Edmund Burke

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Edmund Burke
Western Philosophy
18th century philosophy

Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke
Full name Edmund Burke
Born January 12, 1729
Dublin, Ireland
Died July 9, 1797 (aged 68)
Beaconsfield, England
School/tradition Old Whig, Liberal conservatism
Main interests Social and political philosophy

Edmund Burke (12 January 1729[1] – 9 July 1797) was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after relocating to England, served for many years in the British House of Commons as a member of the Whig party. He is mainly remembered for his opposition to the French Revolution. It 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. He is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.[2]


[edit] Early life

Burke was born in Dublin to a prosperous solicitor father (Richard; d. 1761) who was a member of the Protestant Church of Ireland. It is unclear if this is the same Richard Burke who converted from Catholicism.[3][4] His mother Mary (c. 1702–1770), whose maiden name was Nagle, belonged to the Roman Catholic Church and came from an impoverished but genteel County Cork family. (The name Burke is a corruption of the Norman name Burgh or de Burgh, who settled in Ireland following the Norman invasion of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1172.[5]) 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 would later repeatedly accuse him of harbouring secret Catholic sympathies at a time when membership of the Catholic Church would have disqualified him from public office (see Penal Laws in Ireland). 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 eighteenth century.[6] 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".[7]

As a child he sometimes spent time away from the unhealthy air of Dublin with his mother's family baking and eating delicious pies in the Blackwater Valley. He received his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, 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 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.

"The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own." A Vindication of Natural Society

Burke's first published work, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind, appeared 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.[8][9] 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.[10][11]

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).[12]

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.[13] The extent to which Burke personally contributed to the Annual Register is contested.[14] 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.[15] Burke remained its chief editor until at least 1789 and there is no evidence that any other writer contributed to it before 1766.[16]

In London, Burke knew 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.'[17]

On 12 March 1757 he married Jane Mary Nugent (1734–1812), daughter of a Catholic physician who had treated him at Bath. His son Richard was born on 9 February 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.

[edit] Member of Parliament

Dr Johnson - Lexicographer Boswell - Biographer Sir Joshua Reynolds - Host David Garrick - Actor Edmund Burke - Statesman Pasqual Paoli - Corsican independent Charles Burney - Music historian Thomas Warton - Poet laureate Oliver Goldsmith - Writer prob.The Infant Academy 1782 unknown painting An unknown portrait servant - possibly Johnson's heir Use button to enlarge or use hyperlinks
A literary party in the house of Sir Joshua Reynolds, in 1781, showing friends of Reynolds, most were members of The Club. (use cursor to identify)

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.[18]

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 600-acre (2.4 km2) 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.

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 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 May 1770.[19] In it, Burke opposed the influence of the Court and defended party connections.[20]

He also campaigned against the persecution of Catholics in Ireland and denounced the abuses and corruption of the East India Company.

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.[21]

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 Speech to the Electors at Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll was noted for its defence of the principles of representative democracy against the notion that elected officials should 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 unbiassed 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.[22]

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".[23] 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".[24]

Burke also supported Sir George Savile's attempts to repeal some of the penal laws against Catholics.[25]

This support for unpopular causes, notably free trade with Ireland and Catholic emancipation, led to Burke losing his seat in 1780. 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.[26]

For the remainder of his parliamentary career, Burke sat for Malton, another pocket borough controlled by Rockingham.

[edit] American Revolution

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.[27]

On 22 March 1775 Burke gave a speech (published in May 1775) on conciliation with America:

...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.[28]

The Tory 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.[29] To Burke Britain 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.[30]

[edit] Paymaster of the Forces

In Cincinnatus in Retirement (1782), James Gillray caricatured Burke's support of rights for Catholics.

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 of 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 which replaced it repeated verbatim almost the whole text of Burke's Act.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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 was accordingly in opposition for the remainder of his political life.

[edit] Impeachment of Warren Hastings

On February 28, 1785 he 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.[34]

However the British came along and introduced a new system, destroying tradition and therefore the Indians were suffering.[35]

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'.[36] 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.

[edit] French Revolution: 1688 versus 1789

Smelling out a Rat;—or—The Atheistical-Revolutionist disturbed in his Midnight "Calculations" (1790) by Gillray, depicting a caricature of Burke with a long nose and spectacles, holding a crown and a cross. The seated man is Dr. Richard Price, who is writing "On the Benefits of Anarchy Regicide Atheism" beneath a picture of the execution of Charles I of England.

Burke did not initially 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".[37] The events of 5-6 October 1789, in which a mob 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".[38] 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 "You may have subverted Monarchy, but not recover'd freedom".[39] 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:

Reflections on the Revolution in France, And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event. In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris. By the Right Honourable Edmund Burke.

