Political Wisdom in Edmund Burke’s “Speech on Conciliation with America”
In the “Speech on Conciliation with America,” the mind and art of Burke are seen at their highest. It is a varied and mighty piece of pleading in which the wisdom of Burke as a practical and magnanimous politician has better been reflected. Endowed with rare farsightedness, he could foretell what was going to happen in America and his power to study the situation enabled him without any doubt to speak like a prophet. Strangely enough, Burke delivered this speech on the 22nd March 1775 and America become independent on the 4th July of the next year proving his prophecy accurate.
The speech on conciliation abounds in many a sentence and aphorism which has become part and parcel of English language. These sayings are not only charged with deep political wisdom, but they are the instinct with an essential literary beauty. The union of these two excellences has stamped them with immortality.
He who can correctly assess the matters of life is wise. To be wise one needs deep insight into the life of things. Burke possessed both these qualities- insight and vision into future. Burke, in effect put forward unchallengeable arguments that bear the brilliance of his wisdom. Yet, he was not a dreamer what he said and argued was based on practical experience and knowledge as well. The first argument was to trace the origin of the Americans. The Americans, the history says, are the descendants of the English people. The love of freedom is, he says with correct understanding, ingrained in the nature of the English people. They hate bondage and the quest for liberty moved them to struggle for independence. Like a true statesman, he could visualize that once they were inspired by this love of freedom, nothing on this earth would be able to subdue them.
Needless to add, Burke was deeply conversant with the economic relationship between America and the mother country England. The economic dependence on America was a forceful argument in favor of maintaining a peaceful and good relationship with her. Like a wise politician, he pointed out these factors. America was a fertile country and her riches were not till then exploited and because of his natural gifts, she was going to be important in the international politics. Burke, therefore, recommended for unconditional and absolute peace with America. If the war continued, he argued, England would have to suffer economically for the disturbance in the impact of agricultural foods from England. Burke wanted that the proposal of peace should go from the English side as she was stronger party in the war. If peace is proposed from the weak side, it would mean weakness. So, he pleaded for peace to be initiated by the English.
The guiding star of a wise politician or statesmanship is expediency, not legal or abstract right, “politics ought,” he remarks, “to be adjusted not to human reasoning’s but to human nature.” Therefore, ‘expediency’ is given its full moral significance and it may be said to be the foundation stone of his arguments and wisdom. The fact that England lies at a far distance from America has been taken into consideration properly by him. He argued that it would be a great difficulty to conduct war in such a distant country.
There were advocates for the continuation of war to bring down America to her knee and they used to say; “America is a noble object, let us fight for it.” But Burke argued that to fight a people was not the best way of gaining them. His wisdom enabled him to expose the weakness of force. Force is too weak, he says, an instrument for securing the allegiance and the services of the numerous, active and numerous Americans. He says, “If you do not succeed you are without renounce; for conciliation failing, force remains; but force failing, no further hope of reconciliation is left” this argues for peace first. Here we find a man who can think justly, rightly and widely.
Among the many arguments, the necessity of looking at the problems with an unbiased or open heart. Actually, people in politics often fail to broaden their heart and remain narrow making the problems all the more hard Burke makes it a point in his arguments. It springs from his natural but genuine wisdom. He urges upon the politicians in power to be magnanimous. He says, “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom.” Burke wants that the politicians and the people should adopt this attitude in order to solve the hard problems.