R. B. McDowell and William B. Todd (eds), The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 9: I: The Revolutionary War, 1794-1797; II: Ireland

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Speech on Foreign Troops in Ireland 15 February 1776

Source: MS. at Sheffield, Bk 8.181–3

Bk 8.181 is endorsed: 'Foreign Forces'.

Bk 8.182 is endorsed: 'Foreign Troops/ proposal for bringing them into/ Ireland. Notes for a Speech. Some/ paragraphs tolerably complete—/ but the whole too imperfect to/ publish. WK / Not amongst the printed Speeches.' 'Foreign Forces' and 'Foreign Troops' are in Burke's hand; presumably the rest of the endorsement was made by Walker King, one of the editors of the Works (1792–1827).

On 25 November 1775 the Lord Lieutenant, in a message to both Houses of the Irish Parliament, informed them that it was necessary to dispatch 4,000 of the troops stationed in Ireland to America, and that they would be replaced as soon as possible by an 'equal number of foreign. Protestant troops'. Neither the troops sent from Ireland nor their replacements would be a charge on the Irish revenue. On 15 February Thomas Townshend,2 in the British House of Commons, complained that the Lord Lieutenant had 'pledged to the parliament of Ireland', and moved that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the matter. After an animated debate the motion was rejected by pg 497224 to 106. It was then moved that it was 'a violent breach' of the privileges of the House and 'a dangerous infringement of the constitution' to 'promise in the King's name that the troops sent from Ireland and their replacements should be a charge on Great Britain'. This resolution was also negatived.1 Twenty years later Burke wrote that when, in Lord North's time, 'a part of the Irish establishment was thrown, on England on the Idea that Ireland was not able to maintain it, I proposed that an Enquiry should be made into that inability, real or supposed, and into the Causes of it, if real; particularly as it was brought before the House on the express authority of the Lord Lieutenant'.1 He is not reported as taking part in the debate, but there are notes for a speech in this debate in Burke's hand. It may be added that, since Irish M.P.s were reluctant to see German soldiers stationed in Ireland, the idea of sending them as replacements was dropped.

The Case is this3

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, under colour of command from the King, desires to take 4000 men, which by an act of the Irish Parliament had been confined and appropriated to the Service of that Kingdom out of the Kingdom. Secondly he offers to replace these Troops, if the House of Commons should so think fit with an equal Number of foreign Protestants.

Thirdly. He engages that these foreign Protestants shall not be at the expence of the Parliament of Ireland—Circumstances belonging to and essentially connected with the Case.

1. Parliament was actually sitting at the time.

2dly. It was promised to the British Parliament that when a Treaty was concluded it should be laid before Parliament.4 Fundamental Principles violated—

That the Military establishment: 〈strengthened〉5 Empire should be regulated by Parliament—In vain to restrain it in one part, if it Lay open in another. Shut one door and leave an hundred open.

pg 498Act of King William1 limits the Number—and ascertains the Quality, and fixes the Burthen of the Troops there.

This house has already partially passed its judgement on the principle of this proceeding; the question today is only to give it an application to the present Circumstances. At that moment a Bill in this house which so much confesses a doubt of its Legality, as to admit that thought a Solemn Act of Parliament necessary to secure the action against it.

Gilbraltar and Minorca more remote than Ireland. The merits of that Paper to be indemnified by that Bill (whether true or false) that Parliament was not then sitting and that the exigence was very pressing.

Now here the doubt is equal—The danger greater—The exigency not pressing—Parliament actually sitting. This is no general discourse on Ministerial Conditions, I think this whole Transaction to be of such Magnitude, that it requires a very careful and for that reason a very distinct, and orderly examination.

A single act may contain a great diversity of Crimes;—To mark out these Offences—to distinguish their Quality and Effects and to restore to each its due animadversion if becomes necessary by a fair political Analysis to seperate them from the concrete mass in which they lye blended together.

I therefore commend the orderly and temperate method taken by the House of Lords who has this day brought the Business before you seperated from the consideration of its manifest illegality, and only as it marks an insolent and at the same time insidious contempt of the dignity, authority, and privelege of Parliament!

The Law matter is of a still graver consideration—of a deeper censure—and therefore I trust will be taken up upon its own bottom, by those, whose peculiar professional skill and ability enables, and whose constitutional principle disposes them2 to 〈do to〉 the Law, and on its Violators complete and decisive justice.

