On 14 July 1789, when the Bastille was attacked by a revolutionary mob, there were, save perhaps for James Boswell (1740–1795) and a few politically eccentric High Church clergymen, few individuals in Great Britain who would have identified themselves as Tories. None would have considered themselves as members of a "Conservative Party," as that was an expression of 1830. The term Tory had first come into widespread usage in the 1670s and came to denote thereafter English and Welsh politicians and their supporters who placed a great deal of emphasis on the royal prerogative and the virtues of the established Church of England; were well able to restrain their enthuaiasm for Protestant Dissenters (Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Congregationalists); were, at best, wobbly in their passion for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent settlement of the English, Scottish, and Irish crowns on the German Lutheran electors of Hanover; and who tended, as a generally landed and country party, to mistrust the accoutrements (national banks, national debts, stock exchanges) of commercial capitalism.
By the 1760s and 1770s, the term Tory was fast becoming an anachronism owned up to by few and utilized chiefly by Whigs as a cudgel with which to beat up political opponents. Most members of the political nation of 1789, including those "fathers of conservatism," Edmund Burke (1729–1797) and William Pitt (1759–1806), would have considered themselves as Whigs of one form or another.
William Pitt the Younger had been prime minister since 1783 as leader of a post–American war coalition, usually termed "Pittite," whose distinguishing characteristic was loyalty to George III (r. 1760–1820). They were widely credited with the ability to provide sound and efficient government. Indeed, from the perspective of 1750 or of 1850, there was, save for this pragmatic loyalty to the king, nothing particularly "Tory" about Pitt or his government. Pitt tended to be broadly sympathetic to the Irish Catholics, to limited parliamentary reform, and to the cultivation of at least reasonable relations with the Protestant Dissenters. This Pittite moderation changed with the increasing radicalization of the French Revolution. What could arguably be called the bible of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke's clarion call for resistance to the French explosion, Reflections on the Revolution in France, was published in 1790. Burke, like Pitt, with a background replete with parliamentary opposition to the American war and, in a qualified way, to British imperialism in India, was no Tory, but a Foxite Whig. Yet it was Pitt and Burke, old enemies and never very cordial colleagues, who in the 1790s stitched together a governing coalition of Pittites and former Foxite Whigs that became, even more than the papacy or the Russian monarchy, the centerpiece of European opposition to the Revolution and to Napoleon Bonaparte. This coalition, save for a brief time in 1806 and 1807, remained in power from 1794 to 1830. It was the nucleus of a revived Tory Party, though most of its members, at least until the 1820s, wore the Tory label most uncomfortably.
The Tories, who oversaw the great victories over the French Empire in 1814 and 1815, and the establishment thereafter of a Pax Britannica over the sea lanes of the world, and who attempted in the 1820s to liberalize the rigors of traditional mercantilism, were smashed by the Catholic issue after 1827. Many of the leading lights of the coalition, the Pitts, the Burkes, the Cannings, the Castlereaghs, were supporters of Catholic emancipation, allowing the Catholics of the United Kingdom, who were, of course, the vast majority in Ireland, access to the imperial parliament in London. The backwoodsmen of the party, in this reflecting, most probably, the wider views of the British people, did not support emancipation. When Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), an anti-Catholic of long standing, became prime minister in 1828, he decided, not for the last time in the history of his party, to trump ideology with pragmatism and give in to the demands of the Catholic Irish and their leader, Daniel O'Connell (1775–1847). The result was the death knell of the Pittite-Burkeite coalition at the general election of 1830. The victorious Whigs and Liberals then proceeded to institute a reformation of the voting system for the House of Commons in the interest, most generally, of their middle class supporters.
The Tory Party, used to running the country and the empire since 1783 or 1794, found themselves in 1830 in the unfamiliar terrain of opposition. It was, alas for the Tories, to be a too familiar terrain over the bulk of the nineteenth century, the liberal century of British politics. Between 1830 and 1885, the Tories only once won the majority of votes cast at a general election, in 1841, and otherwise only won in 1874. They lost to some sort of Liberal-Whig coalition at thirteen general elections during the time period. Contrast this to their years of triumph between 1783 and 1829, when only one general election was lost and nine were won!
The Tories in the early 1830s rechristened themselves "the Conservative Party" and developed or refined their old Pittite principles into what many hoped would be a coherent political ideology called "Conservatism." This new ideology was trumpeted in newspapers, magazines, and speeches on the hustings and in Parliament. It basically endorsed the idea of a confessional (Anglican) party and denounced the works and pomps of those forces of economic and social modernity that the Conservatives held responsible for their electoral defeats: the classical political economists, the factory owners, the New Poor Law reformers, and those free traders who advocated the ending of protective duties on agriculture. That the Conservative leadership in Parliament, the Wellingtons, the Peels, the Grahams, were enthused by this agenda is unlikely. Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) in the Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 presented a more moderate Conservatism, accepting of much of the Liberal reforms of 1830–1834. But it may have been the more undiluted conservatism of the church and the newspapers that orchestrated Peel's great victory of 1841.
