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Whigs & Tories before 1832

The Whigs

The fall of Pitt in 1801 after his failure to carry through a measure of Catholic Emancipation brought the Foxites back to Westminster.

The political stalemate that had characterised the years 1794-1801 was evaporating with the fall of Pitt.

A new opposition group emerged after the loss of Pitt based around Lord Grenville and William Windham opposed to Addington, the new leader, and the peace negotiations. It was a small group, only 20-30 strong in the Commons and 12-15 in the Lords but contained men of immense talent and reputation.

Pitt returned to power in 1804 but it was in very different circumstances to his previous ministries. He could command the loyalty of only 80 court and administration MPs with a personal following of a further 60. Addington had around 60 supporters whilst Fox and Grenville had the backing of 140 members with a further 30 or so followers of the Prince of Wales.

The resignation of the Pittites after Pitt's death led to the Ministry of all the Talents. Grenville appointed his own cabinet including six Foxites with Fox himself as foreign secretary and Grey at the Admiralty. Addington, now Viscount Sidmouth also sat in the cabinet as a concession to the King but this could not disguise the fact that this was no court of the administration. Ministerial replacements were more complete than at any time since 1783 but there were contradictions and inconsistencies over policy especially over the war with France and reform. With Fox’s death in the autumn of 1806 King George III dissolved the ministry in March 1807 over the issue of Roman Catholic Emancipation.

The 1807 election brought into parliament a small group of radicals. At Westminster the radical candidates Sir Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane were elected instead of the erstwhile radical of the party Sheridan. The radicals chief spokesman in the Commons was Samuel Whitbread and in general they pressed for peace and reform. Whitbread's principled idealism won him much support. His bill to reform the Poor Law failed but another for compulsory education passed through the Commons only to be defeated in the Lords. A third bill promoted by John Curwen was passed which prevented the sale of parliamentary seats. This radical section within the party revitalised it and by 1812 it had emerged from the doubts that had riven it during the French revolution. It was now firmly committed to parliamentary and social reform.

From 1812-1820 the Whigs again exploited their chances in opposition to emerge as champions of public opinion. They opposed the Property Tax of 1816 and defeated the government by 238 votes to 201. They resisted the governments repressive measures in 1817, the so called Six Acts, which followed the rural rioting in East Anglia, the Spa Field Riots in London, an attempt on the life of the Prince Regent and Luddism in the factory towns. After Peterloo in 1819 they adopted a more aggressive approach to opposition. In 1820 they capitalised on the wave of popular sympathy for Queen Caroline following the Divorce Bill and the new King's attempts to exclude her from the kingdom.

Nevertheless, in the last analysis the Whigs were unable to remove the government of Lord Liverpool. They had existed without effective leadership since the death of Fox and were to do without one until Grey was able to take up the initiative in 1830. Organisational developments were also limited in this period and any developments were centred around the formalisation of the Whip's office rather than at the constituency level.

The development of a Tory Party 1806-1827

Modern consensus is that the origins of the Tory party date from the death of Pitt in 1806, but is this necessarily so? There appear to be three separate arguments about the development of a Tory party: 1) that it developed as a result of the polarisation of politics caused by the crisis in the 1830s and the debate about the parliamentary reform act of 1832 and owed much to the conservative economic policies introduced by Peel. 2) that it developed following the death of Pitt in 1806, thus the ministry of Lord Liverpool could be described as the first Tory government and although the new party split in 1827 into 'liberal' and 'ultra' tories, the basic philosophy was in place and able to recover to make an assault on the Whigs over the pressing issue of parliamentary reform. 3) that the origins of the Tory party could be said to predate the death of Pitt and in fact owe much to the policies of that man. Indeed, that as far as personnel, ideology, policy and organisation went the Tory party existed in all but name prior to 1806.

Pitt is still very much an enigma to historians of the period. He was Prime Minister for much of his adult life, yet his war ministries were not particularly successful relying on coercion of the populace at large. He was a popular politician, appealing for the support of the public rather than the Commons.

Pitt’s most effective successor was Lord Liverpool, who succeeded the brief ministries of Portland and Perceval, to remain in office until 1827. The government of Liverpool was the first to adopt the party label and allow itself to be described as a Tory government. Party feeling came into increased precedence throughout Liverpool's administration. The issue of the royal prerogative faded as successive cabinets, on various matters began to bypass the views of the Prince Regent, later George IV but the issue of what was due to public opinion intensified greatly with the agitations of the immediate post war period. The Tories still stood for strong government as they had throughout Pitt's time. However, they were less concerned with defending the crown against the pretensions of the Whigs who in their view had attempted to destroy royal power and more concerned with defending it against the people.

The coming of peace in 1815 created more problems than it solved for the Tories. Peace released the Whigs from the accusations of unpatriotism that had kept them in opposition for much of the period of hostilities and allowed them to concentrate on domestic issues. Peace brought a revitalisation of politics based around the deteriorating economic position. The war had caused an unbalancing of the economy and the price of corn slumped towards the end of 1813. Even the Corn Law passed in 1815 failed to quieten the squirearchy as the price of wheat and other agricultural staples continued to fall regardless. Protection and the encouragement of commerce was now considered as one of the chief functions of the state.

Not only does Liverpool's administration herald in the use of Tory for the first time, it also sees the beginning of a split in the newly organised party. The transition to the so called 'liberal toryism' of the 1820s was not an abrupt process. There was a steady pusuit of economic reform and a growing interest in legal reform. The Corn Law of 1815 and the Property Tax of 1816 were early omens that the government should not over estimate its strength and its need to widen the basis of its support. Liverpool's government introduced reforms slowly and cautiously. The achievements of the 'liberal tories' should also not be overestimated. Apart from their introduction of freer trade and Peel's legal reforms their main achievements were that they reduced the expense of government to the minimum and rationalised the central administration. Reforms were tentative and expedient rather than bold and doctrinaire. The one exception was the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1828 and this was explained by the fact that both Wellington and Peel believed that the consequences of resistance were worse than the consequences of submission. Ideally reform should preserve what was of value and do nothing to disturb the nation's confidence in aristocratic government.

It was therefore to be in response to the fractures caused by the reform crisis and the new political and electoral system after 1832 that the two distinct creeds were truly to mature.