Sir Robert Peel Prime Minister capitalised on his father’s success but what happened next?

This entry is part [part not set] of 15 in the series Reformers and Radicals

Sir Robert Peel Prime Minister 1834-1835 and again 1841-1846

Sir Robert Peel Prime Minister leader of the Conservative Party, not once but twice. His father forged the financial success that enabled his son to focus on a contribution to public life and service. Robert Peel was different to the bulk of parliamenarians as he was the son of businessman, rather than a member of the aristocracy or landowning families of Britain. He entered Parliament as a Tory MP in 1809 His early career combined administrative efficiency with an ability to react and manage events as they presented themselves. He  was educated at Harrow School and Christ-Church College,Oxford University. He would create the means and methods for the Emancipation of Catholics alongside the Duke Of Wellington, the Metropolian Police and Repeal the Corn Laws, three major achievements in a relatively turbulent time in political history at the close of the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution.

He was able to make transitions when he realised the error of a particular viewpoint and his recognition of the need to act and change course if necessary is certainly something that can be admired. Churchill in his own writings is quite eloquent about the need to get the right things done and do whatever it takes to achieve them. Robert Peel did run the gauntlet even of his own party when he saw the need to change course. Perhaps something many politicians could learn from. It must have been hard and difficult, he was from a rich new family, a business family not the old land owning aristocracy. He would be confronted by that very establishment and his own party at times as being an outsider but he shows that ‘new money’ can and will be used to do the right thing not just maintain the old status quo. He is Prime Minister in difficult times and manages to make his mar. He resigned in 1850 but continued in the house, supporting the Whig governement where he believed it to be rightand but for a tragic accident would have continued in the House.

Parliamentary Background to Sir Robert Peel’s Premiership

  • 1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars
  • 1809 Peel became an MP for the first time, during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • 1812-1818 He was Chief Secretary for Ireland and known by the nickname ‘Orange-Peel’ as he was fiercely anti-catholic in his views and approach to policy.
  • Corn Law Act 1815with the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution which had simulated demand for British Corn and raised its market price, prices collapsed as the market conditions changed. This act artificially raised those prices ad sought to protect the land owners by prohibiting cereal imports until the domestic price had reached at least 80 shillings . It caused the price of bread a staple to be artificially increased and the poor to suffer. It was of course exacerbated by the effects of the shortage of Potato crop and bad weather which was causing a terrible famine and loss of life in Ireland by 1845.
  • 1822-1827 and 1828-1830 as Home Secretary (appointed by the Duke of Wellington 1828)
    • he modified the criminal law and created the Metropolitan Police who were in-turn nicknamed the Peelers or Bobbies. The name Bobbie stuck for the bulk of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
  • 1829 he was persuaded to change his previously staunch anti-catholic approach and caused a break in his party because of it and this would result in the Catholic Emancipation Act which was quite also supported by the Duke of Wellington. Whilst he was not really persuaded in his own views as Wellington had stated the concerns were to avoid the circumstances that might otherwise lead again to the disaster of civil war. Peel suffered from the ‘Ultra-Protestants’  anger and particularly in his Oxford University seat. It was so vociferous that he felt obliged to resign his constituency seat. He reapplied for hiss eat but was passed over. An important step for the country had done him personal political damage.
  • 1830 following the death of his father he took up the seat for Tamworth where his family were based.
  • 1832 Reform Act opened-up parliament to more of the ‘nouveau riche’ of the day the middle-classes who were benefiting from the economic product of the Industrial Revolution. The Peel family were magnates, the success of Robert’s father had empowered their own rise and sponsored his parliamentary career. But this reform act embittered the working people, the ‘working classes.’ It would inevitably require further parliamentary reform in 1867 and 1884 further acts were passed,
  • 1833 Factory Act: was the first  breakthrough for the 10 Hours Movement prevention children from under 9 from being employed in the mills, that Peel’s family had made their money from. It was the start of socially conscientious legislation for the factories and provision for educational facilities as well.

Prime Minister 1834-1835 1st term just 1 year

  • 1834 Tamworth Manifesto: this was the election address of Sir Robert Peel as is often described as the Charter for the Conservative Party. It recognised and responded o the new conditions created by the Industrial Revolution and the Reform Act of 1832. Robert Peel was the product by birth of the wealth created by his father as a direct result of that revolution and in particular the Cotton Industry.
  • The main points of this manifesto were that the Conservatives would reform in order to survive, recognising the needs for real change where there was a clear need
      • it was accepted that the parliamentary  constitutional changes of the Reform Act 1832  were final and irrevocable
      • his party, the Conservatives would undertake a careful review of the key British institutions both civil and ecclesiastical
      • committed where there was a real need for change to  “the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances”.
      • to consider church reform in order to preserve the “true interests of the Established religion” that old chestnut.
      • But he also opposed what he saw as unnecessary change, fearing “a perpetual vortex of agitation” that would prevent the real work of government and parliament from being achieved.
  • 1843 he was the subject of an assassination attempt by a mentally unstable Scotsman

Prime Minister 1841-1846 2nd term

  • 1844 Factory Act:  it was a further concession to the 10 Hours Movement tinkered with the working hours and ages regulations and started to address some basic health and safety concerns restricting open access to factory machinery,
  • 1845 – 1850 Irish Potato Famine was the worst famine to strike the Western world in recent history. A million people died and about the same number emigrated whilst caused by a an imported American blight to the crop it had obviously huge political and economic consequences ina ddition to the tragic loss of human life. The reaction of Repeal of the Corn Laws was no enough to have as much practical impact in Ireland as it cuased political uproar in Parliament.
  • 1846 he would create party division again over  the Parliamentary Reform Act, Ireland and Protection
  • 1846 Repeal of the Corn Laws Act with Famine a real problem and present danger not only in Ireland but some parts of England and remoter parts of Scotland, Peel exercised pragmatism by repealing these laws that protected the rights of the land owners, the aristocracy that were in a large part the substance of his political party he too a brave path at this point and focused on the needs of the general population and the poor not the ruling elite. In reality it did not bring all the relief practically as mentioned above in respect of the Famine in Ireland and caused much division in his own part. Corn laws debate
  • 1846 Free Trade Budgets, Peel had repealed altogether some 605 existing duties and reduced a further 1035 others.
  • 1850 Sir Robert Peel died after sustaining severe injuries from a riding accident.

For more on Britain’s Prime Ministers start with our definitive list and watch for new linked articles as we begin to add to our Prime Ministers list and collection. You might also like to take a look at our Leadership Power and Politics

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