Whigs and Tories

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Whigs and Tories

WHIGS AND TORIES. The names "Whigs" and "Tories" were applied from the middle of the seventeenth century to political groupings in Parliament that were held together by shifting combinations of patronage, personal loyalties, special interests, and political principles; they were not organized political parties in the modern sense. The names continued to be used even as the people and issues changed over time. The Whigs, broadly, supported Parliamentary supremacy and commercial expansion. From the Revolution of 1688, they tarred the Tories with the stain of royal absolutism. Toryism finally collapsed after extreme elements tried to overthrow the Hanoverian succession in 1715. Politics during the reigns of George I and II (1714–1760) became a contest about who would wield power and patronage. Issues of principle were still hotly debated, but the main fight was for preferment within an established system of politics based on the supremacy of the king-in-Parliament, what Englishmen called mixed government. With the accession of George III, some groups of Whigs supported the right of the king to be more assertive in choosing and controlling his ministers, provided he had the support of a majority in the House of Commons. Other Whigs contended that Parliament alone, which they intended to dominate, should select and control the ministers. George and his supporters, called the "king's friends," jostled for a greater role for the king during the 1760s, at enormous cost for the consistency of colonial policy. With the appointment of Lord North in 1770, George finally had a prime minister with whom he could work.

Americans who objected to increased imperial control of the colonies adopted the name "Whig" to denote their commitment to legislative supremacy, in this case to the supremacy of their own local legislatures over ministers, Parliament, and eventually a king who they believed were exercising arbitrary and tyrannical power over them. Using this name also connected them in spirit to the long list of people who had opposed conspiracies against the rights of Englishmen. The fact that George and his ministers had the approval of their own legislature—and were themselves staunch defenders of legislative supremacy—was not something American whigs chose to acknowledge. Consistent with this point of view, after 1775 American Whigs labeled those who continued to support the king "Tories." Supporters of the king called themselves "Loyalists."


                            revised by Harold E. Selesky