Burke was elected as an anti-Federalist to the First Congress of the United States, commencing service in New York on March 4, 1789. He served on thirty-three committees and was instrumental in crafting bills that led to the judiciary act and the creation of the Library of Congress, the postal system, and the patent system. His congressional service was marked by an incident with Alexander Hamilton, whom Burke felt had slighted southern soldiers when Hamilton eulogized General Nathanael Greene.
Jurist, congressman. Born in Galway, Ireland, on June 16, 1743, Burke received his early education at a Jesuit seminary at St. Omer, France. Few details regarding his early life are known. In 1769 he immigrated to Virginia, where evidence suggests that he read law. After visiting the West Indies, he arrived in South Carolina in 1775 and served in the state militia during the Revolutionary War. In the absence of other interested candidates, he was elected a judge in March 1778 to sit on the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions. He was captured at the fall of Charleston in 1780 and spent sixteen months in captivity, but he later advocated leniency toward Loyalists in the state.
When the South Carolina courts were reestablished after the Revolution, Burke resumed his seat on the bench. On an expedition to Georgia to purchase land near Savannah, he was elected chief justice of Georgia by the state assembly, but Burke declined the office in order to return to South Carolina.
Around the time of the British evacuation of Charleston in December 1782, Burke began a series of writings under the pseudonym “Cassius.” His Address to the Freemen of South Carolina attacked the excesses and legitimacy of the Jacksonborough Assembly. He became a leading critic of the Society of the Cincinnati with the publication of Considerations on the Society or Order of the Cincinnati (1783), which depicted the society as elitist, hereditary, and repugnant to republican government. In an anonymous tract, A Few Salutary Hints, he attacked Great Britain and the British merchants in Charleston, espousing anti-Federalist principles.
Burke sat intermittently in the South Carolina General Assembly from 1779 until 1788. By 1785 he was recognized as a legal scholar and, with Henry Pendleton and John F. Grimké, was appointed to prepare a digest of state laws. In 1788 Burke was a leading opponent of the proposed U.S. Constitution, but on its ratification he pledged his support for the new government.
Burke was elected as an anti-Federalist to the First Congress of the United States, commencing service in New York on March 4, 1789. He served on thirty-three committees and was instrumental in crafting bills that led to the judiciary act and the creation of the Library of Congress, the postal system, and the patent system. His congressional service was marked by an incident with Alexander Hamilton, whom Burke felt had slighted southern soldiers when Hamilton eulogized General Nathanael Greene. The Burke-Hamilton enmity, fueled by Republican-Federalist antagonism, did not subside. A decade later Burke served as second to Aaron Burr in a duel with John B. Church, brother-in-law of Alexander Hamilton.
Burke served one term in Congress and declined to stand for reelection in 1790, when the legislature passed a law prohibiting a state judge from leaving the state. In 1799 he was elected chancellor of the Court of Equity in Charleston and served until his death in Charleston on March 30, 1802. Burke never married. He was interred in the cemetery of the Chapel of Ease of St. Bartholomew’s Parish, near Jacksonborough in Colleton County. His portrait hangs in Hibernian Hall in Charleston.
Meleney, John C. The Public Life of Aedanus Burke: Revolutionary Republican in Post-Revolutionary South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.