The difference between Tories & Whigs

Written by beverley gee
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The difference between Tories & Whigs
Sir Robert Peel, statesman and Tory Prime Minister. ( Images)

Tories and Whigs were two opposing political parties in the English parliament during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, their political paths often converged and intertwined, so at times it was difficult to separate them. The two parties evolved from the Civil War, when the Roundheads expelled the Cavaliers from parliament in 1642. The Roundheads then formed into two separate factions, essentially a peace party and a war party – the Independents and the Presbyterians. After the restoration, in 1660, the two parties were redefined as the Court, supporting James ll, and the Country, which was in opposition to the throne.

Origins of Tories and Whigs

The parties, in vitriolic disagreement, took to hurling insults at each other. The Court (Independents) began calling the Country (Presbyterians) party, “Whigs,” which is thought to have its origins in a Scottish Gaelic word, meaning “horse and cattle thieves.” In return the Country party, returned the favour, with, “Tory,” derived from the Irish, “Tar ar ri,” (“Come, O King!”). The Whigs were synonymous with the West Scotland Presbyterian rebels, while Tories were considered equal to the papist outlaws of Ireland. The two names stuck and were adopted by the respective parties. In actuality, the Whigs were Protestant and the Tories were Anglicans; both opposed a Roman Catholic monarchy in England and Scotland, even while many Tories publicly supported the Catholic James ll simply because he was King.

Tory politics

Once James ll was removed from power, and the Whigs had installed the politically pliant William and Mary on the throne, the Tories found themselves split. Some discovered that their viewpoint coincided more with the Whigs, and so changed political allegiance. Others, on the far right, felt that William and Mary should be mere regents until James ll could be returned to the throne. The 1688-89 Revolution split the Tories yet once more into the Court Tories and Country Tories. The Court Tories were conservative in their politics, while the Country Tories were far more radical.

Whigs in government

The Whigs' policies were notoriously diverse. Although they were the party in power during the reign of William and Mary, they held wide-ranging viewpoints. The one thing they did agree on was that James ll, and the Catholic Church by association, must be kept from ruling once more. The Whigs were also adamant that Dissenters (those who opposed political interference in religious matters) should be given a voice. Like the Tories, the Whigs' internal disagreements eventually split the party into Court Whigs and Country Whigs. Inevitably the two factions aligned themselves with their Tory counterparts, demonstrating that their ideologies were very similar.

Tories to Conservatives

During the 17th century and almost all of the 18th century, the Whigs consigned the Tories to the political back-burner until William Pitt the Younger rescued them and brought them to power in 1783. In 1834, Sir Robert Peel gave the Tory party a facelift and reinvented it as the Conservative party, bringing in many social reforms.

Whigs to Liberals

The Court Whigs remained in office under William lll and represented the more well-off portion of society. They maintained a constant, but lukewarm allegiance to the throne, careful not to give the monarchy too much political power. At the same time, they managed to keep the Tories out of government right through to the late 18th century by continually levelling charges of Jacobitism at them. The Liberal party formed in 1859 when disenchanted Whigs, Peelites (former Conservatives) and Radicals pooled resources in order to throw out the minority Conservative government of Robert Peel. The Liberals gained power and held on to it for the following 30 years.

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