Edmund Burke was a renowned British politician, a prominent member of the Whig party, an influential political orator, theorist, author and philosopher, who is widely considered as the founder of modern conservatism philosophy and the principal advocate of classical liberalism. His political acumen was applauded by both the conservatives and liberals, and he is ranked among the most influential politicians in the 19th century. Burke is acclaimed for being the first politician to address the grievances of the American colonies under British rule through his writings and speeches, and he served the British government on several prestigious administrative positions.
Edmund was born into an affluent family in Dublin, Ireland on January 12, 1729. His father, Richard Burke, was a prosperous lawyer and, under his father’s guidance, Edmund grew up as a follower of the Anglican faith. Burke received his basic education at Quaker School, in Ballitore, and in 1744, he was accepted at the Trinity College in Dublin. In 1747, he established a debating club which became popular as the ‘Edmund Burke’s Club’, and years later in 1770, this club was merged with the Historical Club and made the College Historical Society, which remains to this day, a prominent and influential undergraduate society. In 1748, Edmund received his bachelor’s degree, and upon his father’s insistence, he moved to London in 1750, to pursue an education in Law. In London, he was accepted at the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, however, Burke was not keen on studying law, and he gave up his legal education to travel around Europe. Burke’s intentions were to pursue a career in writing instead of law.
In 1756, Burke published his first discourse, entitled ‘A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind’, which was inspired by the works of Lord Bolingbroke on argumentations against religion and its impact on social and civil institutions. Burke began garnering overwhelming applause and positive reviews for his book, his fame as a gifted writer began to spread. In 1757, he released his study of aesthetics, entitled ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful’.
In 1757, Burke was commissioned by Robert Dodsley to compose a “history of England from the time of Julius Caesar to the end of the reign of Queen Anne”, Burke produced a composition that covered the history till 1216, but he was unable to finish it. The book was published in 1812.
Burke’s entry to the British Parliament was triggered by his encounter with William Gerard in the 1750s, who upon securing the position of Chief Secretary of Ireland, appointed Burke as his private secretary. Burke served him for the next three years, and in 1765, he accepted the position of a private secretary to liberal Whig statesman, the Marquess of Rockingham. The same year, he entered the British Parliament by becoming a member of the House of Commons for Wendover, Burke’s first speech in the parliament made an extremely positive impression. In 1769, he published his much discussed pamphlet, entitled “Observations on a Late State of the Nation”.
Burke’s rise in parliament is marked by his influential debates on the constitutional limits to the supreme authority of the Monarch, and his questioning against the irrevocable monarchical abuses of authority. He encouraged all political parties to unite and raise their voice against the irrefutable royal power in Britain. In 1770, he published “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”. Burke was an active participant in the debates held in the Parliament, and in 1770, he made one of his many iconic speeches that advocated a free market in corn during a debate held to discuss the merits of a prohibition on the export of grains. Due to Burke’s tireless efforts, the ‘Repeal of Certain Law Act’ was passed in 1772, that put away with all the existing laws directed against forestallers and dealers in corn. Burke was also a significant commentator against the partition of Poland, his writings opposing the partition are included in the Annual Register. In 1774, Burke was elected as the member of Bristol, and in 1778, he was among the principal opponents to the restrictions imposed on Irish trade, he also took part in a Parliamentary motion that advocated a revision of the restrictions. In 1780, Burke lost his seat in the Parliament due to his constant support of unconventional laws such as free trade.
Edmund Burke had a profound sympathy for the grievances of the deprived and impoverished American colonies under the rule of King George III. On March 22, 1775, he addressed the plight of the Americans in a speech inside the House of Commons, he warned England of the dire retributions from America if the situation was not improved.
The Gordon Riots of 1780 brought Burke in the centre of unrest and turmoil, as the rioters began targeting him and his house had to be placed under military protection. In 1782, Edmund was appointed as the Paymaster of the Forces and a Privy Councillor, however, he was not given a cabinet seat. He abolished 134 offices in the royal household and civil administration, and passed two acts, “The Paymaster General Act 1782” and “The Civil List and Secret Service Money Act 1782”.
Burke is the principal accuser in the impeachment of Warren Hastings, upon conducting an in depth analysis of the East India Company’s activities in India, Burke made his memorable speech on ‘The Nabob of Arcot’s Debts’, where he officially accused Hastings for the damage done by EIC in India. In 1786, he presented his “Article of Charge of High Crimes and Misdemeanours” against Hastings which led to the trial in 1788.
Burke was extremely critical of the French revolution, and hostile towards the English approval of the events taking place in France. He discussed the demerits of the French Revolutions in his book ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’, published in 1790. Burke’s writing has aided governments in making counter-revolutionary strategies in France and Germany.
Burke died on July 9, 1797, after a prolonged suffering with a stomach ailment.