Born in 1788 and succeeded to the title of 'Sir' Robert Peel in 1830 when he inherited his father's baronetcy. Although not aristocracy himself, being the son of a cotton mill owner, Robert received an aristocratic upbringing, being educated at Harrow and then Christchurch college Oxford. Was British Prime Minister twice in a glittering political career that saw him become Irish chief secretary at the tender age of 22 and became Home secretary by the age of 34.

In his time as Home Secretary he established the Metropolitan Police force, hence the words "Bobby" and "Peeler" became slang words for policeman.

His first stint as Prime Minister was at the helm of the infamous '100 days ministry', which needless to say was not long-lived. However, the ministry was not entirely without merit as it set up a commission to look into church reform and laid the groundwork for a future Conservative recovery in 1840. His second ministry lasted from 1841 until 1846 when he was brought down by his own party after the repeal of the Corn Laws. During his second period of office Peel was instrumental in Factory and Bank reform as well as continuing Britain's moves away from mercantilism and towards free trade.

Robert Peel is considered by many as the founder of the modern Conservative party as he first layed out Conservative principles as being different from those of traditional Toryism in his Tamworth Manifesto of 1834. However, among scholars of 19th century British political history Peel will probably be seen as most noteworthy for the utter distrust shown towards him by his party colleagues, who never forgave him for his u-turn on Catholic emancipation in 1829 and his commitment to free trade

Sir Robert Peel died in 1850 after falling off his horse, he was sadly missed by the British public because he was seen as a true statesman. He had spent the intervening 4 years between his removal as Prime Minister and his death leading a small faction of 'Peelite' MPs, who although in political isolation did hold the balance of power in the House of Commons for a short amount of time. From this group of pariah politicians did emerge William Gladstone, Peel's protégé, who went on to become a Liberal Prime Minister.

sources:'Sir Robert Peel' by T.A. Jenkins, 'The extension of the franchise 1832 to 1931' by Bob Whitfield and too many history lessons:-)

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Assessment of Sir Robert Peel’s career as party leader and Prime Minister


Introduction

Sir Robert Peel, often credited as the founder of modern Conservatism, is widely recognized as one of the most influential British politicians of the first half of the nineteenth century. After entering Parliament in 1809 at the age of twenty-one, Peel first became a minister under Lord Liverpool and by 1834 had replaced Wellington as leader of the Tories in opposition. As party leader, and later Prime Minister, Peel had a great deal of success in turning around the Tory Party although many of his policies were very controversial among his party members.


Peel as party leader

Although he had led the Tories in the House of Commons since 1830, Peel did not have to face up to Wellington’s legacy as party leader until 1834 when he was confronted with a party that had disintegrated after the death of Liverpool and the subsequent split over the issue of Catholic Emancipation, factors which combined to allow the Whigs to enter government for the first time in fifty years, while the Tories were reduced to only 175 seats in the House of Commons.

Peel’s immediate object in 1834 was to reunite the Tory and make it an electable force once again. To this end, his two primary concerns were to do what he could to limit further radical reform and to adapt the Tory Party to the new political structure which had emerged in the aftermath of the Great Reform Act. As leader of the opposition, Peel was prepared to support government legislation so long as its aim was the maintenance of law and order and indeed collaborated with Melbourne over issues such as the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 in an attempt to isolate the ultra-Tories whose extreme reactionary views had turned many people against the Tory Party.


Adaptability

Peel’s main asset in this sphere was his flexibility, a characteristic which distinguishes him from Wellington in the eyes of most historians. Although his acceptance of the Reform Act as a fait accompli alienated many ultra-Tories, who already felt betrayed by his reversal over Catholic Emancipation, it signaled his intention to shift the emphasis of the party towards an acceptance of moderate reform and a new ideology which came to be known as Conservatism. The Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 was symbolic of Peel’s new approach with regards to reform, aimed at the country as a whole rather than his constituents and setting out his intention of attracting the support of the newly enfranchised middle-classes, while reiterating his continued support for the Church of England in an attempt to placate the Ultras.


The 1841 General Election

The General Election of 1841 resulted in a Tory victory, something that had not seemed possible after the debacle of 1832, and much credit was accrued to Peel’s leadership, particularly to his parliamentary performance during the 1830s and his unification of the party. The range of talent which Peel had at his disposal led E. J. Evans to call his ministry “the ablest in the nineteenth century” while disillusionment with the Whig administration meant that it had a great deal of popular support.


