Volume 4, Speech to the Electors of Bristol
10. This seems to charge Brickdale with being the first of the candidates who scoured the countryside outside the city, and even places far away, for persons with a title to being freemen of Bristol and with having brought them in to vote.
Volume 4, Speech on the Reform of the Representations of the Commons in Parliament
15. Burke here states the political theory of the radical reformers. He himself would not deny that the constitution of a civil society is a convention. But he would deny that there is a gulf between nature and convention; rather, convention, when properly made, complements and implements nature. Burke sees man as by nature a social and political animal whose nature requires civil society and therefore requires a conventional constitution that corresponds to the needs of human nature. Civil society is thus natural to man but exists in conventional and variable forms.
16. Most of the parliamentary reformers were in fact much more moderate in their proposals, but the most radical of them argued in these terms, as Thomas Paine was to do in his The Rights of Man, his reply to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France.
21. Prescription is a title to the ownership of property which arises out of long-continued and uncontested possession and overrides all earlier claims to the property. It makes it impossible, after the period required for prescription has elapsed, to revive old claims to the property. Then it is no longer enough to produce documents proving that A's great-great-grandfather got the property by fraud from B's great-great-grandfather. Similarly, Burke holds, the long-continued existence of a constitution under which a people has lived and flourished makes it immune to claims based on every man's right to govern himself in the state of nature and therefore to vote for representatives when he enters civil society.
24. "Reason is never deceived nor ever deceives." The Latin phrase, attributed to Manilius, is found on the title page of Jean LeClerc's Logica: sive Ars Ratiocinandi (London, 1692), which was part of the curriculum at Trinity College, Dublin, when Burke was a student there.
27. The blank space here may indicate either that Burke had not finished writing his speech when he laid it aside or that a page or pages had disappeared from it by the time his literary executors found the document among his papers.
29. In proposing his motion, Pitt had said that he and others had on many occasions "maintained the necessity that there was for a calm revision of the principles of the constitution, and a moderate reform of such defects as had imperceptibly and gradually stole in to deface, and which threatened at last totally to destroy the most beautiful fabric of government in the world." Parliamentary History of England 22:1416.
30. Societies that advocated parliamentary reform, beginning with the Society of Supporters of the Bill of Rights, which adopted a series of resolutions in June 1771, including one that demanded full and equal representation of the people.
32. The speaker referred to must be Charles James Fox, whom Burke calls "my right honourable friend," and who had spoken in this debate in favor of "equal representation," Parliamentary History 22:1452-53. The strong language Burke uses here about his friend and close political associate may foreshadow the complete break between them over the French Revolution.
Volume 4, Two Letters to Gentlemen in Bristol on the Trade of Ireland
36. A commission led by the Earl of Carlisle had just sailed for America in an attempt at reconciliation with the colonies. The effort failed because the colonies were no longer interested in reconciliation.
44. "In 1699 the Irish Parliament, on government initiative, imposed heavy export duties on Irish woolen goods... , on the understanding that the Irish linen industry would be encouraged; and in the same year, 1699, the English Parliament forbade the export of Irish wool to foreign countries." W&S 9:516, n. 1.
Volume 4, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity
47. To "forestall" is to intercept goods before they reach the public market, to buy them up privately and keep them off the market with a view to raising the price. Until 1772 it had been forbidden by law.
49. In December 1795, "it was announced that a letter from Burke to Young on agricultural wages would shortly appear." W&S 9:119, headnote. This was a more precise description of the subject of the memorandum than "rural oeconomics," as this Preface calls it.
54. In June 1795, the distillation of spirits from wheat, barley, or malt was prohibited until February 1796 in order to increase the supply of those grains to feed the population; in December 1796, the prohibition was extended to February 1797. W&S 9:141, n. 1.
55. Badger: one who buys corn and other commodities and carries them elsewhere to sell—more broadly, an itinerant middleman between producers and consumers; jobber: a piece-worker, one employed by the job—more broadly, a middleman, broker, or small trader or salesman; mealman: one who deals in meal, the edible part of any grain or pulse ground to a powder, e.g., oatmeal, Indian cornmeal.
