Tract On The Popery Laws "Laws, Like Houses, Lean On One Another"

Edmund Burke

"Laws, Like Houses, Lean On One Another"

Context: Although he was born in Ireland, Burke spent his adult life in England as a member of Parliament. However, he never lost interest in Irish affairs, and in his official capacity he defended Ireland as strongly against oppression as he did the American Colonies. Although his thoughts on religious toleration were not in advance of his age, he did regard the domination of the millions of Irish Catholics by the Anglican church as a kind of tyranny. His attack on the discriminatory laws directed against the Catholics was never completed. In his third chapter he pauses to comment on the processes of making and changing laws:

In the making of a new law it is undoubtedly the duty of the legislator to see that no injustice be done even to an individual: for there is then nothing to be unsettled, and the matter is under his hands to mould it as he pleases; and-if he finds it untractable in the working, he may abandon it without incurring any new inconvenience. But in the question concerning the repeal of an old one, the work is of more difficulty; because laws, like houses, lean on one another, and the operation is delicate, and should be necessary: the objection, in such a case, ought not to arise from the natural infirmity of human institutions, but from substantial faults which contradict the nature and end of law itself,–faults not arising from the imperfection, but from the misapplication and abuse of our reason.