1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Conservative Party

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CONSERVATIVE PARTY, in Great Britain, the name of the successors of the Tories (see Whig and Tory) as one of the great political parties, representing the opposition to the Liberal party (q.v.), championing stability rather than innovation, or the advantages of preserving inherited conditions so far as possible rather than adopting changes which are founded on theoretical ideals. J. W. Croker suggested the term (Quarterly Rev., Jan. 1830) as more appropriate than “Tory,” but for some time it was only used sporadically, and many of the old Tory régime disliked it. The term “Tory” has in fact never quite fallen out of use, and has been commonly retained by many modern Conservatives who wish to emphasize that theirs is a constructive and positive policy of constitutional as opposed to radical reform, and not merely one of letting things remain simply “as they are.” Similarly attempts were made in the ’eighties to substitute “Constitutionalist,” but without its becoming current coin; and Lord Randolph Churchill called himself a “Tory democrat.”

Sir Robert Peel, in a speech in the House of Commons, protested against the “un-English name of Conservative.” Yet Peel himself shattered the old Tory and Protectionist party in 1846, and soon after called himself a Conservative, and the Peelites were commonly spoken of as “Liberal Conservatives.” And when “Liberal” came into regular use for one party, “Conservative” became the recognized term for its opposite, Toryism being popularly regarded as the reactionary creed of the supporters of “vested interests” and opponents of reform of any kind. The character of any British Conservative party, in the widest sense of the term, has naturally changed, and was bound continually to change, with the progress of events. The successive Reform Acts, which put political power into the hands of new classes of the electorate, made it necessary to make a new sort of appeal to them, in order to support the causes of the church establishment, the House of Lords, and the main features of the constitution. The history of this movement cannot be summarized here, but the salient details may be found in the biographical articles on such leading Conservative statesmen as Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Salisbury and Mr A. J. Balfour (qq.v.). In organization the party followed much on the lines of the Liberal party. After 1832 associations known as “Constitutional” or “Conservative” multiplied throughout the country; and a “National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations” formed a confederation in 1867, in alliance with the work of the Central Conservative Office under the party whips. It was, however, unlike the similar Liberal “National Liberal Federation,” under the control of influential people who were loyal to the Central Office. In this respect the Conservative party, as an internally loyal party, had some advantage in organization; and such independent outbreaks as that of the “Fourth Party” (in the parliament of 1880), while stimulating to the Central Office, may be said to have applied a useful massage rather than to have led to any breaking of bones; while the Primrose League and similar new bodies acted as co-operating agencies. Mr Gladstone’s proposal of Home Rule for Ireland in 1886 resulted in a great accession of strength to the party, owing to the splitting off of the Liberal Unionists from the Liberal party. From this time the term “Unionists” began to come into use, to signify both the Conservative and the Liberal Unionist parties; the distinction between the two wings gradually grew smaller; and by degrees the name of “Conservative party,” though officially maintained, became more and more vague, as politics centred round Ireland, Imperialism or Tariff Reform.

See also M. Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties (Eng. trans., 1902); T. E. Kebbel, History of Toryism (1886).