1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Whig and Tory

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WHIG AND TORY, the names associated with two opposing political parties in England. The origin of “Whig” has been much controverted; it has been associated with the Scots for “whey,” as implying a taunt against the “sour-milk” faces of the western Lowlanders; another theory is that it represented the initials of the Scots Covenanters' motto, “We hope in God”; another derives it from the Scots word “whiggam,” used by peasants in driving their horses. It was, however, a form of the Scots Gaelic term used to describe cattle and horse thieves, and transferred to the adherents of the Presbyterian cause in Scotland. “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.

Parliamentary parties, as such, came into existence in England as soon as parliament achieved or aimed at predominance in the state. In 1641, shortly after the meeting of the Long Parliament, they were divided on the question of church reform, passing, as soon as political questions were involved, into Cavaliers and Roundheads. After the expulsion of the Cavaliers in 1642 and 1643 the Houses were divided into a peace party and a war party, and these in 1643 took the shape of Presbyterians and Independents. After the Restoration there was a country party and a court party, and to these the names of Whig and Tory were applied in 1679, in the heat of the struggle which preceded the meeting of the first short parliament of Charles II. The words were nicknames given by the opponents of each party. To call a man a Whig was to compare him with the Presbyterian rebels of the west of Scotland. To call a man a Tory was to compare him with the Papist outlaws of Ireland. In fact, at this time the Whigs were maintainers of parliamentary power over the crown and of toleration for Dissenters, the Tories maintainers of the hereditary indefeasible rights of the wearer of the crown and of the refusal of toleration to Dissenters. The relation between the parties was further qualified by the fact that the heir to the crown was a Roman Catholic, whose claim to succeed was defended by the Tories and assailed by the Whigs.

The persistency of the names of the two parties is mainly owing to their essential unmeaningness. As new questions arose, the names of the old parties were retained, though the objects of contention were no longer the same. 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 favours 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. On the whole, during the last years of the 17th and the first years of the 18th century the Whigs may be regarded as the party of the great landowners, and of the merchants and tradesmen, the Tories as the party of the smaller landowners and the country clergy. The Whigs established, through their hold upon the boroughs under the influence of the great landowners, a firm government, which could keep in check, and at last practically set aside, the power of the crown. 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. The struggle about the Dissenters was now a thing of the past, and the king was accepted as a leader in carrying on the attack against the power of the great Whig families. The attack was the easier because the Whig families had split into factions. 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, whilst the Whigs thought that the choice should lie with leading members of parliament, and that the king should have no controlling power. The Whig view appears to resemble that subsequently adopted; but in the middle of the 18th century the corruption which prevailed rendered the analogy worthless, and the real conflict was between the corrupt influence of the crown and the influence of a clique of great landowners resting on their possession of electoral power through the rotten boroughs. In 1770 the king had his way and established Lord North at the treasury as his nominee. The Whigs, deprived of power, improved their position by the loss of one great instrument of corruption; but they were weakened by the establishment of two distinct currents of opinion in their own ranks. The main body under Rockingham was influenced by Burke to demand practical reforms, but set its face against any popular changes in the constitution. The Whigs who followed Chatham wished to place parliament on a more popular basis by the reform of the House of Commons. 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 refusal of Wellington to listen to any proposal for altering the constitution of the House of Commons threw power once more into the hands of the Whigs in 1830. Shortly afterwards the name Tory gave place to that of Conservative (q.v.), though it was cherished by those Conservatives who wished to assert their power of originating a definite policy, and who disliked to be branded with a purely negative appellation, and it was also retained as a term of opprobrium by the Liberals for those whom they regarded as old-fashioned opponents of reform. The name of Whig was replaced by that of Liberal, being frequently, however, assigned to the less progressive portion of the party, the “moderate Liberals,” or even to half-and-half Conservatives, as a term more or less of reproach. It ceased to be a name accepted by any definite English political section.