Speech On American Taxation "Great Men Are The Guide-posts And Landmarks In The State"

Edmund Burke

"Great Men Are The Guide-posts And Landmarks In The State"

Context: Edmund Burke made this address in the hope of quieting the antagonism that had arisen between Great Britain and the American colonies because of the duty imposed by Parliament on tea imported into America. The second part of the speech delineates the history of taxation in the American Colonies, with particular emphasis on the events from 1763 to 1774. In relating the account of taxation in the Colonies, Burke was led inevitably to recite the positions taken by various prime ministers in Great Britain, including Charles Townshend. In addition to commenting on the events of the ministries, Burke also, and consciously, speaks about the characters of the ministers themselves. Following his comments about the character of Charles Townshend, he makes these observations:

I beg pardon, sir, if, when I speak of this and of other great men, I appear to digress in saying something of their characters. In this eventful history of the revolutions of America, the characters of such men are of much importance. Great men are the guide-posts and landmarks in the state. The credit of such men at court, or in the nation, is the sole cause of all the public measures. It would be an invidious thing (most foreign, I trust, to what you think my disposition) to remark the errors into which the authority of great names has brought the nation without doing justice, at the same time, to the great qualities whence that authority arose. The subject is instructive to those who wish to form themselves on whatever excellence has gone before them.