Whig dominance

May 2008
14
London, UK
#1
Why were the Whigs so much more successful than the Tories in the 19th century? i.e. with Russell, Palmerston etc.
Was it their reforms? surely people would have been conservative and against change during this era, as Britain's power was at its height?
Any thoughts?
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#2
Why were the Whigs so much more successful than the Tories in the 19th century? i.e. with Russell, Palmerston etc.
Was it their reforms? surely people would have been conservative and against change during this era, as Britain's power was at its height?
Any thoughts?
Can't answer your question Katherine but I did want to say you have done a fine job with your blog. Nice and informative and uncluttered. Which is nice to come across because history can be so cluttered at times. ;)
 
Aug 2008
599
#3
Can't answer your question Katherine but I did want to say you have done a fine job with your blog. Nice and informative and uncluttered. Which is nice to come across because history can be so cluttered at times. ;)
definitely - an excellent blog! :)

as to your question: not really my area but so far as i can remember, the shift towards the whigs was likely the result of the increase in the middle classes. as the money moved more towards town-based businessmen and away from the traditional landed class, so too did expectations. the whig's 1832 reform act widened the franchise to account for this shift and reaped the benefits.

i'm not sure that the whigs were all that very 'unconservative' in their outlook. but i think it is important that the tories' reputation always seemed to suffer from their traditional land-based wealth and support for jacobitism. regardless of the veracity of such repute, labels are sometimes difficult things to remove.
 

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
9,990
Damned England
#4
The mistake many make nowadays is to confuse Toryism with Liberalism (Whigs). This is due to Thatcher and the Tories essentially stealing 19th century (and before) whig ideas. The "Old" Conservatives where just that: conservative. In other words, they were to protect the moneyed (land owning) class, and had a rather patriarchal view of society, within limits of course. For example: corn sales were usually performed with an age old reverse hierachy: the poor bought first, and so on, until the rich went last, when scarcity or higher prices were more likely. Plainly, Whig ideas such as Free Market reforms, and the "Liberalisation" of the market (which, just like modern times means "deregulation") go against this. For instance, before the Corn Law Reforms, it was illegal to sell corn standing in a field: i.e. the corn could only be sold after it was grown and harvested. Nowadays, of course, most corn is sold even before it is planted.

Yes, the rise of the Middle Classes was symptomatic of a change of attitude towards money and status. For most of the medieval and early modern periods, blood and not money defined one's status. The Middling sort were increasingly conscious of their role in British wealth creation, yet realised that real power was a closed shop. Also, the Whigs did much to exploit growing Working Class discontent in order to get what they wanted for the Middle Class......which is still policy today!

Also, it must be remembered that the Whigs were rather opposed to the worst phases of the monarchy: George IV's regency and even Victoria's early reign had more than their share of Liberal dissenters. Basically, Liberalism was founded around new economic ideas via Adam Smith (the Free Market, and how it "automatically" adjusts to balance supply, demand and prices and hence prevents oversupply or shortage), and as a demand for Middle Class suffrage, (whilst using the Working Class masses as a threat), in recognition of their role in Britain's financial and industrial growth.

Essentially, Toryism, whilst still largely patriarchal, was also reactionary, and meant to defend the Old Moneyed classes. For the middle classes, and, indeed, the working classes, which formed the vast majority of British society, only Whigism could offer them anything beyond more of the same they'd had for centuries. Some reforms were deeply unpopular, like the Corn Laws (great for the vendor: bad for the poor). Laura is quite right in that whilst the Whigs were more radical than the Torys, nevertheless, they were conservative about the rights and wrongs of British society: they believed in it, and wanted to retain it, but merely wanted more influence in how it was run. The Torys wanted to keep things as they were.
 
May 2008
14
London, UK
#5
Thanks all!:eek:

Really interesting points there. I always just thought it was mainly the failure of the Tories to unite behind a common cause (due to the corn laws split) and of course the big names of the Whigs i.e. Palmerston (and especially his crazy foreign policy!

As I've been learning about it, people keep going on about their reforms, but I wasn't sure that was the most important thing. Definitely agree the middle classes getting the vote in 1832 must have made a lot of difference for the Whigs.
 
#6
I think one of the main reasons for the success of the Whigs had more to do with the rise of the power of Parliament and the ethos that surrounded the origins of the two political parties.
The Tories were often quite representative of preserving the status quo (not very glamourous when compared to the excitement of the new) and were often associated with the waning power of the monarchy. Many in both parties considered their origins to come from the Cavaliers and Roundheads of the civil war and it becomes difficult to defend the position of traditional government when it's remembered as something the Stuart kings made a right hash of.
 
Jul 2007
9,098
Canada
#7
surely people would have been conservative and against change during this era, as Britain's power was at its height?
Britain underwent massive social transformation in the 19th century through a slow process of evolution, maintaining stability (relative to the continent, anyhow) through political reform and thereby evading the kind of social conflict that plagued other nations. Evolution through reform - rather than repression followed by revolutions, assassinations, bombing campaigns etc - was one of the key factors behind British power and political stability.

This was also the era of the first mass middle class, the new petite bourgeouisie, who wanted things like free public schools, more inclusive enfranchisement (not so much the suffragettes, though they were around, but to allow Catholics to become MPs, to reform the districts so that major industrial centres like Birmingham could have an MP, so that rural tenants could vote, and so on), limits on the workday, reform of child labour, prison reforms and so on. They threw up powerful trade unions, they loved Charles Dickens, despised slavery and child labour, and instituted a whole range of charitable organizations like the Salvation Army to deal with poverty.

This new class had only just emerged from the working classes, and that's the first thing to note about it. Their interests, to a large degree, reflected a fear of slipping back - they wanted insulation from things like poverty, repression, exploitation, and so on. At the same time, they wanted to distinguish themselves from their origins and emulate the industrialist (classic bourgeouisie) classes, they wanted a version of that lifestyle, so they wanted to put an end to things like child labour and the exploitation of female labour in the textile mills or as domestics. To have a "respectable" home, in the Victorian sense.

Or, to make it short and sweet: the new middle class wanted to reap the benefits of imperialism too. That's the why; social reform was the how.
 
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