British politics in the early C19
The Whigs and Tories were loose groupings rather than tightly disciplined
modern parties. Both parties’ names were originally C17 terms of abuse
associated with their supposed religious and rival royal loyalties.
By the early C19 the Tories had become associated with maintaining the sort
of government the king would like. This meant supporting the Anglican
Church and turning their face against change. In particular they associated
their rivals, the Whigs, with dangerous change and even support for the
French Revolution. After 1815 the Tories became associated with support for
the agricultural landed interest (abolition of income tax & support for the
Corn Laws). Tories made a virtue out of unswerving loyalty to principle and
someone such as Peel was increasingly looked at with suspicion due to his
pragmatism and his empathy with the changes of the industrial revolution.
Tories were normally loyal, traditional and stubborn, believing change would
be seen as weakness.
The Whigs suffered from over-enthusiastic support for the French Revolution
in its early days, they were more flexible and open to change. They spent
nearly all of the first 30 years of the C19 in opposition whereas the Tories
could claim to be the architects of victory in the Napoleonic Wars. Many
accepted industrialisation as a reality and were more willing to adapt even if
only to prevent more drastic change (or revolution) later (Contrast the two
parties attitude to the Great Reform Bill). If the Tories supported the
Anglican interest, the Whigs were sympathetic to Protestant nonconformity.
Although the Whigs were not as exclusively associated with the agricultural
interest as the Tories, the nucleus of the party were the Whig grandees
whose land-holding and network of influence eclipsed that of the Tories who
were generally the smaller country gentleman or squires. The Whigs were a
far broader party than the Tories, they had a wider range of views (including
radical ones) and whilst they shared many beliefs with the Tories they were
much more flexible. In the 1860s the Whigs (and radicals) came together
with the Peelites to form the Liberals.
Peel with his more flexible industrial background announced his acceptance
of moderate change – including the 1832 Reform Act –with the Tamworth
Manifesto of 1834. This was to restore the fortunes of the Tory party; his
type of Tory became known as Conservatives or Liberal Tories. In due course
the more old-fashioned less flexible type of Tory also became known as
Conservatives and kept the name after Peel’s fall in 1846. Peel’s followers,
the Peelites, were eventually to form one of the strands of Liberalism with
their old enemies the Whigs and their sometime allies the radicals.