Edmund Burke, 1729 - 1797

portrait of Edmund Burke
Portrait by the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds (ca. 1770)

Born: 12 January 1729, Dublin, Ireland
Died: 9 July 1797, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

Edmund Burke was an Irish politician, writer, orator and philosopher admired in his time by conservatives and liberals alike, and is considered the father of modern conservatism. In a time when Catholicism was a bar to holding any political office, he was often accused of having Catholic sympathies and possibly being a Catholic himself, as both his mother and his sister were practicing Catholics. During his time at Trinity College in Dublin, he set up a debating club in 1747, called the Edmund Burke Club, which merged with the Historical Club in 1770 to create the Historical Society, now the oldest undergraduate society in the world.

Burke's first book, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Evils and Miseries Arising to Mankind, was written as response to Letters on the Study and Use of History by Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke and imitated Bolingbroke's style so perfectly that many didn't realize it was a satire. His next book, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, was his only purely philosophical work.

In 1765, Burke entered Parliament as a member of the House of Commons, and his maiden speech made it clear that he was an orator to be reckoned with. In subsequent years, he would find himself supporting the American Revolutionaries, and constitutional limitations on the power of the monarchy. He spoke against the Partition of Poland and, while initially supportive of the aims of the French Revolution, was repelled by the bloodiness and soon opposed it vehemently, calling the revolutionaries "the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world." His Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790, sparked a pamphlet war involving the likes of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and James Mackintosh, and split Burke's Whig party. He opposed British imperialism in Ireland and India, French imperialism and radicalism, and the laws restricting the rights of Catholics.

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