Letter To A Member Of The National Assembly Quotes

Edmund Burke

"Tyrants Seldom Want Pretexts"

Context: This letter was written as an answer to some objections to Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution. In this epistolary essay Burke once again takes his stand against government which is founded in revolution, and which appeals for its existence to theory. Burke maintains always that government must evolve slowly, as the British government has, and must be grounded in real situations, as well as in theory, lest it become tyrannous to the very people that it is supposed to benefit and protect. Of revolutionists, Burke has this to say, "Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it." Government by revolutionists, he says, can only become the accomplice of robbers. He goes on to state his view that the present French government is using the French king as a passive tool, exploiting the veneration which many Frenchmen have for their monarch. Burke says he may be accused of fostering regicide by his statements, but that in reality the revolutionists will need no excuse for ridding themselves of the king when he is no longer useful to them; that is, when public sentiment for him is gone:

. . . They calculate the duration of that sentiment; and when they find it nearly expiring, they will not trouble themselves with excuses for extinguishing the name, as they have the thing. . . . Tyrants seldom want pretexts. Fraud is the ready minister of injustice; and whilst the currency of false pretence and sophistic reasoning was expedient to their designs, they were under no necessity of drawing upon me to furnish them with that coin. But pretexts and sophisms have had their day, and have done their work. The usurpation no longer seeks plausibility. It trusts to power.