In the meantime the Temper of the house is tied on what was once its great point. If it does not right itself it will right nobody else.

Supposing this question not removed but suspended—I beg to look particularly at the Case.

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland declares to the Commons of Ireland the pg 499Kings intention to introduce into that Kingdom for the filling up its ordinary internal establishment a Body of foreign forces, not to be maintained by them,1 and this without the consent, or even by the2 slightest communication to the presiding Legislature of this Kingdom and of the whole Empire then actually sitting.

The question on this Case, is whether the whole3 be a matter worthy the enquiry of this house. Whether such an act at such a time is of such manifestly propriety, or of such 〈undistinguishd〉 Neutrality and indifference, as not to deserve any sort of attention from the house.

The fact is twofold—relative to the policy. The bringing in foreign Troops—the oeconomy ascertaining their maintenance without any communication with this house—all Topics of Zeal for the Service misplaced.4

1st Nobody whatever he may think of Legality of such a Measure can believe the introduction of foreign Troops into a free Country to be other than a thing of the most weighty, critical, and important Nature entitled us to the earliest communication.5

That it was an act of great and serious Doubt in Law cannot be questioned here. Here (in this House) we had them actually before us, and when we afterwards passed, a Bill declaratory of this doubt; and so declaratory, that it thought it was to indemnifye those who were concernd in introducing foreign Troops. That at the very instant the Ministers were asking pardon and making amende honorable to the constitution for the first doubtful act, they should do another act still more doubtful without one of the extenuating Circumstances which attended the former.6

pg 5001st The exigency was represented as pressing.

2dly The place of the Garrisons extremely remote.

3dly Parliament was not sitting.

Not one of these can be even colonially pleaded in the present instance.

1. The exigence could not press. This Message was sent on the 23d of November. The Troops are not yet sailed—now near three months.

2. Gibraltar and Minorca are remote—Ireland lies in our bosom— twelve hours sail—daily almost hourly communication with this Kingdom.

3. Parliament was in the very heart of its business, therefore nothing but the Systematick design of introducing foreign forces gradually.

Establishment. Compared to the Kings power of treating. This essential—because the Course and method of treating must, for obvious reasons be secret until concluded, but here the whole is most publick, and therefore the question is, whether that publick avowal of a Scheme of foreign Troops ought to be made first there or here.

If it were first made here all difficulties would be removed—No faith would be broke; the King would be qualified not commanded—but there if the Irish had accepted—their Troops would have been gone and no sort of supply secured in return.1

Why not communicate to us—is it thought we were not fond enough of this War? Alas! We have been made to believe in our dotage it was our own Child; Is it that we are not complaisant enough to Ministers—our faith is spoken of throughout the World—Is it that we were thought not liberal enough. We ever disdain to enquire into the expence—but say— as far as the last Shilling.2

Ireland lies so very convenient for the introduction and use of foreign forces, that England has shewn (in her days of Jealousy) a much greater jealousy of the Country there.

What might have been done in the outlying parts of the Empire before pg 501the Revolution cannot be drawn into example. At that period of reformation the whole of our Constitution both political and civil underwent an accurate Survey and obtaind a thorough repair. Then the principles of Military force in this Kingdom were establishd—and the Idea of its existence seperated from the 〈consent〉 of parliament was formally 〈damned〉.

It was then the affairs of Ireland became an Object of regular attention.

The reason was obvious. The constitution of this Country was endangerd from that side. King James had very carefully raised an Army in Ireland, in order that on a failure of the English forces in his designs he might have one less attached to the Country1 and less connected with its Interests which he might depend upon, and accordingly he did introduce several Irish Regiments here and began to incorporate men and officers from thence into all the Rest. At that time an offer was made by the King of France to assist him with 20,000 foreigners.

This bred a treble jealousy—a Jealousy of standing armies—a jealousy of foreign Troops—a peculiar Jealousy of their Situation in Ireland.

