BURKE, EDMUND (1729-1797, Irish statesman, author, orator and political theorist)
REAFFIRMING HIS OPPOSITION TO THE FRENCH REVOLUTION SIX MONTHS AFTER THE PUBLICATION OF HIS REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE AND FIVE DAYS BEFORE THE CELEBRATED ENDING OF HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH FOX, A GREAT OCCASION OF PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY, WHICH HE ANTICIPATES IN THE PRESENT LETTER.
From February 1790 the gulf between Burke and his party gradually revealed itself. In November his seminal work, Reflections on the Revolution in France, was published. The great friends, Charles James Fox and Burke, who now stood on either side of the argument about the Revolution, for many months avoided provoking one another in Parliament, despite Fox stating in the Commons in April that he 'admired the new constitution of France, considered altogether, as the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty' and that France was now a country 'from which neither insult nor injustice was to be dreaded'.
The Quebec Bill, aimed at altering the constitution of Canada, gave Burke the opportunity to make his views clear to the House. On 6 May, five days after the date of the present letter, following the opening question put forward by the committee Chairman, Burke launched into a lengthy debate against the so-called 'rights of man' and the example of the French Revolution. Unlike Burke, who had avoided personal abuse, Fox countered by charging Burke with inconsistency in having previously supported the American rebels and defended the French Revolution as resolutely as Burke had opposed it. Burke reaffirmed his loyalty to the British constitution and defended himself against Fox's imputations, stating that at whatever cost of provoking enemies or losing friends he would exhort his countrymen to 'Fly from the French constitution'. Fox whispered 'there was no loss of friends'; Burke retorted 'Yes, there was loss of friends'. At this Fox rose, with tears running down his cheeks at the loss of his old friend, accusing Burke of treating him in a 'cruel and hard manner.' Burke claimed that Fox was beginning a new attack under 'the mask of kindness'. On 11 May, when the quarrel continued, Pitt intervened, delighted at the estrangement of the two most influential Whigs, and, rubbing salt in the wound, pointedly praised Burke and declared him 'entitled to the gratitude of his country, for having that day, in so able and eloquent a manner, stated his sense of the degree of danger to the constitution that already existed.'
John King (1759-1830), a Home Office official and politician, was appointed as a law clerk at the Home Office in January 1791 and an Under-Secretary of State in the same office in December that year. He was one of a talented group of civil servants that was to be responsible for the administration of government under William Pitt, the Younger, in the 1790s against the French Revolution. His family had long been intimately connected with Burke and he became so as well, with Burke stating that King's promotion 'to so honourable and advantageous a situation made us the happiest people in the world'. In December 1794 King was made responsible for much of the correspondence of the Alien Office, which monitored French émigrés in Britain and became the hub of an intelligence operation involving counter-revolutionary activities. He later became one of the Joint Superintendents of Aliens, Joint Secretary to the Treasury and, lastly, Comptroller of Army Accounts.
Two of King's brothers, Thomas (1746-1801) and Walker (1751-1827) were especially part of Burke's circle: Thomas acted as tutor and companion to Edmund's son Richard, and Walker, Burke's protégé, disciple and secretary, managed Burke's family affairs and arranged Burke's funeral. Walker gathered up Burke's papers at his death and was editor of his Works. Burke was also a political theorist and philosopher, advocate of a liberal attitude to the American colonies, credited as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism and staunch opponent of the French Revolution.