Edmund Burke (12 January, 1729 9 July, 1797) was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after, relocating to Great Britain and becoming a citizen, served for many years in the British House of Commons as a member of the Whig party. He is mainly remembered for his support of the American colonies in the dispute with King George III and Britain that led to the American Revolution and for his strong opposition to the French Revolution. The latter made Burke one of the leading figures within the conservative faction of the Whig party (which he dubbed the "Old Whigs"), in opposition to the pro-French-Revolution "New Whigs", led by Charles James Fox. Burke also published a philosophical work where he attempted to define emotions and passions, and how they are triggered in a person. Burke worked on aesthetics and founded the Annual Register, a political review. He is often regarded by conservatives as the philosophical founder of Anglo-American conservatism.
As a child he sometimes spent time away from the unhealthy air of Dublin with his mother's family in the Blackwater Valley. He received his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, some from Dublin, and remained in correspondence with his schoolmate Mary Leadbeater, the daughter of the school's owner, throughout his life.
In 1744 he proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin. In 1747, he set up a Debating Club, known as Edmund Burke's Club, which in 1770 merged with the Historical Club to form the College Historical Society, now the oldest undergraduate society in the world. The minutes of the meetings of Burke's club remain in the collection of the Historical Society. He graduated in 1748. Burke's father wished him to study for the law, and with this object he went to London in 1750 and entered the Middle Temple, but soon thereafter he gave up his legal studies in order to travel in Continental Europe. After giving up law, he attempted to earn his livelihood through writing.
Burke's first published work, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind, appeared in 1756 and was fraudulently attributed to Lord Bolingbroke. It was originally taken as a serious treatise on anarchism. Years later, with a government appointment at stake, Burke, as a defender of the established order, claimed that it had been intended as a satire. Many modern scholars consider it to be satire, but others take Vindication as a serious defence of anarchism (an interpretation notably espoused by Murray Rothbard). Whether satire or not, it was the first anarchist essay, and taken seriously by later anarchists such as William Godwin. In 1757 Burke published a treatise on aesthetics, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which attracted the attention of prominent Continental thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant. The following year, with Robert Dodsley, he created the influential Annual Register, a publication in which various authors evaluated the international political events of the previous year.
In London, Burke became closely connected with many of the leading intellectuals and artists, including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Joshua Reynolds. Edward Gibbon described him as, 'the most eloquent and rational madman that I ever knew.'
On March 12, 1757 he married Jane Mary Nugent (1734–1812), daughter of a Catholic physician who had treated him at Bath. His son Richard was born in February 9, 1758. Another son, Christopher, died in infancy.
At about this same time, Burke was introduced to William Gerard Hamilton (known as "Single-speech Hamilton"). When Hamilton was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Burke accompanied him to Dublin as his private secretary, a position he maintained for three years. In 1765 Burke became private secretary to liberal Whig statesman Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Marquess of Rockingham, at the time Prime Minister of Great Britain, who remained Burke's close friend and associate until his premature death in 1782.
Burke expressed his support for the grievances of the American colonies under the government of King George III and his appointed representatives. Burke opposed the attitude of severe sovereignty in relation to the colonists. Instead, he advocated doing whatever was advantageous instead of what is legally just and right. He also campaigned against the persecution of Catholics in Ireland and denounced the abuses and corruption of the East India Company.
In 1769 Burke published, in reply to George Grenville, his pamphlet on The Present State of the Nation. In the same year he purchased the small estate of Gregories near Beaconsfield. The estate was purchased with mostly borrowed money, and though it contained an art collection that included works by Titian, Gregories nevertheless would prove to be a heavy financial burden on the MP in the following decades. Burke was never able to fully pay for the estate. His speeches and writings had now made him famous, and among other effects had brought about the suggestion that he was the author of the Letters of Junius. In 1774 he was elected member for Bristol, at the time "England's second city" and a large constituency with a genuine electoral contest. His address to the electors of Bristol was noted for its defence of the principles of representative democracy against the notion that elected officials should act narrowly as advocates for the interests of their constituents. Burke's arguments in this matter helped to formulate the delegate and trustee models of political representation. His support for free trade with Ireland and his advocacy of Catholic emancipation were unpopular with his constituents and caused him to lose his seat in 1780. For the remainder of his parliamentary career, Burke sat for Malton, another pocket borough controlled by Rockingham.
