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From authentic documents found with the copy of this Letter among Mr. Burke's papers, it appears that in the year 1773 a project of imposing a tax upon all proprietors of landed estates in Ireland, whose ordinary residence should be in Great Britain, had been adopted and avowed by his Majesty's ministers at that time. A remonstrance against this measure, as highly unjust and impolitic, was presented to the ministers by several of the principal Irish absentees, and the project was subsequently aban. doned.
L E T TER.
EAR SIR, -I am much flattered by your very
obliging letter, and the rather because it promises an opening to our future correspondence. This may be my only indemnification for very great losses. One of the most odious parts of the proposed Absentee Tax is its tendency to separate friends, and to make as ugly breaches in private society as it must make in the unity of the greal political body. I am sure that much of the satisfaction of some circles in London will be lost by it. Do you think that our friend Mrs. Vesey will suffer her husband to vote for a tax that is to destroy the evenings at Bolton Row? I trust we shall have other supporters of the same sex, equally powerful, and equally deserving to be so, who will not abandon the common cause of their own liberties and our satisfactions. We shall be barbarized on both sides of the water, if we do not see one another now and then. We shall sink into surly, brutish Johns, and you will degenerate into wild Irish. It is impossible that we should be the wiser or the more agreeable, certainly we shall not love one another the better, for this forced separation, which our ministers, who have already done so much for the dissolution of every other sort of good connection, are now meditating for the further improvement of this too well united empire. Their next step will be to encourage all the colonies,
about thirty separate governments, to keep their people from all intercourse with each other and with the mother country. A gentleman of New York or Barbadoes will be as much gazed at as a strange animal from Nova Zembla or Otaheite; and those rogues, the travellers, will tell us what stories they please about poor old Ireland.
In all seriousness, (though I am a great deal more than half serious in what I have been saying,) I look upon this projected tax in a very evil light; I think it is not advisable ; I am sure it is not necessary; and as it is not a mere matter of finance, but involves a political question of much importance, I consider the principle and precedent as far worse than the thing itself. You are too kind in imagining I can suggest anything new upon the subject. The objections to it are very glaring, and must strike the eyes of all those who have not their reasons for shutting them against evident truth. I have no feelings or opinions on this subject which I do not partake with all the sensible and informed people that I meet with. At first I could scarcely meet with any one who could believe that this scheme originated from the English government. They considered it not only as absurd, but as something monstrous and unnatural. In the first instance, it strikes at the power of this country; in the end, at the union of the whole empire. I do not mean to express, most certainly I do not entertain in my mind, anything invidious concerning the superintending authority of Great Britain. But if it be true that the several bodies which make up this complicated mass are to be preserved as one empire, an authority sufficient to preserve that unity, and by its equal weight and pressure to consolidate the various parts that compose it, must reside somewhere: that somewhere can only be in England. Possibly any one member, distinctly taken, might decide in favor of that residence within itself; but certainly no member would give its voice for any other except this. So that I look upon the residence of the supreme power to be settled here: not by force, or tyranny, or even by mere long usage, but by the very nature of things, and the joint consent of the whole body.
If all this be admitted, then without question this country must have the sole right to the imperial legislation: by which I mean that law which regulates the polity and economy of the several parts, as they relate to one another and to the whole. But if any of the parts, which not for oppression, but for order) are placed in a subordinate situation, will assume to themselves the power of hindering or checking the resort of their municipal subjects to the centre, or even to any other part of the empire, they arrogate to themselves the imperial rights, which do not, which cannot, belong to them, and, so far as in them lies, destroy the happy arrangement of the entire empire.
A free communication by discretionary residence is necessary to all the other purposes of communication. For what purpose are the Irish and Plantation laws sent hither, but as means of preserving this sovereign constitution ? Whether such a constitution was originally right or wrong this is not the time of day to dispute. If any evils arise from it, let us not strip it of what may be useful in it. By taking the English Privy Council into your legislature, you obtain a new, a further, and possibly a more liberal con.