|Born||12 January 1729
|Died||9 July 1797
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Great Britain
|Era||18th century philosophy|
|Main interests||Social and political philosophy|
Edmund Burke PC (12 January [NS] 1729 – 9 July 1797) was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party.
He is mainly remembered for his support of the cause of the American Revolutionaries, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution. The latter led to his becoming the leading figure 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 was praised by both conservatives and liberals in the 19th century. Since the 20th century, he has generally been viewed as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism, as well as a representative of classical liberalism.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Member of Parliament
- 3 American War of Independence
- 4 Paymaster of the Forces
- 5 Democracy
- 6 India and the impeachment of Warren Hastings
- 7 French Revolution: 1688 versus 1789
- 8 Later life
- 9 Legacy
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 Timeline
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Burke was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a prosperous solicitor father (Richard; d. 1761) of the Church of Ireland. It is unclear if this is the same Richard Burke who converted from Catholicism. His mother Mary (c. 1702–1770), whose maiden name was Nagle, was a Roman Catholic and came from an impoverished but genteel County Cork family. The Burke dynasty descended from an Anglo-Norman surnamed de Burgh (Latinised as de Burgo) who arrived in Ireland in 1185 following the Norman invasion of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1171.
Burke was raised in his father's faith and remained throughout his life a practising Anglican, unlike his sister Juliana who was brought up as and remained a Roman Catholic. His political enemies were later to repeatedly accuse him of having been educated at the Jesuit seminary of St. Omer's and of harbouring secret Catholic sympathies at a time when membership of the Catholic Church would disqualify him from public office (see Penal Laws in Ireland). As Burke told Mrs. Crewe:
Mr. Burke's Enemies often endeavoured to convince the World that he had been bred up in the Catholic Faith, & that his Family were of it, & that he himself had been educated at St. Omer—but this was false, as his father was a regular practitioner of the Law at Dublin, which he could not be unless of the Established Church: & it so happened that though Mr. B— was twice at Paris, he never happened to go through the Town of St. Omer.
Once an MP, Burke was required to take the oath of allegiance and abjuration, the oath of supremacy, and declare against transubstantiation. No Catholic is known to have done so in the 18th century. He attended Trinity College Dublin, a Protestant establishment, which up until 1793 did not permit Catholics to take degrees. Although never denying his Irishness, Burke often described himself as "an Englishman". This was in an age "before 'Celtic nationalism' sought to make Irishness and Englishness incompatible".
As a child he sometimes spent time away from the unhealthy air of Dublin with his mother's family in the Blackwater Valley in County Cork. He received his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare, some 30 miles (48 km) from Dublin, and remained in correspondence with his schoolmate Mary Leadbeater, the daughter of the school's owner, throughout his life.
In 1744, Burke went to Trinity College, Dublin and, in 1747, set up a debating society, "Edmund Burke's Club", which, in 1770, merged with the college's 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. He entered the Middle Temple, but soon gave up legal study to travel in Continental Europe. After giving up law, he attempted to earn a livelihood through writing.
The late Lord Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History was published in 1752 and his collected works appeared in 1754. This provoked Burke into writing his first published work, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind, appearing in Spring 1756. Burke imitated Lord Bolingbroke's style and ideas in a reductio ad absurdum of his arguments for atheistic rationalism, demonstrating their absurdity.
Burke claimed that Bolingbroke's arguments against revealed religion could apply to all social and civil institutions. Lord Chesterfield and Bishop Warburton (and others) initially thought that the work was genuinely by Bolingbroke rather than a satire. All the reviews of the work were positive, with critics especially appreciative of Burke's quality of writing. Some reviewers failed to notice the ironic nature of the book, which led to Burke writing in the preface to the second edition (1757) that it was a satire.
Richard Hurd believed that Burke's imitation was near-perfect and that this defeated his purpose: an ironist "should take care by a constant exaggeration to make the ridicule shine through the Imitation. Whereas this Vindication is everywhere enforc'd, not only in the language, and on the principles of L. Bol., but with so apparent, or rather so real an earnestness, that half his purpose is sacrificed to the other". A minority of scholars have taken the position that Burke did in fact write the Vindication in earnest, later disowning it only for political reasons.
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. It was his only purely philosophical work, and when asked by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Laurence to expand it thirty years later, Burke replied that he was no longer fit for abstract speculation (Burke had written it before he was 19).
On 25 February 1757, Burke signed a contract with Robert Dodsley to write a "history of England from the time of Julius Caesar to the end of the reign of Queen Anne", its length being eighty quarto sheets (640 pages), under 400,000 words. It was to be submitted for publication by Christmas 1758. Burke actually completed to the year 1216, and never published the work. It was not published until 1812 in Burke's collected works under the title of An Essay Towards an Abridgement of the English History, after Burke's death. G. M. Young did not value Burke's history and claimed that it was "demonstrably a translation from the French". Lord Acton, on commenting on the story that Burke stopped his history because David Hume published his, said "it is ever to be regretted that the reverse did not occur".
The following year, with Dodsley, Burke created the influential Annual Register, a publication in which various authors evaluated the international political events of the previous year. The extent to which Burke personally contributed to the Annual Register is contested. Robert Murray in his biography of Burke quotes the Register as evidence of Burke's opinions, yet Philip Magnus in his biography does not directly cite it as a reference. Burke remained its chief editor until at least 1789 and there is no evidence that any other writer contributed to it before 1766.
On 12 March 1757, Burke married Jane Mary Nugent (1734–1812), daughter of a Catholic physician who had treated him at Bath. Their son Richard was born on 9 February 1758. Another son, Christopher, died in infancy. Burke also helped raise a ward, Edmund Nagle (later Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle), the son of a cousin orphaned in 1763.
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 was a Freemason.
Member of Parliament
In December 1765, Burke entered the British Parliament as a member of the House of Commons for Wendover, a pocket borough in the control of Lord Fermanagh, later 2nd Earl Verney, a close political ally of Rockingham. After Burke's maiden speech, William Pitt the Elder said Burke had "spoken in such a manner as to stop the mouths of all Europe" and that the Commons should congratulate itself on acquiring such a member.
The first great subject in which Burke interested himself was the controversy with the American colonies, which soon developed into war and ultimate separation; in 1769 he published, in reply to Grenvillite pamphlet The Present State of the Nation, his pamphlet on Observations on a Late State of the Nation. Surveying the finances of France, Burke predicts "some extraordinary convulsion in that whole system".
In the same year, Burke purchased Gregories – a 600-acre (2.4 km2) estate near Beaconsfield – with mostly borrowed money. Although it included saleable assets such as art works by Titian, Gregories was a heavy financial burden in the following decades and Burke was never able to pay in full 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.
At about this time, Burke joined the circle of leading intellectuals, and artists in London with Samuel Johnson as its central luminary, also including David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, and Joshua Reynolds. Edward Gibbon described him as 'the most eloquent and rational madman that I ever knew.' Although Johnson admired Burke's brilliance, he found him a dishonest politician.
Burke took a leading role in the debate over the constitutional limits to the executive authority of the King. He argued strongly against unrestrained royal power and for the role of political parties in maintaining a principled opposition capable of preventing abuses, either by the monarch or by specific factions within the government. His most important publication in this regard was his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents of 23 April 1770. Burke identified the "discontents" as stemming from the "secret influence" of a neo-Tory group he calls the "king's friends", whose system "comprehending the exterior and interior Administrations, is commonly called, in the technical language of the Court, Double Cabinet". Britain needed a party with "...an unshaken adherence to principle, and attachment to connexion, against every allurement of interest". Party divisions "...whether operating for good or evil, are things inseparable from free government".
