Burke, Edmund

Burke, Edmund
   A British parliamentarian, statesman, and philosopher, Edmund Burke was born and educated in Dublin. Burke studied law before becoming a political writer and, in later life, a leading parliamentarian. He served as secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, during which time he wrote Tracts on the Popery Laws, a critique of the laws that restricted the civil and political rights of Catholics. On returning to England, he was elected to Parliament in 1765, a Whig with strong ties to the faction led by Lord Rockingham. When Rockingham left office the next year, Burke declined a position in the new government and opposed it. In his Thoughts on the Present Discontents (1770), he argued against the power of the Crown under George III. He later fought in Parliament and in print against political corruption and the maladministration of Bengal under the governor-generalship of Warren Hastings. Burke supported the grievances of the American colonists respecting taxation and, in March 1775, made a speech on reconciliation with America that, although eloquently delivered, failed to avert the conflict that broke out later that year. Although many Whigs supported the French Revolution that broke out in 1789, Burke became an early critic of “Jacobinism,” viewing the increasing radicalism of the movement as dangerous to his country’s liberal political traditions. He was the anonymous editor of The Annual Register from 1759 to 1797, but is best known for his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), which, although it lost him the support of the leading Whig statesman, Charles James Fox, attracted a large following inside and outside Parliament among those who saw the Revolution as a danger to the social and political stability provided by British constitutionalism. As Anglo-French relations deteriorated with the invasion of strategically important Belgium, Burke redoubled his attacks on the Republic and strongly supported war, which began in February 1793. In 1796, he wrote Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796) in which he accused the revolutionaries of threatening the right of property-holding. Burke’s stature at home grew in proportion to the violence of the Revolution, particularly during the Terror. He died in 1797, an icon of his political adherents and one of several eighteenth-century statesmen - above all William Pitt - whose political philosophy spawned modern conservatism.
    Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edited by Frank M. Turner. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003;
    Lambert, Elizabeth. Edmund Burke of Beaconsfield. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2003.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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