Edmund Burke on the French Revolution

American Minute with Bill Federer

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”

Edmund Burke is considered the most influential orator in the British House of Commons in the 18th century.​

Born January 12, 1729, one of his first notable writings was an anonymous publication A Vindication of Natural Society, 1756, which was a satirical criticism of the deism promoted by Lord Bolingbroke:

​”… seeing every mode of religion attacked in a lively manner, and the foundation of every virtue, and of all government, sapped with great art and much ingenuity … the same engines which were employed for the destruction of religion, might be employed with equal success for the subversion of government.”

​Burke criticized how a deist “every day invents some new artificial rule.”

He described the “unalterable relations which Providence has ordained that every thing should bear to every other. These relations, which are truth itself, the foundation of virtue, and consequently, the only measures of happiness.”

Burke wrote in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, author of the satire Gulliver’s Travels (1726).

​Swift also wrote in 1712, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, in which he defended Christianity against deists, freethinkers, atheists, anti-trinitarians, and socinians (unitarians).

Edmund Burke stands out in history because as a member of the British Parliament, he strongly opposed the slave trade.

He also defended the rights of the American colonies.

When America’s Revolutionary War began, Edmund Burke addressed Parliament with “A Second Speech on the Conciliation with America,” March 22, 1775:

“The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion.

This is a persuasion not only favorable to liberty, but built upon it …”

Burke continued:

“All Protestantism … is a sort of dissent.

But the religion most prevalent in our Northern Colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.”

New York University Professor Emeritus Patricia U. Bonomi wrote in her article “Religious Pluralism in the Middle Colonies” that “… the colonists were about 98 percent Protestant.”

Edmund Burke is quoted in The Works and Correspondence of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, Volume VI:

“The Scripture … is a most remarkable, but most multifarious, collection of the records of the Divine economy; a collection of an infinite variety of theology, history, prophecy, psalmody, morality, allegory, legislation, carried through different books, by different authors, at different ages, for different ends and purposes.”

Upon receiving news of the beginning of the French Revolution, Burke wrote October 10, 1789:

​”This day I heard … the portentous state of France — where the elements which compose human society seem all to be dissolved, and a world of monsters to be produced in the place of it.”

On November 4, 1789, Burke wrote to Charles-Jean-François Depont in France:

“You may have subverted Monarchy, but not recover’d freedom.”

He publicly condemned the French Revolution in Parliament, February 9, 1790:

​”The French had shewn themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world.

In that very short space of time they had completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army; their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures …

There was a danger of an imitation of the excesses of an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody and tyrannical democracy …

In religion, the danger of their example is no longer from intolerance, but from Atheism; a foul, unnatural vice, foe to all the dignity and consolation of mankind; which seems in France, for a long time, to have been embodied into a faction.”

In 1789, the French Revolution began with idealistic motives and a vaunted motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”

Robespierre led the “Committee of Public Safety” — France’s version of a Department of Homeland Security.

When citizens resisted the new secular order, Robespierre implemented subversive tactics.

He gave a Speech to the National Convention, February 5, 1794, titled “Terror Justified”:

“Lead the people by means of reason and … by terror … Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice; it flows, then, from virtue.”

Incredulously, the government actually planned and carried out terrorist attacks upon its own people it order to get them to submit.

​Robespierre’s Reign of Terror resulted in over 40,000 French citizens being beheaded in Paris, and over 300,000 massacred in the Vendée, a rural, very religious, Catholic area of northwest France.

French General Francois Joseph Westermann reputedly wrote a report to the Committee of Public Safety:

“There is no more Vendée, Republican citizens.

It died beneath our free sword, with its women and its children. I have just buried it in the swamps and the woods of Savenay.

​Following the orders that you gave to me, I crushed the children beneath the horses’ hooves, massacred the women who, those at least, will bear no more brigands. I do not have a single prisoner to reproach myself with. I have exterminated them all.”

During the French Revolution: churches were closed or used for “immoral … lurid … licentious … scandalous … depravities.” The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg was made into a Temple of Reason; crosses were forbidden as being offensive; Christian religious monuments and statues were destroyed; graves were vandalized, ransacked and desecrated, including those of Good King Henry IV, and Ste. Genevieve, who had called Paris to pray to avert an attack of Attila the Hun in 451AD; public and private worship, as well as Christian religious education, was outlawed; treaties were broken resulting in the capture of 300 American ships headed to British ports

Talleyrand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, demanded the U.S. pay millions in bribes to stop France from raiding American ships.

​A politician skilled in art of obfuscation (intentionally obscuring the truth), Talleyrand stated: “We were given speech to hide our thoughts.”

A more recent reference to obfuscation was at press conference, December 3, 2019, at a NATO summit.

With the backdrop of hundreds of cemeteries, churches, and cathedrals being vandalized or damaged, including the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, President Trump asked French President Emanuel Macron if he wanted more ISIS fighters in France.

​After Marcon’s lengthy, evasive response, President Trump quipped:

“This is why he is a great politician because that was one of the greatest non-answers I have ever heard.”

The French Revolution intentionally campaigned to de-christianize French society, replacing it with a secular civic religion of state worship.

Robespierre placed a prostitute in Notre Dame Cathedral, clothed her with a sheet, and called her the “goddess of reason.”

Not wanting a constitution “Done in the Year of the Lord” — as America’s was — France made 1792 the new “Year One.”

Not wanting a seven day week with a Sabbath day of rest, as that came from the Bible, they came up with a ten day “decade” week.

Each day was made up of ten decimal hours, each hour made up of one hundred decimal minutes, and each minute was made up of one hundred decimal seconds.