Peel's 1841–1846 administration showed the great disconnect that existed between the party leadership and the rank and file. Little was done for the church, the New Poor Law was not repealed, economic modernity was not repudiated, and agricultural protection was not retained. In 1846, Peel, William Ewart Gladstone, Sir James Graham, and other party notables began the trek away from conservatism toward the wider shores of liberalism, leaving their former party a rump. This secession of the Tory generals forms the background for the emergence of a witty, talented parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), a baptized Jew with numerous personal quirks not normally congenial to a conservative-minded club, nor to the party leadership in the House of Commons.
The Tory Party came to power, if briefly, in 1852, 1858, and 1866, and, for a longer time, in 1874, not because the voting public wanted them but because the dominant Liberals fell out among themselves. And the Tories (and Disraeli) played the Liberal game to stay in power. They jettisoned protection and their confessional leanings, supported Jewish emancipation, enfranchised the urban working class, and adopted a high imperialist foreign policy. None of this seemed to matter greatly, and the Liberal machine, chastened by its periodic loss of power, picked itself up, won elections, and moved on. What changed this idiom more than the political skill and eccentric wisdom of Disraeli or the iron pragmatism of Disraeli's successor, Lord Salisbury (Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 1803–1903), was the destruction of the nineteenth-century Liberal paradigm by its own leader, Gladstone. In 1885 and 1886, by suddenly embracing the Irish leader Charles Stewart Parnell's vision of Home Rule for Ireland, Gladstone ended the Liberal era in British politics as savagely as in 1829 the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, by supporting Catholic emancipation, had ended the Tory one. The Conservatives now found themselves in an anti–Home Rule governmental alliance with the relatively congenial whiggish Right of the Liberal Party and the not so congenial collectivistic Left, led by Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914).
Between 1886 and the official formation of a "Unionist Party" in 1895, the two sides (or three sides) of the new coalition learned to tolerate and support each other. For twenty years after 1886, led by Salisbury and then by his nephew Arthur James Balfour (1848–1930), the Conservatives (or Unionists) won three general elections and were in unaccustomed power for all but three years. The dominant figure of the party, however, probably more than Salisbury and certainly more than Balfour, was Chamberlain. As Winston Churchill said of him, he made the weather. He also made trouble for the future, by too aggressively promoting African imperialism and by suddenly jettisoning sixty years of a general free trade consensus in favor of massive protection. The divided Unionists, then, lost three general elections between 1905 and 1914.
In 1914 the great men of British politics, Herbert Henry Asquith, David Lloyd George, and Winston Churchill, were Liberals. Liberalism seemed more than Unionism (or Conservatism) to have captured the public mood on foreign, imperial, and domestic issues. On 4 August 1914, the day that the German army invaded Belgium, few would have predicted that the Unionist and Conservative Party would be the most formidable political machine in Europe during the twentieth century.
Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edited by J. C. D. Clark. Stanford, Calif., 2001.
Bentley, Michael. Lord Salisbury's World: Conservative Environments in Late-Victorian Britain. Cambridge, U.K., 2001.
Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, Conn., 1992.
Dangerfield, George. The Strange Death of Liberal England. New York, 1935.
Gash, Norman. Reaction and Reconstruction in English Politics, 1832–1852. Oxford, U.K., 1965.
Sack, James J. From Jacobite to Conservative: Reaction and Orthodoxyin Britain, 1760–1832. Cambridge, U.K.,1993.
Smith, Paul. Disraeli: A Brief Life. New York, 1996.
James J. Sack
The adherence of some die-hard Tories to the Jacobite cause after George I's accession in 1714 allowed the Whigs to discredit all Tories as disloyal and dangerous, and until the 1760s they were kept out of government office, with only a few admitted in the localities to the magisterial bench. But as individuals many retained their importance in local politics and administration, while as a component of opposition in the Commons, where they numbered more than 100, they displayed continued sensitivity in issues concerning the church and the royal prerogative. As a result of George III's ending of proscription during the early 1760s, the Tories went their different ways, some aligning with the government, some with the various Whig factions, and others remaining as independent country MPs. Tory values, however, with their focus on the church and the sanctity of governmental authority, continued to have an important place in political argument, featuring significantly in the debates on America and in the ‘conservative reaction’ towards the end of the century. Under the impact of the French Revolution, the younger Pitt's ministry was frequently derided by the Foxite opposition as ‘Tory’, though this did not become a meaningful political label again until after Pitt's death in 1806. Out of the factionalism of the early 19th cent. gradually emerged the Toryism of Liverpool and Peel, the latter credited with the ideology of Conservatism. The term ‘Tory’ is still used, often pejoratively, to refer to the modern Conservative Party.
TORIES. SeeLoyalists .