Burke’s Knowledge of America in His Speech on “Conciliation with America”
Edmund Burke has delivered two brilliant speeches on the American issues- the first one on Taxation and the second one on Reconciliation with America. The magnificent paragraphs in the speech on conciliation are devoted to the Americans, their numbers, their enterprises, their spirits and the sources from which it is sustained, are a purple patch of diffuse and descriptive oratory. According to Dr. Goodrich, Burke’s standpoint in the second speech was America. His subject needed vast knowledge about the people, agriculture, commerce and fisheries of America. He proved himself not only a great orator but a man with vast knowledge. He supplied the house with a detailed description of the American economy and at the same time the psychological analysis of the American mind and its formation.
His knowledge of America is based on facts. It is not in any way surmise or inferences. A careful study of his speech will reveal how he equipped himself with the facts about American people, and their resources and their impaction English economy. After introducing his speech, he began to speak on the condition of America.
He first spoke of the ever-growing population of the country. He said, that the ‘present’ (The then) while the population of the colonies was at least two million excluding the non-white 0.5 million. Their trade was thriving out of all proportion beyond the numbers of the people. England’s export trade with America had grown enormously. Between 1704 and 1772 it increased twelvefold. He gave even the data of Pennsylvania’s exports which in 1772 were nearly equal to the exports to all colonies together at the commencement of the century. He remarks that the fact is wonderful than fiction.
Burke gave a practical picture of American agriculture. America, he told, is a great corn growing country. Its annual export of grain exceeded a million in value some years ago. In the beginning of their settlement they needed to import food grains from their mother country but now the situation had changed and the old world was being fed by the new world.
Burke spoke very highly of the American enterprise in fisheries. It is, in fact, a matter of pride. The Americans had explored the seas and oceans for fishes. They had penetrated into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson’s Bay and Davis’s Straits. He informed the house that there was no sea in the world, no climate of extreme heat or cold that had been a stranger to their activity. They went up to the opposite region of polar cold; they were at the antipodes and engaged their ship in the frozen south. The American fishermen searched fish even in the remotest place like Falkland Island. They undertook perilous journeys to the seas without fearing the storm in building up a rich fishery.
Burke was conversant not only with the physical progress of the American people but also with their temper and character. He gave a detailed picture of what they had developed in their administration, religion, education, and culture. Tracing the descent of the American people from England, he spoke of their ardent love of freedom. He has rightly remarked that the love of liberty is deeply planted in their nature become they inherited this spirit from their forefathers, who were English. This shows that Burke could read their psychological temperament very correctly.
Inspired by the love of democracy, they had instituted the provincial legislatures with the elected representatives of the people. Burke could find out the differences in the attitudes of the Northern and Southern Americans to life, religion, and property. He discovered the cause of the American spirit of freedom in their religious beliefs. The colonists were Protestants and Protestantism meant opposition to authority. These people left England when the spirit of dissent was high. The foreigners who came to the colonies from different countries were also dissenters from the establishments of their respective countries. In the Northern provinces, the dissenters were in the majority.
But the conditions in the south were quite different. Although there was a body of the Church of England, yet the people were haughty and oppressive. The system of slavery that was prevalent in the south and this system made the southerners especially proud and jealous because free men living in the midst of slaves cannot help attaching undue importance to their own freedom.
Burke’s knowledge of America was not based on imagination. For, he was not blind to the fact that the mother country England lay far away from America. No contrivance can prevent the effect of distance in a weak government. The power of govt is necessarily weakest at the extremities of its dominions. So, the control of the English government over America can never be as effective as it is in England. This fact has fastened American feelings of independence.
Burke was so sharply familiar with the mind of American people that he proposed not to take any action against them and advocated the policy of reconciliation with America. He wanted a stable peace as he knew that the Americans would not be satisfied with anything less than freedom.
Burke’s speech on Reconciliation shows how deeply he knew America and the Americans. Since it is full of truths about the people and economy of America, it has become a part of the syllabus taught in schools and colleges as a part of their history and tradition.