any ships belonging to the enemy wherever he may find them. Of course seizures so made, being sanctioned by international law, are not subject to the charge of piracy.
appears to me of a much deeper malignity.” During its progress through the House of Commons, it has been amended, so as to express, more distinctly than at first it did, the avowed sentiments of those who framed it; and the main ground of my exception to it is, because it does express, and does carry into execution, purposes which appear to me contradictory to all the principles, not only of the constitutional policy of Great Britain, but even of that species of hostile justice which no asperity of war wholly extinguishes in the minds of a civilized people. It seems to have in view two capital objects: the first, to enable administration to confine, as long as it shall think proper, those whom that Act is pleased to qualify by the name of pirates. Those so qualified I understand to be the commanders and mariners of such privateers and ships of war belonging to the colonies as in the course of this unhappy contest may fall into the hands of the Crown. They are therefore to be detained in prison, under the criminal description of piracy, to a future trial and ignominious punishment, whenever circumstances shall make it convenient to execute vengeance on them, under the colour of that odious and infamous offence. To this first purpose of the law I have no small dislike, because the Act does not (as all laws and all equitable transactions ought to do) fairly describe its object. The persons who make a naval war upon us, in consequence of the present troubles, may be rebels; but to call and treat them as pirates is confounding not only the natural distinction of things, but the order of crimes, – which, whether by putting them from a higher part
3 This famous statute, called Habeas Corpus because writs issued in pursuance of it formerly began with those two words, was passed in the reign of Charles the Second, 1679. It was meant as an effective remedy, and such it has proved to be, against arbitrary imprisonment, that is, the punishment of alleged or imputed crimes, without a trial or a hearing. From a very early period, such imprisonment was indeed unlawful in England; but the servile ingenuity of crown lawyers still found out ways of eluding the law: so that, if the King or any of his favorites had a grudge against a person, he could fabricate a criminal charge, and have him incarcerated; and there he was, without remedy or redress, as he could not bring the question of his guilt or innocence to a trial. Dut, by this Act, a person so held, or his friends, might apply to any one of the judges, and on such application the judge was obliged, under heavy penalties, to issue his writ requiring the custodian to bring forth the body of the prisoner, together with the warrant for committal, into court, that he, the judge, might determine of its sufficiency, and either remand the accused to prison, admit him to bail, or discharge him, according to the merits of the case. And any officer or jailer to whom such writ was directed was also bound, under severe penalties, to prompt obedience. Thus, among all English-speaking peoples, the Act in question stands to this day the main Security of personal freedom against oppressive power.
of the scale to the lower or from the lower to the higher, is never done without dangerously disordering the whole frame of jurisprudence. Though piracy may be, in the eye of the law, a less offence than treason, yet, as both are, in effect, punished with the same death, the same forfeiture, and the same corruption of blood, I never would take, from any fellow-creature whatever, any sort of advantage which he may derive to his safety from the pity of mankind, or to his reputation from their general feelings, by degrading his offence, when I cannot soften his punishment. The general sense of mankind tells me that those offences which may possibly arise from mistaken virtue are not in the class of infamous actions. Lord Coke, the oracle of the English law, conforms to that general sense, where he says that “those things which are of the highest criminality may be of the least disgrace.” The Act prepares a sort of masked proceeding, not honourable to the justice of the kingdom, and by no means necessary for its safety. I cannot enter into it. If Lord Balmerino, in the last rebellion, had driven off the cattle of twenty clans, I should have thought it would have been a scandalous and low juggle, utterly unworthy of the manliness of an English judicature, to have tried him for felony as a stealer of cows.” Besides, I must honestly tell you that I could not vote for, or countenance in any way, a statute which stigmatizes with the crime of piracy these men whom an Act of Parliament had previously put out of the protection of the law. When the legislature of this kingdom had ordered all their ships and goods, for the mere new-created offence of exercising trade, to be divided as a spoil among the seamen of the navy,”—to consider the necessary reprisal of an unhappy, proscribed, interdicted people, as the crime of piracy, would have appeared, in any other legislature than ours, a strain of the most insulting and most unnatural cruelty and injustice. I assure you I never remember to have heard of any thing like it in any time or country. The second professed purpose of the Act is to detain in England for trial those who shall commit high treason in America.
4 Lord Balmerino was a Scottish nobleman, who took part with Charles Edward, commonly called the Pretender, in his attempt to regain the British throne. At the battle of Culloden, in 1745, where that attempt was crushed, Balmerino was taken prisoner, and was afterwards tried, convicted, and executed for treason.
5 By the Act of Parliament here referred to, all the property of Americans, whether of ships or goods, on the high seas or in harbour, was declared “to be forfeited to the captors, being the officers and crews of his Majesty's ships of war.” This Act was supplementary to another which had interdicted all trade to the colonists, thus making commerce a crime.