Who was he: Edward Burke was a prominent British statesman and orator in parliament who staunchly supported conservatism during the late 18th century. He wrote a number of philosophical works but is primarily remembered for his political views, especially his opposition to allowing a more assertive role for the King of England. Burke believed that the choice of a prime minister should not be the king's prerogative but rather that of the people. He also argued that letting the king play a more dominant role in politics was against the tenets of the constitution. Edmond Burke further believed in consistency and strength in governance as well as sound, principle-centered criticism. These views were expressed in his pamphlet Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, published in 1770.
Edmond Burke expressed support for the American revolutionaries, acknowledging their grievances under the rule of King George III. During a speech in parliament, Burke appealed for peace and reconciliation between the British monarchy and the American colonies, citing their common English roots, with similar belief in liberty and Protestant ideals.
Another prominent position taken by Burke was his criticism of the abuses of the East India Company and of Warren Hastings, the former Bengal Governor General. He called for significant changes in Britain's imperial policies exercised in India, stating that these practices led to the suffering of the Indians under British imperial rule.
Edmond Burke is also remembered as a political thinker who put experience above pure theory and opposed attempts at modifying existing institutions based on abstract theories, criticizing these efforts as "delusive." He instead felt that the best forms of governance were those whose effectiveness was proven over time.
While he believed in justice and sound governance, Burke opposed strict democracy. He believed that governance in the hands of the common people would be destructive due to their lack of political experience and education.
Background: Edmund Burke was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1729, the son of a lawyer and a Roman Catholic woman. He followed his father's religious affiliation with the Church of Ireland. Burke began his legal studies at Trinity College in 1744 but later lost interest, instead spending time wandering around France and England.
Burke wrote an anonymous essay titled A Vindication of Natural Society that openly criticized religion. In 1757, he released another essay, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which gained recognition from prominent philosophers including Kant and Diderot. In the same year, he married Jane Nugent and around this period developed friendships with literary artists like Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick.
In 1758, Edmond Burke initiated The Annual Register, an annual publication that highlighted world affairs. Although unacknowledged as its editor, Burke continued in this role for 30 years. In 1765, he was appointed secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham, a Whig leader. Whigs were the liberal faction of parliament. He remained the Marquess's secretary until the latter's death in 1782. With his attempts to unify the Whig group once led by the Marquess, Burke jump-started his own political career.
Burke soon actively participated in local and national debates, especially the question of whether the king or parliament should take an executive role in the English government. The king had wanted to reassert his own authority, lost during the reigns of previous monarchs. Burke, however, saw this move as unconstitutional and presented his position in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents in 1770.
Burke's parliamentary career continued for 30 years, during which he was active in speaking out on prominent issues, especially about the colonies of America and India. The final two years of Burke's life were largely spent on working for the impeachment of Warren Hastings, then Governor General of Bengal, whom he accused of oppressing the Indians and of acquiring massive wealth illegally.
Burke died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire in 1797 and was buried alongside his brother and son.