Tories (British political party)

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"Tory Party" redirects here. For other uses, see Tory Party (disambiguation).
Founded 1678 (1678)
Dissolved 1834; 181 years ago (1834)
Preceded by Cavaliers
Succeeded by Conservative Party
Ideology Toryism
International affiliation None
Colours      Blue
Politics of United Kingdom
Political parties

The Tories were members of two political parties which existed, sequentially, in the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the early 19th centuries.

The first Tories emerged in 1678 in England, when they opposed the Whig-supported Exclusion Bill which set out to disinherit the heir presumptive James, Duke of York (who eventually became James II and VII). This party ceased to exist as an organised political entity in the early 1760s, although it was used as a term of self-description by some political writers. A few decades later, a new Tory party would rise to establish a hold on government between 1783 and 1830, with William Pitt the Younger followed by Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool.[1]

The Earl of Liverpool was succeeded by fellow Tory Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, whose term included the Catholic emancipation, which occurred mostly due to the election of Daniel O'Connell as a Catholic MP from Ireland. When the Whigs subsequently regained control, the Representation of the People Act 1832 removed the rotten boroughs, many of which were controlled by Tories. In the following general election, the Tory ranks were reduced to 180 MPs. Under the leadership of Robert Peel, the Tamworth Manifesto was issued, which began to transform the Tories into the Conservative Party. However, Peel lost many of his supporters by repealing the Corn Laws, causing the party to break apart.[1] One faction, led by the Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli, survived to become the modern Conservative Party, whose members are commonly still referred to as Tories.[1]



The first Tory party could trace its principles and politics, though not its organization, to the English Civil War which divided England between the Royalist (or "Cavalier") supporters of King Charles I and the supporters of the Long Parliament upon which the King had declared war. This action resulted from this parliament not allowing him to levy taxes without yielding to its terms. In the beginning of the Long Parliament (1641), the King's supporters were few in number, and the Parliament pursued a course of reform of previous abuses. The increasing radicalism of the Parliamentary majority, however, estranged many reformers even in the Parliament itself, and drove them to make common cause with the King. The King's party thus comprised a mixture of supporters of royal autocracy, and of those Parliamentarians who felt that the Long Parliament had gone too far in attempting to gain executive power for itself and, more especially, in undermining the episcopalian government of the Church of England, which was felt to be a primary support of royal government. By the end of the 1640s, the radical Parliamentary programme had become clear: reduction of the King to a powerless figurehead, and replacement of Anglican episcopacy with a form of Presbyterianism.

This prospective form of settlement was prevented by a coup d'état which shifted power from Parliament itself to the Parliamentary New Model Army, controlled by Oliver Cromwell. The Army had King Charles I executed, and for the next eleven years the British kingdoms operated under military dictatorship. The Restoration of King Charles II produced a reaction in which the King regained a large part of the power held by his father; however, Charles' ministers and supporters in England accepted a substantial role for Parliament in the government of the kingdoms. No subsequent British monarch would attempt to rule without Parliament, and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, political disputes would be resolved through elections and parliamentary manoeuvring, rather than by an appeal to force.

Charles II also restored episcopacy in the Church of England. His first "Cavalier Parliament" began as a strongly royalist body, and passed a series of acts re-establishing the Church by law and strongly punishing dissent by both Roman Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants. These acts did not reflect the King's personal views, and demonstrated the existence of a Royalist ideology beyond mere subservience to the Court.

A series of disasters in the late 1660s and 1670s discredited Charles II's governments, and powerful political interests (including some who had been identified with the Parliamentary side in the Civil War) began to agitate for a greater role of Parliament in government, coupled with more tolerance for Protestant dissenters. These interests would soon coalesce as the Whigs. As direct attacks on the King were politically impossible and could lead to execution for treason, opponents of the power of the Court framed their challenges as exposés of subversive and sinister Catholic plots. Although the matter of these plots was fictitious, they reflected two uncomfortable political realities: first, that Charles II had (somewhat insincerely) undertaken measures to convert the kingdom to Catholicism (in a 1670 treaty with Louis XIV of France); second, that his younger brother and heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, had in fact converted to Catholicism, an act that many Protestant Englishmen in the 1670s saw as only one step below high treason.


