Page images

the tyranny of a licentious, ferocious, and savage multitude, without laws, manners, or morals, and which, so far from respecting the general sense of mankind, insolently endeavours to alter

all the principles and opinions, which have hitherto guided and contained the world, and to force them into a conformity to their views and actions. His mind is made to better things.

That a man should rejoice and triumph in the destruction of an absolute monarchy; that in such an event he should overlook the captivity, disgrace, and degradation of an unfortunate prince, and the continual danger to a life which exists only to be endangered; that he should overlook the utter ruin of whole orders and classes of men, extending itself directly, or in its nearest consequences, to at least a million of our kind, and to at least the temporary wretchedness of a whole community, I do not deny to be in some sort natural: because when people see a political object, which they ardently desire, but in one point of view, they are apt ex. tremely to palliate, or underrate, the evils which may arise in obtaining it. This is no reflection on the humanity of those persons. Their good nature I am the last man in the world to dispute. It only shows that they are not sufficiently informed, or sufficiently considerate. When they come to reflect seriously on the transaction, they will think themselves bound to examine what the object is that has been acquired by all this havoc. They will hardly assert that the destruction of an absolute monarchy is a thing good in itself, without any sort of reference to the antecedent state of things, or to consequences which result from the change; without any consideration whether under its ancient rule a country was to a considerable degree flourishing and populous, highly cultivated, and highly commercial; and whether, under that domination, though personal liberty had been precarious and insecure, property at least was ever violated. They cannot take the moral sympathies of the human mind along with them, in abstractions separated from the good or evil condition of the state, from the quality of actions, and the character of the actors. None of us love absolute and uncontrolled monarchy; but we could not rejoice at the sufferings of a Marcus Aurelius, or a Trajan, who were absolute monarchs, as we do when Nero is condemned by the senate

to be punished more majorum : nor, when that monster was obliged to fly with his wife Sporus, and to drink puddle, were men affected in the same manner, as when the venerable Galba, with all his faults and errors, was murdered by a revolted mercenary soldiery. With such things before our eyes, our feelings contradict our theories; and when this is the case, the feelings are true, and the theory is false. What I contend for is, that in commending the destruction of an absolute monarchy, all the circumstances ought not to be wholly overlooked, as considerations fit only for shallow and superficial minds.”—The words of Mr. Fox, or to that effect.

The subversion of a government, to deserve any praise, must be consdered but as a step preparatory to the formation of something better, either in the scheme of the government itself, or in the persons who administer it, or in both. These events cannot in reason be separated. For instance, when we praise our Revolution of 1688, though the nation in that act was on the defensive, and was justified in incurring all the evils of a defensive war, we do not rest there. We always combine with the subversion of the old government, the happy settlement which followed. When we estimate that revolution, we mean to comprehend in our calculation both the value of the thing parted with, and the value of the thing received in exchange.

The burthen of proof lies heavily on those who tear to pieces the whole frame and contexture of their country, that they could find no other way of settling a government fit to obtain its rational ends, except that which they have pursued by means unfavourable to all the present happiness of millions of people, and to the utter ruin of several hundreds of thousands. In their political arrangements, men have no right to put the well-being of the present generation wholly out of the question. Perhaps the only moral trust with any certainty in our hands, is the care of our own time. With regard to futurity, we are to treat it like a ward. We are not so to attempt an improvement of his fortune, as to put the capital of his estate to any

hazard. It is not worth our while to discuss, like sophisters, whether, in no case, some evil, for the sake of some benefit, is to

be tolerated. Nothing universal can be rationally affirmed on any moral or any political subject. Pure metaphysical abstraction does not belong to these matters. The lines of morality are not like ideal lines of mathematics. They are broad and deep as well as long. They admit of exceptions ; they demand modifications. These exceptions and modifications are not made by the process of logic, but by the rules of prudence. Prudence is not only the first in rank of the virtues political and moral, but she is the director, the regulator, the standard of them all. Metaphysics cannot live without definition; but prudence is cautious how she defines. Our courts cannot be more fearful in suffering fictitious cases to be brought before them for eliciting their determination on a point of law, than prudent moralists are in putting extreme and hazardous cases of conscience upon emergences not existing. Without attempting therefore to define, what never can be defined, the case of a revolution in government, this I think may be safely affirmed, that a sore and pressing evil is to be removed, and that a good, great in its amount and unequivocal in its nature, must be probable almost to certainty, before the inestimable price of our own morals, and the well-being of a number of our fellow-citizens, is paid for a revolution. If ever we ought to be economists even to parsimony, it is in the voluntary production of evil. Every revolution contains in it something of evil.

