Ambition and the Insolent Mercy of a Foreign Arm

Edmund-Burke-portrait-006Founders Corner: Speeches, Pamphlets, Letters, Quotes

Edmund Burke, 1777


… No conqueror, that I ever heard of, has professed to make a cruel, harsh, and insolent use of his conquest. No! The man of the most declared pride, scarcely dares to trust his own heart, with this dreadful secret of ambition. But it will appear in its time; and no man who professes to reduce another to the insolent mercy of a foreign arm, ever had any sort of good-will towards him. The profession of kindness, with that sword in his hand, and that demand of surrender, is one of the most provoking acts of his hostility. I shall be told, that all this is lenient, as against rebellious adversaries. But are the leaders of their faction more lenient to those who submit! Lord Howe and General Howe have powers under an Act of Parliament, to restore to the King’s peace and to free trade any men, or district, which shall submit. Is this done? We have been over and over informed by the authorized authorized Gazette, that the city of New York and the countries of Staten and Long Island have submitted voluntarily and cheerfully, and that many in these places are full even of zeal to the cause of Administration. Were they instantly restored to trade? Are they yet restored to it? Is not the benignity of two commissioners, naturally most humane and generous men, some way fettered by instructions, equally against their dispositions and the. spirit of parliamentary faith, when Mr. Tryon, vaunting of the fidelity of the City in which he is Governor, is obliged to apply to ministry for leave to protect the King’s loyal subjects, and to grant to them (not the disputed rights and privileges of freedom) but the common rights of men, by the name of Graces? Why do not the commissioners restore them on the spot? Were they not named as commissioners for that express purpose? But we see well enough to what the whole leads. The trade of America is to be dealt out in private indulgences and graces; that is in jobs to recompence the incendiaries of war. They will be informed of the proper time in which to send out their merchandise. From a national, the American trade is to be turned into a personal monopoly: and one set of Merchants are to be rewarded for the pretended zeal, of which another set are the dupes; and thus between craft and credulity, the voice of reason is stifled; and all the misconduct, all the calamities of the war are covered and continued. …


Source: Edmund Burke. Excerpt from his 1777, “A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the Affairs of America.


Founders Corner Library has been researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional introductory and explanatory notes and commentary) by Steve Farrell, Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal. Spelling has been modernized in this selection. Formatting, notes, and commentary, as well as the collection taken as a whole Copyright © 2014 Steve Farrell.