James, Duke of York painted in a Romanesque costume.

As a political term, Tory entered English politics during the Exclusion Bill crisis of 1678–81. The Whigs (initially an insult — 'whiggamore,' a cattle driver,[2]) were those who supported the exclusion of James, the Duke of York from the succession to thrones of Scotland and England & Ireland (the 'Petitioners'), and the Tories (also an insult, derived from the Middle Irish word tóraidhe, modern Irish tóraíoutlaw, robber, from the Irish word tóir, meaning 'pursuit', since outlaws were "pursued men".[3][4]) were those who opposed the Exclusion Bill (the Abhorrers). In a more general sense, the Tories represented the more conservative royalist supporters of Charles II, who endorsed a strong monarchy as a counterbalance to the power of Parliament, and who saw in the Whig opponents of the Court a quasi-Republican tendency (similar to that seen in the Long Parliament) to strip the monarchy of its essential prerogative powers and leave the Crown as a puppet entirely dependent upon Parliament. That the Exclusion Bill was the central question upon which parties diverged, did not hinge upon an assessment of the personal character of the Duke of York (though his conversion to Catholicism was the key factor that made the Bill possible), but rather upon the power of Parliament to elect a monarch of its own choosing, contrary to the established laws of succession. That the Parliament, with the consent of the King, had such power was not at issue; rather, it was the wisdom of a policy of creating a King whose sole title to the Crown was the will of Parliament, and who was essentially a Parliamentary appointee.

On this original question, the Tories were, in the short run, entirely successful; the Parliaments that brought in the Exclusion Bill were dissolved, Charles II was enabled to manage the administration autocratically, and upon his death the Duke of York succeeded without difficulty. The rebellion of Monmouth, the candidate of the radical Whigs to succeed Charles II, was easily crushed and Monmouth himself executed. In the long run, however, Tory principles were to be severely compromised.

Besides the support of a strong monarchy, the Tories also stood for the Church of England, as established in Acts of Parliament following the restoration of Charles II — both as a body governed by bishops, using the Book of Common Prayer, and subscribing to a specific doctrine, and also as an exclusive body established by law, from which both Roman Catholics and Nonconformists were excluded.

James II, however, during his reign fought for a broadly tolerant religious settlement under which his co-religionists could prosper—a position anathema to conservative Anglicans. James' attempts to use the government-controlled church to promote policies that undermined the church's own unique status in the state, led some Tories to support the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The result was a King established solely by Parliamentary title, and subject to legal controls established by Parliament, the principles that the Tories had originally "abhorred". The Tories' sole consolation was that the monarchs chosen were close to the main line of succession — William III was James II's nephew, and William's wife Mary was James's elder daughter. The Act of Toleration 1689 also gave rights to Protestant dissenters that were hitherto unknown, while the elimination of a large number of bishops who refused to swear allegiance to the new monarchs allowed the government to pack the episcopate with bishops with decidedly Whiggish leanings. In both these respects the Tory platform had failed; however, the institutions of monarchy and of a state Church survived.


Despite the failure of their founding principles, the Tories remained a powerful political party during the reigns of the next two monarchs, particularly that of Queen Anne. During this time, the Tories fiercely competed with the Whigs for power, and there were frequent Parliamentary elections in which the two parties measured their strength.

Balanced ministries[edit]

William III saw that the Tories were generally more friendly to royal authority than the Whigs, and he employed both groups in his government. His early ministry was largely Tory, but gradually the government came to be dominated by the so-called Junto Whigs. This tight-knit political grouping was opposed by the "Country Whigs", led by Robert Harley, who gradually merged with the Tory opposition in the later 1690s.

