whigs versus tories -- 12/7/21

Today's selection -- from Our First Revolution by Michael Barone. The two-party system in England, the famed split into the Tories and the Whigs, came about over the highly charged debate as to whether--given the separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church--a Catholic could again be an English king:

"[Events] com­bined to produce the first political parties in English history, the Whigs and the Tories. Both names were insults. Whig was a Scottish term used for horse thieves and applied to Presbyterians. Tory was an Irish term used for outlaws and applied to Catholics. Whigs tended to favor toleration of Dissenters as well as the exclusion of James from the throne; Tories strongly favored the primacy of the Church of England and advocated passive obedience to the king. The creation of a Whig political party organization began as Charles prorogued Parlia­ment on May 27, 1679, and accelerated as he dissolved Parliament on July 12 and called for new elections in August. A revolt of Covenanters broke out in Scotland in early June, and Charles appointed his bastard son the Duke of Monmouth commander of the army there. Everyone remembered that a Scottish rebellion in 1638 had led to the Civil War and the downfall of Charles I, but this time Monmouth won a decisive victory at Bothwell Bridge on June 22. That reduced pressure on the King, but at the same time gained prestige for Monmouth, who seemed to some to be an alternative to the Duke of York as the heir to the throne. There turned out to be fewer contested elections in Au­gust 1679 than there had been in February, largely because supporters of exclusion who had won their seats in earlier contests were not chal­lenged this time.

Covenanters in a Glen, by Alexander Carse; an illegal field assembly or Conventicle.

"These have been judged to be the first two-party elections in En­glish history: the sudden emergence of two-party national politics within a system that had previously provided for a very different kind of politics. 'Local interests and family connections still formed the basis of most candidatures and contests, but many elections were now fought in addition on national issues .... Moreover, the Press, which in the previous election had been of little influence, contributed greatly to the systematic political character of the contests.' Even a histo­rian skeptical of the central importance of the exclusion issue writes, 'If party politics first emerged between 1679 and 1681 it was because the constitutional conflict added a new layer of polarity over, and to a large extent overlapping with, the religious one and because anti­popery both drew men into political controversy and to some extent justified their expressions of discontent. This led in time to an ac­ceptance of the legitimacy of policy differences and party loyalties, and a decline in 'the expectations of uniformity that had been current in the early Stuart period and that the Restoration regime attempted to resurrect.' The Court influence was exerted in favor of the Tories who opposed exclusion. But the Court influence, though more orga­nized than it was in February, was nowhere near as organized and per­vasive as it would become in the eighteenth century."

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Michael Barone


Our First Revolution


Crown Publishing Group


Copyright 2007 by Michael Barone


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