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years, than all the other causes could have effected in a century.
EDMUND BURKE. Beconsfield, April 3, 1777.
P.S. You may communicate this letter in any manner you think proper to my constituents.
TWO LETTERS FROM MR. BURKE,
GENTLEMEN IN THE CITY OF BRISTOL ;
BILLS DEPENDING IN PARLIAMENT RELATIVE TO THE TRADE
To Samuel Span, Esq., Master of the Society of Merchants
Adventurers of Bristol. SIR, I am honoured with your letter of the 13th, in answer to mine, which accompanied the resolutions of the House relative to the trade of Ireland.
You will be so good as to present my best respects to the Society, and to assure them, that it was altogether unnecessary to remind me of the interest of the constituents. I have never regarded any thing else since I had a seat in parliament. Having frequently and maturely considered that interest, and stated it to myself in almost every point of view, I am persuaded, that, under the present circumstances, I cannot more effectually pursue it, than by giving all the support in my power to the propositions which I lately transmitted to the hall.
The fault I find in the scheme is,—that it falls extremely short of that liberality in the commercial system, which, I trust, will one day be adopted. If I had not considered the present resolutions merely as preparatory to better things, and as a means of showing, experimentally, that justice to others is not always folly to ourselves, I should have contented myself with receiving them in a cold and silent acquiescence. Separately considered, they are matters of no very great importance. But they aim, however imperfectly, at a right principle. I submit to the restraint to appease prejudice; I accept the enlargement, so far as it goes, as the result of reason and of sound policy.
We cannot be insensible of the calamities which have been brought upon this nation by an obstinate adherence to narrow and restrictive plans of government. I confess, I cannot prevail on myself to take them up, precisely at a time, when the most decisive experience has taught the rest of the world to lay them down. The propositions in question did not originate from me, or from my particular friends. But when things are so right in themselves, I hold it my duty not to inquire from what hands they come. I opposed the American measures upon the very same principle on which I support those that relate to Ireland. I was convinced, that the evils which have arisen from the adoption of the former, would be infinitely aggravated by the rejection of the latter.
Perhaps gentlemen are not yet fully aware of the situation of their country, and what its exigencies absolutely require. I find that we are still disposed to talk at our ease, and as if all things were to be regulated by our good pleasure. I should consider it as a fatal symptom, if, in our present distressed and adverse circumstances, we should persist in the errors which are natural only to prosperity. One cannot, indeed, sufficiently lament the continuance of that spirit of delusion, by which, for a long time past, we have thought fit to measure our necessities by our inclinations. Moderation, prudence, and equity, are far more suitable to our condition, than loftiness, and confidence, and rigour. We are threatened by enemies of no small magnitude, whom, if we think fit, we may despise, as we have despised others; but they are enemies who can only cease to be truly formidable, by our entertaining a due respect for their power. Our danger will not be lessened by our shutting our eyes to it; nor will our force abroad be increased by rendering ourselves feeble and divided at home. There is a dreadful schism in the British nation.
Since we are not able to re-unite the empire, it is our business to give all possible vigour and soundness to those parts of it which are still content to be governed by our councils. Sir, it is proper to inform you, that our measures must be healing. Such a degree of strength must be communicated to all the members of the state, as may enable them to defend themselves, and to co-operate in the defence of the whole. Their temper too must be managed, and their good affections cultivated. They may then be disposed to bear the load with cheerfulness, as a contribution towards what may be called with truth and propriety, and not by an empty form of words, a common cause. Too little dependence cannot be had, at this time of day, on names and prejudices. The eyes of mankind are opened ; and communities must be held together by an evident and solid interest. God forbid, that our conduct should demonstrate to the world, that Great Britain can, in no instance whatsoever, be brought to a sense of rational and equitable policy, but by coercion and force of arms !
I wish you to recollect, with what powers of concession, relatively to commerce, as well as to legislation, his majesty's commissioners to the united colonies have sailed from England within this week. Whether these powers are sufficient for their purposes, it is not now my business to examine. But we all know, that our resolutions in favour of Ireland are trifling and insignificant, when compared with the concessions to the Americans. At such a juncture, I would implore every man, who retains the least spark of regard to the yet remaining honour and security of this country, not to compel others to an imitation of their conduct; or by passion and violence, to force them to seek, in the territories of the separation, that freedom, and those advantages, which they are not to look for whilst they remain under the wings of their ancient government.
After all, what are the matters we dispute with so much warmth? Do we in these resolutions bestow any thing upon Ireland ? Not a shilling. We only consent to leave to them, in two or three instances, the use of the natural faculties which God has given to them, and to all mankind. Is Ireland united to the crown of Great Britain for no other purpose, than that we should counteract the bounty of Providence in her favour? And in proportion as that bounty has been liberal, that we are to regard it as an evil, which is to be met with in every sort of corrective? To say
that Ireland interferes with us, and therefore must be checked, is, in my opinion, a very mistaken, and a very dangerous principle. I must beg leave to repeat, what I took the liberty of suggesting to you in my last letter, that Ireland is a country, in the same climate, and of the same natural qualities and productions, with this; and has consequently no other means of growing wealthy in herself, or, in other words, of being useful to us, but by doing the very same things which we do, for the same purposes. I hope that in Great Britain we shall always pursue, without exception, every means of prosperity; and of course, that Ireland will interfere with us in something or other; for either, in order to limit her, we must restrain ourselves, or we must fall into that shocking conclusion, that we are to keep our yet remaining dependency, under a general and indiscriminate restraint, for the mere purpose of oppression. Indeed, sir, England and Ireland may flourish together. The world is large enough for us both. Let it be our care not to make ourselves too little for it.
I know it is said, that the people of Ireland do not pay the same taxes, and therefore ought not in equity to enjoy the same benefits with this. I had hopes, that the unhappy phantom of a compulsory equal taxation had haunted us long enough. I do assure you, that until it is entirely banished from our imaginations, (where alone it has, or can have any existence,) we shall never cease to do ourselves the most substantial injuries. To that argument of equal taxation, I can only say,—that Ireland pays as many taxes as those, who are the best judges of her powers, are of opinion she can bear. To bear more, she must have more ability; and, in the order of nature, the advantage must precede the charge. This disposition of things being the law of God, neither you nor I can alter it. So that if you will have more help from Ireland, you must previously supply her with more means. I believe it will be found, that if men are suffered freely to cultivate their natural advantages, a virtual equality of contribution will come in its own time, and will flow by an easy descent through its own proper and natural channels. An attempt to disturb that course, and to force nature, will only bring on universal discontent, distress and confusion.
You tell me, sir, that you prefer an union with Ireland to the little regulations which are proposed in parliament. This union is a great question of state, to which, when it comes properly before me in my parliamentary capacity, I shall give a honest and unprejudiced consideration. However, it is a settled rule with me, to make the most of my actual situation ; and not to refuse to do a proper thing, because there is something else more proper, which I am not able to do. This union is a business of difficulty; and, on the principles of your letter, a business impracticable. Until it can be matured into a feasible and desirable scheme, I wish to have as close an union of interest and affection with Ireland as I can have; and that, I am sure, is a far better thing than any nominal union of government.
France, and indeed most extensive empires which by various designs and fortunes have grown into one great mass, contain many provinces that are very different from each other in privileges and modes of government; and they raise their supplies in different ways; in different proportions; and under different authorities; yet none of them are for this reason curtailed of their natural rights; but they carry on trade and manufactures with perfect equality. In some way or other the true balance is found ; and all of them are