Although William's successor Anne had considerable Tory sympathies and excluded the Junto Whigs from power, after a brief and unsuccessful experiment with an exclusively Tory government she generally continued William's policy of balancing the parties, supported by her moderate Tory ministers, the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Godolphin.


However, the stresses of the War of the Spanish Succession (begun in 1701) led most of the Tories to withdraw into opposition by 1708, so that Marlborough and Godolphin were heading an administration dominated by the Junto Whigs. Anne herself grew increasingly uncomfortable with this dependence on the Whigs, especially as her personal relationship with the Duchess of Marlborough deteriorated. This situation also became increasingly uncomfortable to many of the non-Junto Whigs, led by the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Shrewsbury, who began to intrigue with Robert Harley's Tories. In early 1710, the prosecution by the Whig government of the ultra-Tory preacher Dr. Henry Sacheverell for sermons delivered the previous year, led to the Sacheverell riots and brought the ministry into popular discredit. In the spring of 1710, Anne dismissed Godolphin and the Junto ministers, replacing them with Tories.

Last Tory government[edit]

The new Tory ministry was dominated by Harley, Chancellor of the Exchequer (later Lord Treasurer) and Viscount Bolingbroke, Secretary of State. They were backed by a strong majority in the Parliament elected in 1710. This Tory government negotiated the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which pulled Great Britain out of the War of the Spanish Succession (to the dismay of Britain's allies, including Anne's eventual successor, George, Elector of Hanover); the peace was enacted despite a Whig majority in the House of Lords, which Anne defeated by creating new Tory peers.

In 1714, following a long disagreement between the ministers, Anne dismissed Harley; the arch-Tory Bolingbroke became in effect Anne's chief minister, and Tory power seemed to be at its zenith. However, Anne was extremely ill and died within a few days. Bolingbroke had not been able to formulate any coherent plans for dealing with the succession; if he thought of proclaiming the son of James II (the Pretender) as king, he made no moves to do so. The Elector George succeeded to the throne entirely peacefully.


James Stuart was the pretender during the Jacobite rising of 1715. Gaining some Tory support, it was thus used to discredit them by the Whigs.

In accordance with the laws of the time, the Queen's government was replaced by a Council of Regency until the new King should arrive from Hanover. Bolingbroke offered his services to the King but was coldly rejected; George I brought in a government composed entirely of Whigs, and the new Parliament, elected from January to May 1715, had a large Whig majority. With the Whigs now in a position to take revenge on their former political rivals, Bolingbroke fled to France and gave his service to the Pretender. The subsequent Jacobite rebellion of 1715–16, though only a minority of Tories gave their adhesion to it, was used by the Whigs to completely discredit the Tories and paint them as traitors. It also gave the Whigs a pretext for various acts which greatly strengthened their power, including the Riot Act and the Septennial Act 1715, the latter act unilaterally extending a Parliament elected for three years to seven years.

The remaining Tories were now dismissed from office, and as a party were confined to the wilderness for half a century, corresponding to the reigns of George I and George II, though occasionally individual Tories held office in these monarchs' Whig ministries. For most of this period (at first under the leadership of Sir William Wyndham), the Tories retained party cohesion, with occasional hopes of regaining office, particularly at the accession of George II (1727) and the downfall of the ministry of Sir Robert Walpole in 1742. They acted as a united, though unavailing, opposition to Whig corruption and scandals. At times they cooperated with the "Opposition Whigs", Whigs who were in opposition to the Whig government; however, the ideological gap between the Tories and the Opposition Whigs prevented them from coalescing as a single party.

