Edmund Burke: The Practical Imagination by Gerald W. Chapman

By Gerald W. Chapman

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T h e empire, he reasoned, could exist only in virtue of a latent common interest actual and apparent in practice, and he set out to demonstrate it. I am, and ever have been, deeply sensible of the difficulty of reconciling the streng presiding power, that is so useful towards the conservation of a vast, disconnected, infinitely diversified empire, with that liberty and safety of the provinces which they must enjoy, (in opinion and practice at least) or they will not be provinces at all. . Of one thing I am perfectly clear, that it is not by deciding the suit, but by compromising the difference, that peace can be restored or kept.

At this moment of practical poise, Burke had produced three major tracts on America—Speech on American Taxation ( 1 7 7 4 ) , Speech on Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies ( 1 7 7 5 ) , both extempore and later revised, and A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America ( 1 7 7 7 ) . " ^^ N o small reason is that they illustrate, in a multitude of subtle ways, a practical imagination, which may be defined, for what a definition is worth, as i8 EDMUND BURKE the power to experience the life of a thing in its concrete complexity, discriminate its relations, and act upon (or reverence) its latent good.

We have invited the husbandman [in America] to look to authority for his title. " These things do not make your government. Dead instruments, passive tools as they are, it is the spirit of the English communion that gives all their life and efficacy to them. It is the spirit of the 36 EDMUND BURKE English Constitution, which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds. »* The idea of liberty had a positive content in communal behavior. And it was a marvelous thing to Burke that American behavior, despite its idiosyncrasy, was still in the spirit of the parent nation.

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