The History of Political Parties in England (1678-1914)

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Gang, Minho
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Early Tory / Whig Parties (1678 - 1783)
II.1 The Formation of the Two Parties
II.2 Dominance of ¡®Whig¡¯ tendencies in Politics (1714-1760)
III. Distinction of Party Alignments (1783 - 1834)
IV. Beginning of Conservative & Liberal Parties
IV.1 The Conservative Party
IV.2 The Liberal Party
V. Advent of Other Political Parties
V.1 Liberal Unionists
V.2 The Labour Party
V.3 Other Parties
VI. Conclusion
VII. Notes
VIII. References

I. Introduction :
            The history of political parties in England in this paper mainly deals with the period of time after the Exclusion Bill Crisis (1678~1681) and before the start of World War I (1914). The existence of political parties has played a crucial role in shaping the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland today, from an absolute monarchy to a limited constitutional monarchy. The division of specific parties by which people can forward their various interests can be seen as another meaningful step towards government by the people. This term paper will focus on the forming processes of English political parties and how the parties changed over time in reaction to various events and policies. Rather than emphasizing the parties¡¯ influences on each environment, it is the purpose of this paper to follow the parties¡¯ progress.

II. Early Tory / Whig Parties (1678-1783) (1)

II.1 The Formation of the Two Parties
            After the English Civil War had established a protectorate in place of a monarchy under New Model Army leader Oliver Cromwell, a period known as the Restoration began. During this time King Charles II (the son of the previously executed Charles I) was restored to the throne but was under specific limits placed upon by parliament. The Bill of Rights was enacted in 1689, and certain privileges were protected from intrusion by any power including the monarchy. When the heir to the throne, James Duke of York was discovered to be a Catholic a rift among parliamentarians arose on the issue of support for the Catholic king. The people who wished to exclude James from the throne came to be known as Whigs, and the people who gave support were known as Tories, or the Tory party. Both names inherently have negative connotations: 'Whig' means a horse driver in Scottish Gaelic, and 'Tory' means outlaw in the Irish Gaelic language. This schism during the Exclusion Bill Crisis served as the starting point of the formation of political parties in England. Although the bill was ultimately defeated in the House of Lords in 1681, the division of the two political tendencies remained. It should be noted, however, that real party distinctions did not clarify until a later time. The terms of 'Whig' and 'Tory' were used more as tendencies to support an opinion in policy: rigid blocks of political coordination were yet to be constructed..
            The Tories came to represent and support the Anglican Church, the gentry, and the maintenance of a relatively strong monarchy. On the other hand, the Whigs supported non-Anglicans (notably Presbyterians), wealthy middle class people, and later industrial, mercantile interests. People following the tendencies of Whigs were also generally supportive of the supremacy in parliament's power to govern, while the authority of the monarchy was to be largely decreased. Although the main issue regarding the Exclusion Bill Crisis was the religious affiliation of James II, it is possible that the Whigs desired a notable decrease in the monarchy's authority by discontinuing the hereditary custom of passing the throne. The Tories wished the opposite of the Whigs' plans.
            During the Glorious Revolution (1688-89) the two Whig and Tory parties cooperated in discontinuing the Stuart dynasty and seating William III of Orange on the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It was during this period that the two parties, although their differences were ameliorated to an extent, moved forward another step in fomenting their respective party identities. The idea of a limited constitutional monarchy was generally accepted by people of both parties, in contrast to the absolutism of a king held by divine right. 'Toryism' became identified with Anglicanism and the regional squires, while 'Whiggism' came to represent the wealthy middle class and aristocracy. Until around 1714, political power was contested by both Whigs and Tories, when monarchs favored one political tendency over another such as the case of Queen Anne's initial preference to the Tory party. A group of Whigs known as the Junto Whigs increasingly dominated politics until Queen Anne dismissed the Whig Ministry and replaced them with Tories in 1710.

II.2 Dominance of 'Whig' tendencies in Politics (1714-1760)
            The death of Queen Anne in 1714 led her successor, George I Duke of Hannover to the throne. George the first was a nominee by the Whig members of parliament, and this substantially increased the influence of the Whig party. In 1715 and 1745, Jacobite uprisings (2) with the motive of restoring the Stuart dynasty by the son of James II (Bonnie Prince Charlie, also known as the Young Pretender) gave reason for the Whig party to discredit the majority of the Tories as traitors, although only a few had initially taken part in the uprising. The leader of the Tory Party, Henry St. John, first Count of Bolingbroke fled England for France, further threatening the maintenance of the party. The loosely coalesced Whigs, unchallenged, became the dominant force of government for the next several decades while the Tories practically lost their ground to function as a cohesive political force. Individual Tories during this time, however, continued to serve in the House of Commons. The 'Whigs' in control during this period were generally aristocratic groups and their connections, who preferred to name themselves as Whigs. Tories were generally country gentlemen, following the party's background.
            As time progressed, the definite borders of 'Whig' and 'Tory' lost more of their ground as politicians faced no clear distinction by the use of such terms. By the time of King George III, a definitive 'Whig' party did not exist: groups of aristocratic people connected with each other were the major forces in parliament. Many groups in power claimed the status of Whigs, sometimes claiming lineage from the traditional wealthy Whig families. For example, the Rockingham Whigs under the leadership of intellectuals such as Edmund Burke called themselves 'Old Whigs', following the tradition of the old families such as the Pelhams. The opposition was not deemed to be a Tory party, but was composed of Whigs who were Tory-leaning. Not until under the leadership of William Pitt the Younger would party distinctions be made clear and the term 'Tory' be made usable again.