When. King William came to the Throne this jealousy of an army was not lost—a prince coming in with a large foreign Army, fond of War. It was the Business pleasure and glory of his Life a nursling of Bellonae and rocked in a shield instead of a Cradle—confiding in his principles they were afraid of his habits—they therefore very contrary to the inclinations of a King to whom they owed their existence as Parliament reduced the Army to a proper Standard—that is of 7000 men but as to Ireland far from being less jealous they were more—for they insisted there the absolute exclusion of foreign—expressly and specifically— They orderd the 〈originals〉 to be brought up to be named—They thought the danger more—if Virtues of princes were reasons against constitutional jealousy; they would be 〈thought〉 Evils—curse makes Virtues &c. They disbanded the dutch Guards—〈Nothing〉 whether they were Tories or Jacobites or not—2

How made out Law at the time of the declaration of Right by principles not precedents. Precedents only acts, not 〈rules〉 totally rejected when Ship money argued.3

pg 502To confound a Legal action with a proper action confusion of all things—proper action is an action directed to an End—and is tied by that End—two standards in civil Society—Law and rectitude. Law.

Law is a general principle regulating conduct. Before any man can be convicted of a Crime1 an ill intention must appear—that criminal intention could never be known, if the violation of an express preordained and preknown Law had not determined it. Every Breach of a positive Law implies prima fronte2 a criminal intention. Shew me the breaker of a Law and I will shew you a Criminal. But shew me an act never so ill calculated for use, and you may shew me a man only injudicious and mistaken.3 We judge acts to be justifiable when they are conformable to Law; and not to be conformable to Law because justifiable on the principles of Prudence.

Acts. To be legal must conform to that general principle. They can never be tried by the Special and particular utility separately taken of each act. For this is so far from establishing a Rule of Law; that this is the manner in which we must act if there were no Law at all in being.

It is to prevent this discussion and the utility of each act, taken seperately, that Laws have been made.

Precedents, merely as such cannot make Law—because then the very frequency of Crimes would become an Argument of innocence.

A discovery reserved to our Times—that the chief Magistrate of a free Country has a right by the Law of that Country to introduce info it whenever he pleases any Number of foreign Troops.4 If so he is complete master of the Lives and Liberties and properties of his people. He to whom any thing is given says the Law—has all the means of obtaining it given of Course. It is as true that he who has all the means given has the End constructively given also. The dependencies cannot be said to differ from the Country itself.

May punish after—neither with so much afficacy or so much justice. If contrary to Law the thing alarms and may be easily prevented— otherwise if only in the ordinary Course.

There has been much discussion, misplacd I conceive—whether this clear declaration of the Bill of Rights were really declaratory or not.5

pg 503Because it was argued, that if under an appearance of a declaratory, it was only [an] enacting Statute, then the Law remaind the same as before, in all things not expressed by the act—and they argued that Guards Garrisons and many other modes of militia, which did not, (as they contended) come within the description of a Standing Army.

Whether it was legal before or not, there is an Estoppel1 Anglice an English Padlock on the mouths of all the Lawyers on that Subject—As Antiquaries they may discuss as Historians they may think of it as they please. But as men debating on the constitution, or the Law of this Country they are bound to consider it as declaratory, and to admit that all the consequences of its being strictly and truly and to all intents and purposes declaratory must follow from it. In our old publick Law, there was a great deal of2 good intention, and a great deal of good materials— but the intention was not well defined nor the materials brought to the last perfection of manufacture.

We know very well that though this3 constitution is very antient, yet many provisions were wanting to ascertain those principles and many more to secure the enjoyment of them.

Accordingly if we cannot possibly point out any one of the most clear and certain rights of the Subject, that there are not a long time of precedents of acts of Government in direct contradiction to them. He is but poorly conversant in our Records published and unpublished who does not know this. But when those acts of State grow enormous, by frequent repetition, or by aggravating Circumstances then recourse was had to those principles which though overpowerd and suppressed still existed—and these acts were declared to be what they had always been illegal.

Many Heads of the Bill of rights infinitely more defensible both on precedent and principle than this—Dispensing power—Here many precedents—many authorities in the Courts &c, in Law books of best repute, not without countenance in both houses of Parliament—Less mischievous in itself—But for this right to keep up a standing army there is no trace of it to be found either in Law Books, or in Records, nor judgments of Courts or in Parliamentary approbation.

The Clearest of alt the Articles. To make the exercise of any power much less the greatest of all powers legal the proof lies on those that use pg 504it—shew me a power not justified by a Law and I will shew you a power against Law.

Military power is not like others it cannot be triffled with—it is a James powder1 in the constitution—It is powerfully medicinal or strongly deleterious, and none but hands lawfully authorised ought to exercise it.

In Ireland; here a Lawful Wife at the great Mansion House. There a pretty villa for a Mistress. If Law it is the only Law.