During 1771, Burke wrote a Bill that would have, if passed, given juries the right to determine what was libel. Burke spoke in favour of the Bill but it was opposed by some, including Charles James Fox, and was not passed. Fox, when introducing his own Bill in 1791, repeated almost verbatim the text of Burke's Bill without acknowledgement. Burke was also prominent in securing the right to publish debates held in Parliament.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the prohibition on the export of grain on 16 November 1770, Burke argued in favour of a free market in corn: "There are no such things as a high, & a low price that is encouraging, & discouraging; there is nothing but a natural price, which grain brings at an universal market." In 1772 Burke was instrumental in passing the Repeal of Certain Laws Act 1772, which repealed various old laws against dealers and forestallers in corn.
In the Annual Register for 1772 (published in July 1773), Burke condemned the Partition of Poland. He saw it as "the first very great breach in the modern political system of Europe" and upsetting the balance of power in Europe.
In 1774, Burke was elected member for Bristol, at the time "England's second city" and a large constituency with a genuine electoral contest.
In May 1778, Burke supported a motion in Parliament to revise the restrictions on Irish trade. However his constituents in Bristol, a great trading city, urged Burke to oppose free trade with Ireland. Burke resisted these demands and said: "If, from this conduct, I shall forfeit their suffrages at an ensuing election, it will stand on record an example to future representatives of the Commons of England, that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong".
Burke published Two Letters to Gentlemen of Bristol on the Bills relative to the Trade of Ireland, in which he espoused "some of the chief principles of commerce; such as the advantage of free intercourse between all parts of the same kingdom...the evils attending restriction and monopoly...and that the gain of others is not necessarily our loss, but on the contrary an advantage by causing a greater demand for such wares as we have for sale".
Burke also supported Sir George Savile's attempts to repeal some of the penal laws against Catholics. He also called capital punishment "the Butchery which we call justice" in 1776 and in 1780 Burke condemned the use of the pillory for two men convicted for attempting to practice sodomy.
This support for unpopular causes, notably free trade with Ireland and Catholic Emancipation, led to Burke losing his seat in 1780. For the remainder of his parliamentary career, Burke sat for Malton, another pocket borough controlled by the Marquess of Rockingham.
American War of Independence
Burke expressed his support for the grievances of the American Colonies under the government of King George III and his appointed representatives. On 19 April 1774 Burke made a speech (published in January 1775) on a motion to repeal the tea duty:
Again and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace and ensue it; leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it.... Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it.... Do not burthen them with taxes.... But if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question.... If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. No body of men will be argued into slavery. Sir, let the gentlemen on the other side...tell me, what one character of liberty the Americans have, and what one brand of slavery they are free from, if they are bound in their property and industry by all the restraints you can imagine on commerce, and at the same time are made pack-horses of every tax you choose to impose, without the least share in granting them. When they bear the burthens of unlimited monopoly, will you bring them to bear the burthens of unlimited revenue too? The Englishman in America will feel that this is slavery; that it is legal slavery, will be no compensation either to his feelings or to his understandings.
On 22 March 1775, in the House of Commons, Burke delivered a speech (published in May 1775) on reconciliation with America. Burke appealed for peace as preferable to civil war and reminded the House of America's growing population, its industry and its wealth. He warned against the notion that the Americans would back down in the face of force, as the Americans were descended largely from Englishmen:
...the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen.... They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles. The people are Protestants... a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it.... My hold of the colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties which, though light as air, are as strong as links of iron. Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government,—they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing and their privileges another, that these two things may exist without any mutual relation,—the cement is gone, the cohesion is loosened, and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia. But, until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you.
One of the reasons why this speech was so admired was the passage on Lord Bathurst (1684–1775). Burke imagines an angel in 1704 prophesying to Bathurst the future greatness of England and also of America: "Young man, There is America—which at this day serves little more than to amuse you with stories of savage men, and uncouth manners; yet shall, before you taste of death, shew itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world". Samuel Johnson was so irritated at hearing it continually praised that he made a parody of it, where the devil appears to a young Whig and predicts that Whiggism will in short time poison even the paradise of America.
The administration of Lord North (1770–1782) tried to defeat the colonists' 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 German-descended King employing "the hireling sword of German boors and vassals" to destroy the colonists' English liberties. 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".
Paymaster of the Forces
The fall of North led to Rockingham being recalled to power in March 1782. Burke became Paymaster of the Forces and a Privy Councillor, but without a seat in the Cabinet. Rockingham's unexpected death in July 1782 and his replacement as Prime Minister by Shelburne put an end to his administration after only a few months. However, Burke did manage to pass two Acts.
The Paymaster General Act 1782 ended the post as a lucrative sinecure. Previously, Paymasters had been able to draw on money from the Treasury at their discretion. Now they were to put the money they had requested to withdraw from the Treasury into the Bank of England, from where it was to be withdrawn for specific purposes. The Treasury would receive monthly statements of the Paymaster's balance at the Bank. This Act was repealed by Shelburne's administration but the Act that replaced it repeated verbatim almost the whole text of Burke's Act.
The Civil List and Secret Service Money Act 1782 was a watered down version of Burke's original intentions as outlined in his famous Speech on Economical Reform of 11 February 1780. However he managed to abolish 134 offices in the royal household and civil administration. The third Secretary of State and the Board of Trade were abolished and pensions were limited and regulated. The Act was projected to save £72,368 a year.
In February 1783, Burke resumed the post of Paymaster of the Forces when Shelburne's government fell and was replaced by a coalition headed by North and including Charles James Fox. The coalition fell in 1783, and was succeeded by the long Tory administration of William Pitt the Younger, which lasted until 1801. Burke, who had supported Fox and North, was accordingly in opposition for the remainder of his political life.
In 1774, Burke's Speech to the Electors at Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll was noted for its defence of the principles of representative government against the notion that elected officials should merely be delegates:
... it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Political scientist Hanna Pitkin points out that Burke linked the district's interest with the proper behaviour of its elected official, explaining, "Burke conceives of broad, relatively fixed interest, few in number and clearly defined, of which any group or locality has just one. These interests are largely economic or associated with particular localities whose livelihood they characterize, in his over-all prosperity they involve."
Burke was a leading sceptic with respect to democracy. While admitting that theoretically in some cases it might be desirable, he insisted a democratic government in Britain in his day would not only be inept but also oppressive. He opposed democracy for three basic reasons. First, government required a degree of intelligence and breadth of knowledge of the sort that was very uncommon among the common people. Second, he thought that common people had dangerous and angry passions that could be easily aroused by demagogues if they had the vote; he feared the authoritarian impulses that could be empowered by these passions would undermine cherished traditions and established religion, leading to violence and confiscation of property. Third, Burke warned that democracy would tyrannise unpopular minorities who needed the protection of the upper classes.
India and the impeachment of Warren Hastings
Burke pursued for years the impeachment against Warren Hastings, the former Governor General of Bengal, in 1786. His interaction with the British dominion of India began well before the impeachment trial. Prior to the impeachment, Parliament had dealt with the Indian issue for two decades. This trial was the pinnacle of years of unrest and deliberation. In 1781 Burke was first able to delve into the issues surrounding the East India Company when he was appointed Chairman of the Commons' Select Committee on East Indian Affair—from that point until the end of the trial; India was Burke's primary concern. This committee was charged "to investigate alleged injustices in Bengal, the war with Hyder Ali, and other Indian difficulties". While Burke and the committee focused their attention on these matters, a second 'secret' committee was formed to assess the same issues. Both committee reports were written by Burke and led to the reassurance to the Indian princes that Britain would not wage war on them and the demand for the EIC to recall Hastings. This is Burke's first call for real, significant change of the imperial practices. When addressing the whole House of Commons in regards to the committee's report, Burke would describe the Indian issue as one that "began 'in commerce' but 'ended in empire.'"
