Thursday, June 4, 2009
Political beef, it's what's for dinner
Sheridan could be quite the wit in Parliament when he wanted to be (Old Sherry aside).
During the French Revolution, there was a massive governmental backlash against the democratic societies springing up around the country. Pitt ignored them until around 1793, when Britain and France declared war on each other. This was fantastic news for people like Edmund Burke, who spent pretty much all of his time in Parliament railing about the French mob and how dangerous revolutions were. Burke decided to talk about the revolutionary societies springing up around the country, shortly after Pitt gave his reluctant assent to the war (Tangent Time! Pitt wanted to focus on Britain's economic troubles instead of meddling in continental politics; part of what sparked the French Revolution were several years of very bad harvests. The French government actually begged Pitt to send over 20,000 sacks of flour, and Pitt refused, on the grounds that the British public would riot if there wasn't enough flour. The French rioted instead. I think--please be aware, Gentle Readers, that this is once again the opinion of an Amateur Historian--that Pitt's insistance on paying British allies to fight the French during the first coallition against the French was a sign of Pitt's lingering reluctance to start up a war.)
Burke was convinced that these societies were planning a British Revolution (which some of them were) and had stockpiled weapons (which most of them were not, save for the revolutionary groups in Ireland). He quite suddenly threw a dagger onto the floor of the House of Commons shouting, "There is French fraternity for you! This is the poignard which French Jacobins would plunge in the heart of our sovereign."
Sheridan brought a premature end to the speech by quipping, "Where's the fork?"