Allegories of prescription: engendering Union in Owenson
When some members of the Irish parliament proposed in 1773 to tax Irish landholders living in England, Edmund Burke opposed the plan. 1 Writing to an Irish peer in his “Letter to Sir Charles Bingham” (1773), Burke speaks of “the happy communion” that should obtain between England and Ireland, and the proposed levy as an affront to it: “What is taxing the resort to and residence in any place, but declaring, that your connexion with that place is a grievance? Is not such an Irish Tax, as is now proposed, a virtual declaration, that England is a foreign country, and a renunciation on your part of the principle of common naturalization, which runs through this whole empire[?]” 2 In Burke's view, for the Irish to tax English absentees means to treat them as aliens rather than as fellow subjects under the united imperial crown; acting as if “England is a foreign country” denies it the status of kin. Burke's objective, by contrast, is to stress the identity of interests between the two, as in the analogous rhetoric of family and marriage, rather than their differences or conflicts. He thus masks structural inequality between Ireland and England by emphasizing the commonality among the constituent parts of Great Britain.
Burke's further objections to the proposed tax are based on its pragmatic consequences, “because it does, in effect, discountenance mutual intermarriage and inheritance; things, that bind countries more closely together, than any Laws or Constitutions whatsoever”:
If an Irish heiress should marry into an English family, and … great property in both countries should thereby come to be united in this common issue, shall the descendant of that marriage abandon his natural connexion, his family interests, his publick and his private duties, and be compelled to take up his residence in Ireland? Is there any sense or any justice in it, unless you affirm, that there should be no such intermarriage and no such mutual inheritance between the Natives? (Writings and Speeches 491)
His example underscores the political function of marriage as a means