On 28 February 1785, Burke made his great speech on The Nabob of Arcot's Debts, where he condemned the damage he believed the East India Company had done to India. In the province of the Carnatic the Indians had constructed a system of reservoirs to make the soil fertile in a naturally dry region, and centred their society on the husbandry of water:
These are the monuments of real kings, who were the fathers of their people; testators to a posterity which they embraced as their own. These are the grand sepulchres built by ambition; but by the ambition of an insatiable benevolence, which, not contented with reigning in the dispensation of happiness during the contracted term of human life, had strained, with all the reachings and graspings of a vivacious mind, to extend the dominion of their bounty beyond the limits of nature, and to perpetuate themselves through generations of generations, the guardians, the protectors, the nourishers of mankind.
Burke held that the advent of British dominion, and in particular the conduct of the East India Company had destroyed much that was good in these traditions and that, as a consequence of this, and the lack of new customs to replace them, the Indians were suffering. He set about establishing a set of British expectations, whose moral foundation would, in his opinion, warrant the empire.
On 4 April 1786, Burke presenting the Commons with the Article of Charge of High Crimes and Misdemeanors against Hastings. The trial, which did not begin until 14 February 1788, would be the "first major public discursive event of its kind in England", bringing the morality and duty of imperialism to the forefront of the public's perception. Burke was already known for his eloquent rhetorical skills and his involvement in the trial only enhanced its popularity and significance. For the members of London's fashionable society, the trial was a spectacle, and was not centred around Hastings' alleged misconduct and crimes as had been Burke's intent. 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 a philippic and 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 ought to be a moral undertaking rather than a wholesale looting by either the East India Company or its servants.
French Revolution: 1688 versus 1789
Initially, Burke did not condemn the French Revolution. In a letter of 9 August 1789, Burke wrote: "England gazing with astonishment at a French struggle for Liberty and not knowing whether to blame or to applaud! The thing indeed, though I thought I saw something like it in progress for several years, has still something in it paradoxical and Mysterious. The spirit it is impossible not to admire; but the old Parisian ferocity has broken out in a shocking manner". The events of 5–6 October 1789, in which a crowd of Parisian women marched on Versailles to compel King Louis XVI to return to Paris, turned Burke against it. In a letter to his son Richard on 10 October he said: "This day I heard from Laurence who has sent me papers confirming the portentous state of France—where the Elements which compose Human Society seem all to be dissolved, and a world of Monsters to be produced in the place of it—where Mirabeau presides as the Grand Anarch; and the late Grand Monarch makes a figure as ridiculous as pitiable". On 4 November Charles-Jean-François Depont wrote to Burke, requesting that he endorse the Revolution. Burke replied that any critical language of it by him should be taken "as no more than the expression of doubt" but added: "You may have subverted Monarchy, but not recover'd freedom". In the same month he described France as "a country undone". Burke's first public condemnation of the Revolution occurred on the debate in Parliament on the Army Estimates on 9 February 1790, provoked by praise of the Revolution by Pitt and Fox:
Since the House had been prorogued in the summer much work was done in France. The French had shewn themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world. In that very short space of time they had completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army; their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures...[there was a danger of] an imitation of the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody and tyrannical democracy...[in religion] the danger of their example is no longer from intolerance, but from Atheism; a foul, unnatural vice, foe to all the dignity and consolation of mankind; which seems in France, for a long time, to have been embodied into a faction, accredited, and almost avowed.
In January 1790, Burke read Dr. Richard Price's sermon of 4 November 1789 to the Revolution Society, called A Discourse on the Love of our Country. The Revolution Society was founded to commemorate the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In this sermon Price espoused the philosophy of universal "rights of men". Price argued that love of our country "does not imply any conviction of the superior value of it to other countries, or any particular preference of its laws and constitution of government". Instead, Englishmen should see themselves "more as citizens of the world than as members of any particular community". The debate between Price and Burke was "the classic moment at which two fundamentally different conceptions of national identity were presented to the English public". Price claimed that the principles of the Glorious Revolution included "the right to choose our own governors, to cashier them for misconduct, and to frame a government for ourselves". Immediately after reading Price's sermon, Burke wrote a draft of what eventually became the Reflections on the Revolution in France. On 13 February 1790, a notice in the press said that Burke would shortly publish a pamphlet on the Revolution and its British supporters, however he spent the year revising and expanding it. On 1 November he finally published the Reflections and it was an immediate best-seller. Priced at five shillings, it was more expensive than most political pamphlets but by the end of 1790 it had gone through ten printings and sold approximately 17,500 copies. A French translation appeared on 29 November and on 30 November the translator, Pierre-Gaëton Dupont, wrote to Burke saying 2,500 copies had already been sold. The French translation ran to ten printings by June 1791.
What the Glorious Revolution had meant was important to Burke and his contemporaries, as it had been for the last one hundred years in British politics. In the Reflections, Burke argued against Price's interpretation of the Glorious Revolution and instead gave a classic Whig defence of it. Burke argued against the idea of abstract, metaphysical rights of men and instead advocated national tradition:
The Revolution was made to preserve our antient indisputable laws and liberties, and that antient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty.... The very idea of the fabrication of a new government, is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers. Upon that body and stock of inheritance we have taken care not to inoculate any cyon [scion] alien to the nature of the original plant.... Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta. You will see that Sir Edward Coke, that great oracle of our law, and indeed all the great men who follow him, to Blackstone, are industrious to prove the pedigree of our liberties. They endeavour to prove that the ancient charter... were nothing more than a re-affirmance of the still more ancient standing law of the kingdom.... In the famous law... called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, "Your subjects have inherited this freedom", claiming their franchises not on abstract principles "as the rights of men", but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.
Burke put forward that "We fear God, we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected". Burke defended prejudice on the grounds that it is "the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages" and superior to individual reason, which is small in comparison. "Prejudice", Burke claimed, "is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man's virtue his habit". Burke criticised social contract theory by claiming that society is indeed a contract, but "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born".
The most famous passage in Burke's Reflections was his description of the events of 5–6 October 1789 and Marie Antoinette's part in them. Burke's account differs little from modern historians who have used primary sources. His use of flowery language to describe it, however, provoked both praise and criticism. Philip Francis wrote to Burke saying that what he wrote of Marie Antoinette was "pure foppery". Edward Gibbon however reacted differently: "I adore his chivalry". Burke was informed by an Englishman who had talked with the Duchesse de Biron that when Marie Antoinette was reading the passage she burst into tears and took considerable time to finish reading it. Price had rejoiced that the French king had been "led in triumph" during the October Days but to Burke this symbolised the opposing revolutionary sentiment of the Jacobins and the natural sentiments of those like himself who regarded the ungallant assault on Marie Antoinette with horror, as a cowardly attack on a defenceless woman.