That whenever there is a Rebellion in the Colonies in America, it is Lawful for his Majesty to keep up a Standing army of foreigners in that Kingdom without consent of Parliament.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
2 Thomas Townshend (1733–1800), later (1783) 1st Baron, (1789) 1st Viscount Sydney, M.P. 1754–83.
Editor’s Note
1 Parl. Hist. xviii. 1128–56.
Editor’s Note
2 Corr. ix. 123.
Editor’s Note
3 In the margin at this point:
'The Supreme presiding Parliament of the Empire sitting without any communication with, or any consent of that Parliament publickly offers to bring in a body of foreign Troops into Ireland then in profound peace, and promises to maintain them without any expence to that Kingdom.
'This is the exact State of the Case.
'The legality of bringing foreign Troops into this Kingdom or its dependencies I am resolved to he wholly silent. Because it is of magnitude to merit what I hope it will meet a seperate, Solemn, and final discussion. I only say, that it is a strong and critical measure.'
Editor’s Note
4 In the margin at this point:
'Treaty might not be concluded we might disapprove—then all fails.'
Editor’s Note
5 In the margin: 'some excuse for a thing decided'
Editor’s Note
1 In 1699 the Disbandment Act (10 Will. III, c. 1) laid down that all troops in the service of the Crown were to be disbanded except for 7,,000 men in England and 12,000 men in Ireland. These forces were to be composed of natural-born subjects of His Majesty.
Editor’s Note
2 MS.: 'them them'
Editor’s Note
1 In the margin: 'worse than if brought into England'
Editor’s Note
2 MS.: 'the the'
Editor’s Note
3 Burke has forgotten to cross through an 'it'.
Editor’s Note
4 In the margin; 'The onus. I shall ever lay it down wherever the King's prerogative goes in virtue of his being King of this Country the authority of Parliament goes to qualify and control it. Parliament great Council of State. In matters of State to be consulted—fountain of constitutional Law—in matters of doubt and therefore merely as a great and arduous matter of State we should in common decency as the Kings first great Council, have notice of what regards the general policy of the Empire, before it was committed to the Parliament of Ireland which however respectable, is not competent to this. The propriety of a great political Measure ought to originate above—the provision with the Local and 〉oeconomical〈 council—here we reverse all Ideas of unconstitutional policy—the propriety of the Measure is decided in Ireland and the expence to be provided for here.'
Editor’s Note
5 Burke has crossed out 'to the earliest communication' by mistake.
Editor’s Note
6 A bill to indemnify the persons who had advised the King to send Hanoverian troops to Gibraltar and Minorca was presented to the House of Commons on 3 November 1775 and received its third reading on 24 November. But when it was being debated in the House of Lords it was argued that it was unnecessary, and the Government dropped it.
Editor’s Note
1 In the margin parallel with the above paragraph Burke has written the following notes:
'Pride and Jealousy Parliamentary Virtues and as security for all the rest.
No neutral act it deserves preise or blame.
Parliament peculiarly jealous of foreigners in Ireland in England a specific provision.
Limits the Number.
Settles the quality.
To be engrafted on the establishment—not sudden emergency of Invasion &c &c rebellion &c &c.
N.B. hung on two contingencies. Conclusion of Treaty. 2dly our approbation.'
Editor’s Note
2 In the margin Burke has written: 'N.B. Do you by taking them into the establishment first there —then here—why foreigners not sent? 〈snugg〉 mistress—back door ruins the house.'
Editor’s Note
1 In the margin: 'Principles are establishd on abuses.'
Editor’s Note
1 See above, p. 498.
Editor’s Note
3 In 1638 the Court of Exchequer Chamber decided that the Crown had the right to levy ship money. In 1641 it was enacted (16 Charles I, c. 14) that this decision was 'unlawful and void'.
Editor’s Note
1 In rewriting this sentence Burke has forgotten to cross through 'Besides'.
Editor’s Note
2 On the face of it.
Editor’s Note
3 Burke has inserted an asterisk at this point but there is no indication to what it is referring.
Editor’s Note
4 In rewriting this sentence Burke has left in an extra 'he' and 'to introduce'.
Editor’s Note
5 The Bill of Rights (1 Will. & Mary, sess. 2, c. 2) declared that 'raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it he with the consent of parliament, is against law'.
Editor’s Note
1 A conclusive admission which cannot be denied.
Editor’s Note
2 MS.: 'of of'
Editor’s Note
3 MS.: 'the this'
Editor’s Note
1 A popular febrifuge.
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