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 Address 25 November 1779

Source: Parl. Reg. xv. 40–4

There are what appear to be notes for this speech at Sheffield, Bk 6.10, endorsed 'Notes for some reply to Lord North'.

Burke had difficulty in making himself heard because of 'a violent cold and hoarseness', and most newspapers do not refer to him as a speaker. The reports in the London Courant of 26 November and the London Chronicle of 27 November were very brief.

Burke, having begun by commenting on the speeches of Henry Dundas2 and Lord North, continued as follows:

His Honourable Friend (Mr. Fox) had expressed himself so copiously, and so much to the purpose, upon the misconduct of Ministry, in every respect, and in every department of government; and he was so little able, from his hoarseness, to enter diffusively into a consideration or review of the same subjects, that he would postpone many observations to another day; but he could not avoid repeating after his Hon. Friend, that however the Noble Lord at the head of the pg 533Treasury might pretend to disunite the business of the American war from the present affairs of Ireland, and the temper and disposition of the people there, his Lordship would find the mad, cruel, and accursed American war, written in the most legible characters, in every single cause, circumstance, and step which have contributed to call forth the spirit, the resentments, and resolution of the Irish nation, whether already in actual existence, or in embryo, ready to burst forth with tenfold mischief, or in a storm strike this nation, and shake it to its lowest foundations.

The affairs of that country were indeed arrived at a very critical period; the situation was tremendous, so far as it might in its consequences, immediate or remote, affect the seat of empire. So far were the Irish from expecting any adequate relief from the Minister, that they imputed, and in his opinion very? justly imputed, a considerable share of their present calamities to his misconduct; it was true that the Noble Lord had often rung the changes on his attention to their wants and wishes; but, mistrusted by experience, they had been at length taught, from the repeated promises and delusive hopes held out by him, which were broke as often as they were made, or vanished in unsubstantial air, not to have the least confidence in a single assurance he gave them. They saw clearly into the duplicity of his conduct, and they were convinced of it beyond a possibility of doubt, in the course of the last session, when a few very small favours were asked for them in the moment of calamitous distress. Part, and but a very small part of them, was granted; the rest, he had good reason to believe, would have also been granted, notwithstanding the petty peevish opposition of a few individuals; but the noble Lord who at first pretended to wish the measure success, in hopes to keep upon good terms MA the people of Ireland, whilst the odium of refusal should fall upon Parliament; finding by the temper of the House, that the other bills were likely to pass, came forward and throwing off the mask, threw them out by his own majority. After so deceptions and uncandid a conduct, what confidence could the noble Lord expect from the people of Ireland? or what could Ireland expect from the noble Lord's generosity? The Irish were put off till the present session for relief. In the mean time, their expectations increasing in proportion to their wants and distresses, and their spirits rising in proportion to their injuries, what would have been received as a favour, was now demanded as a right. Disappointment irritated them, and precipitated their passions; and the consequence was such as might be pg 534reasonably expected: the whole country was in a ferment. The effects of this treatment spread itself every where, and through all classes and descriptions of men; it indeed might be asserted, without figure or exaggeration, that there was not a second opinion entertained, from one end of the kingdom to the other. But what was the plan adopted by Government here, to allay the heats, moderate the expectations, or calm the passions of the people of Ireland? To the overthrow of common sense, to the astonishment of mankind, and in direct contradiction and defiance of every maxim of good policy, instead of calling the Parliament of this country before that of Ireland, and giving the Irish some certain pledge of our good intentions towards them; before their Parliament was suffered to assemble, the Minister grossly departing from every motive of prudence and common policy, prorogued the British Parliament and called together the Parliament of Ireland.1 To that single act of folly might be fairly and exclusively ascribed, the unanimous vote of both the Houses of the Irish Parliament, insisting upon a free trade. To that criminal neglect and fatal omission, we were to impute the tumult and alarming riot which lately happened in Dublin; and to that we might fairly charge, any failure or material difficulty or obstruction which may arise or in the end defeat the final establishment and protection of the real interests and separate rights of both countries, founded on the great basis of mutual benefit, and sisterly friendship and affection. The present scene was indeed a melancholy and alarming one, and if any bad or mischievous consequences should ensue, he might to the face of the noble Lord in the blue ribbon boldly and justly assert, that they were generated in the beginning by the oppressive and cruel conduct of Ministers and Government here; that they had been fostered by the folly and gross ignorance of those counsellors, whose removal the amend-ment moved by his noble friend pointed to; and could only prove fatal, if the same counsellors were to be kept in by the influence of the Crown, against almost the united sense of the nation.

The noble Lord at the head of the Treasury had been warned last session of the impropriety of proroguing the Parliament, at so critical a moment; but the warning was given in vain, and the advice that accompanied it rejected by the noble Lord, under the plausible pretence, that it could be called in fourteen days, if the exigencies of affairs required, or any serious or important event or circumstance pg 535should arise, during the intended recess, that might specially call for it. Yet Parliament was not assembled, the noble Lord, therefore, had taken upon himself all the eventual, consequences of that omission, for had that House continued to sit, except in the intervals of short adjourn-ments, till some time anterior to the meeting of the Irish Parliament, the discontents and disputes between, the two kingdoms, on the subject of trade and commerce, would never have arisen as they have done, nor would such difficulties have taken place as those which now stand in the way of an easy and friendly accommodation. He therefore gave his hearty concurrence to the amendment moved by his noble friend.1

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Notes

Editor’s Note
2 See below, p. 550.
Editor’s Note
1 The Irish parliamentary session began on 12 October 1779, the British on 25 November.
Editor’s Note
1 On 12 October 1779, an amendment to the reply to the Address from the Throne was carried in the Irish House of Commons declaring that 'we beg Leave, however, humbly to represent to his Majesty, that it is not by temporary Expedients, but by a free Trade alone, that this Nation is now to be saved from impending Ruin'. On 13 October the Irish House of Lords agreed to an Address in which it was asserted that 'a Free trade is absolutely necessary to enable this Nation to support your Majesty … with Exertions suited to its Zeal and Loyalty and to preserve it from Ruin' (Irish Commons Journals, x. 10, 12; Irish Lords Journals, v. 130).
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