Louis XVI translated the Reflections "from end to end" into French. Fellow Whig MPs Richard Sheridan and Charles James Fox disagreed with Burke and split with him. Fox thought the Reflections to be "in very bad taste" and "favouring Tory principles". Other Whigs such as the Duke of Portland and Earl Fitzwilliam privately agreed with Burke but did not wish for a public breach with their Whig colleagues. Burke wrote on 29 November 1790: "I have received from the Duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord John Cavendish Montagu and a long et cetera of the old Stamina of the Whiggs a most full approbation of the principles of that work and a kind indulgence to the execution". The Duke of Portland said in 1791 that when anyone criticised the Reflections to him he informed them that he had recommended the book to his sons as containing the true Whig creed. In the opinion of Paul Langford, Burke crossed something of a Rubicon when he attended a levee on 3 February 1791 to meet the King, later described by Jane Burke:
On his coming to Town for the Winter, as he generally does, he went to the Levee with the Duke of Portland, who went with Lord William to kiss hands on his going into the Guards—while Lord William was kissing hands, The King was talking to The Duke, but his Eyes were fixed on [Burke] who was standing in the Crowd, and when He said His say to The Duke, without waiting for [Burke]'s coming up in his turn, The King went up to him, and, after the usual questions of how long have you been in Town and the weather, He said you have been very much employed of late, and very much confined. [Burke] said, no, Sir, not more than usual—You have and very well employed too, but there are none so deaf as those that w'ont hear, and none so blind as those that w'ont see—[Burke] made a low bow, Sir, I certainly now understand you, but was afraid my vanity or presumption might have led me to imagine what Your Majesty has said referred to what I have done—You cannot be vain—You have been of use to us all, it is a general opinion, is it not so Lord Stair? who was standing near. It is said Lord Stair;—Your Majesty's adopting it, Sir, will make the opinion general, said [Burke]—I know it is the general opinion, and I know that there is no Man who calls himself a Gentleman that must not think himself obliged to you, for you have supported the cause of the Gentlemen—You know the tone at Court is a whisper, but The King said all this loud, so as to be heard by every one at Court.
Burke's Reflections sparked a pamphlet war. Thomas Paine penned the Rights of Man in 1791 as a response to Burke; Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Men and James Mackintosh wrote Vindiciae Gallicae. Mackintosh was the first to see the Reflections as "the manifesto of a Counter Revolution". Mackintosh later agreed with Burke's views, remarking in December 1796 after meeting him, that Burke was "minutely and accurately informed, to a wonderful exactness, with respect to every fact relating to the French Revolution". Mackintosh later said: "Burke was one of the first thinkers as well as one of the greatest orators of his time. He is without parallel in any age, excepting perhaps Lord Bacon and Cicero; and his works contain an ampler store of political and moral wisdom than can be found in any other writer whatever".
In November 1790, François-Louis-Thibault de Menonville, a member of the National Assembly of France, wrote to Burke, praising the Reflections and requesting more "very refreshing mental food" that he could publish. This Burke did in April 1791 when he published A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly. Burke called for external forces to reverse the Revolution and included an attack on the late French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a personality cult had developed in revolutionary France. Although Burke conceded that Rousseau sometimes shows "a considerable insight into human nature" he was mostly critical. Although he did not meet Rousseau on his visit to Britain in 1766–7 he was a friend of David Hume, with whom Rousseau had stayed. Burke said Rousseau "entertained no principle either to influence of his heart, or to guide his understanding, but vanity", which he "was possessed to a degree little short of madness". He also cited Rousseau's Confessions as evidence that Rousseau had a life of "obscure and vulgar vices" that was not "chequered, or spotted here and there, with virtues, or even distinguished by a single good action". Burke contrasted Rousseau's theory of universal benevolence and his sending his children to a foundling hospital: "a lover of his kind, but a hater of his kindred".
These events and the disagreements that arose from them within the Whig party led to its break-up and to the rupture of Burke's friendship with Fox. In debate in Parliament on Britain's relations with Russia, Fox praised the principles of the Revolution, though Burke was not able to reply at this time as he was "overpowered by continued cries of question from his own side of the House". When Parliament was debating the Quebec Bill for a constitution for Canada, Fox praised the Revolution and criticised some of Burke's arguments, such as hereditary power. On 6 May 1791, during another debate in Parliament on the Quebec Bill, Burke used the opportunity to answer Fox and condemn the new French Constitution and "the horrible consequences flowing from the French idea of the rights of man". Burke asserted that those ideas were the antithesis of both the British and the American constitutions. Burke was interrupted, and Fox intervened to say that Burke should be allowed to carry on with his speech. However a vote of censure was moved against Burke for noticing the affairs of France, which was moved by Lord Sheffield and seconded by Fox. Pitt made a speech praising Burke, and Fox made a speech both rebuking and complimenting Burke. He questioned the sincerity of Burke, who seemed to have forgotten the lessons he had taught him, quoting from Burke's speeches of fourteen and fifteen years before. Burke replied:
It certainly was indiscreet at any period, but especially at his time of life, to parade enemies, or give his friends occasion to desert him; yet if his firm and steady adherence to the British constitution placed him in such a dilemma, he would risk all, and, as public duty and public experience taught him, with his last words exclaim, "Fly from the French Constitution".
At this point, Fox whispered that there was "no loss of friendship". "I regret to say there is", Burke said; "I have indeed made a great sacrifice; I have done my duty though I have lost my friend. There is something in the detested French constitution that envenoms every thing it touches". This provoked a reply from Fox, yet he was unable to give his speech for some time since he was overcome with tears and emotion, he appealed to Burke to remember their inalienable friendship but also repeated his criticisms of Burke and uttered "unusually bitter sarcasms". This only aggravated the rupture between the two men. Burke demonstrated his separation from the party on 5 June 1791 by writing to Fitzwilliam, declining money from him.
Burke was dismayed that some Whigs, instead of reaffirming the principles of the Whig party he laid out in the Reflections, had rejected them in favour of "French principles" and criticised Burke for abandoning Whig principles. Burke wanted to demonstrate his fidelity to Whig principles and feared that acquiescence to Fox and his followers would allow the Whig party to become a vehicle for Jacobinism. Burke knew that many members of the Whig party did not share Fox's views and wanted to provoke them into condemning the French Revolution. Burke wrote that he wanted to represent the whole Whig party "as tolerating, and by a toleration, countenancing those proceedings" so that he could "stimulate them to a public declaration of what every one of their acquaintance privately knows to be...their sentiments". Therefore on 3 August 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 as holding principles contrary to those traditionally held by the Whig party. Burke owned two copies of what has been called "that practical compendium of Whig political theory", The Tryal of Dr. Henry Sacheverell (1710). Burke wrote of the trial: "It rarely happens to a party to have the opportunity of a clear, authentic, recorded, declaration of their political tenets upon the subject of a great constitutional event like that of the [Glorious] Revolution". Writing in the third person, Burke asserted in his Appeal:
...that the foundations laid down by the Commons, on the trial of Doctor Sacheverel, for justifying the revolution of 1688, are the very same laid down in Mr. Burke's Reflections; that is to say,—a breach of the original contract, implied and expressed in the constitution of this country, as a scheme of government fundamentally and inviolably fixed in King, Lords and Commons.—That the fundamental subversion of this antient constitution, by one of its parts, having been attempted, and in effect accomplished, justified the Revolution. That it was justified only upon the necessity of the case; as the only means left for the recovery of that antient constitution, formed by the original contract of the British state; as well as for the future preservation of the same government. These are the points to be proved.
Burke then provided quotations from Paine's Rights of Man to demonstrate what the New Whigs believed. Burke's belief that Foxite principles corresponded to Paine's was genuine. Finally, Burke denied that a majority of "the people" had, or ought to have, the final say in politics and alter society at their pleasure. People had rights but also duties, and these duties were not voluntary. Also, the people could not overthrow morality derived from God.
