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Soon after the close of the Regency deli, beration commenced the
To enable us to estimate the conduct and reasoning of Burke respecting the French revolution, it is necessary to recall to our minds the old government; the causes and operations that produced and effected a change; the change itself; the actual state of opinions, sentiments, and affairs, after it had taken place. From the consideration of these subjects only can it be evinced, whether Burke's proceedings were or were not conformable to wisdom and rectitude. Subordinate to this general subject of discussion is the more special inquiry, whether they were or were not consonant to his former principles and actions ? The object of the first inquiry is THE INTEGRITY OF HIS INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL'EXERTIONS, relatively to most momentous concerns of a great portion of mankind, whether his plans and counsels tended to the melioration of the human race: of the second, whether he has been conSISTENT WITH HIMSELF. The criterion of the former is the nature and tendency of the French revolution ; of the latter, his own antecedent principles, declarations, and conduct.
The legitimate object of government is the general good. That government is the best, which produces, FROM PERMANENT CAUSES, the greatest good, and least evil, to those within the sphere of its operation. That this is the true test by which to examine any system of polity, both in its principles and practical effects, will, I believe, be very generally granted. If we weigh the old government of France in this scale, it must be conceded by every impartial man, that it was wanting. Perfection, indeed, is to be expected in no system formed by man : but there are gradations of excellence in human contrivances. There have been many plans of polity, and there are several, in which the general good has been and is much more steadily and successfully pursued than under the old government of France. Instead of making a part subservient to the whole ; of estimating either permanent regulations or temporary measures by the aggregate of happiness they were calculated to produce, the pleasure and caprice of a very small part was frequently the motive and rule for
governing the whole. . The comfort and welfare of twenty millions was of little account when compared wlth the freak or fancy of the Prince, the interest or inclination of his favourites. The suggestion of a priest or a prostitute would desolate a province, and drive from the country its most industrious inhabitants.
In the earlier ages, France had some semblance of a limited constitution. The monarch himself had his power sufficiently, and more than sufficiently, restrained by the feudal aristocracy ; but even then, it was a liberty confined to individuals, not extending to the community at large; effecting therefore partial superiority, and not general benefit. The feudal aristocracy was destroyed by
Ricltelieu, and the separate sovereignties were consolidated into one entire mass.
During 175 years (from 1614 to 1789,) France had been without even the appearance of a legislative voice. Every thing was under the controul of a government habitually corrupt and cruel. The people were often depressed by ignorance, by poverty, and extortion. The men of wealth and distinction were purchased either by courtly honours, or presents and pensions, or by a lavish waste of the public revenue. They were exempted in some sort from the duty of contributing to the revenue, which was endeavoured to be exclusively wrung from the grasp
of the poor, the weak, and the laborious. They were prevailed upon to countenance, by being admitted into a partnership of the use of arbitrary imprisonment, punishment without an accusation and without a hear. ing, and the confinement of the Bastile.
The old government of France was, no dcubt, liable to these and other objections,
both in its principles and practice. In the