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 gave been embodied into a faction, accredited, and almost avowed.[40]

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.[41] 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".[42] 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".[43] 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 would eventually become the Reflections on the Revolution in France.[44] On 13 February 1790 there appeared a notice in the press 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.[45][46] 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.[47]

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.[48] In the Reflections, Burke argued against Price's interpretation of the Glorious Revolution and instead gave a classic Whig defence of it.[49] 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 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.[50]

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".[51] 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, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man's virtue his habit".[52] 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".[53]

Louis XVI translated the Reflections "from end to end" into French.[54] 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".[55] 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.[56]

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 would later come to agree 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".[57] 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".[58]

In February 1791 Burke published A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly in which he claimed the excesses of the Revolution were not accidents but designed from the beginning. He also denounced Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosophical influence of the Revolution, recalling his visit to Britain in 1766: "I had good opportunities of knowing his proceedings almost from day to day and he left no doubt in my mind that he entertained no principle either to influence his heart or to guide his understanding, but vanity".[59]

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 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".[60] 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".[61] 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.[62] 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".[63]

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".[64] 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".[65] This only aggravated the rupture between the two men.

In 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. Eventually most of the Whigs sided with Burke and voted their support for the conservative government of Pitt, which, in response to France's declaration of war against Britain, declared war on the revolutionary government of France in 1793.

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 ancient 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 mens 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.[66]

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.[67] 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).[68] The Hastings trial came to an end in April 1795, when the Lords exonerated Hastings of every charge.[69]

Burke spent his final years in strong support of the war against France. His 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.[70] 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.[71] 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".[72]

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.[73] In it, Burke expounded "some of the doctrines of political economists bearing upon agriculture as a trade".[74] 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.[75]

The economist Adam Smith remarked that Burke was "the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us".[76]

For more than a year before his death Burke knew that his stomach was "irrecoverably ruined".[77] 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.[78]

Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on 9 July 1797. He was buried in Beaconsfield alongside his son and brother. His wife survived him by nearly fifteen years.

[edit] Legacy

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. It is understood to be the manifesto in Conservative thought. In the English-speaking world, Burke is regarded by most political experts as the father of modern anglo-conservatism. His 'liberal' conservatism, which opposed governing based on abstract ideas to 'organic' reform, can be contrasted with the autocratic conservatism of Continental figures such as Joseph de Maistre.

His support for Irish Catholics and Indians often led him to be criticised by Tories.[79] 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.[80] In the nineteenth century Burke was praised by both liberals and conservatives. The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli "was deeply penetrated with the spirit and sentiment of Burke's later writings".[81] The Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone considered Burke "a magazine of wisdom on Ireland and America" and in his diary recorded: "Made many extracts from Burke—sometimes almost divine".[82] The Radical MP and anti-Corn Law activist Richard Cobden often praised Burke's Thoughts and Details on Scarcity.[83] The Liberal historian Lord Acton considered Burke one of the three greatest liberals, along with William Gladstone and Thomas Babington Macaulay.[84] Macaulay recorded in his diary: "I have now finished reading again most of Burke's works. Admirable! The greatest man since Milton".[85] The Gladstonian Liberal MP John Morley published two books on Burke (including a biography) and was influenced by Burke, including his views on prejudice.[86] 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".[87]

Two contrasting assessments of Burke were offered long after his death by Karl Marx and Winston Churchill. In Das Kapital Marx 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.

and 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",[88] 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".[89] 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".[90]

The quotation "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing" although often attributed to Burke does not occur in his works or recorded speeches. It first appeared in the 14th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1968), which incorrectly sourced it to a letter that did not in fact contain the quote.[91]