57. Raw: raw silk, drawn from the cocoons by the process of reeling; organzine: the strongest and best kind of silk thread, formed of several strands twisted together in the direction contrary to that in which their component filaments are twisted.
59. Burke may have mistakenly written Norfolk when he meant Suffolk, where the Justices of the Peace recommended that the wages of laborers should be adjusted in proportion to the price of corn. W&S 9:122-23.
60. The reference is to the so-called Speenhamland system, which inspired Burke to write this memorandum to William Pitt. In 1782, Parliament had enacted Gilbert's Act, which authorized local governments to grant allowances in aid of wages. Subsidizing the wages of the poor was not even then a new departure in English law. On this basis, in 1795 the magistrates of Berkshire, a county adjacent to Burke's Buckinghamshire, met in the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland, and adopted a scheme to ensure laborers a living wage. A minimum wage was fixed, which varied with the price of corn; if the wages actually paid fell below that, they would be supplemented from the poor rates.
62. Samuel Pufendorf (1632-94), whose The Whole Duty of Man was used as a textbook at Trinity College, Dublin, when Burke was a student there. It was a translation of Pufendorf's De officio hominis et civis, which in turn was an epitome, made by Pufendorf himself, of his famous De jure gentium et naturae (1672).
66. A circular letter sent by the Council through the Home Secretary to the Lords Lieutenant asking them to hold magistrates' meetings in their counties to ascertain the produce of the recent harvest. W&S 9:133, n. 1.
67. Bounty: a sum of money paid by government to merchants or manufacturers to encourage an industry or trade. It could be a sum paid to exporters of corn because exports produced a favorable balance of trade or, as here, to importers to encourage buying grain abroad in a time of scarcity of corn at home. Burke was obviously not opposed to all government intervention in the economy.
Vice thus abused demands a nation's care;
This calls the Church to deprecate our sin,
And hurls the thunder of the laws on gin.
Dialogue 1, lines 129-31.
And Priam and his people shall be slain.
73. The Roman general Scipio, who had finally and fully conquered Carthage, repeated Hector's words, "The day will come," when his Greek friend, the historian Polybius, asked him why he wept when he saw Carthage in flames. He feared for Rome, too, says Polybius, "when he reflected on the fate of all things human." Histories 38.22.1-3.
Volume 4, Speech on Fox's East India Bill
75. In 1773 and earlier, Burke and the Rockingham Whigs had strenuously objected on much the same grounds to bringing the East India Company under government control: it was an attack on private property and chartered rights. In later years, Burke did not disguise his earlier position but said that he had changed his mind in the light of better information.
77. The bill was only formally a recommendation from the throne. George III had only reluctantly accepted the Fox-North Coalition in April 1783 because he had no other leader who could attract the support of a majority in the Commons. He now saw the India bills as an occasion for getting rid of it. When the bills passed the Commons and were before the Lords, the king privately let his opposition to them be known, the Lords defeated them, and the king dismissed the Coalition and brought in the younger William Pitt as head of a minority government. Pitt's Tories won a resounding electoral victory in the following year, 1784.
79. Burke was aware of the revolutionary theory of "the rights of men" well before the French Revolution, as his Speech on the Reform of the Representation in the year preceding this speech shows. But Burke's objection was not to the idea of natural rights, as he clearly states in the present passage, but to a particular radically democratic version of it.
80. Burke here denies any inherent conflict between nature and convention. Nature is the norm of convention; therefore convention is good insofar as it embodies or supports natural right and natural rights.
81. In Burke's political theory, all men are equal inasmuch as no men are endowed by nature with a right to exercise political authority over other men. Political authority in this sense is artificial and established by convention. But the convention is subject to natural law and is established to serve the natural needs and protect the natural rights of mankind. It is therefore a trust for the benefit of those who are subject to it.
83. Epicurus (342/1-270 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who taught a hedonistic ethic that held pleasure to be the highest good. But the greatest pleasure was health of body and tranquillity of mind, enjoyed in the company of friends. Understanding this, the wise man would not get involved in politics, which disturbs inner tranquillity.
