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MR. BURKE'S SPEECH
DEBATE ON THE ARMY ESTIMATES,
HOUSE OF COMMONS,
On Tuesday, the 9th Day of February, 1790.
A DISCUSSION OF THE PRESENT SITUATION OF
AFFAIRS IN FRANCE.
MR. BURKE's speech on the report of the army estimates has not been correctly stated in some of the publick papers. It is of consequence to him not to be misunderstood. The matter which incidentally came into discussion is of the most serious importance. It is thought that the heads and substance of the speech will answer the purpose sufficiently. If in making the abstract, through defect of memory, in the person who now gives it, any difference at all should be perceived from the speech as it was spoken, it will not, the editor imagines, be found in any thing which may amount to a retraction of the opinions he then maintained, or to any softening in the expressions in which they were conveyed.
Mr. Burke spoke a considerable time in answer to various arguments which had been insisted upon by Mr. Grenville and Mr. Pitt, for keeping an increased peace establishment, and against an improper jealousy of the ministers, in whom a full confidence, subject to responsibility, ought to be placed, on account of their knowledge of the real situation of affairs ; the exact state of which it frequently happened, that they could not disclose, without violating the constitutional and political secrecy, necessary to the well-being of their country.
Mr. Burke said in substance, That confidence might become a vice, and jealousy a virtue, according to circumstances. That confidence, of all publick virtues, was the most dangerous, and jealousy in a house of commons, of all publick vices, the most tolerable ; especially where the number and the charge of standing armies, in time of peace, was the question.
That in the annual mutiny bill, the annual army was declared to be for the purpose of preserving the balance of power in Europe. The propriety of its being larger or smaller depended, therefore, upon the true state of that balance. If the increase of peace establishments demanded of parliament agreed with the manifest appearance of the balance, confidence in ministers, as to the particulars, would be very proper. If the increase was not at all supported by any such appearance, he thought great jealousy might, and ought to be, entertained on that subject.
That he did not find, on a review of all Europe, that, politically, we stood in the smallest degree of danger from any one state or kingdom it contained ; nor that any other foreign powers than our own allies were likely to obtain a considerable preponderance in the scale.
That France had hitherto been our first object, in all considerations concerning the balance of power. The presence or absence of France totally varied every sort of speculation relative to that balance.
That France is, at this time, in a political light, to be considered as expunged out of the system of Europe. Whether she could ever appear in it again, as a leading power, was not easy to determine: but at present he considered France as not politically existing; and most assuredly it would take up much time to restore her to her former active existence-Gala los quoque in bellis floruisse audivimus, might possibly be the language of the rising generation. He did not mean to deny that it was our duty to keep our eye on that nation, and to regulate our preparation by the symptoms of her recovery.
That it was to her strength, not to her form of government which we were to attend; because republicks, as well as monarchies, were susceptible of ambition, jealousy, and anger, the usual causes of war.
But if, while France continued in this swoon, we should go on increasing our expences, we should certainly make ourselves less a match for her, when it became our concern to arm.