How successful were Peels social and economic reforms between 1841 and 1846?

Authors Avatar by sundayinnit (student)

How successful were Peel’s social and economic reforms between 1841 and 1846?

Peel’s reforms and creation of new policies during the years 1841 to 1846 had varying effects on the government and country. As historian Norman Gash argues, through the reforms that he had carried out during his spell in power Peel aimed to “turn the Tory party of one particular class into the Conservative party of the nation”. Peel wanted to make the Conservative party less dogmatic, and his aim was to evolve policy to embrace the new industrial society and gain the support of the middle-classes, a section of society whose backing was extremely important for the future of any government and it is through the various reforms and changes made between 1841 and 1846 that Peel set about to further liberalise the Tory party. Although I believe that on the whole the that policies Peel had made were indeed successful and beneficial to the people of Britain, such as the Factory and Mines Act, there were certain aspects of Peel’s reforms which questioned just how successful Peel had been in the creation of his new reforms, hinting at the fact that he could have gotten ‘lucky’- Britain had already been moving in the direction of free trade, or that, as Eric Evans claims, more could have been done to fully suit the needs of society at the time.

Peel, an efficient and competent, if not slightly reserved, character believed in the theory of executive government and saw the support of his backbenchers as unnecessary. With these traits, he sought to create many policies to change the face of the Tory party at the time. It is however first of all key to point out just how tough it had been for Peel at the time to maintain control and order. The economy in Britain in 1841 hadn’t been at all strong- the previous Whig government had failed to balance the budget, and this had led to waves of unemployment in the industrial towns of the North. A weak economy had traditionally reduced the maneuverability of government and therefore it could be argued that this made it a lot harder for Peel to carry out his expertise and skills to a ‘full potential’. Peel was also in the process of facing the Chartist challenge, a growing radical movement demanding wide scale reform to the country, as epitomised by the Newport Rising and The Plug Riots, and was therefore under pressure to get rid of the movement (though as later will be explained the Chartist challenge may not have been that threatening after all, as Steadman Jones explains in his ‘nasty state’ theory) final obstacle that Peel had faced was one from the cloud in the west, Ireland. His old enemy Daniel O’Connell had whipped up large support which aimed to repeal the Act of Union, and so Peel was put in the extremely tricky position of aiming to win over moderate Catholic opinion whilst retaining the key features of the protestant establishment.

Peel’s first aim was to create a budget which would allow the country to raise sufficient funds in order to combat the 2 million pound plus deficit left behind by the Whigs. The introduction of income tax, whereby taxpayers would be charged 7 pence in the pound, allowed Peel to generate more money. Another way in which he allowed the government to obtain more money in 1842 was by the lowering of tariffs on goods such as raw materials. Peel was of the belief that removing tariffs and abolishing all export duties would bring down bring down the cost of British good abroad and also reduce the cost of living for the working classes. The measures had worked exactly as Peel had hoped- trade became revived and Britain began to move out of the so-called ‘hungry 40’s’ into a golden age of prosperity lasting until the 1870’s. However, following Peel’s reforms many cheap products flooded the country, damaging landed interest, so the effectiveness of this policy comes into question. He also rejuvenated business confidence and greatly helped to regulate it. The Bank Charter Act of 1844 placed serious restriction on credit and had built the building blocks for future modern methods used to control the economy, another example of Peel’s competence of implementing a sense of continuity in the country; putting an emphasis on lasting. The Sliding scale and modification of the Corn Laws was also beneficial to reducing unemployment and was a symbol of the consistency that Peel had been trying to impose. The Companies Act, the baking framework and free trade, as well as income tax, all lasted well into the future, and this is a key feature of Peel’s success. However it could well be argued that Peel’s banking policy had been a little overly-restrictive, and one could once again evoke the argument that peel had gotten ‘lucky’ through the founding of extra gold in Australia and California.

Join now!

Peel’s desire to widen the support of his party by further liberalising it is shown in these reforms. By reducing regressive taxation and increasing direct taxation, the previous inequalities of the system whereby the poor would pay more tax had been ‘cut down’; therefore these economic reforms helped appeal to the middle classes. The transformation of a deficit into a surplus through a system where both the rich (from increased trade) and poor (from reduced taxation) benefited shows just how competent Peel had been economically, and how successful his measures had been. However it can be argued that the basis ...

This is a preview of the whole essay