86. Tallage was a levy exacted by a lord from the boroughs in his domain, hence by a king from the boroughs in his personal domain. In 1297, in a document called by a misnomer de tallagio non concedendo, the king renounced for himself and his heirs the right to levy any general tax without the consent of the estates of his whole kingdom. In later centuries, this document became called a statute, and was cited as such in the Petition of Right (for which see the next note).
87. A petition of Parliament in 1628 complaining of a series of breaches of law and asserting a right not to be subjected to arbitrary taxation and imprisonment, martial law, and the billeting of soldiers on private citizens against their will, to which Charles I was forced to assent.
90. Henry Dundas (1742-1811), close friend and political associate of the younger Pitt, and at this time chairman of the House of Commons Secret Committee on Indian affairs. (The original purposes of the Secret and Select Committees were limited and distinct, but the scope of their investigations tended over time to merge.)
95. Persons who held the right to collect rents and dues from the cultivators of the soil, in return for which they were obliged to turn a proportion of the revenue over to the Mogul emperor. When the emperor granted the right to the revenues of Bengal to the East India Company, the zemindars owed the proportion to the Company. Depending on the amount of land and revenue they controlled, zemindars could be rich and powerful. The Annual Register in 1787 (vol. 24, p. 177) called them "the present great landholders of India" and "a sort of hereditary princes of the country."
96. Title of the emperor of the Mogul Empire, held by a Muslim dynasty descended from Tamerlane and Genghis Khan. By the eighteenth century, the Company was acquiring territorial sovereignty in parts of the Empire, and particularly in Bengal, where, with the decline of the Empire, the local nabobs had become practically independent, and the Mogul was forced to ratify the Company's acquisitions.
102. Title of the chief minister of the Maratta princes, who became rois fainéants, so that in 1749 the then peishwa made himself the hereditary sovereign of the Maratta state, but without changing his title.
103. A powerful chieftain in the Maratta confederacy who, along with other chieftains, had become almost completely independent of the Confederacy's titular head and his hereditary chief minister, the peishwa.
105. Arcot was a territory adjacent to the Company's presidency of Madras in South India. Its nabob was heavily in debt to both the Company and certain of its individual officials for military aid and large loans to further his own ambitions. In his great Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts in 1785, Burke charged that these debts were a major cause of corruption in the British government both in India and in England.
108. A footnote in the original publication identifies "the learned gentleman" as "Mr. Dundas, Lord Advocate of Scotland," but in the speech referred to here, he had spoken from the knowledge he had gained as chairman of the Secret Committee.
115. Warren Hastings (1782-1818) had been appointed Governor of Bengal by the East India Company in 1771. Parliament's Regulating Act of 1773 created a Supreme Council of Bengal with five members named in the Act itself. They were Hastings as Governor-General (with a casting vote in case of ties), General Sir John Clavering, Colonel George Monson, Richard Barwell, and Philip Francis, who was to become Hastings's bitterest enemy and Burke's closest ally in the impeachment of Hastings. Replacements and successor members to the original five were to be appointed by the Company's Court of Directors, with confirmation by the Crown.
116. George Macartney, first Earl Macartney, whom the East India Company appointed governor of the presidency of Fort St. George (Madras). He arrived there in June 1781, but after a prolonged and bitter quarrel with Warren Hastings over matters of policy, he resigned his post in 1785 and returned to England. He refused the post of Governor-General in succession to Hastings; it was ultimately given to Lord Cornwallis.
122. Colonel Jacob Camac had led a British expedition against Scindia and had taken the fortress of Gualior from him. It was then given to the Rana, but when Scindia switched sides and joined the British, he was allowed to retake the fortress.
127. Tax farmers, to whom the collection of the revenue was sold in return for a stipulated sum to be turned over to the government. Because of the drought and the consequent drop in the revenue, the sum they owed was reduced by many lacks of rupees.
135. Earlier in 1783, the Court of Directors of the East India Company had censured Hastings for his treatment of the Rajah of Benares. Hastings published the letter to the Court in which he defended his conduct, and the Court published the answer to it referred to here.