III. Distinction of Party Alignments (1760 -1834)
            William Pitt the younger became the youngest prime minister in British history in 1783. His leadership led to a forming of a clear party division of new Tories and Whigs. When the previous Whig party split into a conservative faction (which joined William Pitt's government) and an opposition rump party led by Charles James Fox, the division was further made clear. After the death of Pitt the term 'Tory' rose in popularity to previous names such as 'Pittites' while Fox's group kept the name of 'Whig'. The new Tories broadly supported the country gentry¡¯s interests with those of the merchant classes and official administering groups. On the other hand, the Whig party came to forward the interests of religious dissenters, industrialists and other groups which sought reforms.
            A notable development in the political history of England during this time was the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 and the abolition of slavery, passed by the Whig administration under Lord Grey. Successful campaigns led by the Whig party allowed the general election which followed the Act to reduce the Tories to only 180 Members of Parliament (MPs).

IV. Beginning of Conservative & Liberal Parties

IV.1 The Conservative Party
            The preexisting Tory and Whig parties experienced a phase in the 19th century where the Whigs formed the Liberal Party, and the Tories newly grouped under the Conservative Party. During the period of Tory decline in Parliament the name 'Conservative' began to be used, as politician Robert Peel rallied together the opponents of further reform in the 1830s. By 1832 the term 'Conservative Party' had effectively replaced 'Tory' in common use by the press and politics. Peel issued the Tamworth Manifesto in 1834, which outlined the goals of the Conservatives. The Tamworth Manifesto can be seen as a crucial point for the grouping of the Tory party into the Conservative Party. Robert Peel was successfully elected Prime Minister in 1841 as the leader of the Conservatives.
            However, Peel's decision in 1846 to repeal the protectionist Corn Laws (3) provoked disagreement among many within the party, and a faction named the Peelites who did not favor repeal broke away to form a coalition with the Liberal Party, with William Gladstone as the Peelite leader. After the death of Peel in 1850, the Peelites and Conservatives had definitively separated. A majority of the Peelites defected to the Whigs and Radicals to form the Liberal Party in 1859, under the leadership of Lord Palmerston. The modern Conservative Party regrouped after the division and slowly built up its strength under the leaders Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby). The Conservative Party was able to win the majority in parliament in 1874, but it was not until the split of the Liberals over the Irish Home Rule Bill and the defection of the Liberal Unionists that the Conservatives were able to safely hold majorities.
            The coalition of the Unionists and the Conservatives suffered political losses during the early twentieth century due to the unpopular Boer Wars led by Joseph Chamberlain, leader of the Liberal Unionists, and new tariff reforms. However, the party made up for its previous losses during the elections of 1910.

IV.2 The Liberal Party
            The term 'Liberal Party' had been used by Prime Minister John Russell early on, but the identity of the party started from a coalition of Whigs and Radicals promoting free trade and reform. The coalition drew along similar lines compared to the previous Whig party, favoring reform, personal liberty, and the reduction in the role of the monarchy and church. Although initially defeated by the Conservative Party, conservatives' breakup over the repealing of the Corn Laws allowed ministries led by Russell, Palmerston and the Peelite Lord Aberdeen to hold office during the mid-1800s. When Prime Minister Palmerston's second government was established, the Liberal Party had been officially founded. The Liberal Party in the beginning had a large traditional Whig element within it: however, through the leadership of William Gladstone, politicians with old Whig aristocratic tendencies diminished.
            Prime Minister William Gladstone was able to become the first leader of the modern Liberal party, by Russell's retirement in 1868 and Palmerston's death in 1865. The dominance of the aristocracy in the party had ceased after Gladstone's leadership, thus the word 'modern' may be applied. After the Second Reform Act was passed in 1867 by agreement between the two parties, Gladstone acquired a large victory at the 1868 election and formed the first Liberal government. In the 1890s the Liberal Party was in the opposition for a decade, then was nearly split into two factions over the Boer Wars. The varying left-right tendencies of party members caused division within the Liberal Party. However, party leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was able to lead the party to a win a large majority in parliament by following traditional Liberal policies of land reform and free trade. This period marked the height of the Liberal Party's power: the following crisis of the Unionists' Ulster Volunteers in conflict over Irish home rule and World War I signaled its decline.