Although Whig grandees like Portland and Fitzwilliam privately agreed with Burke's Appeal, they wished he had used more moderate language. Fitzwilliam saw the Appeal as containing "the doctrines I have sworn by, long and long since". Francis Basset, a backbench Whig MP, wrote to Burke: "...though for reasons which I will not now detail I did not then deliver my sentiments, I most perfectly differ from Mr Fox & from the great Body of opposition on the French Revolution". Burke sent a copy of the Appeal to the King and the King requested a friend to communicate to Burke that he had read it "with great Satisfaction". Burke wrote of its reception: "Not one word from one of our party. They are secretly galled. They agree with me to a title; but they dare not speak out for fear of hurting Fox. ... They leave me to myself; they see that I can do myself justice". Charles Burney viewed it as "a most admirable book—the best & most useful on political subjects that I have ever seen" but believed the differences in the Whig party between Burke and Fox should not be publicly aired.
Eventually most of the Whigs sided with Burke and gave their support to Pitt's conservative government, which, in response to France's declaration of war against Britain, declared war on France's revolutionary government in 1793.
In December 1791, Burke sent government ministers his Thoughts on French Affairs where he put forward three main points: no counter-revolution in France would come about by purely domestic causes; the longer the revolutionary government exists the stronger it becomes; and the revolutionary government's interest and aim is to disturb all the other governments of Europe. Burke, as a Whig, did not wish to see an absolute monarchy again in France after the extirpation of Jacobinism. Writing to an émigré in 1791, Burke expressed his views against a restoration of the ancien régime:
When such a complete convulsion has shaken the State, and hardly left any thing whatsoever, either in civil arrangements, or in the Characters and disposition of men's minds, exactly where it was, whatever shall be settled although in the former persons and upon old forms, will be in some measure a new thing and will labour under something of the weakness as well as other inconveniences of a Change. My poor opinion is that you mean to establish what you call 'L'ancien Regime,' If any one means that system of Court Intrigue miscalled a Government as it stood, at Versailles before the present confusions as the thing to be established, that I believe will be found absolutely impossible; and if you consider the Nature, as well of persons, as of affairs, I flatter myself you must be of my opinion. That was tho' not so violent a State of Anarchy as well as the present. If it were even possible to lay things down exactly as they stood, before the series of experimental politicks began, I am quite sure that they could not long continue in that situation. In one Sense of L'Ancien Regime I am clear that nothing else can reasonably be done.
Burke delivered a speech on the debate of the Aliens Bill on 28 December 1792. He supported the Bill as it would exclude "murderous atheists, who would pull down church and state; religion and God; morality and happiness". The peroration included a reference to a French order for 3,000 daggers. Burke revealed a dagger he had concealed in his coat and threw it to the floor: "This is what you are to gain by an alliance with France". Burke picked up the dagger and continued:
When they smile, I see blood trickling down their faces; I see their insidious purposes; I see that the object of all their cajoling is—blood! I now warn my countrymen to beware of these execrable philosophers, whose only object it is to destroy every thing that is good here, and to establish immorality and murder by precept and example—'Hic niger est hunc tu Romane caveto' ['Such a man is evil; beware of him, Roman'. Horace, Satires I. 4. 85.].
Burke supported the war against revolutionary France, seeing Britain as fighting on the side of the royalists and émigres in a civil war, rather than fighting against the whole nation of France. Burke also supported the royalist uprising in La Vendée, describing it on 4 November 1793 in a letter to William Windham, as "the sole affair I have much heart in". Burke wrote to Henry Dundas on 7 October urging him to send reinforcements there, as he viewed it as the only theatre in the war that might lead to a march on Paris. However Dundas did not follow Burke's advice. Burke believed the government was not taking the uprising seriously enough, a view reinforced by a letter he had received from the Comte d'Artois, dated 23 October, requesting that he intercede on behalf of the royalists to the government. Burke was forced to reply on 6 November: "I am not in His Majesty's Service; or at all consulted in his Affairs". Burke published his Remarks on the Policy of the Allies with Respect to France, begun in October, where he said: "I am sure every thing has shewn us that in this war with France, one Frenchman is worth twenty foreigners. La Vendee is a proof of this".
On 20 June 1794, Burke received a vote of thanks from the Commons for his services in the Hastings trial and immediately resigned his seat, being replaced by his son Richard. However a terrible blow fell upon Burke in the loss of Richard in August 1794, to whom he was tenderly attached, and in whom he saw signs of promise, which were not patent to others, and which in fact appear to have been non-existent. 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. Even this modest reward was attacked by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale, to whom Burke replied in the Letter to a Noble Lord (1796). Burke wrote: "It cannot at this time be too often repeated; line upon line; precept upon precept; until it comes into the currency of a proverb, To innovate is not to reform". He argued that he was rewarded on merit but the Duke of Bedford received his rewards from inheritance alone, his ancestor being the original pensioner: "Mine was from a mild and benevolent sovereign; his from Henry the Eighth". Burke also hinted at what would happen to such people if their revolutionary ideas were implemented, and included a description of the British constitution:
But as to our country and our race, as long as the well compacted structure of our church and state, the sanctuary, the holy of holies of that ancient law, defended by reverence, defended by power, a fortress at once and a temple, shall stand inviolate on the brow of the British Sion—as long as the British Monarchy, not more limited than fenced by the orders of the State, shall, like the proud Keep of Windsor, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the double belt of its kindred and coeval towers, as long as this awful structure shall oversee and guard the subjected land—so long as the mounds and dykes of the low, fat, Bedford level will have nothing to fear from all the pickaxes of all the levellers of France.
Burke's last publications were the Letters on a Regicide Peace (October 1796), called forth by the Pitt government's negotiations for peace with France. Burke regarded this as appeasement, injurious to national dignity and honour. In the Second Letter, Burke wrote of the revolutionary French government: "Individuality is left out of their scheme of government. The state is all in all. Everything is referred to the production of force; afterwards, everything is trusted to the use of it. It is military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirit, and in all its movements. The state has dominion and conquest for its sole objects—dominion over minds by proselytism, over bodies by arms". This has been seen as the first time someone explained the modern totalitarian state. Burke regarded the war with France as ideological, against an "armed doctrine". He wished that France would not be partitioned due to the effect this would have on the balance of power in Europe, and that the war was not against France but against the revolutionaries governing her. Burke said: "It is not France extending a foreign empire over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and beginning with the conquest of France".
In November 1795, there was a debate in Parliament on the high price of corn and Burke wrote a memorandum to Pitt on the subject. In December Samuel Whitbread MP introduced a bill giving magistrates the power to fix minimum wages and Fox said he would vote for it. This debate probably led Burke to editing his memorandum as there appeared a notice that Burke would soon publish a letter on the subject to the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture (Arthur Young), but he failed to complete it. These fragments were inserted into the memorandum after his death and published posthumously in 1800 as Thoughts and Details on Scarcity. In it, Burke expounded "some of the doctrines of political economists bearing upon agriculture as a trade". Burke criticised policies such as maximum prices and state regulation of wages, and set out what the limits of government should be:
That the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.
Writing to a friend in May 1795, Burke surveyed the causes of discontent: "I think I can hardly overrate the malignity of the principles of Protestant ascendency, as they affect Ireland; or of Indianism, as they affect these countries, and as they affect Asia; or of Jacobinism, as they affect all Europe, and the state of human society itself. The last is the greatest evil". However by March 1796 Burke had changed his mind: "Our Government and our Laws are beset by two different Enemies, which are sapping its foundations, Indianism, and Jacobinism. In some Cases they act separately, in some they act in conjunction: But of this I am sure; that the first is the worst by far, and the hardest to deal with; and for this amongst other reasons, that it weakens discredits, and ruins that force, which ought to be employed with the greatest Credit and Energy against the other; and that it furnishes Jacobinism with its strongest arms against all formal Government".