Under the Tory administration of Lord North (1770-1782) the American war went on from bad to worse, and it was in part owing to the oratorical efforts of Burke that it was brought to an end. To this period belong two of his most famous performances, his speech on Conciliation with America (1775), and his Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777). The fall of North led to Rockingham being recalled to power. Burke became Paymaster of the Forces and Privy Councillor, but Rockingham's unexpected death in July of 1782 put an end to his administration after only a few months.
Burke then supported fellow Whig Charles James Fox in his coalition with Lord North, a decision that many came to regard later as his greatest political error. Under that short-lived coalition he continued to hold the office of Paymaster and he distinguished himself in connection with Fox's India Bill. The coalition fell in 1783, and was succeeded by the long Tory administration of William Pitt the Younger, which lasted until 1801. Burke was accordingly in opposition for the remainder of his political life. In 1785 he made his great speech on The Nabob of Arcot's Debts, and in the next year (1786) he moved for papers in regard to the Indian government of Warren Hastings, the consequence of which was the impeachment trial of that politician. The trial, of which Burke was the leading promoter, lasted from 1788 until Hastings's eventual acquittal in 1795. Burke's indictment, fuelled by emotional indignation, called Hastings the 'captain-general of iniquity'; who never dined without 'creating a famine'; his heart was 'gangrened to the core' and he resembled both a 'spider of Hell' and a 'ravenous vulture devouring the carcases of the dead'. The indictment was such a philippic that, whereas it had previously seemed that Hastings would be found guilty, it actually provoked public sympathy; however, although Hastings was acquitted, the trial served to establish the principle that the Empire was a moral undertaking rather than a wholesale looting by either the East India Company or its servants.
Although Burke had supported the American War for Independence, which he saw as an appropriate response to the situation regarding the American colonists, he condemned the French Revolution in his Reflections on the Revolution in France in November 1790. With it, Burke became one of the earliest and fiercest critics in Britain of the French Revolution. He saw it, not as movement towards a representative, constitutional democracy, but rather as a violent rebellion against tradition and proper authority and as an experiment disconnected from the complex realities of human society. Burke argued that the new doctrines of France were simple and abstract, that since they did not recognize the nature and orders of people, it could never replace the present ones. As such, he predicted, it would end in disaster. Burke vehemently disagreed with Rousseau's theory of the "Popular Will" believing that most men in a nation are not qualified to govern it and should look to men of finer upbringing and higher Christian education (the law of natural Aristocracy or the Landed Gentry) who are by their position, naturally responsible to them and the nation as a whole. He professed that a civilized people could not naturally be made up of people with the same distinctions, positions and interests. An attempt by the multitude of a country to govern each other's affairs would inevitably move the country away from personal merit and distinction towards an unprincipled, enervating mediocrity. Moreover, he asserted that the French doctrines fundamentally worked against the interests of the people and endangered their most prized and cherished treasures themselves.
Former admirers of Burke, such as Thomas Jefferson, Sheridan, and fellow Whig politician Charles James Fox, proceeded to denounce Burke as a reactionary and an enemy of the French and their ground-breaking aspirations. Thomas Paine penned The Rights of Man in 1791 as a response to Burke. However, other former supporters of the American revolution such as John Adams, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton agreed with Burke's assessment of the French situation.
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These events, and the disagreements which arose regarding them within the Whig party, led to its breakup and to the rupture of Burke's friendship with Fox. In 1791 Burke published his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, in which he renewed his criticism of the radical revolutionary programmes inspired by the French Revolution and attacked the Whigs who supported them. Eventually most of the Whigs sided with Burke and voted their support for the conservative government of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, which declared war on the revolutionary government of France in 1793.
In 1794 a terrible blow fell upon Burke in the loss of his son Richard, to whom he was tenderly attached, and in whom he saw signs of promise. In the same year the Hastings trial came to an end. Burke felt that his work was done and indeed that he was worn out; he soon took leave of Parliament. The King, whose favour he had gained by his attitude on the French Revolution, wished to make him Lord Beaconsfield, but the death of his son had deprived such an honour of all its attractions, and the only reward he would accept was a pension of £2,500. This pension was attacked by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale, to whom Burke replied in the Letter to a Noble Lord (1796). His last publications were the Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796), called forth by negotiations for peace with France. He spent his final years in a strong support of the war against France.