It must always be, to those who are the greatest amateurs, or even professors, of revolutions, a matter very hard to prove, that the late French government was so bad, that nothing worse in the infinite devices of men could come in its place. They who have brought France to its present condition ought to prove also, by something better than prattling about the Bastile, that their subverted government was as incapable as the present certainly is, of all improve ment and correction. How dare they to say so who have never made that experiment? They are experimenters by their trade. They have made a hundred others, infinitely more hazardous.

The English admirers of the forty-eight thousand republics which form the French federation, praise them not for what they are, but for what they are to become. They do not

talk as politicians, but as prophets. But in whatever character they choose to found panegyric on prediction, it will be thought a little singular to praise any work, not for its own merits, but for the merits of something else which may succeed to it. When any political institution is praised, in spite of great and prominent faults of every kind, and in all its parts, it must be supposed to have something excellent in its fundamental principles. It must be shown that it is right, though imperfect; that it is not only by possibility susceptible of improvement, but that it contains in it a principle tending to its melioration.

Before they attempt to show this progression of their favourite work, from absolute pravity to finished perfection, they will find themselves engaged in a civil war with those whose cause they maintain. What! alter our sublime constitution, the glory of France, the envy of the world, the pattern for mankind, the master-piece of legislation, the collected and concentrated glory of this enlightened age! Have we not produced it ready made and ready armed, mature in its birth, a perfect goddess of wisdom and of war, hammered by our blacksmith midwives out of the brain of Jupiter himself? Have we not sworn our devout, profane, believing, infidel people, to an allegiance to this goddess, even before she had burst the dura mater, and as yet existed only in embryo? Have we not solemnly declared this constitution unalterable by any future legislature? Have we not bound it on posterity for ever, though our abettors have declared that no one generation is competent to bind another ? Have we not obliged the members of every future assembly to qualify themselves for their seats by swearing to its conservation ?

Indeed the French constitution always must be (if a change is not made in all their principles and fundamental arrangements) a government wholly by popular representation. It must be this or nothing. The French faction considers as a usurpation, as an atrocious violation of the indefeasible rights of man, every other description of government. Take it or leave it; there is no medium. Let the irrefragable doctors fight out their own controversy in their own way, and with their own weapons; and when they are tired, let them commence a treaty of peace. Let the plenipotentiary sophisters of England settle with the diplomatic sophisters


[ocr errors]

of France, in what manner right is to be corrected by an infusion of wrong, and how truth may be rendered more true by a due intermixture of falsehood.

Having sufficiently proved, that nothing could make it generally improper for Mr. Burke to prove what he had alleged concerning the object of this dispute, I pass to the second question, that is, whether he was justified in choosing the committee on the Quebec bill as the field for this discussion ? If it were necessary, it might be shown, that he was not the first to bring these discussions into parliament, nor the first to renew them in this session. The fact is notorious. As to the Quebec bill, they were introduced into the debate upon that subject for two plain reasons: first, that as he thought it then not advisable to make the proceedings of the factious societies the subject of a direct motion, he had no other way open to him. Nobody has attempted to show, that it was at all admissible into any other business before the House. Here everything was favourable. Here was a bill to form a new constitution for a French province under English dominion. The question naturally arose, whether we should settle that constitution upon English ideas, or upon French. This furnished an opportunity for exainining into the value of the French constitution, either considered as applicable to colonial government, or in its own nature. The bill too was in a committee. By the privilege of speaking as often as he pleased, he hoped in some measure to supply the want of support which he had but toi much reason to apprehend. In a committee it was always in his power to bring the questions from generalities to facts ; from declamation to discussion. Some benefit he actually received from this privilege. These are plain, obvious, natural reasons for his conduct. I believe they are the true, and the only true ones.

They who justify the frequent interruptions, which at length wholly disabled him from proceeding, attribute their conduct to a very different interpretation of his motives. They say, that through corruption, or malice, or folly, he was acting his part in a plot to make his friend Mr. Fox pass for a republican; and thereby to prevent the gracious intentions of his sovereign from taking effect, which at that

« PreviousContinue »