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To what extent was Sir Robert Peel responsible for the conservative party break up in 1846?

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To what extent was Sir Robert Peel responsible for the conservative party break up in 1846?

The conservative party split in1846 after Peel resigned as prime minister due to the defeat of the Irish Coercion Bill in the House of Commons. By this time Peel had lost the support of much of his own party after he had force thought the repeal of the Corn Law earlier in the year. Peel felt he no longer had his party backing him as the Irish coercion bill would have benefited everyone’s interest not just his own.

Sir Robert Peel came from an industrial background and was a very well educated man. He had attended one of the top universities and had a double first in mathematics and physic. This background was not one of a traditional Tory leader as most were of the landed interest thought this did sometime come as an advantage as Gladstone said peel was “the best man of business who was ever prime minister”. Although this only brought tension within the party because peel wanted to push forward with legislation to bring about free trade were most of the traditional Tories wanted to protect the British agriculture. Also Peels had a very cold personality and this can across in is political life as O’Connell claimed “His smile was like the silver plate of a coffin.” This coldness toward his party meant that people found it hard to communicate with Peel often leading to unnecessary disagreements within the party.  Peel also forgot the importance of the backbenchers who support was vital because together they could undermine his rule. As E.J.Evans claimed “Peel moved far and fast between 1841 and 1845 but he did not quiet the disorganised spirit of his backbenchers.”  

Peel had a very controversial style of leadership for a Conservative leader; he believed that his party should respect his decision even if they conflicted with their personal ideologies. These ideas were shown in all of Peel legislation put forward to his part in the year 1841-1846. The first mistake peel made as prime minister was in the organisation of his cabinet. Peel left out Benjamin Disraeli who believed he deserved a post in government. This meant that Peel had created bitter and lasting enemies who would always be looking out for opportunities for revenge. This mistake later cost Peel his parties support after Disraeli’s anti-peel propaganda turned his party against him. Though Peel didn’t help the situation by bringing out a lot of controversial reform.

 The First piece of legislation he brought out while in government was the re-introduction of the Income tax. This in the past had only been used in war time Britain. He claimed this to be essential after the Whigs miss use of government finance and he also claimed this would only be a temporary measure in order to clear the government debt but this never went away. This angered his party because most of the landed interest were except from normal direct tax so weren’t keen on the idea but he managed to win his party round by lower indirect taxes but this measure mainly help the working class because it meant a fair system of taxation. Peel also made other economic reforms in his ministry the first one of these was the Bank Charter Act 1844 this was quite a beneficial policy because it restricted the issue of paper money by bank and concentrated the right solely in the Bank of England. This meant that no new bank could issue money at all and all old banks were restricted. This meant that the economy wouldn’t be over run with paper money and deprecation would occur. The main economic policy that damaged his reputation within the party was the move towards free trade. Many of the conservative peers wanted to protect the British agriculture and industry and the idea of free trade scared them so when Peel abolished nearly al the duties of foreign product his party were outrage and some claim that all Peel had left to do was repeal the Corn Laws.

Thought the economy was Peel main priority during his time in office Peel main concern was the defence of the country it colonies. Peel put a lot of time and money into foreign policy. He believe that he must maintain the status quo in order to keep his part interest secured and to do this a strong law and order system needed top be maintained and secured.  He maintain a navy of 29,000 and a standing army of 90,000 troops this was criticized many time because many Conservative and Whigs alike want spenditure on foreign policy as low as that of the 1930’s. His other priority was the maintenance of law and order. There were two major groups that wanted reform at the time, the chartist and the anti-corn law league.

Chartism began to rise again in the summer of 1841 once O’Connell was released from jail. Paul Adelman shared the view that Peel ignores all of the demand as he believed “Chartism was not a political but a public order problem”. This ignorance of this repeated attempt of reform stopped Chartism in its tracks. Peel government saw a lot of revolt and riot such as them demonstrated by the Chartist and some conservative had fear a revolution like this seen 1815 when they had the spectre of the French revolution hanging over there heads. Peel believe giving into there group was not the option and instead tried to maintain a strong police force and when the riot became to extreme he even sent on troops to quell the violence.

Thought it cannot be said he did nothing to help the masses Peel did bring about some of social reform despite his parties disagreements. He did introduce a few social reforms such as the Mines Act of 1842 but most of these seem haft hearted and unaffected. The Mines act 1942 is often seen to lack certain clauses as it still allow boys from 10-16 to work in the Pitts. Thought this bill didn’t face much opposition in the House of Commons Peel didn’t really fight Wellington and Wharncliffe when they change the age of exclusion from 13 to 10 years old. This yet again show his lack of support to his own party as he once again join force with the industrialist rather than being as statesman that he is often proclaimed to be.