The Whig government, backed by royal favour and controlling the levers of power, was able to maintain a series of majorities through the infrequent elections of the next several decades (only 7 in the 46 years of the first two Georges, as opposed to 11 in the 26 years from the Revolution to the death of Queen Anne). For much of the period, the Tories commanded a broad base of support in rural England, but the relatively undemocratic nature of the franchise and the maldistribution of the borough seats ensured that this popular appeal was never translated into a Tory majority in Parliament. The Tories would have won every general election between 1715 and 1747 had the number of seats obtained corresponded to the number of votes cast.[5] The Tories were therefore an effectively null factor in practical politics, a permanent minority in Parliament and entirely excluded from government. The latter exclusion, and the rigid party politics played by the Whigs, played a significant role in the cohesion of the Tories; the Whigs offered few opportunities for Tories who switched sides, and as a party the Tories found no possibilities for compromise with the Whigs.

The fall of Walpole removed the principal factor that had separated the government and opposition Whigs, and by the mid-1740s the Whigs were largely united on policy issues. Party organisation, however, was replaced by organisation by faction, and the individual followings of Whig leaders began to form the nucleus of new parties. In 1754, and again in 1757, the Tories gave limited support to the Whig governments of the Duke of Newcastle, William Pitt the Elder, and the Duke of Devonshire. They remained, however, outside of government.

Period of uncertainty[edit]

Dickinson reports that:

All historians are agreed that the Tory party declined sharply in the late 1740s and 1750s and that it ceased to be an organized party by 1760. The research of Sir Lewis Namier and his disciples... has convinced all historians that there were no organized political parties in Parliament between the late 1750s and the early 1780s. Even the Whigs ceased to be an identifiable party, and Parliament was dominated by competing political connections, which all proclaimed Whiggish political views, or by independent backbenchers unattached to any particular group.[6]

Upon the accession of George III, the old political distinctions dissolved. The Whig factions became, in effect, distinct parties (such as the Grenvillites and the Bedfordites), all of whom claimed the Whig mantle, while the material distinction in politics was between the 'King's Friends' who supported the newly activist role of George III in government, and those who opposed the king.

The proscription on the employment of Tories in government offices ended, which resulted in the Tories dividing into several factions and ceasing to function as a coherent political party. Sentimental Toryism remained, as in the writings of Samuel Johnson, but in politics, 'Tory' was little more than an unfriendly epithet for politicians closely identified with George III. The label 'Tory' was, in this sense, applied to the Prime Ministers Lord Bute (1762–1763) and Lord North (1770–1782); but these politicians considered themselves Whigs. In his study of the debates in Parliament for 1768-1774, P. D. G. Thomas discovered that not a single politician labelled themselves a Tory.[7] J. C. D. Clark similarly argues that "The history of the Tory party in parliament between the early 1760s and the late 1820s may be simply written: it did not exist".[8]



Applied by their opponents to Parliamentary supporters of the younger William Pitt (1783–1801, 1804–1806), the term came to represent the political current opposed to the 'Old Whigs' and the radicalism unleashed by the American and French Revolutions. This was reinforced by the breakup of the Whig party in 1794 when the conservative group led by the Duke of Portland joined Pitt's ministry – leaving an opposition rump led by Charles James Fox. The historian J. C. D. Clark has written of the 1790s: "It cannot be too clearly stressed that no public figure at that date accepted the title 'Tory', and that they had the best reasons for denying its appropriateness".[9] Pitt rejected the Tory label, preferring to refer to himself as an 'Independent Whig', for, unlike the Tories of the first half of the eighteenth century, he believed in the current constitutional arrangement as being well balanced, without particular favour towards the royal prerogative.

The group surrounding Pitt the Younger came to be the dominant force in British politics from 1783 until 1830 and after Pitt's death (1806) the ministers in the Portland ministry (1807–1809) called themselves the "Friends of Mr Pitt" rather than Tories. Portland's successor, Spencer Perceval (Prime Minister, 1809–1812), never adopted the label of Tory and after his death (1812) the members of the government of Lord Liverpool (1812–1827) firmly rejected it in a ministerial memorandum to the Prince Regent:

It is almost unnecessary to observe that the British Government had for more than a century been and could only be a Whig Government; and that the present administration is, as every administration in this country must necessarily be, a Whig administration. For a Whig Government means now, as it has all along meant, nothing else than a Government established by laws equally binding upon the King and the subject.[10]

Generally, the Tories were associated with lesser gentry and the Church of England (and in Scotland the Episcopal Church), while Whigs were more associated with trade, money, larger land holders (or "land magnates") and the Nonconformist Protestant churches. Both were still committed to the political system in place at that time.

