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Burke
Burke
351

Present State of the Nation.’ In this pamphlet, after a brilliant criticism of Grenville’s economic statements, he considers the proposed remedies; he rejects the idea of an enlar d franchise, on the ground ‘that it would be more in the spirit of our constitution by lessening the number to add to the weight and independeniy of our voters,’ and sets aside the propos for American representation as ‘contrary to nature' (Works, iii. 70). He always looked on any meddling with the constitution as a dangerous matter, and this reverence for the established order sometimes led him to speak and write as though its preservation were of greater moment than the liberty which was the very reason of its existence, while by his favourite metaphor of ‘equipoise ’ he represented the risk attending the slightest change (‘Present Discontents,’ Works, iii. 164; Morley, E B., a Study, 114). All his political wisdom was called for by the events of 1769. He strove vigorously, but unsuccessfully, against the action of the House of Commons with reference to Wi1kes, condemning Lord Weymouth’s letter to the Surrey magistrates, and pointing out that soldiers were not lawful executors of justice. In this debate and often during the session he was answered by the unblushing Rigby (Cavendish, Rep. i. 139-49). His arguments on this subject were received with clamour. On 15 April, when insisting that the house was engaging in a contest with the whole body of the freeholders of England by declaring Colonel Luttrell M.P. for Middlesex, he was interrupted ‘by a great noise in the house,' some member meanwhile whispering with the speaker. His temper was roused. ‘I will he heard,’ he exclaimed? ‘I will throw open the doors’ (the lobby and even the passages of the house were crowded) ‘and tell tell the people of England that when a man is addressing the chair in their behalf the attention of the speaker is engaged’ (ib. 378). During this session he opposed the bargain by which the govemment mulcted the East India Company of 400,000l. a year, and condemned the unconstitutional demand made upon the house for the payment of a debt on the civil list before the production of accounts. He also moved foran inquiry into the conduct of the vernment with reference to the riot in St. George’s Fields, the fruit of Weymouth’s ‘bloody scroll,’ denying that ‘the military power might be employed to any constitutional purpose whatever’ (ib. 310). The summer gdurke spent at Beaconsfield, where, as he writes to Rockingham, the rain put him to much expense in getting in his clover and deluged his hay (Works, i. 82). His farming anxieties, however, did not long interrupt a new work he had on hand (ib. 91). This was his ‘Thoughts on the Present Discontents,' which was published on 23 April 1770. To this pamphlet is to be attributed the regeneration of the whigs by the revival ofthe principles of 1688, which had been wellnigh forgotten by the intrigues of the Bedford faction (Morley, EB., a Study, 15). Burke defended the popular discontent, declaring that ‘in all dgputes between the people and their rulers the presumption was at least upon a par in favour of the people’ (Works, iii. 114). The fault lay with the administration; the power of the crown had revived under the name of influence, and the intrigues of the court cabal were taking the place of the interests of the people. Examining the popular remedies, he rejected the proposal for shortened parliaments, for frequent elections would, he believed, only increase the influence of the administration, nor would he shut all place-rnen out of parliament, for he held that corruption would thus be increased by concealment. The true remedies were to give weight to the opinion of the people by doing away with the secrecy of parliamentary proceedings, and to substitute loyal adherence to party for the influence of the court. The indignation with which the whig oligarchs received this pamphlet is depicted in the sneers of Walpole (George III, iv. 129-47). Chatham, who was aggrieved by the position it took with reference to reform, wrote to Rockingham that it would do great harm to the party, probably not expecting that Rockingham would show the letter to Burke. He did so, however, and twenty years after Burke was still indignant at it, though he warmly acknowledged ‘the great splendid side’ of his opponent’s character (Albemarle, Memoirs of Rockingham, ii. 195). The ang? of the advanced party was expressed by Mrs. Catherine Macaulay in a violent answer, entitled ‘Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontent.'

Burke soon carried the principles of his pamphlet into action by struggling for the political rights of the people. He is said, though on very doubtful authority (Anecd. of Junius, p. 15), to have defended the character of Johnson when attacked on account of the publication of the ‘False Alarm’ (there seems to be a confusion between Burke and Fitzherbert, Cav. Rep. i. 516). In the spring of the next year he upheld a motion on the law of libel, with the view of protecting the right of private persons to criticise the actions of their rulers, and took a prominent part in opposing the proceedings taken by the house against certain printers for publishing debates. Referring to the twenty-three divisions by