Speech At Bristol Previous To The Election
by Edmund Burke (1780)

Do you think, Gentlemen, that every public act in the six years since I stood in this place before you, that all the arduous things which have been done in this eventful period which has crowded into a few years' space the revolutions of an age, can be opened to you on their fair grounds in half an hour's conversation?

But it is no reason, because there is a bad mode of inquiry, that there should be no examination at all. Most certainly it is our duty to examine; it is our interest, too: but it must be with discretion, with an attention to all the circumstances and to all the motives; like sound judges, and not like cavilling petti-foggers and quibbling pleaders, prying into flaws and hunting for exceptions. Look, Gentlemen, to the whole tenor of your member's conduct. Try whether his ambition or his avarice have justled him out of the straight line of duty—or whether that grand foe of the offices of active life, that master vice in men of business, a degenerate and inglorious sloth, has made him flag and languish in his course. This is the object of our inquiry. If our member's conduct can bear his touch, mark it for sterling. He may have fallen into errors, he must have faults; but our error is greater, and our fault is radically ruinous to ourselves, if we do not even applaud the whole compound and mixed mass of such a character. Not to act thus is folly; I had almost said it is impiety. He censures God who quarrels with the imperfections of man.

Gentlemen, we must not be peevish with those who serve the people; for none will serve us, whilst there is a Court to serve, but those who are of a nice and jealous honour. They who think everything, in comparison with that honour, to be dust and ashes, will not bear to have it soiled and impaired by those for whose sake they make a thousand sacrifices to preserve it immaculate and whole. We shall either drive such men from the public stage, or we shall send them to the Court for protection, where, if they must sacrifice their reputation, they will at least secure their interest. Depend upon it, that the lovers of freedom will be free. None will violate their conscience to please us, in order afterwards to discharge that conscience, which they have violated, by doing us faithful and affectionate service. If we degrade and deprave their minds by servility it will be absurd to expect that they who are creeping and abject towards us will ever be bold and incorruptible assertors of our freedom against the most seducing and the most formidable of all powers. No! Human nature is not so formed: nor shall we improve the faculties or better the morals of public men by our possession of the most infallible receipt in the world for making cheats and hypocrites.

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