The new Tory party was distinct, both in composition and ideological orientation from the old. It consisted largely of former Whigs, alienated from the party that now bore that name. While it maintained a sentimental and conservative respect for the symbolic institutions of the British monarchy, in practice Tory ministries allowed the King no more freedom than Whig ones. The incompetence of George III's personal interventions in policy had been sufficiently shown in the American War (1775–1783); henceforward his active role was limited to negations of government policies, such as Catholic emancipation. In foreign policy the differences were even more marked; the old Tory party had been pacific and isolationist, whereas the new one was bellicose and imperialistic.


The Tories became associated with repression of popular discontent after 1815. But later, the Tories underwent a fundamental transformation under the influence of Robert Peel, who was an industrialist rather than a landowner. Peel in his 1834 'Tamworth Manifesto' outlined a new 'Conservative' philosophy of reforming ills while conserving the good. The subsequent Peel administrations have been labelled "Conservative" rather than "Tory", but the older term remains in use.

When the Conservative Party split in 1846 on the issue of Free Trade, the protectionist wing of the party rejected the term Conservative. They preferred to be known as Protectionists or even to revive the older term 'Tory' as an official name. However, by 1859, the Peelites (Peel's Conservative supporters) joined the Whigs and Radicals to form the Liberal Party. The remaining Tories, under the leadership of the Earl of Derby (a former Whig), and Disraeli (once a Radical candidate for Parliament), adopted the 'Conservative' label as the official name of their party.

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Cooke, Alistair (August 2008). "A Brief History of the Conservatives" (PDF). Conservative Research Department. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  2. ^ It was originally a Scottish insult for the Covenanter faction in Scotland who opposed the Engagers (a faction who supported Charles I during the Second English Civil War and supported the Whiggamore Raid that took place in September 1648 (Samuel R. Gardiner. History of the great civil war 1642–1649 p. 228).
  3. ^ Webster (1998), "Tory", New World Dictionary & Thesaurus (2.0 for PC ed.) .
  4. ^ "Tory", Answers .
  5. ^ Eveline Cruickshanks, Political Untouchables; The Tories and the '45 (Duckworth, 1979), p. 5.
  6. ^ H T Dickinson," Tories: 1714-1830," in David Loades, ed. Readers Guide to British History (2003) 2:1279
  7. ^ I. R. Christie, Myth and Reality in Late-Eighteenth-Century British Politics (London: Macmillan, 1970), p. 198.
  8. ^ J. C. D. Clark, ‘A General Theory of Party, Opposition and Government, 1688-1832’, Historical Journal (Vol. 23, No. 2, 1980), p. 305.
  9. ^ J. C. D. Clark, English Society 1688-1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime (Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 276, n. 222.
  10. ^ I. R. Christie, Wars and Revolutions. Britain 1760-1815 (London: Edward Arnold, 1982), p. 283.

Further reading[edit]

  • Black, Jeremy. Britain in the Age of Walpole (1984)
  • Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor. The growth of the British party system: 1640-1923 (Vol. 1. John Baker, 1967)
  • Colley, Linda. In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714-60 (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Feiling, Keith. A history of the Tory party, 1640-1714 (Clarendon Press, 1950)
  • Feiling, Keith. The second Tory party, 1714-1832 (London, Macmillan, 1938)
  • O'Gorman, Frank. Voters, patrons, and parties: the unreformed electoral system of Hanoverian England 1734-1832 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

External links[edit]