Selections from WikiQuote bearing on the actions of the Bush Administration, on impeachment, and on the responsibilities of the public and of politicians. Associating these quotations with the corresponding modern issue is left as an exercise for the reader, who is welcome to create a page in this Wiki to discuss the matter.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was an Irish political philosopher, Whig politician, and statesman; he is regarded by many as the "father" of modern conservatism, but today he would be a lousy liberal.

Probable misattributionEdit

  • All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

This is probably the most quoted statement attributed to Burke, and an extraordinary number of variants of it exist, but all without any definite original source. These very extensively used "quotations" may be based on a paraphrase of some of Burke's ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared them in such a manner in any of his writings. It may have been adapted from these lines of Burke's in his Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Sourced QuotationsEdit

  • There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
    • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769)
  • It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare.
    • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769)
  • The wisdom of our ancestors.
    • Burke is credited by some with the first use of this phrase, in Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769); also in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770) and Discussion on the Traitorous Correspondence Bill (1793)
  • Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.
    • Speech on the Bill for the Relief of Protestant Dissenters (1773-03-07)
  • I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.
    • Speech on the Bill for the Relief of Protestant Dissenters (1773-03-07)
  • People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous.
    • Letter to Charles James Fox (1777-10-08)
  • Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
    • Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election (1780)
  • The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
    • Speech at a County Meeting of Buckinghamshire (1784)
  • Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
    • Letter to M. de Menonville (October 1789)
  • You can never plan the future by the past.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Tyrants seldom want pretexts.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to any thing but power for their relief.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
  • Neither the few nor the many have a right to act merely by their will, in any matter connected with duty, trust, engagement, or obligation.
    • Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old (1791)
  • Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.
    • Letter to a Noble Lord (1796)
  • Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving but selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment.
    • Letter to a Noble Lord (1796)
  • The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny.
    • Letter to Thomas Mercer

Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)Edit

  • It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of not man, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement.
  • Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.

First Speech on the Conciliation with America (1774-04-19) Edit

  • Reflect how you are to govern a people who think they ought to be free, and think they are not. Your scheme yields no revenue; it yields nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience; and such is the state of America, that after wading up to your eyes in blood, you could only end just where you begun; that is, to tax where no revenue is to be found, to — my voice fails me; my inclination indeed carries me no farther — all is confusion beyond it.
  • Falsehood has a perennial spring.
  • To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.

Second Speech on Conciliation with America (1775) Edit

  • The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.
  • In no country perhaps in the world is law so general a study [as in America]...This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defense, full of resources...They augur misgovernment at a distance, and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.
  • It looks to me to be narrow and pedantic to apply the ordinary ideas of criminal justice to this great public contest. I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.
  • It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do.
  • Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.
  • By adverting to the dignity of this high calling our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire: and have made the most extensive, and the only honorable conquests, not by destroying, but by promoting the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race.
  • The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.
  • Liberty, too, must be limited in order to be possessed.
  • If any ask me what a free Government is, I answer, that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so, — and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges of this matter.
  • In effect, to follow, not to force the public inclination; to give a direction, a form, a technical dress, and a specific sanction, to the general sense of the community, is the true end of legislature.

Speech on the Independence of Parliament (1780) Edit

  • Corrupt influence, which is itself the perennial spring of all prodigality, and of all disorder; which loads us, more than millions of debt; which takes away vigor from our arms, wisdom from our councils, and every shadow of authority and credit from the most venerable parts of our constitution.
  • They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance.

On the Impeachment of Warren Hastings (1788-1794)Edit

Articles of Charge of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, against Warren Hastings

  • There never was a bad man that had ability for good service. 1788-02-15
  • Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety. 1788-02-15
  • One that confounds good and evil is an enemy to the good. 1788-02-15
  • An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent. 1789-05-05
  • Resolved to die in the last dike of prevarication. 1789-05-07
  • There was an ancient Roman lawyer, of great fame in the history of Roman jurisprudence, whom they called Cui Bono, from his having first introduced into judicial proceedings the argument, "What end or object could the party have had in the act with which he is accused."

Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)Edit

  • People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.
  • Circumstances...give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
  • Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.
  • A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country.
  • A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.
  • A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.
  • All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust.
  • But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
  • Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime speculations; for, never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have it magnificent.
  • I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observation of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.
  • If the people are happy, united, wealthy, and powerful, we presume the rest. We conclude that to be good from whence good is derived.
  • Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
  • Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.
  • No man can mortgage his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity.
  • Our patience will achieve more than our force.
  • Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement.
  • The wise will determine from the gravity of the case; the irritable from sensibility to oppression; the high-minded from disdain and indignation at abusive power in unworthy hands.
  • Whatever is supreme in a state, ought to have, as much as possible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only not to depend upon it, but in some sort to balance it. It ought to give a security to its justice against its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it were, something exterior to the state.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.