"The People Are The Masters"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Burke was elated in 1780 when, for once, he and his fellow Whigs were given considerable popular support and were thus able to move from their previous position of ineffective criticism to one of constructive action. Burke immediately introduced a plan for reforming the economic structure of many of the government offices. This plan called for the suppression of useless offices, modification of pension lists, and the abolition of several separate jurisdictional areas. Some of these reforms had been the subject of popular petitions, and Burke cited this support as authority for the changes:

. . . Why should we resolve to do nothing, because what I propose to you may not be the exact demand of the petition, when we are far from resolved to comply even with what evidently is so? Does this sort of chicanery become us? The people are the masters. They have only to express their wants at large and in gross. We are the expert artists, we are the skilful workmen, to shape their desires into perfect form, and to fit the utensil to the use. They are the sufferers, they tell the symptoms of the complaint; but we know the exact seat of the disease, and how to apply the remedy according to the rules of art. . . .