In 1830 the long standing Conservative party led by the Duke of Wellington collapsed, giving way to a new Whig government led by Earl Grey. Peel for the first time in twenty years became a member of the opposition.
There is considerable historical debate as how much a role Peel played in the defeat of this party. The most substantial cause for the collapse of the ‘Old Tory’ party is the issue of Roman Catholic emancipation. By the spring of 1827 political opinion had polarised on one issue- emancipation and shortly after, on one controversial politician-Canning.Although, as later explained, Peel had a role to play in Catholic emancipation, it is important to assess what pressures and difficulties arose from this problem regardless of him. Catholic emancipation caused great bitterness within the Tory party. After the departure of Liverpool in 1827 divisions within the party surface- divisions based on personalities and the acceptance of emancipation.
On the one extreme-‘Catholic’ Tories who supported the idea of emancipation and on the other ‘Ultras’ who were strictly against any motion in favour of the Catholics.It is apparent that emancipation had already caused considerable instability within the government as early as 1827-factors external to Peels policies. With the foundation of the Catholic Association the pressure for Catholic emancipation increased. Daniel O’Connell began his vigilant campaign that would eventually lead him to win a seat in government. Lord Liverpool initially dismissed the so-called ‘threat’ of emancipation.
Shortly after Lord Liverpool’s departure Canning took over a Prime minister.Many including Peel and Huskisson loathed him due to his acceptance of the idea of Catholic emancipation. Peel refuses to serve as Home Secretary under Canning and many, who were not willing to commit themselves to a Canningnite ministry left. For most of his life Peel had been opposed to Catholic emancipation.
Peel refused to serve as home secretary under Canning as he supported the idea of Catholic emancipation. However he appears inconsistent when he proposes the Catholic Emancipation Bill.Before this he had shown strong opposition towards any ideas of possible emancipation. His record in Ireland as ‘Orange Peel’ demonstrated the fact that he clearly favoured the Church of England over that of the Catholic Church. This opinion though was mainly formed by the Ultras, extreme anti-reformist members of the Tory party. This fact alone is very important in explaining while Peel took an inconsistent approach. After Huskissons resignation the majority of peels support was from the heavily Ultra side of the Tory party.
Peel was strongly against an Ultra dominated government as it was too ‘anti-reform’. For him to request that the Canningnites remain in government is a sign that Peel was planning some sort of reform. This in essence is evident of consistency in his policies. Further evidence of consistency in peels policies presents itself when examining what the Ultras overlooked in assuming Peel supported them. Firstly, his support for the Catholic voting Bills in 1823 and 24.
This is a slight hint that peel was to some degree sympathetic of the Catholic cause.Secondly his substantial contribution to commons debate, securing the repeal of the Test and Corporations Acts. The events in Ireland showed that he was willing to support the CoE as part of the constitution from the overpowering catholic support in Ireland.
However by giving the English Catholics the vote he appeased them as they were a small minority and did not threaten the government. These two events show that Peels support for the Church of England was somewhat dogmatic. As the support for emancipation rapidly increased Wellington had two choices.Either he could pass a Catholic Emancipation Act and let O’Connell take his seat or he could declare the election null and void. Here he ran the risk of violence in Ireland, and possible civil war. Wellington did want to avoid bloodshed. Peel himself realised that an Irish revolt was close at hand so he began preparing the emancipation bill. He did however introduce measured to insure Irish peasants could not stand for election.
The possible revolt was out of Peels hands. His responsibility now, was to act in such a way that would protect Britain and its interests.In all respect we can see that Peel, in essence had no choice but to put forward the Emancipation Bill, if not just to avoid revolution in Ireland, but to protect the English constitution. Peel in deed had a duty to keep in step with party principles, but in this instance what did the principles stand for- revolt and the destruction of the Tory party.
It has been questioned whether or not Peels reasoning was right, in claiming that the greater interests were defended best by his actions. In the light of the evidence to follow I believe that they were.Firstly this new unity with Ireland meant that foreign powers could not take advantage of its close proximately to England. So in effect the Bill protected Britain. Further more, and probably most importantly the possible revolution was prevented.
However many were unable to see beyond Peels apparent inconsistent approach. He was left to defend himself against a mainly ‘anti-catholic’ party, together with the public’s hostile views towards him. Emancipation at the time was paralleled by calls for parliamentary reform. After the Kings death in June 1830 a general election was held.This election and recent European revolutions convinced more, of the need for parliamentary reform.
The Whigs had previously raised the issue but Wellington remained anti-reformist as shown by his inflexibility at the proposal of Huskissons reforms in 1829. Peel opposed parliamentary reform and this continued post 1830. His refused to condemn the principle of reform outright but made it very clear that the Whigs bill went too far. Peel explained that he was ‘unwilling to open a door which I saw no prospect of being able to close’.In may 1832, however he refused to join a Tory government whose sole purpose was to pass an acceptable reform bill. This refusal is often seen as the trigger point for Wellingtons demise and the return of the Whigs. But without much doubt the real reason for Peels refusal was the political consideration that his career would not stand a second complete change on this issue. So in contrast with the evidence above it can be seen that Peel put his own career and well being above that of the governments and it turn Britain.
In conclusion it is clearly evident that a consistent approach by peel could not have prevented the collapse of the Tory Party. If he had followed a consistent approach and failed to act on the possible threat of revolution in Ireland it is most likely that the government would have collapsed anyway. Many of the problems were out of Peels hands. He was under extreme pressure to do what was right for Britain, and at the basic level he did this, not only by preventing revolution but by making England stronger as a nation.
The issue of parliamentary reform especially was one that Peel had no chance of controlling.In essence Catholic emancipation was like a time bomb to the Tory party, waiting to be triggered (by O’Connell’s actions). Therefore the collapse of the Tory party was orientated around a huge combination of external factors and the issue of emancipation that happened to explode in the period of 1830.
It is unfair to say that Peel could have prevented this. Even if he had acted it is quite possible that the situation would have escalated considerably more. And this would not have been could for the tory party at all. As can be seen by Peels inconsistent approach.