The first established use of the term in a political context originated in 1818 with François-René de Chateaubriand during the period of Bourbon Restoration that sought to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. Historically associated with right-wing politics, the term has since been used to describe a wide range of views. There is no single set of policies regarded as conservative because the meaning of conservatism depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. Conservative thought has varied considerably as it has adapted itself to existing traditions and national cultures. For example, some conservatives advocate for greater government intervention in the economy while others advocate for a more laissez faire free market economic system. Thus conservatives from different parts of the world—each upholding their respective traditions—may disagree on a wide range of issues. Edmund Burke, an 18th-century politician who opposed the French Revolution, but supported the American Revolution, is credited as one of the main theorists of conservatism in the 1790s. (Full article...)
Here we get on track of what conservatism is. We must carefully observe the strength of Falkland's language. He does not say that when it is not necessary to change, it is expedient or advisable not to change; he says it is necessary not to change. Very well, then, the differentiation of conservatism rests on the estimate of necessity in any given case. Thus conservatism is purely an ad hoc affair; its findings vary with conditions, and are good for this day and train only. Conservatism is not a body of opinion, it has no set platform or creed, and hence, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a hundred-per-cent conservative group or party — Mr. Justice McReynolds and Mr. Baker may stand at ease. Nor is conservatism an attitude of sentiment. Dickens's fine old unintelligent characters who "kept up the barrier, sir, against modern innovations" were not conservatives. They were sentimental obstructionists, probably also obscurantists, but not conservatives.
Nor yet is conservatism the antithesis of radicalism; the antithesis of radical is superficial. Falkland was a great radical; he was never for a moment caught by the superficial aspect of things. A person may be as radical as you please, and still may make an extremely conservative estimate of the force of necessity exhibited by a given set of conditions. A radical, for example, may think we should get on a great deal better if we had an entirely different system of government, and yet, at this time and under conditions now existing, he may take a strongly conservative view of the necessity for pitching out our system, neck and crop, and replacing it with another. He may think our fiscal system is iniquitous in theory and monstrous in practice, and be ever so sure he could propose a better one, but if on consideration of all the circumstances he finds that it is not necessary to change that system, he is capable of maintaining stoutly that it is necessary notto change it. The conservative is a person who considers very closely every chance, even the longest, of "throwing out the baby with the bath-water," as the German proverb puts it, and who determines his conduct accordingly.
— Albert Jay Nock, A Little Conserva-tive in The Atlantic Monthly (October 1936)
Edmund Burke served in the British House of Commons, 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 the American Revolution, and vigorously pursued impeachment of Warren Hastings, the governor-general of Bengal, for corruption and abuse of power.
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 became Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790.