Speech On American Taxation "To Tax And To Please Is Not Given To Men"

Edmund Burke

"To Tax And To Please Is Not Given To Men"

Context: Lord North, an important leader in Parliament, was determined to take strong punitive measures when news of the Boston Tea Party reached London. Burke, perhaps the greatest political philosopher England has ever produced, spoke in defense of the American Colonies, as he was to do on numerous occasions. The first part of his speech is a close and vigorous argument concerning the expediency of repealing the tax on tea; the second part consists of a history of the whole subject of the American taxation issue with several caustically ironic portraits of the various politicians who had concerned themselves with the matter. One of these politicians, Charles Townshend, attempted to exercise his fiscal powers so as to provide revenue and to offend no one; he was singularly unsuccessful:

Here this extraordinary man, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, found himself in great straits. To please universally was the object of his life; but to tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men. However, he attempted it. To render the tax palatable to the partisans of American revenue, he made a preamble stating the necessity of such a revenue. To close with the American distinction, this revenue was external or port-duty; but again, to soften it to the other party, it was a duty of supply. To gratify the colonists, it was laid on British manufacturers; to satisfy the merchants of Britain, the duty was trivial, and (except that on tea, which touched only the devoted East India Company) on none of the grand objects of commerce. . . .