manifesto to his constituents is often regarded as the foundation document of modern Conservatism. The Tory Party, badly beaten at the election of 1832, faced another general election and could hardly campaign on repealing the Great Reform Act, depriving Birmingham, Leeds, and Sheffield of their new representation, and restoring Gatton, Hindon, and Old Sarum
. Peel, leading a minority government, explained that he now considered the Reform Act ‘a final and irrevocable settlement, which no friend to peace would attempt to disturb’ and that his general policy would be ‘the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances’. This left open who was to decide what was proof, what the word ‘real’ signified, and what would happen if the reform of abuses threatened established rights. Peel conceded that his statement was ‘necessarily vague’ but added detailed comments on certain contemporary issues. The manifesto has been seen as the foundation for a policy of prudent adjustment or as a recipe for continual surrender. Disraeli
(1844) took the latter view: ‘the awkward question naturally arose, what will you conserve? The prerogatives of the crown, provided they are not exercised; the independence of the House of Lords
, provided it is not asserted—everything, in short, that is established, as long as it is a phrase, and not a fact.’ But when Disraeli took over from Peel as leader of the Conservative Party and faced a similar dilemma over the Corn Laws
, the party's pledges were conveniently forgotten.
J. A. Cannon