V. Advent of Other Political Parties

V.1 Liberal Unionists
            Liberal Unionists were those politicians who were originally part of the Liberal Party, but split from the main party. This was due to Prime Minister William Gladstone's support for the Home Rule Bill for Ireland in 1886. Because the members of parliament did not want a near independent state of Ireland to break away from the United Kingdom by granting home rule, they took on the name of Liberal Unionists. The party was composed of radical Unionists with Joseph Chamberlain as leader and the moderate/Whig Unionists who were lead by the Marquis of Hartington. The two groups each founded organizations: the Liberal Unionist Association, and the National Radical Union. However, in 1889 Chamberlain effectively merged the two organizations under the name of the National Liberal Union. In 1895 the Liberal Unionists took office during the Conservative Government, which eventually led to the formal union of the Conservative and Liberal Unionist parties in 1912.

V.2 The Labour Party
            Towards the end of the nineteenth century there arose a number of political parties representing the working class. Previously, in the 1880s political representatives of the working class had run for parliament as Liberal-Labour candidates. The need for an independent political party for the working class resulted in the formation of The Independent Labour Party, which was lead by Keir Hardie. In 1898, the ILP joined with another Labour party, the Social Democratic Federation. This resulted in a Labour party majority in the region of West Ham, which convinced another left-wing group to join, the Fabian Society. In 1900, the leaders of all socialist groups in Britain joined to from the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
            In the following general elections, the Labour Representation Committee achieved gradual success. Although the Social Democratic Federation¡¯s disaffiliation from the party in 1901 the Labour Party won more seats in the 1906 general election than it did in the 1900 election. In 1906 The LRC officially changed its name to the Labour Party. In the years to come, the Labour Party would eventually grow to dominate the political landscape and replace the Liberal Party as the most powerful left party in Great Britain, contending with the Conservative Party.

V.3 Other Parties
            Some parties lead a short existence in their formation and declined in influence throughout the 19th century. A group known as the Chartists began in 1838 and decreased in influence by the 1850s. Many other minor parties arose in the early twentieth century, such as the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Party of Great Britain, both of which broke away from the Social Democratic Federation. The division and fragmentation of politics into various parties remain a phenomenon to the present, while a few major parties dominate the majority of the parliament's composition and have wide appeal to the public.

VI. Conclusion
            In a larger context, England's early steps toward a limited constitutional monarchy with rule by Parliament is meaningful in that they set precedents for a number of other nations to follow. The history of the political parties of England until the start of World War I can be largely summed up into three phases : First, the beginnings of party division into Whigs and Tories; second, the development of such groups into modern political parties; and third, the creation of smaller minority parties from preexisting political parties. The traditions and tendencies of the parties have continued on in history leading up to the present, and political parties maintain important roles in Britain's government today.

VII. Notes

(1)      This section is a compilation of several narratives, the mainstream of which is the most credible Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Additional details added from Wikipedia may be subject to further specification or correction in terms.
(2)      Supporter of the exiled Stuart king James II (Latin: Jacobus) and his descendants after the Glorious Revolution (1688-89). Britannica Online, "Jacobite" 3 Dec 2007
(3)      A series of British laws in force before 1846 regulating the grain trade and restricting imports of grain. The Free Dictionary, "Corn Law" 4 Dec 2007

VIII. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited in November/December 2007.
1.      Article : British Tory Party, from Wikipedia,
2.      Article : British Whig Party, from Wikipedia,
3.      Cook, Chris. Britain in the Nineteenth Century 1815 - 1914. Pearson Education, 1999.
4.      England in the 18th Century : Domestic Policy : the Jacobites, from World History at KMLA,
5.      Gregory, Jeremy and John Stevenson. Britain in the Eighteenth Century 1688 - 1820. Pearson Education, 2000.
6.      History of Parliament, from UK Parliament,
7.      Article : History of the Conservative Party, from Wikipedia,
8.      Article : Liberal Party (UK), from Wikipedia,
9.      Article : Liberal Unionist Party, from Wikipedia,
10.      Macaulay, Thomas B. The History of England. Penguin Books, 1986
11.      Political Parties and Election Results (UK Parliament), from Spartacus Educational,
12.      Article : Politics of the United Kingdom, from Wikipedia,
13.      Article : Robert Peel, from Wikipedia,
14.      Stuart Restoration, 1660-1688, from World History at KMLA,
15.      The Glorious Revolution 1688 and William of Orange 1689-1702, from World History at KMLA,
16.      The History of the Labour Party, Web Page of MP David Wright (rep. Telford),
17.      The Labour Party, from Spartacus Educational,
18.      Article : Whig and Tory, from : Encyclopedia Britannica Online,
19.      Article: William Gladstone, from : Wikipedia,
20.      Article : William Pitt the Younger, from Wikipedia,

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