The Factory Act (1844) highlighted some of the poorest administration ever seen in Peel time as Prime Minister.  The Factory Act didn’t get of to a good start within the conservative party this was because Graham managed to upset nearly everyone when he started investigation the factory question in 1833. He presented a bill which “combined the nitro of factory reform with the glycerine of the education issue in one explosive package” (Donajgrodzki). When Graham altered the bill in order to please the Anglican Church he managed to upset the Dissenters. The Dissenters responded to this with a nationwide campaign against the bill and forced Graham to abandon the attempt. This ended a bad year for Peel but to increases the general distrust and unpopularity of Graham even within his own party. Ashley said “He was the most dishonest of all public officers.” So when the bill finally became legislation in June 1844, with a twelve hour clause women and young adult plus half days for children, it had total undermined Peel leadership and with fresh opposition Ashley saw his relations within his own party even more diminished.  

Another piece of controversial legislation Peel introduced was the sugar duties act of 1844. The problem was the British West Indies colonies were unable to deal with acceleration demand. The government were unable to find alternative supplier of the “free” sugar as they were committed to do so. As sugar was Britain’s main customs revenue Peel knew it had to be dealt with. Although Peel was determined to cut duties on both imperial and foreign in order to reduce the average living cost of the working classes and bring in fresh supplier. Peel wanted to reduce the current duties on foreign sugar from 63s to 35s making it only 10s more than that of imperial. This proposal was attack by both the West Indies interests and many MPs who saw it as an attack on imperial exports. The attack in the commons was lead by Phillip Miles. Miles managed to get an amendment of the bill which changed the duties on imperial sugar from 24s to 20s when he was supported by sixty-two conservative. This infuriated Peel who had to face another knock back just after conservative support for Ashley‘s amendments of the factory act had change the working hours from twelve to ten.  This was another example of “the House of Commons twisting the ministry’s tail!”(Adelman)

Peel made a lot of changes to Ireland during his Ministry and one of the most controversial of these was the introduction of the Maynooth College Bill. The Maynooth College was founded in 1795 and was used as a school to train Catholic priests. The college had always received a government grant of £9,250p/a. This remained the figure until the 1840’s thought it was apparent that this was now insufficient in maintaining the college but no government wanted to increase the grant in case it caused offence to the Church of England. Thought in 1843 Peel thought it time to address this problem and considered an increase in the colleges’ budget. He argued “all combined to send forth priesthood embittered rather than conciliated by the aid granted by the state for their education, and connected…with the lower classes of society” when he introduced the idea to his cabinet all were in favour except than Gladstone and Goulburn and eventually Gladstone resigned over the matter. As Graham pointed out to peel “I foresee that on the part of the British public in their present temper, invisible repugnance will be felt to any such proposal” as itis clear that due to government opinion Peel had embarked on a difficult mission. He proposed an increase in the grant to £26,000 to the common in 1845. He found himself face with a coalition of opposition consisting of, Tories, low-church Anglicans, Orangemen, dissenters and radicals. Peel found himself opposed in all section of his party and the House of Lords thought he remained determined to succeed. In the end the Maynooth bill passed in the spring of 1845 but only because Peel had support from the Irish and the Whigs. From the conservative point of view Peel had acted more determined and had been more stubborn about the Maynooth crisis than he had been on the Sugar Duties act and the factory act.  

Even after all of this Peel still managed to retain some support from his party it took the total betrayal of Tory value to finally divide his party and this came in the form of the Repeal of the Corn Laws. In 1845 Peel administration was faced with an Irish potato famine witch left most of Ireland without food. Peel first action was to devise a strategy to solve the problem and then warm his cabinet to it. Peel knew that the only solution to this crisis was a total repeal of the Corn Laws. When he presented this proposal to his cabinet in the November it became very clear to Peel the serious division within the cabinet. Only three support the repeal where the rest were either unconvinced that the Irish problem was bad or just didn’t want to face the moral or political implications. Thought in the end all member of the cabinet placed their trust in the judgement of Peel. Thought he did have to resign in order to gain this.  When Peel final proposed the repeal to the Commons he faced opposition from two-thirds of his own party led by Lord George Bentinck who processed to build an opposition against the government. The bill was finally passes on the 15th may with 241 conservative voting against the bill and only 112 for the bill. This had a devastation effect on Peel career as most of the conservatives along with Greviile believed “everybody expects that he means to go on and in the end knock the Corn Laws on the head”  and after betraying all of the landed interest Peel conservative party no long stood behind him.  As Adelman says “Peel victory over the Corn Laws was only achieved – as he eventually came to accept – at the price of his own political career”

