Speech On Moving His Resolutions For Reconciliation With The Colonies "Abstract Liberty Is Not To Be Found"

Edmund Burke

"Abstract Liberty Is Not To Be Found"

Context: Burke was the greatest and the most articulate defender of the American Colonies in the English Parliament. He foresaw the great loss England would suffer if the colonies were alienated and lost as a result of harsh suppression. He pleaded desperately with Parliament not to take the strong measures of taxation and military aggression, which, he admitted, were strictly legal measures, but he begged instead for an act of redress, for which the acts of redress toward Ireland and Wales were valid historical precedents. He fully realized the intensity of the sense of freedom and liberty in the colonies and knew that revolution would result from repression:

. . . This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies probably than in any other people of the earth; and this from a great variety of powerful causes; . . .
First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen. England, Sir, is a nation, which still I hope respects, and formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles. Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object; and every nation has formed to itself some favourite point, which by way of eminence becomes the criterion of their happiness. It happened, you know, Sir, that the great contests for freedom in this country were from the earliest times chiefly upon the question of taxing.