136. "In this and the following paragraphs Burke made extensive use of A Narrative of the Insurrection which happened in the Zemindary of Benaris, which Hastings had published in Calcutta in 1782." W&S 5:413, n. 5.
142. The head financial minister of a Muslim state. In Bengal, a native servant in charge of the affairs of a house of business or a large domestic establishment; a steward or master of the household.
145. Sequestration was the practice of diverting the income of an estate, temporarily or permanently, from its owner to other persons or institutions. A sequestrator therefore had control of property on which others, such as creditors, had claims which he was to satisfy.
153. Regarding the zemindars as tax farmers who worked for the government under private contracts rather than as hereditary landholders, Hastings opened up zemindaries to public bidding in order to extract more revenue for his government.
154. Burke's Whig soul, which saw old landed property as the principal bulwark of liberty against the expansive power of government, was revolted by Hastings's contempt for the zemindars' hereditary right to collect the rents and dues, which, in India as in England, he regarded as private property in land.
157. Burke was the author of the Select Committee's Ninth Report. It reflects his concern for maintaining intermediaries between governments and individuals, and expresses his severe judgment of the Company's policy of using territorial revenues instead of commercial profits as the capital with which to buy goods in India for export to Britain.
158. At that time, in 1781, Hastings was the only one left of the five original Supreme Council members appointed in 1773. General Clavering and Colonel Monson had died, Barwell had resigned, and Philip Francis, after a duel with Hastings, was on his way back to England. General Sir Eyre Coote, who had taken Clavering's place as commander-in-chief of the Company's army and member of the Council, was off fighting a war in the South of India; John Macpherson, who was appointed to the Council in 1781, had not yet arrived; and the final replacement, John Stables, was not appointed until 1782. Hastings and Wheler were thus the only councillors on the scene in Bengal—and Hastings had a casting vote.
159. As a purely commercial enterprise, the Company had had to calculate carefully whether the goods it bought for export would earn a profit when sold. But when the Company acquired sovereignty in Indian territories and the right to tax them, it began to use those revenues as its "investment" for the purchase of goods, and became careless about commercial considerations of profit and loss.
161. Paul Benfield, who had gone to India at the age of twenty-one and had become a servant of the East India Company in 1765. He is reported to have amassed a fortune there exceeding half a million pounds, partly by lending money at high rates of interest. He made huge loans to the Nabob of Arcot, for which Burke denounced him in his Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts, but was exonerated of wrongdoing by the Company's Court of Directors.
The soul's calm sunshine and the heartfelt joy,
Is Virtue's prize....
164. A Brahmin and one of the wealthiest men in Bengal. He accused Hastings of having accepted bribes, and the majority of the Supreme Council, consisting of Clavering, Monson, and Francis, supported him in pressing the charge. Nundcomar was then charged with forgery and tried in the Supreme Court of Bengal, which found him guilty. Since the Court decided that he should be sentenced under English law, in which forgery was a capital offense, he was sentenced to death. When the Council majority refused to intercede on Nundcomar's behalf, he was hanged. Burke here takes his execution as a judicial murder to save Hastings.
Where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Shows her Kings Barbaric Pearl & Gold.
171. In Burke's speech in the Commons in February 1780, he had proposed "a plan for the better security of the independence of Parliament, and the oeconomical reformation of the civil and other establishments." The purpose was to reduce the ability of the Crown to influence Parliament by patronage appointments in the royal household and to control the king's expenditure of the money voted for his civil list so that it would not be used to influence parliamentary elections. The plan failed in large measure to be adopted on that occasion.
172. George Johnstone, commonly called Governor Johnstone because of his brief appointment in 1763 as governor of West Florida. A rather disreputable character, he served as both a naval commander and a member of Parliament.
173. The commission to be established by the East India Bill was "to investigate every charge and complaint made against the Company's servants. Reasons had to be publicly stated if no action was to be taken on the complaints." W&S 5:444, n.1.
