Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797) was an Anglo-Irish statesman and economist. He is primarily known for his work titled The Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, his parliamentary arguments against the American War of Independence, and his response to the French Revolution in his Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Edmund Burke was born to a merchant-class Irish family in Dublin, Ireland on January 12, 1729. Burke attended a Quaker boarding school, moved to Trinity College in Dublin to study law, and gave up law to study literature. During this time, he wrote A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind, and A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. The publication of The Sublime and Beautiful would earn Burke lasting fame and attracted the attention of prominent philosophers of the age such as David Hume. However, Burke would not focus too long on philosophy and answered the call of politics when it called his name.
Burke and America
In 1759, Burke began publishing the “Annual Register” in England which published a yearly summary of British politics. After being impressed with the young Burke, Lord Rockingham appointed him to be his private secretary after becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain. From here, Burke would enter the House of Commons as a member of parliament. During this time, the colonists in America began to react negatively to new taxes, acts, and restrictions placed on them by Parliament and King George III. Burke rejected the drastic change in government policies that deviated from the normal relations between Britain and her colonies. In 1775, Burke made his most famous speech called “Conciliation with America” in which he understood that the colonists were already a separate people with unique sentiments and identities. He believed any more drastic measures would lead to war in America, which would be impossible for Britain to win. Burke was correct about the outcome of the war and the United States became independent.
Burke and India
Burke took an interest in India and the East India Trading Company when he was appointed Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on East Indian Affairs in 1781. What he found concerning Governor-General of Bengal Warren Hastings troubled him deeply. Burke believed the British situation in India began in commerce but ended in troubling imperial practices. Thus, Burke was an advocate for the Indian people and pursued impeachment efforts against Warren Hastings which resulted in a trial in 1786. Sadly, for Burke, these efforts would fail and cast him in a negative light along with his accusation of treason against the Tories and their Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger.
Burke and France
In 1789, France was rioting, causing the commoners to seek reform through the National Constituent Assembly. These riots would go further and take on a spirit of vengeance and revolution. When the British parliament heard Burke’s speech over these events, many were shocked that such a moderate reformer as Burke was so critical of the French Revolution. What began as a simple letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont became one of the most famous attacks on the French Revolution. Burke would publish his Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790 which advocated for traditions over drastic change. Like his analysis of America, many of Burke's predictions came to pass, and the revolution ultimately failed with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Burke retired in 1794, and his son Richard Burke died the same year. Burke spent his remaining grieving years defending his beliefs on the French Revolution until he died in 1797. He asked to be buried in an unmarked grave so that it would not be desecrated by the Jacobins.