Economics

The outgoing Whig government had left Peel to deal with a prolonged economic depression, which served to accentuate the threat of radical movements like Chartism, as well as a substantial budget deficit which had been intensified by the Whig programme of social reform. Peel therefore concentrated on a policy of gradual economic improvement through the implementation of tariff reductions on imported goods. In moving towards free trade, Peel created a foreign trade revival which led to an economic upturn and a decrease in unemployment and caused a fall in support for radical movements. Peel was also conscious that the British economy was should be made more efficient and to this end introduced controls over the printing of banknotes and the registration of companies. In 1846, the Irish Potato Famine finally gave Peel an excuse to repeal the Corn Laws, which he felt were an anachronism which needed to be removed, as other tariffs had been, in order to allow continued economic growth both in industry and agriculture.


How weak was the Tory position in the 1830s?

Although it cannot be questioned that Peel achieved a great deal during his parliamentary career, often in the face of concerted opposition, on closer inspection many of his successes are qualified by other factors. Despite the undoubtedly poor parliamentary position that he had inherited from Wellington, Peel’s Tory Party in the early 1830s was not as weak as it seemed. The fact that the Tories had an overwhelming majority in the House of Lords meant that Peel had an effective veto over any proposed legislation, while the Whig majority, which looked so impressive on paper, was not a united party but an undisciplined conglomeration of groups, each of which were pursuing their own agenda. This lack of solidarity was one of the major reasons for the collapse of the Whig government during the 1830s and meant that the Tory Party had greater leverage within the House of Commons than the figures might suggest.

It is also, arguable that the Tory Party would have prospered in the 1830s even without Peel’s leadership. The initial wave of optimism which accompanied the Great Reform Act was bound to die down while the Whig majority could never realistically be maintained on the basis of their level of support. The increasing organization of the Tory Party, both centrally and locally, which followed the provision in the Reform Act for the registration of voters, was arranged by F.R. Bonham and the Carlton Club, a body that also selected parliamentary candidates and arranged and financed party canvassing. Peel’s grip on his party was also not as strong as he might have liked and he found himself forced by backbenchers into “irresponsible” opposition to the government over the 1839 Jamaica Bill, when they voted with radical MPs against the government, and again in 1840 over the issue of Irish Municipal Corporations.

After the 1841 election victory it appeared as though Peel had reconstructed the Tory party within nine years. However, many of those who called themselves followers of Peel were old Tories who did not attract middle-class voters and in fact the seats won were the traditionally Tory counties and small, agricultural boroughs. Peel also won support from those perturbed at Whig proposals to reduce the Corn Law duties even though it is almost certain that Peel was, at this point planning to abolish them himself when the opportunity presented itself.


Why did Peel behave as he did?

Historians have often debated the reasons for Peel’s actions and the traditional view is that he sought to pursue a moderate course which he felt would be best for the nation regardless of his personal beliefs. As a professional politician and statesman he allowed himself to be guided by the knowledge which he had had gained through experience of cabinet positions. The Tamworth Manifesto is seen as a demonstration of his new, pragmatic Conservatism. However, Peel’s actions can more easily be explained by means of a deep and rigid commitment to the principals of liberal economics. Pragmatic only in his timing, Peel remained essentially conservative throughout his life and indeed can be seen as the last of the eighteenth century Prime Ministers, responsible not to Parliament but to the monarch. It is difficult to justify the allegation that Peel was the founding father of the modern Tory party, as most Tories left his party in 1846 and indeed his policies tally much closer with those of the Liberal party which was to emerge later in the century. However, although Peel achieved his objectives this was at the expense of his party’s interests. By acting against the wishes of the ultra-Tories over three major issues and indeed treating their opinions with contempt, Peel lost their support and ultimately ended his career.

Peel’s saw his party as a useful support for his ideas rather than the dictator of government policy and felt that it was no crime to sacrifice party interest in favour of what was good for the country. As a result of this, Peel left behind him serious divisions within his party which were to trouble it for many years. However, the Peelite legacy of economic prosperity based on the ideas of free trade economics was to revolutionize British trade and agriculture. Therefore, although Peel’s legacy as party leader was the ruin of the Conservative party his achievements as Prime Minister count strongly in his favour and he must be accounted one of the greatest political figures of the nineteenth century.

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