The assembly of Virginia was the first to formally deny the right of the British Parliament to meddle with internal taxation, and to demand the repeal of the acts. Massachusetts not only adopted the denial and the demand as its own, but proposed a Congress of delegates from all the colonial assemblies to provide for common and united action; and in October 1765 this Congress met to repeat the protest and petition of Virginia. The news of its assembly reached England at the end of the year, and at once called Pitt to the front when the Houses met in the spring of 1766. As a minister he had long since rejected a similar scheme for taxing the colonies. He had been ill and absent from Parliament when the Stamp Act was passed, but he adopted to the full the constitutional claim of America. He gloried in a resistance which was denounced in Parliament as rebellion. " In my opinion," he said, "this kingdom has no right to lay a tax on the colonies... America is obstinate! America is almost in open rebellion! Sir, I rejoice that America has resisted.
Three millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest".
There was a general desire that Pitt should return to office; but the negotiations for his union with the Whigs broke down. The radical difference between their policy and that of Pitt was now in fact defined for them by the keenest political thinker of the day. Edmund Burke had come to London in 1750 as a poor and unknown Irish adventurer. The learning which at once won him the friendship of Johnson, and the imaginative power which enabled him to give his learning a living shape, promised him a philosophical and literary career: but instinct drew Burke to politics; he became secretary to Lord Rockingham, and in 1765 entered Parliament under his patronage. His speeches on the Stamp Acts at once lifted him into fame. The heavy Quaker-like figure, the scratch wig, the round spectacles, the cumbrous roll of paper which loaded Burke's pocket, gave little promise of a great orator and less of the characteristics of his oratory - its passionate ardour, its poetic fancy, its amazing prodigality of resources; the dazzling succession in which irony, pathos, invective, tenderness, the most brilliant word-pictures, the coolest argument followed each other. It was an eloquence indeed of a wholly new order in English experience.
Walpole's clearness of statement, Pitt's appeals to emotion, were exchanged for the impassioned expression of a distinct philosophy of politics. "I have learned more from him than from all the books I ever read," Fox cried at a later time, with a burst of generous admiration. The philosophical cast of Burke's reasoning was unaccompanied by any philosophical coldness of tone or phrase. The groundwork indeed of his nature was poetic. His ideas, if conceived by the reason, took shape and colour from the splendour and fire of his imagination. A nation was to him a great living society, so complex in its relations, and whose institutions were so interwoven with glorious events in the past, that to touch it rudely was a sacrilege. Its constitution was no artificial scheme of government, but an exquisite balance of social forces which was in itself a natural outcome of its history and developement. His temper was in this way conservative, but his conservatism sprang not from a love of inaction but from a sense of the value of social order, and from an imaginative reverence for all that existed. Every institution was hallowed to him by the clear insight with which he discerned its relations to the past, and its subtle connexion with the social fabric around it.
To touch even an anomaly seemed to Burke to be risking the ruin of a complex structure of national order which it had cost centuries to build up. "The equilibrium of the Constitution," he said, "has something so delicate about it, that the least displacement may destroy it." " It is a difficult and dangerous matter even to touch so complicated a machine." Perhaps the readiest refutation of such a theory was to be found in its influence on Burke's practical dealing with politics. In the great question indeed which fronted him as he entered Parliament, it served him well. No man has ever seen with deeper insight the working of those natural forces which build up communities, or which group communities into empires; and in the actual state of the American Colonies he saw a result of such forces which only madmen and pedants would disturb. But Burke's theory was less fitted to the state of politics at home. He looked on the Revolution of 1688 as the final establishment of English institutions. His aim was to keep England as the Revolution had left it, and under the rule of the great nobles who were faithful to the Revolution. He gave his passionate adhesion to the inaction of the Whigs. He made an idol of Lord Rockingham, an honest man, but the weakest of party leaders.
He strove to check the corruption of Parliament by a bill for civil retrenchment, but he took the lead in defeating all plans for its reform. Though he was one of the few men in England who understood with Pitt the value of free industry, he struggled bitterly against the young Minister's proposals to give freedom to Irish trade, and against his Commercial Treaty with France. His work seemed to be that of investing with a gorgeous poetry the policy of timid content which the Whigs believed they inherited from Sir Robert Walpole; and the very intensity of his trust in the natural developement of a people rendered him incapable of understanding the good that might come from particular laws or from special reforms. At this crisis then the temper of Burke squared with the temper of the Whig party. Rockingham and his fellow-ministers were driven, whether they would or no, to a practical acknowledgement of the policy which Pitt demanded; but they resolved that the repeal of the Stamp Acts should be accompanied by a formal repudiation of the principles of colonial freedom which Pitt had laid down.