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Talk:Edmund Burke

Do we have permission for this????


From the introduction to the e-text: Thoughts on the Present Discontents (http://www.abacci.com/books/book.asp?bookID=2471):

Edmund Burke was born at Dublin on 1 January 1730. His father was an attorney who had fifteen children, all but four of whom died young. Edmund, the second son, being of delicate health in his childhood, was taught at home and at his grandfather's house in the country before he was sent with his brothers Garrett and Richard to a school at Ballitore[?], under Abraham Shackleton[?], a member of the Society of Friends. For nearly forty years afterward, Burke paid an annual visit to Ballitore.

In 1744, after leaving school, Burke entered Trinity College, Dublin. He graduated with a B.A. in 1748 and an M.A. in 1751. In 1750 he went to London, to the Middle Temple. In 1756 Burke became known as a writer, by two pieces. One was a pamphlet called "A Vindication of Natural Society." This was an ironical piece, reducing to absurdity those theories of the excellence of uncivilised humanity that were gathering strength in France and had been favored in the philosophical works of Bolingbroke, then recently published. Burke's other work published in 1756,was his "Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful."

At this time Burke's health broke down. He was cared for in the house of a kindly physician, Dr. Nugent, and the result was that in the spring of 1757 he married Dr. Nugent's daughter. In the following year Burke made Samuel Johnson's acquaintance, and acquaintance ripened fast into close friendship. In 1758, also, a son was born and, as a way of adding to his income, Burke suggested the plan of "The Annual Register."

In 1761 Burke became private secretary to William Gerard Hamilton[?], who was then appointed Chief Secretary to Ireland. In April 1763, Burke's services were recognized by a pension of 300 pounds a year; but he threw this up in April, 1765, when he found out that his services were considered to have been not only recognised, but also bought. On 10 July 1765, Lord Rockingham[?] became premier, and a week later Burke, through the good offices of an admiring friend who had come to know him in the newly-founded Turk's Head Club, became Rockingham's private secretary. He became the mainstay, if not the inspirer, of Rockingham's policy of pacific compromise in the vexed questions between England and the American colonies. Burke's elder brother, who had lately succeeded to his father's property, died also in 1765, and Burke sold the estate in Cork for 4,000 pounds.

Having become private secretary to Lord Rockingham, Burke entered Parliament as member for Wendover, and promptly took his place among the leading speakers in the House.

On the 30th of July, 1766, the Rockingham Ministry went out, and Burke wrote a defence of its policy in "A Short Account of a late Short Administration." In 1768 Burke bought for 23,000 pounds an estate called Gregories or Butler's Court, about a mile from Beaconsfield. He called it by the more territorial name of Beaconsfield, and made it his home. Burke's endeavours to stay the policy that was driving the American colonies to revolution, caused the State of New York, in 1771, to nominate him as its agent. About May, 1769, Edmund Burke began the pamphlet here given, Thoughts on the Present Discontents. It was published in 1770, and four editions of it were issued before the end of the year. It was directed chiefly against Court influence, that had first been used successfully against the Rockingham Ministry. Allegiance to Rockingham caused Burke to write the pamphlet, but he based his argument upon essentials of his own faith as a statesman. It was the beginning of the larger utterance of his political mind.

Court influence was strengthened in those days by the large number of newly-rich men, who bought their way into the House of Commons for personal reasons and could easily be attached to the King's party. In a population of 8,000,000 there were then but 160,000 electors, mostly nominal. The great land-owners generally held the counties. When two great houses disputed the county of York, the election lasted fourteen days, and the costs, chiefly in bribery, were said to have reached three hundred thousand pounds. Many seats in Parliament were regarded as hereditary possessions, which could be let at rental, or to which the nominations could be sold. Town corporations often let, to the highest bidders, seats in Parliament, for the benefit of the town funds. The election of John Wilkes for Middlesex, in 1768, was taken as a triumph of the people. The King and his ministers then brought the House of Commons into conflict with the freeholders of Westminster. Discontent became active and general. "Junius" began, in his letters, to attack boldly the King's friends, and into the midst of the discontent was thrown a message from the Crown asking for half a million, to make good a shortcoming in the Civil List. Men asked in vain what had been done with the lost money. Confusion at home was increased by the great conflict with the American colonies; discontents, ever present, were colonial as well as home. In such a time Burke endeavoured to show by what pilotage he would have men weather the storm.

