Speech On Conciliation With America "The March Of The Human Mind Is Slow"

Edmund Burke

"The March Of The Human Mind Is Slow"

Context: Edmund Burke thought it best for Great Britain to conciliate the American colonists; he also thought that, at the time he gave this speech in the House of Commons, conciliation was possible, on both sides, between the colonists and the British government. In an effort to show the advantages of conciliation to British commerce, he points out the increasing population of the Colonies and the growth of trade between them and the mother country. He pleads for admitting the people of the Colonies to full rights and privileges as Englishmen. He also turns to British history, to give an account of Great Britain's policies in Ireland, to show that Ireland was made, by constitutional means, "a principal part of the strength of Great Britain." He cites also the history of Wales. By comparison, he says, Wales was kept in a state of war with England for many years. He notes that the laws passed with respect to the Welsh in a bygone era could well be used as precedents for new laws against the American colonists, but he also reminds his fellow members of the House of Commons of the unfavorable results which followed the passage of those laws:

Here we rub our hands–A fine body of precedents for the authority of parliament and the use of it!–I admit it fully; and pray add likewise to these precedents, that all the while, Wales rid this kingdom like an incubus; that it was an unprofitable and oppressive burthen; and that an Englishman travelling in that country could not go six yards from the high road without being murdered.
The march of the human mind is slow. Sir, it was not, until after two hundred years, discovered, that, by an eternal law, Providence had decreed vexation to violence, and poverty to rapine. Your ancestors did however at length open their eyes to the ill husbandry of injustice. They found that the tyranny of a free people could of all tyrannies the least be endured; and that laws made against a whole nation were not the most effectual methods for securing its obedience. . . .