[edit] Summary

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ 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 Lock, pp. 16-17. Conor Cruise O'Brien (op. cit., 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).
  2. ^ Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction. Third Edition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 74.
  3. ^ J. C. D. Clark (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France. A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 26, n. 13. From now cited as "Clark".
  4. ^ Paul Langford, ‘Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 18 Oct 2008.
  5. ^ James Prior, Life of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Fifth Edition (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 1.
  6. ^ Clark, p. 26.
  7. ^ Clark, p. 25.
  8. ^ Prior, p. 45.
  9. ^ Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997), p. 14.
  10. ^ Prior, p. 45.
  11. ^ McCue, p. 145.
  12. ^ Prior, p. 47.
  13. ^ Prior, pp. 52-3.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Copeland, p. 446.
  16. ^ Copeland, p. 446.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ McCue, p. 16.
  19. ^ "Burke: Select Works of Edmund Burke, Vol. 1, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents: Library of Economics and Liberty". Econlib.org. http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Burke/brkSWv1c1.html. Retrieved on 2008-09-04. 
  20. ^ Prior, pp. 124-5.
  21. ^ Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat. The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714–1783 (Allen Lane, 2007), pp. 569-71.
  22. ^ The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume I (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), pp. 446-8.
  23. ^ Prior, p. 175.
  24. ^ Prior, pp. 175-6.
  25. ^ Prior, p. 176.
  26. ^ Langford.
  27. ^ Prior, pp. 142-3.
  28. ^ Speech on Moving Resolutions for Conciliation with America, March 22, 1775
  29. ^ Langford.
  30. ^ Langford.
  31. ^ F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke. Volume I: 1730–1784 (Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 511 + n. 65.
  32. ^ McCue, p. 21.
  33. ^ Lock, pp. 511-2.
  34. ^ McCue, p. 155.
  35. ^ McCue, p. 156.
  36. ^ Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781 - 1998 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007), p. 35. ISBN 978-0-224-06222-0
  37. ^ Clark, p. 61.
  38. ^ Clark, pp. 61-2.
  39. ^ Clark, p. 62.
  40. ^ Clark, pp. 66-7.
  41. ^ A Discourse On the Love of our Country
  42. ^ Clark, p. 63.
  43. ^ J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1660–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 233.
  44. ^ Dreyer, Frederick (1978). "The Genesis of Burke's Reflections". The Journal of Modern History 50: 462. doi:10.1086/241734. 
  45. ^ Clark, p. 68.
  46. ^ Prior, p. 311.
  47. ^ F. P. Lock, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 132.
  48. ^ Clark, p. 39.
  49. ^ Clark, pp. 24-5, p. 34, p. 43.
  50. ^ Clark, pp. 181-3.
  51. ^ Clark, pp. 250-1.
  52. ^ Clark, pp. 251-2.
  53. ^ Clark, p. 261.
  54. ^ Prior, pp. 313-4.
  55. ^ L. G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (Penguin, 1997), p. 113.
  56. ^ Lock, p. 134.
  57. ^ Clark, p. 49.
  58. ^ Prior, p. 491.
  59. ^ Prior, pp. 326-7.
  60. ^ Prior, p. 327.
  61. ^ McCue, p. 23.
  62. ^ Prior, p. 328.
  63. ^ McCue, p. 23.
  64. ^ Prior, p. 329.
  65. ^ Prior, p. 329.
  66. ^ Clark, pp. 104-5.
  67. ^ Langford.
  68. ^ Prior, pp. 425-6.
  69. ^ Langford.
  70. ^ Prior, pp. 439-40.
  71. ^ Prior, pp. 443-4.
  72. ^ Langford.
  73. ^ Robert Eccleshall, English Conservatism since the Restoration (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990), p. 75.
  74. ^ Prior, p. 419.
  75. ^ Eccleshall, p. 77.
  76. ^ E. G. West, Adam Smith (New York: Arlington House, 1969), p. 201.
  77. ^ Langford.
  78. ^ Prior, p. 456
  79. ^ J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative. Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 90.
  80. ^ Sack, p. 95.
  81. ^ 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.
  82. ^ John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume III (1880–1898) (London: Macmillan, 1903), p. 280.
  83. ^ John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905), p. 167.
  84. ^ Herbert Paul (ed.), Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (Macmillan, 1914), p. 44.
  85. ^ Sir George Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay. Volume II (London: Longmans, 1876), p. 377.
  86. ^ D. A. Hamer, John Morley. Liberal Intellectual in Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 65.
  87. ^ F. W. Hirst, Liberty and Tyranny (London: Duckworth, 1935), pp. 105-6.
  88. ^ K. Brittlebank, Tipu Sultan's Search for Legitimacy (Delhi, 1997), p. 27.
  89. ^ Brendon, p. xviii.
  90. ^ F. G. Whelan, Edmund Burke and India (Pittsburgh, 1996), p. 96.
  91. ^ Origins of the triumph-of-evil quote:

[edit] References

  • This article incorporates public domain text from: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.
  • J. C. D. Clark (ed.), Reflections on the Revolution in France. A Critical Edition (Stanford University Press, 2001).
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. Seventh Edition (1992).
  • F. P. Lock, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: George 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).
  • Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997).
  • Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Great Melody. A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke (1992). ISBN 0226616517.
  • James Prior, Life of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Fifth Edition (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854).
  • 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).

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Rigby
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
Isaac Barré
Preceded by
Isaac Barré
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
William Wyndham Grenville
Academic offices
Preceded by
Henry Dundas
Rector of the University of Glasgow
1783 – 1785
Succeeded by
Robert Cunninghame-Grahame of Gartmore
NAME Burke, Edmund
DATE OF BIRTH January 12, 1729(1729-01-12)
PLACE OF BIRTH Dublin, Ireland
DATE OF DEATH July 9, 1797
PLACE OF DEATH Beaconsfield, England
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