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The Whigs and the Tories: The Late 1600's to the Early 1700's


Back in the spring of 1999 I was in English history course covering the years from 1500 to 1789, and here is one of the papers, I wrote for that class. As I look back, it is fascinating to see what I wrote, and a few things I learned in those days. I actually had to do some online research to remind myself about the Test Act of 1673, which I have not thought about since I took that course. England did not become part of the United Kingdom until 1707, which is why I use the term England throughout this hub.

The Whigs and The Tories

During the reign of Queen Anne, the Whigs and Tories were on opposing sides of the political spectrum. Although the parties were able to unite against the Catholic threat of James I, this weak coalition collapsed after the ascendancy of William and Mary to the English throne during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Tories comprised the landed classes who supported the Test Act of 1673, arguing that only full members of the Church of England should be allowed to hold public office. The Whigs, on the other hand, favored religious toleration for dissenting bankers and merchants.

The Bank of England

The Tories viewed the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694 as simply ensuring the Whig dominance of commerce, and their ability to fund the War of Spanish Succession. Nevertheless, the Bank failed to remove the full burden of the heavy taxation upon landed classes, thus making the war increasingly unpopular with the Tories. While the Tories supported the divine right of monarchs, the Whigs favored a limited role of the monarchy. This Whig goal was achieved through the passage of the Bill of rights of 1688 that secured Parliament's freedom to pass legislation and enact policies without interference from the Crown. The Triennial Act of 1694 furthered this goal by establishing Parliamentary election every three years. While most Whigs favored the House of Hanover in the Succession, while many of the Tories favored James III if he would convert to Catholicism. There were many factors made it impossible for the Tories and the Whigs to achieve a coalition.

Queen Anne's Dealings with Whigs and Tories

Queen Anne, like her of predecessor William of Orange, considered herself to be above rage of party politics. Anne established "cabinet councils", which were composed of member from the Whig and Tory parties. Queen Anne's political "managers" were intermediaries for their parties and the monarchy. However, the "managers" supported the policies of the monarch for the most part. Nevertheless, Anne found that over the years her "managers" pressured her to appoint members of their parties to her cabinet. The queen's principal minister during the early years of her reign, Lord Godolphin, was a Tory; however, he favored the appointment of Junto Whigs as the cabinet ministers after their electoral victory in 1708. Sarah Chruchill, the wife of John Churchill, the queen's other "manager" and the leader of her military, exacerbated the situation by forcing Anne to support the Whig party that backed the war. Eventually the Duchess of Churchill fell from Anne's grace, since her conniving policies posed a potential threat to the throne.

Changing Alliances

Abigail Marsham replaced the Duchess of Churchill as Anne's new confidant. Marsham persuaded Queen Anne to appoint her cousin, Robert Harley, as her new principal manager. Harley supported the queen's policy of establishing a cabinet that was composed of middle of the road Tories and Whigs. Regardless of Harley's emphasis upon a cabinet made up comprising of members from both parties, some Tories of his own party were growing ever more resentful towards the Whigs. while Halrey and some Tories supported the House of Hanover in the line of Succession to the throne after the death of Annie, Tories led by Lord Bolingbrock favored a Jacobite King. The troubled relations between the Tories and the Whigs destroyed Harley's hope of achieving a coalition government. The Tory enforcement of the Test Act of 1711 made it impossible for Whig partial conformists to hold office. In addiction, the Tories passed legislation that allowed only the landed classes to sit in the House of Commons, and thus excluding the wealthy commercial interest of the Whig party. By 1714, Anglican Tories were in control of the higher educational system, thus making it impossible for nonconformists to educate their children in their own schools.

Coalition Politics vs Party Politics

Bolingbrock was successful in replacing Harley as the queen's principal manager by 1714. Bolingbrock was a reactionary; he supported the Anglican hegemony over the ministry from the interests of the Whigs who favored religious toleration towards dissenters. The policies the Tories passed during the last years of Anne's reign insured their dominance over the Whigs in the cabinet. However, Bolinbrock's hopes for the Tory domination of the cabinet disintegrated after the death of Anne in 1714. the Hanoverian ascension to the throne resulted in a Whig controlled ministry: ironically illustrating that neither party was immune to the rage of party politics. Anne's dream of achieving a coalition government between Whigs and Tories during her reign became an impossibility in an era that emphasized loyalty to one's own political party.


SweetiePie (author) from Southern California, USA on January 09, 2012:

I believe in freedom of religion, but it has no place in government. At least today in the UK they are not have these ridiculous arguments about how religion should be in government. When I have pointed out there is separation church and state, some do not like that at all. The Constitution calls for it, but some just do not want to see. Religion is fine, but it should not be practiced in government.

Pam Valentine from The Heartland, USA on January 09, 2012:

Good points, I'm not a real religious gal, but, I believe in free will, your right, and to have any of that taken away would be a travesty for all, religious or not. Good points about the whigs and the torries.

SweetiePie (author) from Southern California, USA on December 02, 2011:

Unfortunately, all the religious zealots migrated to America. Even when I was in high school in the 90's there were still people who went to church, but you never heard people talk about religion in politics like they do now. There seems to have been a revival of zealotry in the last ten years, and it is happening in the wrong places: government and public sector. I have no problem with people being religious, if they keep it in their church, etc.

Dave McClure from Kyle, Scotland on December 01, 2011:

Yes, it's been an education, of sorts, writing on the forums here at HP. The fashion for extreme views seems to be quite widespread in parts of US society. UK and most of Western Europe can be described as a post Christian society, culturally Christian by heritage but religiously quite unzealous.

SweetiePie (author) from Southern California, USA on December 01, 2011:

I agree with you about being on guard. I think this applies more to the US, than the UK, Canada, or other places. A lot of people are using the Tea Party as a vehicle to promote religion in government, which basically goes against The US Constitution's separation of church and state. They throw a lot of fits when you point out Jefferson was a deist. Some people actually think he was a minister, the way they speak.

Dave McClure from Kyle, Scotland on November 30, 2011:

Yes. That's why we have to be on our guard when people try to turn the clock back to religious intolerance. There's a lot of that about, these days.

SweetiePie (author) from Southern California, USA on November 30, 2011:

Agree, Paraglider! I believe the one thing that has improved is there is much more religious tolerance than during the late 1600's. Reading my old paper it sounds a lot like the debates between Republicans and Democrats today.

Dave McClure from Kyle, Scotland on November 30, 2011:

Politics even then was all about vested interests, wasn't it! Nothing changes, at least not in that regard.