Reflections On the Revolution In France

Background

Edmund Burke served in the House of Commons of Great Britain, representing the Whig party, in close alliance with liberal politician Lord Rockingham. In Burke's political career, he vigorously defended constitutional limitation of the Crown's authority, denounced the religious persecution of Catholics in his native Ireland, voiced the grievances of Britain's American colonies, supported American Independence, and vigorously pursued impeachment of Warren Hastings, the Governor-General of British India, for corruption and abuse of power. For these actions, Burke was widely respected by liberals in Great Britain, the United States, and the European continent. "Earlier in his career Burke had championed many liberal causes and sided with the Americans in their war for independence; opponents and allies alike were surprised at the strength of his conviction that the French Revolution was a disaster and the revolutionists 'a swinish multitude.'".[6]

In 1789, soon after the fall of the Bastille, the French aristocrat Charles-Jean-François Depont asked his impressions of the Revolution; Burke replied with two letters. The longer, second letter, drafted after he read Richard Price's A Discourse on the Love of our Country in January of 1790, became Reflections on the Revolution in France. Published in November 1790, the work was an instant bestseller: thirteen thousand copies were purchased in the first five weeks, and by the following September it had gone through eleven editions. According to Stephen Greenblatt in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, "part of its appeal to contemporary readers lay in the highly wrought accounts of the mob's violent treatment of the French king and queen (who at the time Burke was writing were imprisoned in Paris and would be executed three years later, in January and October 1793)", and Reflections has become the "most eloquent statement of British conservatism favoring monarchy, aristocracy, property, hereditary succession, and the wisdom of the ages".[7]


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