List of United Kingdom Whig and allied party leaders (1801–59)

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This article provides a list of United Kingdom Whig and allied party leaders from 1801 to 1859. During the 19th century, the Whigs, Radicals and Peelites gradually evolved into the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party was formally eatablished in 1859 and continued to exist until it merged with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to create the Liberal Democrats.

The end of the age of factions[edit]

When the United Kingdom came into existence, on 1 January 1801, the era of disciplined mass parties had not yet begun. Although individuals and families regarded themselves as belonging to a Whig or Tory tradition, actual political allegiance tended to be to family connections and to factions grouped behind a prominent political leader. Most of these loose associations of politicians, after the disappearance of almost any party bonds by about 1760, contained members from both Whig and Tory traditions.

In the first decade of the 19th century most politicians realigned themselves into fairly cohesive Whig and Tory parties. Thereafter individuals and groups might move between the two parties, but they both maintained a continuous existence (through a number of mergers and name changes). These two groups were the direct ancestors of the 21st century Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties.

There were several stages in the consolidation of the parties.

Until 1801: Prime Minister William Pitt the younger had the support of most of the House of Commons., The Pittite coalition of Tories and pro-government Whigs had supported the minister through the Revolutionary Wars with France.

The principal opposition to Pitt was the relatively weak faction of Whigs, led by Charles James Fox. For four years after 1797 opposition attendance at Westminster had been sporadic as Fox pursued a strategy of secession from Parliament. Only a small group, led by George Tierney, had attended frequently to oppose the ministers. As Foord observes "only once did the minority reach seventy-five, and it was often less than ten".

1801–1804: The King shattered the Pittite coalition when he forced Pitt to resign over Catholic emancipation. The former followers of Pitt divided into three groups – the supporters of the new Prime Minister Henry Addington, a Pittite faction which supported Addington but would not join his government and the Grenvillite Whigs who joined the Foxites in opposition.

1804–1806: Pitt returned to power and it was the turn of Addington's faction to be semi-detached from the ministry. Fox and Grenville continued in outright opposition. Pitt died in 1806, but his supporters could not form a new administration.

1806–1807: Lord Grenville formed the Ministry of all the Talents, combining the Grenvillite, Foxite and Addingtonian factions. The Pittites were in opposition. However Fox died during 1806 and that weakened the government. The hostility of the King made this a short lived ministry. It did however reinforce the tendency of the two Whig factions to work together.

1807–: In government after 1807 the ex-Pittite and (from 1812) the Addingtonian factions increasingly began to call themselves the Tory Party. In opposition, the leading Whig in the House of Commons was Fox's political heir Viscount Howick. However, when he became the 2nd Earl Grey in 1807, he and Grenville agreed to propose a leader to the Whigs in the Commons. This person was the first MP to be recognised as leader of the opposition, rather than leader of an opposition. From this time almost all of the politicians who called themselves Whigs, were supporters of an organised Whig Party. The few remaining veterans on the government side who still called themselves Whigs (notably the Prime Minister, the Duke of Portland) gradually left the political scene, so something resembling a two party system developed.

Leadership selection 1801–1859[edit]

There was only a leader of the Whig Party as a whole, when a party member (or the leader of an allied group like the Peelites) was Prime Minister or (from 1830) was the most recent Prime Minister from the party and was still in active politics. At other times the leaders in the House of Lords and House of Commons were of equal status and in theory jointly led the party.

When a new leader was required, with the party in government, the monarch selected him by appointing someone as Prime Minister.

When no overall party leader was a member of a House and a new leader was required in opposition, a leader emerged and was approved by party members in that House. Before 1807 faction leaders were not necessarily followed by all opposition Whigs. However, by 1807 the party in the House of Commons, as opposed to a faction or factions within it, had acquired recognised leaders.

Lists of Whig Party leaders[edit]

Leaders of the Whig Party[edit]

Name Constituency/Title Took Office Left Office
no recognised leader 1801 1806
1 William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville 11 February 1806 31 March 1807
no recognised leader 1807 1830
2 Charles Grey 2nd Earl Grey 22 November 1830 16 July 1834
3 William Lamb 2nd Viscount Melbourne 16 July 1834 October 1842
no recognised leader 1842 1846
4 Lord John Russell City of London 30 June 1846 19 December 1852
5 George Hamilton-Gordon 1 4th Earl of Aberdeen 19 December 1852 6 February 1855
6 Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston 2 Tiverton 6 February 1855 12 June 1859

Notes

  • 1 Aberdeen was a Peelite (or more formally a Liberal Conservative) ally of the Whigs.
  • 2 An Irish peer.

Leaders of the Whig Party in the House of Commons[edit]

Fox and Howick, as unofficial leaders of the party in the House of Commons from 1801 until 1807, led the largest of the anti-Pittite Whig groups. They were the successive government leaders of the House of Commons during the Ministry of all the Talents. Howick continued as a faction leader in opposition during 1807, until he inherited his peerage. From the appointment of George Ponsonby in 1808 the leaders were official.

Name Constituency Took Office Left Office
1 Charles James Fox 1 Westminster 1801 1806
2 Charles Grey, Viscount Howick 2 Northumberland (1806–1807)
Appleby (1807); Tavistock (1807)
1806 1807
3 George Ponsonby Tavistock (1808–1812)
Peterborough (1812–1816)
Wicklow (1816–1817)
1808 1817
4 George Tierney Appleby (1817–1818)
Knaresborough (1818–1821)
1818 1821
no recognised leader 1821 1830
5 John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp 3 Northamptonshire 1830 1834
6 Lord John Russell South Devon (1834–1835)
Stroud (1835–1841)
City of London (1841–1855)
1834 1855
7 Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston 4 Tiverton 1855 1859

Notes

  • 1 Fox was an unofficial leader of the party, as he led its largest faction.
  • 2 Howick was an unofficial leader of the party, as he led its largest faction. He had a courtesy title, as the heir of the Earl Grey.
  • 3 Althorp had a courtesy title, as the heir of the Earl Spencer.
  • 4 Palmerston was an Irish peer.

Leaders of the Whig Party in the House of Lords[edit]

No attempt is made to include a leader in the House of Lords in the table below before 1830, except during the Ministry of all the Talents. Earl Grey was probably the leading Whig in the House from 1807, particularly once Lord Grenville retired in 1817.

Name Title Took Office Left Office
no recognised leader 1801 1806
1 William Wyndham Grenville 1st Lord Grenville 11 February 1806 31 March 1807
no recognised leader 1807 1830
2 Charles Grey 2nd Earl Grey 22 November 1830 16 July 1834
3 William Lamb 2nd Viscount Melbourne 16 July 1834 October 1842
4 Henry Petty-FitzMaurice 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne October 1842 19 December 1852
5 George Hamilton-Gordon 1 4th Earl of Aberdeen 19 December 1852 6 February 1855
6 Granville George Leveson-Gower 2nd Earl Granville 1855 1859

Notes

  • 1 Aberdeen was a Peelite (or more formally a Liberal Conservative) ally of the Whigs.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Archibald S. Foord, His Majesty's Opposition 1714–1830. Oxford University Press, 1964.
  • Roy Jenkins, Gladstone. Macmillan, 1995. ISBN 0-333-60216-1.
  • Jonathan Parry, The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain. Yale, 1993. ISBN 0-300-06718-6.

External links[edit]