For more than a year before his death, Burke knew that his stomach was "irrecoverably ruind". After hearing that Burke was nearing death, Fox wrote to Mrs. Burke enquiring after him. Fox received the reply the next day:
Mrs. Burke presents her compliments to Mr. Fox, and thanks him for his obliging inquiries. Mrs. Burke communicated his letter to Mr. Burke, and by his desire has to inform Mr. Fox that it has cost Mr. Burke the most heart-felt pain to obey the stern voice of his duty in rending asunder a long friendship, but that he deemed this sacrifice necessary; that his principles continue the same; and that in whatever of life may yet remain to him, he conceives that he must live for others and not for himself. Mr. Burke is convinced that the principles which he has endeavoured to maintain are necessary to the welfare and dignity of his country, and that these principles can be enforced only by the general persuasion of his sincerity.
Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on 9 July 1797 and was buried there alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.
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Burke is regarded by most political historians in the English-speaking world as the father of modern English conservatism. Burke was utilitarian and empirical in his arguments, while Joseph de Maistre who was a fellow conservative from the continent, was more a providentialist and sociological and used a more confrontational tone in his arguments.
Burke's ideas placing property at the base of human development and the development of society were radical and new at the time. Burke believed that property was essential to human life. Because of his conviction that people desire to be ruled and controlled, the division of property formed the basis for social structure, helping develop control within a property-based hierarchy. He viewed the social changes brought on by property as the natural order of events that should be taking place as the human race progressed. With the division of property and the class system, he also believed that it kept the monarch in check to the needs of the classes beneath the monarch. Since property largely aligned or defined divisions of social class, class too was seen as natural—part of a social agreement that the setting of persons into different classes is the mutual benefit of all subjects.
Burke's support for Irish Catholics and Indians often led him to be criticised by Tories. His opposition to British imperialism in Ireland and India and his opposition to French imperialism and radicalism in Europe, made it difficult for Whig or Tory to wholly accept Burke as their own. In the 19th century Burke was praised by both liberals and conservatives. Burke's friend Philip Francis wrote that Burke "was a man who truly & prophetically foresaw all the consequences which would rise from the adoption of the French principles" but because Burke wrote with so much passion people were doubtful of his arguments. William Windham spoke from the same bench in the House of Commons as Burke had done when he had separated from Fox and an observer said Windham spoke "like the ghost of Burke" when he made a speech against peace with France in 1801. William Hazlitt, a political opponent of Burke, regarded him as amongst his three favourite writers (the others being Junius and Rousseau), and made it "a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man". William Wordsworth was originally a supporter of the French Revolution and attacked Burke in 'A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff' (1793) but by the early 19th century he had changed his mind and came to admire Burke. In his Two Addresses to the Freeholders of Westmorland Wordsworth called Burke "the most sagacious Politician of his age" whose predictions "time has verified". He later revised his poem The Prelude to include praise of Burke ("Genius of Burke! forgive the pen seduced/By specious wonders") and portrayed him as an old oak. Samuel Taylor Coleridge came to have a similar conversion: he had criticised Burke in The Watchman but in his Friend (1809–10) Coleridge defended Burke from charges of inconsistency. Later, in his Biographia Literaria (1817) Coleridge hails Burke as a prophet and praises Burke for referring "habitually to principles. He was a scientific statesman; and therefore a seer". Henry Brougham wrote of Burke: "... all his predictions, save one momentary expression, had been more than fulfilled: anarchy and bloodshed had borne sway in France; conquest and convulsion had desolated Europe...the providence of mortals is not often able to penetrate so far as this into futurity". George Canning believed that Burke's Reflections "has been justified by the course of subsequent events; and almost every prophecy has been strictly fulfilled". In 1823 Canning wrote that he took Burke's "last works and words [as] the manual of my politics". The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli "was deeply penetrated with the spirit and sentiment of Burke's later writings". The Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone considered Burke "a magazine of wisdom on Ireland and America" and in his diary recorded: "Made many extracts from Burke—sometimes almost divine". The Radical MP and anti-Corn Law activist Richard Cobden often praised Burke's Thoughts and Details on Scarcity. The Liberal historian Lord Acton considered Burke one of the three greatest liberals, along with William Gladstone and Thomas Babington Macaulay. Macaulay recorded in his diary: "I have now finished reading again most of Burke's works. Admirable! The greatest man since Milton". The Gladstonian Liberal MP John Morley published two books on Burke (including a biography) and was influenced by Burke, including his views on prejudice. The Cobdenite Radical Francis Hirst thought Burke deserved "a place among English libertarians, even though of all lovers of liberty and of all reformers he was the most conservative, the least abstract, always anxious to preserve and renovate rather than to innovate. In politics he resembled the modern architect who would restore an old house instead of pulling it down to construct a new one on the site". Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France was controversial at the time of its publication, but after his death, it was to become his best-known and most influential work, and a manifesto of conservative thought.
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. "The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God." (E. Burke, l.c., pp. 31, 32) No wonder that, true to the laws of God and Nature, he always sold himself in the best market.
Winston Churchill, in "Consistency in Politics", wrote:
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 ideological 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 "the great Disgrace of the British character in India".
When "good men do nothing"
The statement that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" is often attributed to Burke. Although it has not been found in his speeches, writings, or letters (and is thus apocryphal), in 1770 he wrote in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents that "when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." John Stuart Mill made a similar statement in an inaugural address delivered to the University of St. Andrews in 1867: "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing."
Vindication of Natural Society (1756)
A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756)
An Account of the European Settlement in America (1757)
The Abridgement of the History of England (1757)
Annual Register editor for some 30 years (1758)
Tracts on the Popery Laws (Early 1760's)
On the Present State of the Nation (1769)
Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)
American Taxation (1774)
Conciliation with the Colonies (1775)
A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777)
Reform of the Representation in the House of Commons (1782)
Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791)
Thoughts on French Affairs (1791)
Remarks on the Policy of the Allies (1793)
Letters on a Regicide Peace (1795–97)
Letter to a Noble Lord (1796)
- The exact year of his birth is the subject of a great deal of controversy; 1728, 1729 and 1730 have been proposed. His date of birth is also subject to question, a problem compounded by the Julian-Gregorian changeover in 1752, during his lifetime. For a fuller treatment of the question, see F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume I: 1730–1784 (Clarendon Press, 1999), pp. 16–17. Conor Cruise O'Brien (2008; p. 14) questions Burke's birthplace as having been in Dublin, arguing in favour of Shanballymore, Co. Cork (in the house of his uncle, James Nagle).
- Clark, J. C. D. (2001). Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: a Critical Edition. Stanford. p. 25. ISBN 0-8047-3923-4. "Edmund Burke was an Irishman, born in Dublin but in an age before 'Celtic nationalism' had been constructed to make Irishness and Englishness incompatible: he was therefore free also to describe himself, without misrepresentation, as 'a loyalist being loyal to England' to denote his membership of the wider polity. He never attempted to disguise his Irishness (as some ambitious Scots in eighteenth-century England tried to anglicise their accents), did what he could in the Commons to promote the interests of his native country and was bitterly opposed to the Penal Laws against Irish Catholics."
