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that its success would have in effect annulled the securities of our personal and political liberty. If that principle had once been fairly admitted into the sanctuary of the constitution-how many years of political contention must have been passed—what national evils might have been suffered-in the struggle to dislodge it!
Again, as early as the year 1766, and in every question touching America, from the commencement to the close of the disastrous struggle, Burke is the prominent and the consistent advocate of the rights of the colonists. He labours to prevent the war which he had predicted. He not only enforces the policy, but devises the expedients of conciliation. Failing in this object, he endeavours to mitigate the cruelties of the warfare---plusquam civilia bella. His exertions are never relaxed, until peace had extinguished their motive and their use. If not equal to Lord Chatham in the fire, the condensed energy of his eloquence, yet is he far superior in the patient examination of the subject, in depth of research, in the nature of his views at once comprehensive and practical. In the very last effort of his vehement declamation, Lord Chatham proclaimed the ruin of England to be the certain consequence of conceding our claim of supremacy.. Let the admirers of national freedom be reminded, that Burke was not deterred by his aversion to innovations in government, by his decided, and at times perhaps extravagant passion for established systems, from opposing throughout the obstinate and fruitless assertion of that claim. If the same counsel had prevailed in the more recent and somewhat parallel case of Spain, it would have advanced her interests without injuring her honour.
We are tempted to cite a passage from Burke's • Observations on a Publication called the Present State of the Nation, not only by the intrinsic merit of the sentiments, but because they cast the strongest light on the motives of his conduct, in the very different, or rather opposite cases of the American colonies and Republican France. It should be noted, that these · Observations' were published in 1769.
• Thus the two very difficult points, superiority in the presiding state, and freedom in the subordinate, were on the whole sufficiently, that is practically reconciled; without agitating those vexatious questions, which, in truth, rather belong to metaphysics than politics, and which can never be moved without shaking the foundations of the best governments that have ever been constituted by human wisdom.'
Is it a strained construction to infer from this and from many similar passages, that even thus early Burke, when contending for the rights of English subjects, claimed on his own behalf a fair distinction, very intelligible to common understandings, although in all likelihood the thorough-paced admirer of the French revolution will never admit it? To the plain, the definite and practicable objects, professed and accomplished by the English revolution of 1688, he cordially assented to the American colonists, when contending against a practical grievance, he allowed the justice of their resistance; but it is evident that, long before he can be suspected of uttering such opinions for any base or temporary purpose, he denounced upon principle the vague theories of metaphysical statesmen. These he could not admit to be mere harmless generalities when transferred from books to action; and he well knew them to be the convenient disguise of selfish and profligate ambition.
Again, in 1771, Burke was the leader in accomplishing one of the greatest services on record, not only to the fair influence of the people, but to the strength and the stability of the English constitution itself. Chiefly by his exertions in the contest between the House of Commons and the magistrates of the city, the government were compelled tacitly to concede the privilege, against which they had long and zealously contended, of publishing the debates and proceedings in parliament. We dare not attempt, in our confined limits, to sketch the consequences of this victory. Of their importance in the narrowest view, he alone can judge, who may have laboured to glean some notion of the political eloquence of those days, from the scanty fragments, the mysterious initials, the disjecta membra of the reports then tolerated. That Mr. Burke should have been mainly instrumental in effecting this revolution was strictly and peculiarly just; for the merits of his own conduct, and the character of his eloquence while he was leader of his party, are, unless as occasionally recorded by himself, most obscurely and slightly represented. Without enlarging on the obvious benefits still flowing from this privilege, when considered in a higher point of view, we may confidently assert, that neither the
parliament nor the constitution of England—nor consequently England herself-could have survived the open and the insidious attacks of enemies foreign and domestic that awaited her, unless public opinion had gained this new principle of force. The conduct of statesmen themselves has been purified by this inevitable test; and the people of England, on the other hand, more enlightened on the real condition of the country, more firmly satisfied of the grounds on which they bestow or withdraw their confidence, are less exposed to the influence of faction, or to the oppression of power.
The order of time leads us next to remark the early, the continued, the disinterested exertions of Burke in favour of Ireland, the country of his birth, the constant and the last object of
VOL. XXXIV. NO, LXVIII.
his labour and his care. Those who are not ignorant of the less liberal views of Mr. Fox, and of some of his greatest contemporaries on this subject, are bound to record that he always supported her interests at the sacrifice of his own; and that on the subject of her trade more especially, all the principles, by which the intercourse between the two countries has in the sequel been regulated and improved, were traced by his sagacity.
His exertions in regard to the Roman Catholics of Ireland, whatever may be the natural differences of opinion on the great ques. tion yet pending, cannot surely be perverted into proofs of his indifference to the civil rights of mankind. From them at least no evidence of an aristocratical or abstract love of oppression can be extorted. Long before the first relaxation of the penal laws in 1778, Mr. Burke had examined every branch of the subject, and had explained to the more leading statesmen of Ireland his feelings and his opinions. It is not possible to deny that before that period the whole system was odious and unwise, and incapable of producing any other results than those of hatred and turbulence on the one side, of insolence and of fear on the other. Of the first bill of relief, to which Sir George Savile's name was given, Mr. Burke was known to be the author; and after the greater bill of relief in 1792, he continued, to the moment of his death, to urge the policy of granting to the Roman Catholics the political privileges from which they still continued to be excluded. The man who acted thus, whatever else he might be, was not a bigoted advocate of the existing order of things: this Apostle of Institutions could consent without alarm to the removal of political restraints, when the case in his opinion justified such a concession.