Considering “ten” the number of man — as man had ten fingers and ten toes — they created a system where every measurement was divisible by ten, calling it the “metric system.”

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​The first to be beheaded was King Louis XVI, who had previously sent his navy to help America gain its independence.

Next to be beheaded was Queen Marie Antoinette.

When the country’s situation did not improve, Robespierre accused the royalty, resulting in all of them being beheaded.

When the situation did not improve, the wealthy were beheaded, followed by business owners, farmers and those who hoarded food.

When the situation did not improve, the religious clergy were beheaded. Their speaking out against the immoral behavior was somehow considered as holding back the nation from achieving a secular utopia.

Religious orders of nuns and lay sisters, were sent to the guillotine for refusing to deny their faith and obey the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, such as the Martyrs of Compiègne, being buried in a mass grave.

Priests and ministers, along with those who harbored them, were executed on sight, similar to what happened in Mexico in 1917.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, considered the intellectual father of the French Revolution, wrote in The Social Contract (1762), that if the state says to a citizen:

​”‘It is expedient for the state that you should die,’ he ought to die … because his life is no longer a mere bounty of nature, but a gift made conditionally by the state.”

When France’s situation did not improve, Robespierre turned on his own by blaming the initial revolutionaries who were now calling for moderation.

​They were accused of being disloyal and were beheaded.

Finally, Robespierre himself was accused, arrested and beheaded.

​Esther 7:10: “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.”

Proverbs 26:27 “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.”

The seeds of this godless behavior planted a generation earlier by Voltaire and Rousseau had now came to full fruition.

Lawless street mobs cast off all moral restraint in unprecedented debauchery and violence to overthrow a corrupt old order only to set up one that was worse.

The French Revolution became the model for every socialist and communist revolution, which inevitably cause mass deaths and end in totalitarian dictatorships.

British Statesman Lord Acton wrote:

“What the French took from the Americans was their theory of revolution, not their theory of government – their cutting, not their sewing.”

Best-selling author Os Guinness stated in an interview with Dr. Albert Mohler, (Thinking in Public, June 5, 2017):

“The culture war now at its deepest roots is actually a clash between 1776, what was the American Revolution, and 1789 and heirs of the French Revolution.”

Amid France’s social instability, Napoleon seized power to become a dictator.

Regarding the bloody French Revolution, Edmund Burke wrote in “A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly,” 1791:

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves …”

Burke continued:

​”Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Noah Webster wrote “Political Fanaticism, No.III,” published in The American Minerva, September 21, 1796:

“The reason why severe laws are necessary in France, is, that the people have not been educated republicans – they do not know how to govern themselves (and so) must be governed by severe laws and penalties, and a most rigid administration.”

In 1799, Alexander Hamilton condemned the French Revolution’s attack on Christianity as:

“… (depriving) mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe …

The praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity; – war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors.

​The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism; – war resumes the same hideous and savage form which it wore in the ages of Gothic and Roman violence …”

Hamilton wrote further on France:

“Opinions … have been gradually gaining ground, which threaten the foundations of religion, morality, and society.

An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute.

The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of God, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.”

On the eve of the French Revolution, the first U.S. Minister to France, Gouverneur Morris, wrote April 29, 1789:

“”The materials for a revolution in France are very indifferent …​

Everybody agrees that there is an utter prostration of morals; but this general proposition can never convey to an American mind the degree of depravity.

​It is not by any figure of rhetoric, or force of language, that the idea can be communicated. A hundred anecdotes, and a hundred thousand examples, are required to show the extreme rottenness of every member.

There are men and women who are greatly and eminently virtuous. I have the pleasure to number many in my acquaintance; but they stand forward from a background deeply shaded …

The great masses of the common people have no religion but their priests, no law but their superiors, no morals but their interest.

These are the creatures who, led by drunken curates, are now in the high road a la liberté, and the first use they make of it is to form insurrections everywhere for the want of bread.”

Morris wrote to Thomas Jefferson, December 3, 1792:

“The open contempt of religion, also cannot but be offensive to all sober minded men.”

Gouverneur Morris wrote Observation on Government, Applicable to the Political State of France, 1792:

​”Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God.

These duties are, internally, love and adoration; externally, devotion and obedience; therefore provision should be made for maintaining divine worship as well as education.

But each one has a right to entire liberty as to religious opinions, for religion is the relation between God and man; therefore it is not within the reach of human authority.”

Morris, who died November 6, 1816, had spoken 173 times during the Constitutional Convention, more than any other delegate.

As head of the Committee on Style, it was Morris who penned the final draft of the Constitution and originated the phrase:

“We the people of the United States.”

He helped write New York’s Constitution, was elected U.S. Senator and pioneered the Erie Canal.

In the same spirit as Edmund Burke, Gouverneur Morris addressed the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1785, regarding the Bank of North America:

“How can we hope for public peace and national prosperity, if the faith of governments so solemnly pledged can be so lightly infringed? …

This hour of distress will come.

It comes to all, and the moment of affliction is known to Him alone, whose Divine Providence exalts or depresses states and kingdoms.

Not by the blind dictates of arbitrary will. Not by a tyrannous and despotic mandate. But in proportion to their obedience or disobedience of His just and holy laws.

It is He who commands us that we abstain from wrong. It is He who tells you, ‘do unto others as ye would that they would do unto you.'”

In Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, Burke wrote:

“People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”

A man of principle, Burke wrote in his Will:

“First, according to the ancient, good, and laudable custom, of which my heart and understanding recognize the propriety, I bequeath my soul to God, hoping for His mercy through the only merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

On January 9, 1795, in a letter to William Smith, Edmund Burke wrote:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”


Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


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