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Conservative Party / Tory Party - Early History

The term "Tory" is derived from the Irish Tar a Ri, "Come, oh king!" associated with the creed of the Irish native levies enlisted in the civil wars on behalf of the loyalist cause; the outlaws who fought for James in Ireland after the revolution were similarly nicknamed Rapparees or Tories.

The Revolution of 1688-89 made it impossible for the Tories to retain their old attitude of attachment to the hereditary right of the occupant of the throne, with the exception of the extreme wing of the party, which remained Jacobite. They still, however, continued, though accepting the Toleration Act, to oppose the offering of further favors to Dissenters. In Anne's reign, after the war with France had gone on for some time, they supported a peace policy, whilst the Whigs advocated a continuance of the war. The Tories, distrusting the authority of the ministerial government, and fearing a new despotism based on parliamentary corruption, became, especially after Bolingbroke's return from exile, almost democratic in their views and in their demands for the purification of the existing system.

With the accession of George III Toryism took a new form. For some time the dividing line between Whigs and Tories was this: the Tories asserted that the king had a right to choose his ministers and control their policy, subject to the necessity of securing a majority of the House of Commons, while the Whigs thought that the choice should lie with leading* members of parliament, and that the king should have no controlling power. When in 1783 Chatham's son Pitt became prime minister, the Tory party took a new start. It retained the Tory principle of reliance on the crown, and joined to it Chatham's principle of reliance on the people as opposed to the great Whig families. It also supported Pitt in practical reforms.

All this was changed by the French Revolution. In opposition to the new democracy, the Tories coalesced with a section of the Whig families, the representatives of which entered the ministry in 1794. From this time till 1822, in spite of men like Pitt, and the personal influence of Tory leaders who supported moderate reform, Toryism came to, be popularly identified with a desire to retain the existing state of things, however full of abuses it might be. When Canning and Peel entered the ministry in 1822, a gradual change took place, and a tendency to practical reform manifested itself.

The Conservative Party, in Great Britain, is the name of the successors of the Tories as one of the great political parties, representing the opposition to the Liberal party, championing stability rather than innovation, or the advantages of preserving inherited conditions so far as possible rather than adopting changes which are founded on theoretical ideals. J. W. Croker suggested the term (Quarterly Rev., Jan. 1830) as more appropriate than "Tory," but for some time it was only used sporadically, and many of the old Tory rgime disliked it.

The term "Tory" has in fact never quite fallen out of use, and has been commonly retained by many modern Conservatives who wish to emphasize that theirs is a constructive and positive policy of constitutional as opposed to radical reform, and not merely one of letting things remain simply "as they are." Similarly attempts were made in the 1880s to substitute "Constitutionalist," but without its becoming current coin; and Lord Randolph Churchill called himself a "Tory democrat."

Sir Robert Peel, in a speech in the House of Commons, protested against the "un-English name of Conservative." Yet Peel himself shattered the old Tory and Protectionist party in 1846, and soon after called himself a Conservative, and the Peelites were commonly spoken of as "Liberal Conservatives." And when "Liberal" came into regular use for one party, "Conservative " became the recognized term for its opposite, Toryism being popularly regarded as the reactionary creed of the supporters of " vested interests " and opponents of reform of any kind.

The character of any British Conservative party, in the widest sense of the term, has naturally changed, and was bound continually to change, with the progress of events. The successive Reform Acts, which put political power into the hands of new classes of the electorate, made it necessary to make a new sort of appeal to them, in order to support the causes of the church establishment, the House of Lords, and the main features of the constitution.

In organization the party followed much on the lines of the Liberal Party. After 1832 associations known as "Constitutional" or "Conservative" multiplied throughout the country; and a "National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations" formed a confederation in 1867, in alliance with the work of the Central Conservative Office under the party whips. It was, however, unlike the similar Liberal "National Liberal Federation," under the control of influential people who were loyal to the Central Office. In this respect the Conservative party, as an internally loyal party, had some advantage in organization; and such independent outbreaks as that of the "Fourth Party" (in the parliament of 1880), while stimulating to the Central Office, may be said to have applied a useful massage rather than to have led to any breaking of bones; while the Primrose League and similar new bodies acted as co-operating agencies.

Most of the new voters were in the industrial towns and cities, and it was with the aim of improving Conservative prospects here that Disraeli founded what became the central pillars of the party organisation: the National Union, which began as a modest gathering in 1867, and the Central Office, established in 1870. The introduction of household suffrage in towns by Disraeli's Leap in the Dark Reform Bill (1867) and the defeat of the Conservative party at the election of 1868. altered the whole political position of the civil service question. The existing aristocratic political families felt that their hold on patronage was gone, and were afraid of the results which would follow from the use of patronage by members of Parliament.

Disraeli's government of 1874-1880 was a landmark in Conservative fortunes and its domestic measures widened its appeal to the urban lower and middle classes. At the same time, Disraeli forged the crucial link between the Conservative Party and patriotic pride in nation and empire. However, economic problems and Gladstone's revival of Liberal spirits led to Conservative defeat in 1880. No longer the defender of the landed and aristocratic elite alone, the Conservative Party was becoming a national presence with an appeal to all communities and it was this combination which led to its first period of dominance from 1886 to 1906.

Gladstone's proposal of Home Rule for Ireland in 1886 resulted in a great accession of strength to the party, owing to the splitting off of the Liberal Unionists from the Liberal party. From this time the term "Unionists" began to come into use, to signify both the Conservative and the Liberal Unionist parties; the distinction between the two wings gradually grew smaller; and by degrees the name of "Conservative party," though officially maintained, became more and more vague, as politics centerd round Ireland, Imperialism or Tariff Reform.

These Liberal Unionists first gave informal support to Lord Salisbury's Conservative government of 1886-1892, and then shared office as a junior partner when Salisbury returned to power in 1895. As a result, from the 1890s to the 1920s, 'Unionist' displaced Conservative as the general term for the Party and its supporters - in Scotland until the 1960s.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:47:21 ZULU