174. The first members of the commission were named in the Bill and were all supporters of the Fox-North Coalition. They were to serve four-year terms, but vacancies would be filled by the king, as Burke explains.
175. Earlier in 1783, the Fox-North Coalition having come to power, Burke finally succeeded in getting an "economical reform" bill passed. But it was not so sweeping in its scope that it destroyed all "the instruments of parliamentary subservience," as his rhetoric here suggests.
177. A fund formed by periodically setting aside revenue to accumulate at interest in order to reduce the principal of a debt. The British government had established one in 1716 to reduce the national debt.
180. "How noble was his youthful promise, and how great a citizen he was to give in coming centuries to the peoples of Italy. He will be heard beyond the Ganges and the peoples of India; he will fill the earth with his voice, and with the thunder of his tongue will quell the frenzy of war." Said of Cicero in Silius Italicus Punic Wars 8.406-10.
Volume 4, A Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe
5. Probably such Irish revolutionary leaders as Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-98) and James Napper Tandy (1740-1803), who were among the founders of the Dublin branch of the United Irishmen, an organization that aimed to unite Irish Catholics and Dissenting Protestants for the reform and, a few years later, for the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.
10. Test Acts were those designed to keep all but members of the Established Church from being eligible for public office, proscribing both Catholics and Dissenters. In England and Ireland, the tests included such requirements as receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rite of the Church of England and subscribing to a declaration against the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.
13. The greater frequency of parliamentary elections was an incentive for Protestant landlords not to rent land to Catholics, because by making Protestant tenants freeholders with the right to vote, the lords could promote their political interests in elections.
16. The independence of the Irish Parliament since 1783, when the British Parliament acknowledged the right of the people of Ireland "to be bound only by laws enacted by his Majesty and the Parliament of that kingdom, in all cases whatever."
18. It was, in fact, an Act of George II in 1728 that provided that "no papist... shall be intitled or admitted to vote at the election of any member to serve in Parliament." W&S 9:570, n. 1; 610, n. 1.
23. "Although often provoked, the only use we have made of our right of conquest has been to impose on you the necessary costs of maintaining peace; for tranquillity among nations cannot be had without arms, nor arms without soldiers' pay, nor pay without taxes. Everything else we have in common. You often command our armies, you rule these and other provinces; no privileges are set aside for us or closed to you.... Therefore love and cherish peace and the city wherein we, conquerors and conquered alike, enjoy an equal right." Tacitus Histories 4:74.
24. A Parliament held in Kilkenny in 1366 attempted to cut English losses and keep as much of Ireland as possible under English control. It decreed that, within the pale of English law, the English and the Irish who lived among them must use English surnames, speak English, and follow English customs. They were forbidden to marry "the Irish enemies" who remained outside the pale or to follow Irish law or customs. The Irish from beyond the pale were to be unable to plead in the courts or to purchase or inherit land among the English.
25. Patrick Finglas and Sir John Davies held high offices in Ireland in the reigns of Henry VIII and James I, respectively. Edmund Spenser, the poet, held minor offices there in the reign of Elizabeth I. All of them wrote at some length about conditions in Ireland under English rule.
28. Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon, as Charles II's Lord Chancellor of England, presided over the Restoration settlement. Although Clarendon was eager to restore and support the Anglican establishment, certain harsh measures adopted by Parliament, which became known as the Clarendon Code, did not reflect the conciliatory spirit he favored in England and Ireland.
29. The Irish Parliament in 1782 had taken the initial step toward legislative independence; the one that met in 1695 after the defeat of James II was entirely Protestant in membership, frankly subordinate to England, and determined to crush any possibility of another Irish Catholic uprising.
30. When James II fled to Ireland, he called a Parliament in Dublin in 1689. The great majority of its members were Anglo-Irish Catholics who attempted to reverse many of the results of the English and Protestant conquest of Ireland.
32. In 1468, the Irish Parliament had asserted that acts of the English Parliament were not valid in Ireland unless ratified by the Irish Parliament. In 1494, Henry VII sent Sir Edward Poynings to Ireland as Lord Deputy with orders to reduce the country to "whole and perfect obedience" to the English Crown. Poynings pushed through a Parliament held in Drogheda a series of statutes for that purpose, the most famous of which became known as Poynings' Law.