After a prolonged illness Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on 9 July 1797, five days before the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the official start of the Revolution he so long predicted and fought against. He was buried there, in Beaconsfield alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.
Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France was extremely controversial at the time of its publication. Its intemperate language and factual inaccuracies even convinced many readers that Burke had lost his judgement. But after his death, it grew to become his best-known and most influential work. In the English-speaking world, Burke is often regarded as one of the fathers of modern conservatism, and his thinking has exerted considerable influence over the political philosophy of such classical liberals as Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper. Burke's 'liberal' conservatism, which claimed to oppose the implementation of governing based on abstract ideas and supported 'organic' reform, can be contrasted with the autocratic conservatism of such Continental figures as Joseph de Maistre.
Even though Burke did not invest a great deal of his career in an Economical pursuit he had a strong influence on economic thought of the time. He was a strong supporter of the free market system but was wary of industrialization. He believed that economical study was an extension of progress from the nation's order. He believed trade should be fair, benefitting both parties but the government should not interfere anymore than prudent routine. Burke lays out many of his economic thoughts in his Thoughts and Details on Scarcity. He is not recognized as any sort of leader in economic study because he did not believe it was the role of the government to regulate it. Many maintain the modern sentiment that Burke did not live in the age when Government interference for the public good in its commonwealth was necessary. They feel that Burke lived in a time that was simpler and did not have the complexity or beg for the attention as modern first world economies do. Burke, however, believed that the principles for which he stood were always applicable and would consistently generate prosperity for any country that adhered to them, regardless of time and circumstance. Adam Smith remarked that "Burke is the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do without any previous communication having passed between us". The Liberal historian Lord Acton considered Burke as one of the three greatest liberals, along with William Ewart Gladstone and Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Karl Marx was a radical opponent of Burke's thought. In Das Kapital, he wrote::
The sycophant—who in the pay of the English oligarchy played the romantic laudator temporis acti against the French Revolution just as, in the pay of the North American colonies at the beginning of the American troubles, he had played the liberal against the English oligarchy—was an out-and-out vulgar bourgeois.
According to Winston Churchill's "Consistency in Politics":
On the one hand [Burke] is revealed as a foremost apostle of Liberty, on the other as the redoubtable champion of Authority. But a charge of political inconsistency applied to this life appears a mean and petty thing. History easily discerns the reasons and forces which actuated him, and the immense changes in the problems he was facing which evoked from the same profound mind and sincere spirit these entirely contrary manifestations. His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect. No one can read the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority without feeling that here was the same man pursuing the same ends, seeking the same ideals of society and Government, and defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.
The historian Piers Brendon asserts that Burke laid the moral foundations for the British Empire, epitomised in the trial of Warren Hastings, that was ultimately to be its undoing: when Burke stated that, 'The British Empire must be governed on a plan of freedom, for it will be governed by no other', this was '[...] an idealogical bacillus that would prove fatal. This was Edmund Burke's paternalistic doctrine that colonial government was a trust. It was to be so exercised for the benefit of subject people that they would eventually attain their birthright - freedom.'. As a consequence of this opinion, Burke objected to the opium trade, which he called a 'smuggling adventure' and condemned as 'the great Disgrace of the British character in India.'
Burke is also the namesake of a variety of prominent associations and societies across the world.
Also famous is his speech to the Electors of Bristol during the 1774 election, on the duties of a Member of Parliament.
DateFormat = yyyy Period = from:1725 till:1800 TimeAxis = orientation:vertical ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:5 start:1725 ScaleMinor = unit:year increment:1 start:1725
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at:1729 text:Born in Dublin
at:1743 text:Enters Trinity College
at:1750 text:Enters Middle Temple
at:1756 text:Publishes treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful
at:1765 text:Becomes friend of Rockingham
at:1775 text:Enters Parliament and engages in American controversy, ~ publishes speech on Conciliation with America
at:1782 text:Paymaster of Forces and P.C.; ~ joined coalition of Fox and North
from:1787 till:1794 shift:(25,6) text:Leads in prosecution of W. Hastings
at:1790 text:Publishes Reflections on French Revolution; ~ breaks with Fox party
at:1796 text:Publishes Letter on a Regicide Peace
at:1797 shift:(25,5) text:Dies