- Hitchens, Christopher (April 2004). "Reactionary Prophet". The Atlantic (Washington). "Edmund Burke was neither an Englishman nor a Tory. He was an Irishman, probably a Catholic Irishman at that (even if perhaps a secret sympathiser), and for the greater part of his life he upheld the more liberal principles of the Whig faction."
- Burke lived before the terms "conservative" and "liberal" were used to describe political ideologies, cf. J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1660–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 5, p. 301.
- Dennis O'Keeffe; John Meadowcroft (2009). Edmund Burke. Continuum. p. 93.
- Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction. Third Edition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 74.
- F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume II: 1784–1797 (Clarendon Press, 2006), p. 585.
- Razeen Sally, Classical Liberalism and International Economic Order, (Routledge, 1998). p. 80.
- J. C. D. Clark (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France. A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 26, n. 13. Hereafter cited as "Clark".
- Paul Langford, Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2008, accessed 18 October 2008.
- James Prior, Life of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Fifth Edition (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 1.
- 'Extracts from Mr. Burke's Table-talk, at Crewe Hall. Written down by Mrs. Crewe, pp. 62.', Miscellanies of the Philobiblon Society. Volume VII (London: Whittingham and Wilkins, 1862–3), pp. 52–3.
- Clark, p. 26.
- Clark, p. 25.
- Prior, p. 45.
- Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997), p. 14.
- McCue, p. 145.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 85.
- Rothbard, Murray. "Edmund Burke, Anarchist". Retrieved 14 October 2007.
- Sobran, Joseph, Anarchism, Reason, and History: "Oddly enough, the great conservative Edmund Burke began his career with an anarchist tract, arguing that the state was naturally and historically destructive of human society, life, and liberty. Later he explained that he'd intended his argument ironically, but many have doubted this. His argument for anarchy was too powerful, passionate, and cogent to be a joke. Later, as a professional politician, Burke seems to have come to terms with the state, believing that no matter how bloody its origins, it could be tamed and civilized, as in Europe, by "the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion". But even as he wrote, the old order he loved was already breaking down. "
- Prior, p. 47.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 143.
- G. M. Young, 'Burke', Proceedings of the British Academy, XXIX (London, 1943), p. 6.
- Herbert Butterfield, Man on His Past (Cambridge, 1955), p. 69.
- Prior, pp. 52–3.
- Thomas Wellsted Copeland, 'Edmund Burke and the Book Reviews in Dodsley's Annual Register', Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 57, No. 2. (Jun. 1942), pp. 446–468.
- Copeland, p. 446.
- Denslow, William R., 10,000 Famous Freemasons, 4 vol., Missouri Lodge of Research,Trenton, Missouri, 1957–61. volume 1, page 155
- "Edmund Burke". Freemasonry.bcy.ca. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
- 'A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, D. George Thompson, published by Owen Bailey, after James William Edmund Doyle, published 1 October 1851
- McCue, p. 16.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 262.
- Private Letters of Edward Gibbon, II (1896) Prothero, P. (ed.). p. 251 cited in The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781–1998 (2007) Brendon, Piers. Jonathan Cape, London. p. 10 ISBN 978-0-224-06222-0
- Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, edited by Hill-Powell; v. II, p. 349; 7 April 1775
- Boswell, Journals, Boswell: The Ominous Years, p. 134, edited by Ryskamp & Pottle; McGraw Hill, 1963
- "Burke: Select Works of Edmund Burke, Vol. 1, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents: Library of Economics and Liberty". Econlib.org. Retrieved 4 September 2008.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 277.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 283.
- Prior, p. 127 + pp. 340–2.
- Prior, p. 127.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, pp. 321–22.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 322.
- Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat. The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714–1783 (Allen Lane, 2007), pp. 569–71.
- Prior, p. 175.
- Prior, pp. 175–6.
- Prior, p. 176.
- Prior, pp. 142–3.
- "Speech on Moving Resolutions for Conciliation with America, 22 March 1775". Gutenberg.org. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 384.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 394.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 399.
- Hibbert pp. 48–73
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, p. 511 + n. 65.
- McCue, p. 21.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. I, pp. 511–2.
- The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume I (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), pp. 446–8.
- Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, The concept of representation (1972) p. 174
- Joseph Hamburger, "Burke, Edmund" in Seymour Martin Lipset, ed., The Encyclopedia of Democracy (Congressional Quarterly, 1995) 1:147–149
- Siraj Ahmed, "The Theater of the Civilized Self: Edmund Burke and the East India Trials". Representations 78 (2002): 30.
- Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered (1988), 2.
- Elizabeth D. Samet, "A Prosecutor and a Gentleman: Edmund Burke's Idiom of Impeachment", ELH 68, no. 2 (2001): 402.
- McCue, p. 155.
- McCue, p. 156.
- Mithi Mukherjee, "Justice, War, and the Imperium: India and Britain in Edmund Burke's Prosecutorial Speeches", Law and History Review 23, no. 3 (2005): 589.
- Mukherjee, Justice, War, and the Imperium, 590.
- Elizabeth D. Samet, "A Prosecutor and a Gentleman: Edmund Burke's Idiom of Impeachment", ELH 68, no. 2 (2001): 406–407.
- Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781–1998 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007), p. 35. ISBN 978-0-224-06222-0
- Clark, p. 61.
- Clark, pp. 61–2.
- Clark, p. 62.
- Clark, pp. 66–7.
- "A Discourse on the Love of our Country". Constitution.org. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
- Clark, p. 63.
- Clark, English Society, p. 233.
- Dreyer, Frederick (1978). "The Genesis of Burke's Reflections". The Journal of Modern History 50 (3): 462. doi:10.1086/241734.
- Clark, p. 68.
- Prior, p. 311.
- F. P. Lock, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 132.
- Clark, p. 39.
- Clark, pp. 24–5, p. 34, p. 43.
- Clark, pp. 181–3.
- Clark, pp. 250–1.
- Clark, pp. 251–2.
- Clark, p. 261.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, pp. 289–90.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 297.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 300.
- Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 204.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 296.
- Prior, pp. 313–4.
- L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (Penguin, 1997), p. 113.
- Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 134.
- Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, p. 178.
- Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, p. 161, n. 2.
- Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, p. 239.
- Clark, p. 49.
- Prior, p. 491.
- Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, pp. 162–69.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, pp. 356–67.
- Prior, p. 327.
- McCue, p. 23.
- Frank O'Gorman, The Whig Party and the French Revolution (Macmillan, 1967), p. 65.
- Prior, p. 328.
- Prior, p. 329.
- O'Gorman, p. 75.
- O'Gorman, p. 74.
- Clark, p. 40.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 383.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 384.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 386.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, pp. 385–6.
- Prior, pp. 357–8.
- Cobban and Smith (eds.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VI, pp. 479–80.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 439.
- Lock, Burke. Vol. II, p. 453.
- O'Gorman, pp. 168–69.
- Edmund Burke, The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume VII (F. C. and J. Rivington, 1815), p. 141.
- Prior, pp. 425–6.
- Edmund Burke, A Letter from The Right Honourable Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord, on the Attacks made upon him and his pension, in the House of Lords, by The Duke of Bedford and The Earl of Lauderdale, Early in the present Sessions of Parliament. (F. and C. Rivington, 1796), p. 20.
- Burke, A Letter to a Noble Lord, p. 41.
- Burke, A Letter to a Noble Lord, pp. 52–53.
- Prior, pp. 439–40.
- Steven Blakemore, 'Burke and the Revolution: Bicentennial Reflections', in Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution. Bicentennial Essays (The University of Georgia Press, 1992), p. 158.