This law provided that the Irish Parliament could not meet unless it was so authorized by the English lord chancellor, could act only on topics approved beforehand by the king and his English council, could enact legislation only after it had been sent to the king and council, and could not amend the legislation from the form in which it was sent back to Ireland.
Burke erred regarding the Address presented to William and Mary in 1692. It did not mention Poynings' Law, and the Parliament held by James II in 1689 had not repealed it. W&S 9:617, n. 3.
33. A meeting of the Catholic Committee of Ireland. The Committee had been led by Thomas Browne, Lord Kenmare (1726-95), one of those few who remained of the old Catholic aristocracy and gentry of Ireland. When he was defeated in a vote on policy by a majority led by John Keogh, a wealthy Dublin silk merchant, Kenmare and his followers seceded from the Committee. The majority then restructured it on a wider and more popular basis by adding two members elected from each county and borough of Ireland. But, as Burke points out, the "popular" members were respectable, and many of them were well-to-do.
36. In fact, Burke had a very low opinion of the Irish Legislature, which, in the same year, 1792, he described in a private letter as "the curse, scourge, and bane of the Irish nation." Corr. 1844 4:66.
37. Burke may refer here to the Declaration of the Catholic Society of Dublin, issued toward the end of 1791, in which the Society asserted that its members were justified in associating with the aim of attaining the repeal of the Catholic disabilities by all the constitutional means at their disposal. W&S 9:624, n. 2.
42. Henry Flood (1732-91), Irish M.P. from 1759 to 1783, in which year he bought a seat in the British House of Commons. An accomplished orator and leader of the opposition in the Irish House, he advocated parliamentary reform there. In the British Commons, on March 4, 1790, he introduced (unsuccessfully) the bill for parliamentary reform that Burke describes here.
43. Charles Lennox, third Duke of Richmond (1735-1806), brought in the bill described here on June 3, 1780. As a leading member of the Rockingham Whigs, he was a close political associate of Burke, who nonetheless once remarked of him in a private letter, "The Duke of Richmond, with the best parts, as well as the best intentions in the world, has some singular opinions, of which he is extremely tenacious." Corr. 2:544.
46. It often happens, even in present-day democracies, that a particular legislator represents the views and interests of people in constituencies other than his own better than the elected representatives of those constituencies do.
47. An Act of Union, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland into one and absorbed the Irish Parliament into the British one, was carried through in 1800, after Burke's death and after the unsuccessful Irish uprising of 1798. Ironically, one of Prime Minister William Pitt's motives for promoting that Act was that only by means of it could Catholics safely be given the right to vote for members of Parliament.
50. The Quebec Act of 1774 allowed the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion and authorized the Catholic Church in Quebec to continue to collect the tithe. By waiving the Test Acts and substituting an oath of allegiance, it allowed Catholics to hold public office. The Canada Act of 1791 provided for the establishment of the Church of England in Canada.
52. The Penal Laws against Catholics that Burke described in his never-completed Tracts, relative to the Laws against Popery in Ireland. Most of them had been repealed by the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1782. The franchise was conceded to a very limited number of Catholics in 1793, the year after this letter was written, but they were not made eligible to sit in Parliament.
Volume 4, Sketch of the Negro Code
54. Burke quotes from memory the words of the Sybil to Aeneas before he goes down into Hades. Facilis descensus Averni, she tells him—the way down is easy, but the way back is hard: Hoc opus, hic labor est (as it is in the original)—"This is the task, this the toil." Virgil Aeneid 7.129.
56. Towns or places which were principal markets for some particular class of merchandise; more narrowly, places in which a body of merchants was granted by the Crown the exclusive right of purchasing certain classes of goods destined for export.
57. The African Company was formed in 1671 to buy out and succeed the Company of Royal Adventurers trading to Africa. It was given a monopoly of the African trade, consisting largely, though not exclusively, in the slave trade.