Edmund Burke and the American Revolution

Edmund Burke and the American Revolution

Edmund Burke and the American Revolution

Edmund Burke and the American Revolution

Excerpt

A MERICAN historians of the War for Independence often make play with the existence of a small but brilliant and prescient band of British 'friends of America' whose insight and advice might well have solved the crisis in Anglo-American relations had the British Government possessed judgment enough to listen and to adopt their policies. The Elder Pitt and his following; Dissenters like Priestly, Price, and the Bristol Quakers; solitary figures like the Bishop of St Asaph's; John Wilkes and the City Radicals; and, most notably, the Old Whigs evoke expressions of gratitude and admiration. A specially warm tribute is reserved to Edmund Burke, himself an Old Whig, and widely regarded at the time and subsequently as the wisest and most eloquent defender of the American cause.

Burke certainly rose to singular prominence as a spokesman on American affairs. The status came to him, to a certain degree, by default. Intellect and oratorical brilliance he possessed in sufficient abundance to dominate his party, the Old Whigs. Chatham, who headed a small opposition band, was too eccentric and erratic to provide consistent leadership for any cause. The Wilkes supporters were invariably committed to exalting the political and financial well-being of their hero; and the Dissenters existed only on the periphery of political life, commanding a meagre platform and little influence. Tensions and hostilities divided group from group, and a special personal animosity separated Chatham and the Old Whigs. (When the Earl suffered his fatal collapse in 1778, Burke callously remarked that he had 'spat his last venom'.) There was, then, no 'American party' in British politics, only fragmentary groupings who never achieved a respectable measure of coordination or even communication with each other. Burke's admirable qualities of intellect and character, including a remarkable tenacity of purpose, established him both at home and in America as the foremost defender of . . .

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