BURKE, Edmund. ADMIRALTY DOCUMENT, SIGNED BY EDMUND BURKE

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Edmund Burke signed documentDocument signed ‘Camden P’ as First Lord of the Admiralty, and also by the Lord Privy Seal Lord Dorset, Edmund Burke, Charles J. Fox and by A.S. Conway. Addressed to His Grace George Duke of Marlborough, ‘Custos Rotulorum’ (Keeper of the Rolls) of the County of Oxford, informing him that as ‘His Majestys (George III’s) Service doth at this time require a speedy supply of Seamen and Seafaring Men, to Man His Majesty’s Fleet which is now Fitting out; we do therefore by His Majesty’s Command, hereby pray and require your Grace to call upon the Justices of the Peace of the County of Oxford ... to cause all Straggling Seamen who are fit to serve on Board His Majestys Ships, to be taken up’ and sent to one of the naval ports for a bounty of twenty shillings per man. GEORGE III. ... Published From the Council Chamber at St. James’s the 21st Day Of June, 1782. Folio, 2 pages, with integral address leaf and paper seal. Written in a neat copperplate hand and perfectly legible. Document professionally conserved. In very good condition.

This document is in effect an official Admiralty authorisation for the much-feared impressment during the American Wars. Press gangs were well known for the physical force they used in recruiting men into the Royal Navy. It was, however, a practice which Parliament had sanctioned with several acts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is stated that ‘straggling seamen’ should be brought to ‘His Majestys Yards at Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, Portsmouth or Plymouth or to the Naval Officer at Harwich or to any of the Officers Employed in raising Men for His Majesty Fleet at any other Ports according as those places shall be nearest to where they were taken up’. Press gangs were supposed to seize only experienced seamen, but they were as often ordinary apprentices and labourers. John Jeffreys Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden (1759-1840), First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Member of Parliament for Bath was born at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

He served under Lord Shelburne as Lord of the Admiralty between 1782 and 1783 and in the same post under William Pitt the Younger between 1783 and 1789, as well as a Lord of the Treasury between 1789 and 1792.
In 1794 Camden succeeded his father as 2nd Earl Camden, and the following year he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Pitt. Disliked in Ireland as an opponent of Roman Catholic emancipation and as the exponent of an unpopular policy, Camden’s term of office was one of turbulence, culminating in the rebellion of 1798; his refusal to reprieve the United Irishman William Orr, convicted of treason on the word of one witness of dubious credit, aroused great public indignation. Immediately after the suppression of the rising Camden resigned.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), statesman, political essayist and brilliant orator was born in Dublin, the son of a Protestant father, and Catholic mother, Mary Nagle, direct descendant of Sir Richard Nagle, Attorney General for Ireland, tempore James II. Edmund’s paternal ancestors originated in County Galway, thence to Limerick, where being dispossessed after the Rebellion of 1641, they eventually settled near Castletownroche, County Cork. Edmund was educated at Abraham Shackleton’s Quaker School at Ballitore in County Kildare who said of Burke: “Edmund was a lad of the most promising genius, of an inquisitive and speculative turn of mind, who read much. His memory was extensive, his judgement early ripe. He was affable, free and accumulative, as ready to teach as to learn.”

The administration of Lord North tried to defeat the colonist rebellion by military force. British and American forces clashed in 1775 and in 1776 came the American Declaration of Independence. Burke was appalled by celebrations in Britain of the defeat of the Americans at New York and Pennsylvania. He claimed the English national character was being changed by this authoritarianism. Burke wrote: “As to the good people of England, they seem to partake every day more and more of the Character of that administration which they have been induced to tolerate. I am satisfied, that within a few years there has been a great Change in the National Character. We seem no longer that eager, inquisitive, jealous, fiery people, which we have been formerly”.

In Burke’s view, the British government was fighting “the American English” (“our English Brethren in the Colonies”), with a Germanic king employing “the hireling sword of German boors and vassals” to destroy the English liberties of the colonists. On American independence, Burke wrote: “I do not know how to wish success to those whose Victory is to separate from us a large and noble part of our Empire. Still less do I wish success to injustice, oppression and absurdity”. During the Gordon Riots in 1780, Burke became a target of hostility and his home was placed under armed guard by the military. The fall of North led to Rockingham being recalled to power in March 1782. Burke was appointed Paymaster of the Forces and a Privy Counsellor, but without a seat in Cabinet. Rockingham’s unexpected death in July 1782 and replacement with Shelburne as Prime Minister put an end to his administration after only a few months, but Burke did manage to introduce two Acts.

Charles James Fox (1749-1806), styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned 38 years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was the arch-rival of the Tory politician William Pitt the Younger. His father Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, a leading Whig of his day, had similarly been the great rival of Pitt’s famous father, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham (“Pitt the Elder”). Fox rose to prominence in the House of Commons as a forceful and eloquent speaker with a notorious and colourful private life, though at that time with rather conservative and conventional opinions. However, with the coming of the American War of Independence and the influence of the Whig Edmund Burke, Fox’s opinions evolved into some of the most radical to be aired in the British Parliament of his era.

Fox became a prominent and staunch opponent of King George III, whom he regarded as an aspiring tyrant. He supported the American Patriots and even dressed in the colours of George Washington’s army. Briefly serving as Britain’s first Foreign Secretary during the ministry of the Marquess of Rockingham in 1782, he returned to the post in a coalition government with his old enemy, Lord North, in 1783. However, the King forced Fox and North out of government before the end of the year and replaced them with the 24-year-old Pitt the Younger. Fox spent the following 22 years facing Pitt and the government from the opposition benches of the House of Commons.

Original documents signed by Edmund Burke are rare.

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