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- Burke's Speech on Conciliation with America - 1/16 -









The introduction to this edition of Burke's speech on Conciliation with America is intended to supply the needs of those students who do not have access to a well-stocked library, or who, for any reason, are unable to do the collateral reading necessary for a complete understanding of the text.

The sources from which information has been drawn in preparing this edition are mentioned under "Bibliography." The editor wishes to acknowledge indebtedness to many of the excellent older editions of the speech, and also to Mr. A. P. Winston, of the Manual Training High School, for valuable suggestions.













In 1651 originated the policy which caused the American Revolution. That policy was one of taxation, indirect, it is true, but none the less taxation. The first Navigation Act required that colonial exports should be shipped to England in American or English vessels. This was followed by a long series of acts, regulating and restricting the American trade. Colonists were not allowed to exchange certain articles without paying duties thereon, and custom houses were established and officers appointed. Opposition to these proceedings was ineffectual; and in 1696, in order to expedite the business of taxation, and to establish a better method of ruling the colonies, a board was appointed, called the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations. The royal governors found in this board ready sympathizers, and were not slow to report their grievances, and to insist upon more stringent regulations for enforcing obedience. Some of the retaliative measures employed were the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the abridgment of the freedom of the press and the prohibition of elections. But the colonists generally succeeded in having their own way in the end, and were not wholly without encouragement and sympathy in the English Parliament. It may be that the war with France, which ended with the fall of Quebec, had much to do with this rather generous treatment. The Americans, too, were favored by the Whigs, who had been in power for more than seventy years. The policy of this great party was not opposed to the sentiments and ideas of political freedom that had grown up in the colonies; and, although more than half of the Navigation Acts were passed by Whig governments, the leaders had known how to wink at the violation of nearly all of them.

Immediately after the close of the French war, and after George III. had ascended the throne of England, it was decided to enforce the Navigation Acts rigidly. There was to be no more smuggling, and, to prevent this, Writs of Assistance were issued. Armed with such authority, a servant of the king might enter the home of any citizen, and make a thorough search for smuggled goods. It is needless to say the measure was resisted vigorously, and its reception by the colonists, and its effect upon them, has been called the opening scene of the American Revolution. As a matter of fact, this sudden change in the attitude of England toward the colonies, marks the beginning of the policy of George III. which, had it been successful, would have made him the ruler of an absolute instead of a limited monarchy. He hated the Tories only less than the Whigs, and when he bestowed a favor upon either, it was for the purpose of weakening the other. The first task he set himself was that of crushing the Whigs. Since the Revolution of 1688, they had dictated the policy of the English government, and through wise leaders had become supreme in authority. They were particularly obnoxious to him because of their republican spirit, and he regarded their ascendency as a constant menace to his kingly power. Fortune seemed to favor him in the dissensions which arose. There grew up two factions in the Whig party. There were old Whigs and new Whigs. George played one against the other, advanced his favorites when opportunity offered, and in the end succeeded in forming a ministry composed of his friends and obedient to his will.

With the ministry safely in hand, he turned his attention to the House of Commons. The old Whigs had set an example, which George was shrewd enough to follow. Walpole and Newcastle had succeeded in giving England one of the most peaceful and prosperous governments within in the previous history of the nation, but their methods were corrupt. With much of the judgment, penetration and wise forbearance which marks a statesman, Walpole's distinctive qualities of mind eminently fitted him for political intrigue; Newcastle was still worse, and has the distinction of being the premier under whose administration the revolt against official corruption first received the support of the public.

For near a hundred years, the territorial distribution of seats in the House had remained the same, while the centres of population had shifted along with those of trade and new industries. Great towns were without representation, while boroughs, such as Old Sarum, without a single voter, still claimed, and had, a seat in Parliament. Such districts, or "rotten boroughs," were owned and controlled by many of the great landowners. Both Walpole and Newcastle resorted to the outright purchase of these seats, and when the time came George did not shrink from doing the same thing. He went even further. All preferments of whatsoever sort were bestowed upon those who would do his bidding, and the business of bribery assumed such proportions that an office was opened at the Treasury for this purpose, from which twenty-five thousand pounds are said to have passed in a single day. Parliament had been for a long time only partially representative of the people; it now ceased to be so almost completely.

With, the support which such methods secured, along with encouragement from his ministers, the king was prepared to put in operation his policy for regulating the affairs of America. Writs of Assistance (1761) were followed by the passage of the Stamp Act (1765). The ostensible object of both these measures was to help pay the debt incurred by the French war, but the real purpose lay deeper, and was nothing more or less than the ultimate extension of parliamentary rule, in great things as well as small, to America. At this crisis, so momentous for the colonists, the Rockingham ministry was formed, and Burke, together with Pitt, supported a motion for the unconditional repeal of the Stamp Act. After much wrangling, the motion was carried, and the first blunder of the mother country seemed to have been smoothed over.

Only a few months elapsed, however, when the question of taxing the colonies was revived. Pitt lay ill, and could take no part in the proposed measure. Through the influence of other members of his party,--notably Townshend,--a series of acts were passed, imposing duties on several exports to America. This was followed by a suspension of the New York Assembly, because it had disregarded instructions in the matter of supplies for the troops. The colonists were furious. Matters went from bad to worse. To withdraw as far as possible without yielding the principle at stake, the duties on all the exports mentioned in the bill were removed, except that on tea. But it was precisely the principle for which the colonists were contending. They were not in the humor for compromise, when they believed their freedom was endangered, and the strength and determination of their resistance found a climax in the Boston Tea Party.

In the meantime, Lord North, who was absolutely obedient to the king, had become prime minister. Five bills were prepared, the tenor of which, it was thought, would overawe the colonists. Of these, the Boston Port Bill and the Regulating Act are perhaps the most famous, though the ultimate tendency of all was blindly coercive.

While the king and his friends were busy with these, the opposition proposed an unconditional repeal of the Tea Act. The bill was introduced only to be overwhelmingly defeated by the same Parliament that passed the five measures of Lord North.

In America, the effect of these proceedings was such as might have been expected by thinking men. The colonies were as a unit in their support of Massachusetts. The Regulating Act was set at defiance, public officers in the king's service were forced to resign, town meetings were held, and preparations for war were begun in dead earnest. To avert this, some of England's greatest statesmen--Pitt among the number--asked for a reconsideration. On February the first, 1775, a bill was introduced, which would have gone far toward bringing peace. One month later, Burke delivered his speech on Conciliation with the Colonies.


There is nothing unusual in Burke's early life. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1729. His father was a successful lawyer and a Protestant, his mother, a Catholic. At the age of twelve, he became a pupil of Abraham Shackleton, a Quaker, who had been teaching some fifteen years at Ballitore, a small town thirty miles from Dublin. In after years Burke was always pleased to speak of his old friend in the kindest way: "If I am anything," he declares, "it is the education I had there that has made me so." And again at Shackleton's death, when Burke was near the zenith of his fame and popularity, he writes: "I had a true honor and affection for that excellent man. I feel something like a satisfaction in the midst of my concern, that I was fortunate enough to have him under my roof before his departure." It can hardly be doubted that the old Quaker schoolmaster succeeded with his pupil who was already so favorably inclined, and it is more than probable that the daily example of one who lived out his precepts was strong in its influence upon a young and generous mind.

Burke attended school at Ballitore two years; then, at the age of fourteen, he

Burke's Speech on Conciliation with America - 1/16

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