« PreviousContinue »
vigilance, whether we considered her as an enemy or a friend. Under the former of these characters, she had made herself sufficiently conspicuous ; and as to the lat. ter it might be observed, that our friendship and intercourse with that nation had formerly been, and might become again, more dangerous than their worst hostility. In the last century Louis the Fourteenth had established a greater military force, and a more perfect despotism, than had ever before existed in Europe. His example had infected all the neighbouring powers ; and in particular our sovereigns, king Charles the Second, and king James the Second, were smitten with admiration of a government so flattering to the pride of kings. The good patriots of that day, however, had struggled against it. They sought for nothing more anxiously than to break off all communication with France, and by the assistance of religious animosities this purpose was in some degree effected. In the last age, we had been in danger of being entangled by the example of France in the net of a relentless despotism. Our present danger, from the model of a people whose character knew no medium, was that of being led, through an admiration of successful fraud and violence, to imitate the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody, and tyrannical democracy.
The French had made their way, through the destruc. tion of their country, to a bad constitution, when they were absolutey in possession of a good one. They were in possession of it the day the states general met in separate orders. Their business, had they been either virtuous or wise, or indeed had they been left to their own judg. ment, was to secure the stability and independence of the constitution which was thus given them, and to redress şuch grievances as might call for their interference. But instead of this, to which they were called by the monarch, and sent by their country, they were influenced to take a very different course. They destroyed all those ba. lances and checks which serve to give steadiness to a
constitution; and melted down the whole into one incongruous, ill-digested mass.
With the most atrocious perfidy and breach of all faith among men, they laid the axe to the root of property, and consequently of national prosperity, by the principles they established, and the example they set in confiscating the possessions of the church. They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the rights of man ; an institute, that subverted the state, and brought on such calamities as no country without a long war had ever been known to suffer. A blind and cruel democracy had carried every thing before them. Their conduct was marked with the most savage and unfeeling barbarity. They had no other system, than a determination to destroy all order, subvert all arrangement, and reduce every rank and description of men to one level. Their signal of attack was the war-whoop, their liberty was licentiousness, and their religion atheism.
Mr. Burke was sorry that a proceeding like this should by any one be compared to the glorious event, common ly called the revolution, in England. In truth, the circumstances of our revolution, and that of France, were the reverse of each other in almost every particular. With us it was the case of a legal monarch attempting arbitrary power ; in France it was the case of an arbi. trary monarch beginning, from whatever cause, to legalize his authority. With us, we got rid of the man, and preserved the constituent parts of the state.
What we did was, in truth, and in a constitutional light, a revolution, not made, but prevented. We did not impair the monarchy ; perhaps it might be shewn that we considerably added to its strength. The estates, the majesty, and the splendor of the church continued the
We began with reparation, and not with ruin. All the energies of the country were awakened. Eng. land never presented a firmer countenance, or a more vigorous arm, to her rivals and her enemies.
Mr. Burke added, that the separation of a limb from
his body could scarcely give him more pain, than the idea of differing violently and publicly with Mr. Fox in opinion. He was consident, however, that the occasion would never be afforded; but, if he could allow himself to make the supposition, and if his dearest friend upon earth were to act a part so irreconcileable with what he regarded as the first duty of a member of the English parliament, as to countenance any attempt to overturn our constitution, he pledged himself to oppose him. He trusted that what he now said would not be misconstru. ed into a desertion of the men with whom he had so long acted. He wished, as one of the greatest benefits that could befal this country, to see an eminent share of power in the hands of Mr. Fox. He knew, that to his great and masterly understanding, he joined the utmost possible degree of moderation ; that he was of the most artless, candid, open, and benevolent disposition ; disinterested in the extreme; of a temper mild and placable, even to a fault ; and without one drop of gall in his constitution. Mr. Burke trusted that he should not be considered an enemy to reformation. Almost every business in which he had been much concerned, from the first clay he sat in that house, had been a business of re. formation ; and, when he was not employed in correct. ing, he had been engaged in resisting abuses. But the time was come, when it was necessary to draw a line between reformation and destruction ; that wise foresight that provided against abuse, and that wild spirit of innovation with which nothing was sacred.
On the Test Act.
Statev it, as the fundamental principle upon which the whole argument turned, that no government had a right to animadvert upon the speculative opinions of its subjects; and that the persons holding such opinions could in no case be rendered a fit object for the censure of the state, till they were led by them to the adoption of a conduct subversive of the public tranquillity. Persecution, he said, might be allowed to have originally proceeded on a principle of kindness, to promote a unity of religious opinion, and to prevent error in the impor. tant articles of Christian belief. But did persecution ever succeed in this humane and truly charitable design? The experiment had been made in different times and under various forms, and had uniformly miscarried. It was said, that certain errors in religion had a tendency to disturb the public peace. But surely this argument, if in any instance true, would be still more true, when applied to political errors; and yet such was the absur. dity of our present test laws, that a man, who favoured arbitrary power in his sentiments, who should consider the abolition of trial by jury as no violation of liberty, and the invasion of the freedom and law of parliament as no infraction of the constitution, might easily pave his way to the first situations in the state. There was no political test to bind him ; the obligation of all such tests had been justly exploded by the practice of the country. And what had been the consequence of this ? A religi. ous test was imposed for a political purpose. The ob. ject of this test had originally been to exclude antimonarchical men from civil offices. But he would ever re
probate such a procedure ; it was acting under false pretences; its tendency led to hypocrisy, and served as a restraint only upon the conscientious and the honest.
Mr. Fox spoke with particular censure of the attempt that had been made to revive a long forgotten panic, of the danger of the church. Such danger, he maintained, was idle and chimerical, and was in his opinion asserted only for the purposes of oppression. He declared, that he highly approved of the discipline and abstract doctrines of the church of England. It had wisely avoided all that was superstitious, and retained what appeared to him to be essential. He should ever be a decided friend to an established religion ; but it should be an establishment founded on the opinions of the majority of the peo. ple. The truth of religion was not a subject for the dis. cussion of parliament; their duty was only to sanction that which was most universally approved, and to allow it the emoluments of the state. Innovation was said to be dangerous at all times, but particularly so now in re. gard to the situation of affairs in France. He begged leave to remind the house, that the application of the dissenters had been made three years ago, and was not founded upon the most distant reference to the trans . actions which had taken place in that kingdom. How. ever he might rejoice in the emancipation of near thirty millions of his fellow-creatures, and in the spirit which gave rise to the revolution, yet he was free to own, there were some acts of the new government which he could not applaud. The summary and indiscriminate forfeiture of the property of the church came under this description. But, though he was himself a friend to establishments, he must however strongly object to the church, whenever it presumed to act as a party. Its interference in politics has always been mischievous, and often dangerous to the constitution. Mr. Fox censured in strong terms a circular letter of doctor Horsley, bishop of Saint David's, to the clergy of his diocese, commending one