Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) – Conservatism

Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) – Conservatism

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel was statesman who can be credited for introducing much social reform into the old established Toryism of the older ruling establishment, more later.

Politics in England had been severely shaken by the actions of the violence of the French Revolution. Liberal reactions to political patronage came about in 1832, with the “Representation of the People Act”, now more commonly known as the ‘Great Reform Act’. This immediately disenfranchised 56 boroughs in England and Wales and reduced another to only one MP.

The high Tory Prime Minister in 1830, Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, was resolutely opposed to parliamentary reform. However, there were stirrings within the growing middle classes. Wellesley was ousted in late 1830 and replaced by Earl Grey, a Whig, who pledged to reform matters, eventually receiving Royal Assent in 1832. Grey’s plan persuaded King William IV to consider the creation of additional Whig peers in the House of Lords to guarantee the Bill’s passage. By Tory peers abstaining from voting, the Bill passed without the need for any more creation of Whigs.

Another change brought by the 1832 Reform Act was the formal exclusion of women from voting in Parliamentary elections. Prior to 1832 there had been occasions or instances of women voting.

These political circumstances may appear particularly harsh today as they represent enormous changes in the treatment and conduct of the working population at the time. The following years steadily presented opportunities to revolutionise the old High Tory methods of dictating to the general populace.

Robert Peel had been Home Secretary under Wellington in 1828 before Lord Grey’s period in government who resigned in1834. Peel refused King William IV’s invitation to form a government. Following a second request he accepted with a small majority, he resigned in the April.

In 1841 he was appointed Prime Minister in a period of economic strife. During this period he liberated trade introducing groundbreaking legislation with the Miners Act. Of 1842 and the Factory Act, 1844. In 1845 following failed harvests he forced the repeal of the 30-year-old ‘Corn Laws’ that had banned the import of cheap foreign grain. The crisis also triggered Irish potato famine. Unable to send sufficient food to Ireland to stem the famine, he repealed the corn laws, causing a powerful reaction from the landowners. In 1946, the Corn Laws were repealed but he failed with another bill and decided to finally resign.


A British statesman of great integrity, he twice served as prime minister and was responsible for forming the ‘Conservative’ Party.

Following the Great Reform Act which set about democratic changes to the independence of the boroughs, came the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835 that abolished the undemocratic controlling powers of the borough freemen.

In 1846 He repealed the restrictive Corn Laws, introduce to protect British agriculture. He established London’s first metropolitan police force, known as the ‘peelers’ or the ‘bobbys’.

Peel is also known for his stance toward Catholic emancipation and for the ‘Tamworth Manifesto’ in which he outlined new Conservative reform principles.

Sir Robert Peel effectively revised the old established ultra-Tory politics of the Duke of Wellington and those of Lord Grey. A split in 1830 of Tory politics was particularly caused by an attempt to uphold the ‘Protestant Constitution’. This required an exclusion of Roman Catholics. Upper Tories were at odds with George Canning, the foreign Secretary, for a ‘holy alliance’. A further move toward Liberalism.

The principles of Conservatism:

  • Individual Freedom
  • Limited Government
  • The Rule of Law
  • Peace through strength
  • Fiscal Responsibility
  • Free Markets
  • Human Dignity
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