But to leave Ireland—if the claims of Mr. Burke to be ranked with the most successful friends of English liberty, had rested on the single foundation of his reforms in the public offices, and the public expenditure of the country, the most sincere alarmist on the influence of the crown must surely hesitate to reject them. For he must be sensible that it cannot be deemed the same enterprize, requiring the same spirit, or opposed by the same difficulties, to have attacked the very citadel of royal influence in the year 1780, which it would be considered in the year 1826. He must feel some respect for the hand, which inflicted the first serious wound on the system of sinecures; which deprived the crown of so many sources of influence and means of corruption; which so largely exaited the character, by increasing the independence, of parliament. We have observed that a very narrow and unfair estimate of the national service accomplished by these reforms, is too frequently admitted. It is supposed to consist in fixing a limit to the pension
list, in reducing the accounts of the civil list to the system of all other parliamentary accounts, and in suppressing the unlimited use of the balances of public money. But difficult and praise worthy as were these services, they form but a small and an inferior part of the whole. For to the laws for which we are indebted to Mr. Burke, and to the public discussions by which he introduced them, a total change in the feelings and the conduct of all public accountants may be distinctly ascribed. Without any arrogant pretension to an immaculate purityin our own times, one cannot consider the habits and practices of the public departments before those reforms, without many emotions of shame, and some of disgust and of indignation. The exorbitant fortunes amassed by the
possessors of offices, and amassed by means that would not bear description; the studied and ingenious profusion of expense in all the details of official business; the unsparing application of the large balances of the revenue to private emolument; these are some of the features of that ancient system, which the single arm of Burke combated and destroyed. Some lovers of antiquity may certainly regret, that the old distinction between a public and a private account is no longer maintained, and that so much of the clearness, the simplicity and the precision of the latter has been introduced into the former. But those who reflect, how much the risks of embezzlement and the temptations to dishonesty were at once retrenched, how many resources of a sinister influence were for ever severed from the crown, may well be startled by the statement that the original parent of all this national good was himself, above all other men, the zealot of corruption and power, the most bigoted and relentless of all the systematic advocates of thrones and dominions.
Nearly at the same period—when the intense interest of domestic politics absorbed the attention of every other mind that of Burke, soaring above the scene of his personal interests, and the contests of his party, calmly examines the whole system of negro slavery, and exposes it to public inquiry and to public reprobation. Not satisfied with declamation on a topic as yet unhackneyed, or rather untouched, he frames a code of regulations 80 admirably adapted to the case, that after the experience of forty years it has been made the model and the ground-work of the measures recently adopted by the English ministers. The scheme of Burke proposes, by gradually raising the condition and above all promoting the instruction of the slave, to render his ultimate manumission at once conducive to his own welfare, and safe to his master.
Sensible of the risk, and indeed of the inevitable failure of any sudden alteration in such a peculiar state of society, Burke calculated his system for the same end, GG 2
and sketched out nearly the same means, that have found favour with the present government. But while popular applause is lavished on vulgar intellects incapable of originating anything, and equally incapable of treading in, without trampling into inutility, any path marked out by such a mind as this, the man who first directed the attention of England to the condition of the negros is utterly forgotten.
We may take this opportunity of pausing for a moment on a popular notion regarding Mr. Burke, which has been partly refuted by the better experience of his countrymen, but which still exists to a very considerable extent: we allude to the habit of discarding and vilifying him as an extravagant theorist, -as one, whose barren generalities are unfit for the test of practice and of real life. That this clamour should be echoed and re-echoed by sheer ignorance, or by the malice of those to whom such theorists as Burke are always dangerous, cannot be the subject of any reasonable surprize. But the charge sometimes proceeds from more respectable quarters. It is, in fact, the favourite topic of those mechanical statesmen' who treat with majestic coutempt every thing in politics beyond the bustling intrigue, the exclusive attention to details, valued in proportion to their minuteness, on which their own chances of fortune and of reputation are wholly founded. These make their own horizon the boundary of the political universe. The party-battle of the day, the routine of official or of parliamentary duty, presents to their imagination the whole circle of political science. They regard the excursions of such a mind as Burke's with the same feelings which some men apply to the invention of balloons; that is to say, with a faint emotion of wonder, and a much stronger one of contempt. No subject can be named, on which an indulgence in general topics, and in the mere flights of oratory, is more tempting or more pardonable, than the slavery of so large a portion of mankind, with all its attendant evils, and its peculiar sufferings. Yet may we observe that here too, as on the great questions of America, of civil reform, of Indian abuses, and of religious libertythe attention of Burke, this mighty theorist, is devoted to the practical mitigation of evils, of which not his own ignorance or incapacity, but the state of national feeling at the time on the one hand, and his own knowledge of the nature of man and the history of the world on the other, forbad him to attempt the total and immediate abolition. He not only penetrates but methodizes the minutest details of this inquiry, then not less novel than intricate; and is able to chain down even his expansive genius to the strictest * forms of business. Let us not conclude that this was simply a proof of his industry or his intellect; it is the best evidence that