Item of the Day: Abingdon’s Thoughts on Burke’s Letter (1777)

Full Title:

Thoughts on the Letter of Edmund Burke, Esq; to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America.  By the Earl of Abingdon.  Oxford: Printed for W. Jackson: Sold by J. Almon, in Piccadilly, and J. Bew, in Peternastor-Row, London; and by the Booksellers of Bristol, Bath, and Cambridge. [Price One Shilling] 1777.

Having seen Mr. Burke’s late Publication on the affairs of America, I was led to read it with all that attention which every performance of his must necessarily deserve.  I sympathise most cordially with him in those feelings of humanity, which mark, in language so expressive, the abhorrence of his nature with the effusion of Human Blood.  I agree with him in idea, that the War with America is “fruitless, hopeless, and unnatural”; and I will add, on the part of Great-Britain, cruel and unjust.  I join hand in hand with him in all his propositions for Peace; and I look with longing eyes for the event.  I participate with him in the happiness of those friendships and connexions, which are the subjects, so deservedly, of his panegyric.  The name of Rockingham is a sacred deposit in my bosom.  I have found him disinterested, I know him to be honest.  Before I quit him therefore, I will first abandon human nature.

So far then are Mr. Burke and I agreed.  I am sorry that we should disagree in anything.  But finding that we have differed, on a late occasion, in our parliamentary conduct; and that I cannot concur with him in opinion on a matter, as I think, of great national importance: it is therefore not in the zeal of party, but in the spirit of patriotism, not to confute, but to be convinced, not to point out error, but to arrive at truth, that I now venture to submit my thoughts to the Public.  I feel the weight of the undertaking, and I wish it in abler hands.  I am not insensible to my own incapacity, and I know how much I stand in need of excuse: but as public good is my object, public candor, I trust, will be my best apologist.

Mr. Burke commences hi Letter with the mention of “the two last Acts which have been passed with regard to the Troubles in America.”  The first is, “for the Letter of Marque,” the second, “for a partial suspension of Habeus Corpus.”  Of the former, he says littler, as not worthy of much notice.  Of the latter, his distinctions are nice, his strictures many, his objections unanswerable; and yet, although so well apprised of the dangers and mischiefs of the Act, he says, “I have not debated against this Bill in its progress through the House, because it would have been vain to oppose, and impossible to correct ti.”  But this is a matter of inquiry.  As I thought differently, I acted differently.  Being in the country, this Bill was in its way through the House of Lords before I knew any thing of it.  Upon my coming accidentally to town, and hearing of its malignity, I went down to the House, opposed it, and entered my solemn protest in the Journals against it.  It is true, I stood single and alone in this business; but I do not therefore take shame to myself.  Rectitude of intention will even sanctify error.  But Mr. Burke says, “During its progress through the House of Commons, it has been amended, so as to express more distinctly than at first it did, the avowed sentiments of those who framed it.”  Now if the Bill was amended in its progress through the House of Commons, Mr. Burke’s reason “for not debating against the Bill” cannot be well founded; for his reason is, “that it would have been vain to oppose, and impossible to correct it:” but to amend a thing is to correct it; and therefore it the Bill was amended, it was not impossible to correct it

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Great Britain, Letters, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Matthew Williams

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