In November 1834 Melbourne resigned and Peel was appointed as Prime Minister with Wellington as caretaker until Peel returned from his holiday in Italy. Peel's Conservative ministry of 1834-5 had no majority, and he took the post out of a sense of duty. He saw himself as the king's minister: Peel had a national conception of politics, not a party concept. Peel was not fundamentally a party politician: party loyalty did not come first for him. He was a proponent of the idea that a parliamentary party was there to sustain a government, not to create or control it.
His central policy was the 'maintenance of our settled institutions in Church and State'-that is, opposition to further political reform and the defence of the Constitution. This latter meant
- preservation of the prerogatives of the Crown
- upholding the independence of the House of Lords
- continuation of the union of Church and State
Both implied strong government but did not rule out moderate reform. When in government the Conservatives tried to widen the basis of their support beyond the aristocracy, country gentry and Anglican clergy and get into the ranks of the middle classes. This was the message of the Tamworth Manifesto which was published on 18 December 1834. It was a declaration of Peel's moderate views and formed the basis of Conservative parliamentary behaviour until the 1840s. The Tamworth Manifesto was the opening shot in the 1835 election campaign. It was an electioneering document aimed not at Peel's constituents but at the electorate at large. It displayed the 'progressive' credentials of the Conservative party especially in relation to contemporary issues. It was a fundamental statement of Peelite Conservatism, but was approved of by the Cabinet, and was made available to the national press.
The new Conservative government was supported enthusiastically by the party as a whole. Peel carried the main burden as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Cabinet contained Gladstone and Sidney Herbert, both of whom were High Tories, and therefore marked a further stage in consolidating party unity. Stanley and Graham refused Cabinet posts because they were suspicious of the 'liberal' nature of the Conservative party and were reluctant to abandon the Whigs totally. Peel was therefore more dependent on Ultra support than he wished to be.
Because it was a minority government, it depended on its policies for survival. This was unlikely if, as Greville said, 'Peel makes a High Tory government and holds High Tory language'. During this ministry, Peel set up the Ecclesiastical Commission which enabled the Church of England to take the opportunity to overhaul its finances and administration. Peel also prepared to deal with some of the grievances of the Dissenters, but he refused to abolish the Malt Tax.
Peel's first ministry led to his emergence as a major national figure and the 'Hundred Days' is important because
- in the General Election of January 1835 the Conservatives gained over 100 seats and recovered much of their former position in the counties. They doubled their numbers, and if the Whigs and Radicals are treated separately, the Conservative formed the largest single party in the House of Commons.
|General election 1835|
|Changes of Party 1835*|
|General election 1837|
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|General Election 1841|
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# Two by-elections resulting from petitions are included in the 1837 general election results
- the 1835 General Election did much to erase the disaster of 1832. This election caused a greater change in party strength than any other election until 1880. The borough results show an overwhelming and general trend towards Conservatism. The Conservatives gained seats in all regions and almost all types of constituency because
- there was severe disillusionment with the Whigs and the Reform Act, which did not live up to the expectations of the middle- and working-classes
- there was a decline in hostility towards the Conservatives
- there was a return to traditional voting patterns once the Reform Act had been passed
- the return of the influence of the propertied was apparent between 1832 and 1835, and may have been the chief cause of Conservative gains in 1835
- property-owners reacted against the upheavals of 1830-32 and became more conservative
- there was a fear of radicalism under the Whigs and the tendency towards weak government, because the Whigs were divided
- there was a threat to Anglicanism by the Irish under O'Connell. The Conservatives' "Church in Danger" slogan appealed to many
- there was a threat to Anglicanism from the Dissenters
- agricultural depression destroyed Whig popularity among farmers
- the Conservative organisation in the 1835 election was superior. It worked efficiently and was helped by having the Carlton Club as its headquarters. There had been active constituency offices since 1832. The Whigs had not formed electoral associations or revised the electoral registers
- local Conservative use of political dinners with main speeches against radicalism were successful
- it saw the start of the modern Conservative party
- it raised Peel's stature because he
- displayed courage, energy, firmness and good temper in the handling of his party and the opposition
- he showed a detailed knowledge of the business of government
- he displayed his formidable powers of work and concentration and his mastery of administrative matters
- it saw the virtual disappearance of the Ultras
- Peel's formation of a government enabled him to dissociate Conservatism from reactionary policies
- Conservative ideas were attractive and led to a growth of confidence and enthusiasm.
Conservatism appealed to the rising talent of the party- Gladstone and Disraeli-because it had a breadth of appeal, claiming to defend protestantism, religion, patriotism and moral virtue. It appealed to both the "right" and to moderate opinion.
After Peel's resignation in April 1835, the diarist Charles Greville wrote:
I believe it to be impossible that anything can prevent Peel's speedy return to office: he has raised his reputation to such a height during this session... He is indispensable to the country.
Last modified 17 September 2002