Peel did play a larger part in the break up because from his first day in office he managed to upset people with his attitude and ideology of have the government should be run. Peel believed that his party should trust his judgment and should back him on all legislation and this work in the initial period because the conservative hadn’t been in power for nearly a decade and didn’t want the newfound power to be taken from them by Peel resigning. So every bit of legislation peel put to Parliament was supported by his party. Until it came to 1846 were by this time he had push the party to far and they no longer backed him. Thought the anti-peel propaganda of people such as Disraeli and Lord George Bentin didn’t not help as peel tried to push thought such a controversial bit of legislation such as the Repeal of the Corn Laws.

It cannot be denied that Peel played a part in split the conservative party in 1846 thought it could be argued that he did this in the interest of the people. As Gash says “for him the repeal of the Corn Laws, has the Reform Act had been for Grey, was essentially a persevering measure”. Gash believed Peel created a new Conservative party out of the ruin of the Tory only to sacrifice it because the countries interest demanded it. Gash argued it was not him that failed and broke up the party it was his failure to educate and discipline his party that brought him down and that he risked everything by expecting them to ignore there own principle and self interest and support his ideas. As Peel claim in his resignation speech “I have thought it constant with true conservative policy to promote so much of happiness among the people that the voice of disaffection should no longer be heard.”  This means that all his political measures were for the benefit of the people and not for his personal gain or personal interest. Gash often claims that it was the lack of party loyally that split the conservative party in 1846 not that of peels himself.

K H Randell looks at a lot of different views points in his book. His personal belief is that Peel had caused his own downfall and had managed to destroy the part he once created he claims that. “It is much to Peel credit that he forced through what he considered to be beneficial legislation in the face of violent, is mistaken, opposition, which for a time seemed likely to destroy the unity of the party” he believe Peel did this in order to keep the piece as well as maintaining the Status Quo but what was need to be done meant a betrayal of his own party. Thought Randell also states that “It could be argued that Peel risked doing more damage to his country by upsetting it delicately balanced political system than he could have done good by repealing the Corn Laws”. Thought some modern historians are also coming round to the idea that maybe Peel did split the party for the greater good and are taking views that “Peel allowed personal honour, family fortune, lifelong friendships and party unity to be damaged or destroyed for the sake of his country”

Thought many historians agree with this view some tend to believe that of Disraeli. Disraeli argue that “the first duty of an English Prime Minister is to be faithful to his party” and that “good and honourable government is not only consistent with that tie but in reality manly depend on its sacred observant.” He claims that Peel ignores his party and by this he was trying to sustain a democracy without a stable party system a task witch is almost impossible. Disraeli claim by these actions Peel risked doing more damaged to the country by upsetting the delicately balance political system than he could have done well by repealing the Corn Laws. So it was solely due to the action of Sir Robert Peel in the latter years of his ministry that brought about the conservative party break up in the year of 1846.

Wood agrees that is was fact that Peel did break up the conservative party but he believe that Peel was a general statesman that had put the views of the community before that of his own party but Peel main problem was that he only listen to his own conscience and ignore others. He claims the result was bad for both Peel and Disraeli because Peel ended his political career while Disraeli was to become the head of party that was split in two.

In conclusion it is hard not to place most of the blame of the conservative party break up on Sir Robert Peel himself. As his string of anti-Conservative measure and politics placed a great strain upon the consciences of many Tory Members of parliament.   His controversial characteristic that made him classed with most of his cabernet on many occasions put a heavy strain on the party morale and often lead to resignation from key ministers. However it cannot be said that all of the blame lies with him. The anti Peel propaganda spread by Disraeli thought Peel ministry managed to ease the party away from Peel way of thinking and cause and unnecessary tension between the party and its leader. Also we could say that the forcing thought of some of these controversial acts was not down to peel alone. Pressure from the masses thought organisation such as the chartist and the anti Corn Laws league place enormous amount of pressure of Peel to bring about reform. Another pressure was the Irish potato faming that left thousands of Irish citizen on the brink of starvation that help push the Repeal of the Corn Laws thought as people could afford the bread. Thought some would Claim Peel used this Potato faming as an excuse to push the repeal thought Parliament. It defiantly can’t be denied most of the blame does resultantly lie with Peel rather than these other factors.

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