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Edmund Burke’s opposition to the French Revolution

Title page from featured itemTitle page from Burke’s Reflections, 1790Edmund Burke (1729-97) was an influential Anglo-Irish member of parliament and political thinker who fiercely opposed the French Revolution. Burke believed that the French people had thrown off ‘the yoke of laws and morals’ and he was alarmed at the generally favourable reaction of the English public to the revolution. In 1790 he wrote the critical Reflections on the revolution in France, a text that was an attack on the revolution and on English radicals who sought to provoke similar change in England. 

In this text, Burke dismisses parallels that had been drawn between the French Revolution and the 1688 English revolution. He claims that the 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’ was little more than an adjustment of the constitution, while the French Revolution was veering towards anarchy, rather than reformation. Burke used the text to defend English values and Britain's constitution, arguing that a situation similar to the one developing in France would be disastrous for the country.

The title page reproduced here is from a first edition. The essay received great attention when it was published and a large number of responses, the most famous being Thomas Paine’s Rights of man, which argues that Edmund Burke’s idea of the ‘hereditary wisdom’ of the ruling classes and established order is divisive rather than benevolent.

Thomas Paine’s Rights of man features in the next section of this online exhibition.

In this exhibition

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