Speech On American Taxation "It Is The Nature Of All Greatness Not To Be Exact"

Edmund Burke

"It Is The Nature Of All Greatness Not To Be Exact"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Edmund Burke was a friend to the American Colonies; he was also a believer in truth and justice. This speech is an example of the man's principles, beliefs, and actions. In it Burke appeals to Parliament to abolish the duty on tea which has created such animosity in America and led to a threat of war. Burke tries to show that there is really no obstacle to repealing the tax, noting that other taxes imposed by the same bill had been repealed already. He further notes that the principle of taxation which some men thought the tea tax represented had been given up by the British government already, citing a letter written by Lord Hillesborough. Turning to the past, Burke then recites the history of taxation in the American Colonies. Coming to George Grenville and the Act of Navigation, he says that this act of Parliament needed to be changed "according to the change of the times and the fluctuation of circumstances." Not to change the act, says Burke, is to fail to realize that great mischief might be done, and the very purpose of the act defeated, by the change in commerce of the American Colonies in the years after the French and Indian War:

After the war, and in the last years of it, the trade of America had encreased far beyond the speculations of the most sanguine imaginations. It swelled out on every side. It filled all its proper channels to the brim. It overflowed with a rich redundance, and breaking its banks on the right and on the left, it spread out upon some places where it was indeed improper, upon others where it was only irregular. It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact; and great trade will always be attended with considerable abuses. The contraband will always keep pace in some measure with the fair trade. It should be a fundamental maxim, that no vulgar precaution ought to be employed in the cure of evils, which are closely connected with the cause of our prosperity. . . .