See also: Selections From The Speeches And Writings Of Edmund Burke (http://www.abacci.com/books/book.asp?bookID=2142)


I would like to suggest some changes to the Edmund Burke article, as follows:

1) "British" -- Burke was Irish. I would recommend changing this from "British philospher and statesman" to read "Irish-born British philosopher and statesman" or something equivalent.

2) It is not universally agreed that Burke is the father of modern conservatism. Burke was not considered a conservative in his time (indeed the word 'conservative' was not used to describe politicians in his time). Some writers even feel that Burke's reputation has been co-opted by modern (American) conservatives who focus only on his opposition to the French revolution and neglect the other important threads of his life and career.

First, Burke was a Whig, not a Tory. Keep in mind that Tories are now called the Conservative party in Enlgand, whereas Whigs are now called the Liberal Democrats. Burke campaigned ceaselessly for the rights of those under British colonial rule. Burke was responsible for the impeachment and trial of Warren Hastings, the Governor-general of colonial India. In his famous speach "On Conciliation", he urged the King's government not to be stubborn in its negotiations with the American colonies, but instead to consider the colonists' grievances and try to avoid a war. He spoke out vigorously against the Catholic penal laws[?].

All of these causes ran counter to the prevailing, old-Establishment (you might even say, conservative) sentiments at the time. Chadloder

You are making good sense, 66.27.202.81. In a moment I'll try my hand at inserting a balanced, mainstream assessment of Bourke's position. See what you make of it. Tannin 10:49 Jan 22, 2003 (UTC) (PS: It's a good idea to make yourself a username so you can sign your posts here in the talk pages - it's free and only takes a moment.)


Burke was not regarded as a magnificent orator. While his speeches today are white hot on the printed page, his speaking voice was considered to be very poor and his speeches sometimes emptied out the seats of the House. Chadloder 18:45 Jan 22, 2003 (UTC)

Hmmm: How do we explain this entry in the Oxford Companion to British History? Burke became a towering figure in the House of Commons, captivating his audience with spellbinding oratory. I'm not saying you are wrong, Chadloder, I have only a little knowledge of Burke, but that's a pretty authoritative source to be contradicting. Tannin

I will have to accept the Oxford Companion's interpretation until I dig up my sources. :) It was probably wrong of me to say that Burke's speaking voice was very poor -- while he had a quiet voice, it was effective. However, he was regarded to be a very tiresome speaker. His speech at the start of the Hastings trial lasted 8 days; his speech to close the trial lasted 9 days.

While we are picking statements apart. :) I still disagree that Burke is regarded as the father of modern conservatism. Or rather, anyone who regards him as such does so incorrectly. I blame Russel Kirk[?] for that view, which only became fashionable during the Cold War. I think the best categorization is that Burke was a centrist. Both modern liberals and modern conservatives claim to be the intellectual heirs of Burke's thought. I don't think either view is correct. One could only say Burke was a centrist.

I have already mentioned that he was a life-long Whig. Let me also cite some other sources that (I hope) will support the centrist, subtle, pragmatist Burke.

From Winston Churchill's Consistency in Politics:

No greater example in this field can be found than Burke. His Thoughts on the Present Discontents, his writings and speeches on the conciliation of America, form the main and laisting armoury of Liberal opinion throughout the English-speaking world. His Letters on a Regicide Peace, and Reflections on the French Revolution, will continue to furnish Conservatives for all time with the most formidable array of opposing weapons. On the one hand he 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, at defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.

I will also cite the introduction to Conor Cruise O'Brien's The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke:

Then there was another Burke revival, also connected with American politics and policies, in the 1950s and 1960s. Some American scholars, notably Peter J. Stanlis and Russell Kirk, drew upon Burke for arguments in the context of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the idea of America's imperial responsibilities. This revival produced some valuable detailed work, but as a whole the Burke of this revival was seriously distorted by its polemical and propagandist purposes, inflating the aspects of his career that suited those purposes, and deflating those that did not suit...

Chadloder 22:45 Jan 22, 2003 (UTC)



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