- Blakemore, p. 158.
- Prior, pp. 443–4.
- Robert Eccleshall, English Conservatism since the Restoration (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990), p. 75.
- Prior, p. 419.
- Eccleshall, p. 77.
- E. G. West, Adam Smith (New York: Arlington House, 1969), p. 201.
- R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VIII (Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 254.
- McDowell (ed.), Correspondence of Edmund Burke. Volume VIII, p. 432.
- Prior, p. 456
- Christian D. Von Dehsen (21 October 1999). Philosophers and Religious Leaders. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 36–. ISBN 978-1-57356-152-5. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- Robert Eccleshall (1990). English Conservatism Since the Restoration: An Introduction & Anthology. Routledge. pp. 39–. ISBN 978-0-04-445773-2. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- Andrew Dobson (19 November 2009). An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega Y Gasset. Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–. ISBN 978-0-521-12331-0. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- Richard Lebrun (8 October 2001). Joseph de Maistre's Life, Thought, and Influence: Selected Studies. McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-0-7735-2288-6. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative. Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 90.
- Sack, p. 95.
- Gregory Claeys, 'The Reflections refracted: the critical reception of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France during the early 1790s', in John Whale (ed.), Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. New interdisciplinary essays (Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 55, n. 23.
- A. D. Harvey, Britain in the early nineteenth century (B T Batsford Ltd, 1978), p. 125.
- Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 175.
- Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 173.
- Lock, Burke's Reflections, pp. 173–4.
- Lock, Burke's Reflections, p. 174.
- Claeys, p. 50.
- E. J. Stapleton (ed.), Some Official Correspondence of George Canning. Volume I (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1887), p. 74.
- William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli. Earl of Beaconsfield. Volume I. 1804–1859 (London: John Murray, 1929), p. 310.
- John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume III (1880–1898) (London: Macmillan, 1903), p. 280.
- John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905), p. 167.
- Herbert Paul (ed.), Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (Macmillan, 1914), p. 44.
- Sir George Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay. Volume II (London: Longmans, 1876), p. 377.
- D. A. Hamer, John Morley. Liberal Intellectual in Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 65.
- F. W. Hirst, Liberty and Tyranny (London: Duckworth, 1935), pp. 105–6.
- K. Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy (Delhi, 1997), p. 27.
- Brendon, p. xviii.
- F. G. Whelan, Edmund Burke and India (Pittsburgh, 1996), p. 96.
- "BURKE, EDMUND (1729–1797)". English Heritage. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
- Daniel Ritchie (1 January 1990). Edmund Burke: appraisals and applications. ISBN 978-0-88738-328-1.
- Edmund Burke (1770). Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Blakemore, Steven (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution. Bicentennial Essays (The University of Georgia Press, 1992).
- Bromwich, David, The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014).
- Cone, Carl B. Burke and the Nature of Politics (2 vols, 1957, 1964), a detailed modern biography of Burke; somewhat uncritical and sometimes superficial regarding politics
- Thomas Wellsted Copeland, 'Edmund Burke and the Book Reviews in Dodsley's Annual Register', Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 57, No. 2. (Jun. 1942), pp. 446–468.
- Courtenay, C.P. Montesquieu and Burke (1963), good introduction
- Crowe, Ian, ed. The Enduring Edmund Burke: Bicentennial Essays (1997) essays by American conservatives online edition
- Crowe, Ian, ed. An Imaginative Whig: Reassessing the Life and Thought of Edmund Burke. (2005). 247 pp. essays by scholars
- Ian Crowe, 'The career and political thought of Edmund Burke', Journal of Liberal History, Issue 40, Autumn 2003.
- Frederick Dreyer, 'The Genesis of Burke's Reflections', The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 3. (Sep. 1978), pp. 462–479.
- Robert Eccleshall, English Conservatism since the Restoration (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
- Gibbons, Luke. Edmund Burke and Ireland: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Colonial Sublime. (2003). 304 pp.
- Hibbert, Christopher (1990–05). King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780. Dorset Press. ISBN 0-88029-399-3.
- Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (7th ed. 1992).
- Kirk, Russell. Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered (1997) by a leader of American conservatism online edition
- Kramnick, Isaac. The Rage of Edmund Burke: Portrait of an Ambivalent Conservative (1977) online edition
- F. P. Lock, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: Allen & Unwin, 1985).
- F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume I: 1730–1784 (Clarendon Press, 1999).
- F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume II: 1784–1797 (Clarendon Press, 2006).
- Lucas, Paul. "On Edmund Burke's Doctrine of Prescription; Or, An Appeal from the New to the Old Lawyers", Historical Journal, 11 (1968) opens the way towards an effective synthesis of Burke's ideas of History, Change and Prescription.
- Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997).
- Magnus, Philip. Edmund Burke: A Life (1939), older biography
- Marshall, P. J. The Impeachment of Warren Hastings (1965), the standard history of the trial and Burke's role
- Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Great Melody. A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke (1992). ISBN 0-226-61651-7.
- O'Gorman, Frank. Edmund Burke: Edmund Burke: His Political Philosophy (2004) 153pp online edition
- Parkin, Charles. The Moral Basis of Burke's Political Thought (1956)
- Pocock, J.G.A. "Burke and the Ancient Constitution", Historical Journal, 3 (1960), 125–43; shows Burke's debt to the Common Law tradition of the 17th century in JSTOR
- Raeder, Linda C. "Edmund Burke: Old Whig". Political Science Reviewer 2006 35: 115–131. Issn: 0091-3715 Fulltext: Ebsco, argues Burke's ideas closely resemble those of conservative philosopher Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992).
- J. J. Sack, 'The Memory of Burke and the Memory of Pitt: English Conservatism Confronts Its Past, 1806–1829', The Historical Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3. (Sep. 1987), pp. 623–640.
- J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative. Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
- Spinner, Jeff. "Constructing Communities: Edmund Burke on Revolution", Polity, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Spring, 1991), pp. 395–421 in JSTOR
- Stanlis, Peter. Edmund Burke and the Natural Law (1958)
- Vermeir, Koen and Funk Deckard, Michael (ed.) The Science of Sensibility: Reading Burke's Philosophical Enquiry (International Archives of the History of Ideas, Vol. 206) (Springer, 2012)
- John Whale (ed.), Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. New interdisciplinary essays (Manchester University Press, 2000).
- Whelan, Frederick G. Edmund Burke and India: Political Morality and Empire (1996)
- O'Connor Power, J. 'Edmund Burke and His Abiding Influence', The North American Review, vol. 165 issue 493, December 1897, 666–81.
- J. C. D. Clark (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France. A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2001).
- Burke's Politics (1949), edited by R. Hoffman and P. Levack
- Burke, Edmund, The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke (9 vol 1981– ) vol 1 online; vol 2 online; vol 6 India: The Launching of the Hastings Impeachment, 1786–1788 online; vol 8 online; vol 9 online;
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- Burke's works at The Online Library of Liberty
- Works by Edmund Burke at Project Gutenberg (including his collected works in twelve volumes)
- Works by or about Edmund Burke in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Edmund Burke on In Our Time at the BBC. (listen now)
- BBC – History – Edmund Burke
- Edmund Burke at the Open Directory Project
- "Edmund Burke for a Postmodern Age", William F. Byrne, Berfrois, 29 June 2011
- "AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PEACE: Excerpts from Edmund Burke’s 'On Conciliation' (1775)"
- Archival material relating to Edmund Burke listed at the UK National Archives
- Portraits of Edmund Burke at the National Portrait Gallery, London