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Edmund Burke was born in Dublin in 1729. His father, a lawyer in good practice, was a Protestant; his mother, a Catholic. Edmund was reared a Protestant, but he always respected the faith of his mother, and in after years worked with zeal to secure to his Catholic countrymen their political rights. For two years (1741-1743) he went to school at Ballitore, to Abraham Shackleton, a Quaker, of whose good influence Burke always spoke in the highest terms. Then he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he remained until he took his degree in 1748. From 1744 to 1749 Oliver Goldsmith was at Trinity, but there is no evidence that he and Burke were acquainted in college, though they were afterwards friends and comrades in London. Burke did not excel in the studies prescribed for him at Trinity, but, following his bent, read widely in natural philosophy, logic, metaphysics, history, and poetry.
His father, intending to make a London lawyer of him, entered him as a student at the Middle Temple; and Burke accordingly took up his residence in London, in 1750. He did not apply himself with diligence to his legal studies, but continued his college habit of reading at large in literature and philosophy, finding time also to attend the theatres and the debating clubs and to travel in England and on the continent. In spite of his neglect of routine legal study Burke somehow gained a wonderful mastery over fundamental legal principles, especially those underlying the science of government. His father however was greatly disappointed at Burke's course in London, stopped the young man's allowance, in 1755, and left him to support himself by writing for the book-sellers. The next year he published two books which won him distinction: A Vindication of Natural Society, and A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful. The same year (1756), he married Jane Nugent, whose calm, even temper, and ability in household management made her unusually helpful to him. Their home life was very happy.
In 1759 began Burke's thirty-year connection with the Annual Register, a summary of important events, published by Dodsley. The articles which Burke contributed to this publication marked him at once as a man of keen political insight and broad judgment, and brought him to the notice of the party leaders. From 1761 to 1763, Burke was in Ireland as a secretary to William Gerard Hamilton (who was chief secretary to the Lord Lieutenant), receiving through Hamilton's influence a pension of three hundred pounds. But it soon became evident that what was wanted of Burke was a slavish devotion of all his talents to the fortunes of Hamilton, and Burke indignantly left him, resigned the pension, and returned to the service of Dodsley in London. There he soon became one of the famous Literary Club, which numbered among its members such men as Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick and Reynolds.
When Lord Rockingham, the leader of a party of Old Whigs or Conservative Whigs, became Prime Minister in 1765, he made Burke his private secretary. In December of the same year, Burke was elected to Parliament from the borough of Wendover, and, very soon after taking his seat in January, 1766, he spoke brilliantly ard most effectively in favor of the repeal of the Stamp Act, urging that it was unwise and inexpedient to tax the colonies even if Parliament had a legal right to
After the Rockingham ministry was dismissed in 1766, Burke might have held office under Pitt, Rockingham's successor, the leader of the New Whigs or Radical Whigs, but he refused to abandon his political associates for the sake of personal advancement.
In Parliament, Burke did all that he could in opposition to the policy of George the Third, who was trying to make his power absolute.
against excluding Wilkes from Parliament. Wilkes had incurred the King's displeasure because of his radical opinions fearlessly expressed. He had been repeatedly elected to the House of Commons, and had been as often kept from his seat by a majority subservient to the King's wishes. Burke maintained the right of the voters to elect whomsoever they thought fit. As a result of the arbitrary course pursued by Parliament in the Wilkes affair there was general discontent among the people, and some rioting. In 1770, Burke published his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, in which he averred that all of England's troubles had arisen from the pursuit of selfish ends by the King and his secret counsellors, who were breaking up order ly party government and introducing confusion and disorder. The same year (1770) Lord North’s Tory ministry began its fateful career of twelve years, at the end of which George the Third found himself stripped of his American colonies. During these years, Burke's voice was often heard in Parliament, warning the King's ministers of the disasters that would surely follow their arbitrary acts, expounding a philosophy of government based upon reason and righteousness, trying all questions by tests of truth. He never relaxed his efforts, although he knew beforehand that they were doomed to failure at the hands of a Parliament in control of the “King's friends."
In 1774, Bristol, then the second city in Eng.
land, elected Burke as its representative in Parliament. Bristol had a large trade with America, and had much to lose if the troubles with the colonies should grow into war. While he was member for Bristol he delivered the Speech on American Taxation (April 19, 1974), in which he urged the repeal of the tea tax; the Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies (March 22, 1775); and wrote the Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the Affairs of America (April 3, 1777), in which he justified his course in Parliament. Burke felt through all these years of war that the cause of liberty in England itself was endangered by the employment of armed force against the colonies. If the King could use an army against Englishmen in the colonies, in a controversy over a question of constitutional right, what was to prevent him from using an army against Englishmen at home whenever in the future they should make a similar claim of constitutional right against him? It was indeed fortunate for English liberty that the colonies were finally victorious. Burke represented Bristol until 1780, when he failed of re-election because, contrary to the narrow and selfish instructions of his constituents, he had voted in favor of a bill to relieve Irish commerce of some grievous restrictions. Burke did not believe that a representative is bound to vote according to the wishes of his constituents if so to vote be against his own judg. ment of what is right and best. Rejected by