Born: January 12, 1729, in Dublin, Ireland
Died: July 9, 1797, in Beaconsfield, England
Edmund Burke was the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. He was tutored by Abraham Shakleton, a Quaker and a lifelong friend. He spent five years at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1744 to 1749. In 1750, he moved to London to study law. For the next ten years, he lived a colorful social life, causing him to fail the bar and lose his allowance. To support himself, he took up writing.
In 1756, he married Jane Nugent (with whom he later had two sons). That same year he also anonymously published Vindication of Natural Society. This work mocked a British statesman and created a stir among its readers. In 1757, he published A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. This work, which examined the cause of love, raised issues that would be contemplated throughout the Romantic movement.
Burke founded the Annual Register in 1759 and remained associated with it until 1788. This paper examined economic and political matters. His interest in politics was furthered when, in 1761, he was appointed private secretary to Ireland's British chief secretary.
In 1765, he entered the House of Commons, where he served for the next twenty-nine years. He always opposed the Tories, advocating the abolition of the slave trade and protesting the Stamp Act. He wanted the exploiters of India prosecuted and convinced members that Parliament proceedings should be made public.
When revolution broke out in France he wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France, which was published in 1790. This work asserted certain tenants that form the basis for conservative political movements today. He expressed the view that the party responsible for government needs solid opposition to make the process of government work effectively. He felt that a stable country is one that is run by established powers under a monarch. He also advocated that tradition was more important than creativity.
Despite his brilliant career and hard work, Burke was never given a cabinet post. Although he was a poor orator, his speeches are widely read and admired, and he was given an honorary degree at Dublin University. Three years after his death his son succeeded him in Parliament.