An assessment of the Whigs’ final two years of office which stresses the inevitability of collapse in the face of a coherent Conservatism is one which fails to observe the uncertainty in Peel’s own party. It has been argued that ‘unphilosophic’ people wanted strong government rather than weak, and that a ‘fresh propellant’ would have been more edifying that a ‘declining parabola’.2 An examination of the Whigs’ final two years in office reveals, however, that the Whigs were not as divided or tottering, nor were the Conservatives as strong and poised for a triumphant return to office, as most accounts suggest. The great weakness of the Whigs at the end of the decade was not so much a lack of energy or initiative — what got them in trouble during their last session after all was a series of innovative budget proposals not entirely unlike those which Peel would later consider — as much as the absence of a majority sufficiently large to overcome the need for Peel’s support on those occasions when the Radicals pressed for unacceptable reforms. Peel, unfortunately, no longer had sufficient control of his party to be free to offer support to the government; nor did he have enough confidence in his party to oppose constantly, as many of his followers wished. The combination of Conservative vacillation and Radical mischief, the second encouraged by the first, rendered ‘strong’ government difficult. Unfinished business alone could be transacted, and that only by the compromises and concessions necessitated by the absence of predictable support from Peel; ‘fresh’ propellants could not have survived.
KeywordsConservative Party Unfinished Business General Shuffle Confidence Motion Annual Registration
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- 13.Russell to Melbourne, 15 August 1837, BP, MEL/RU/39; Russell to Melbourne, 13 September 1837, PRO 30/22/2F, f. 113; Russell to Brougham, 1 August 1837, BrP 38161; Russell to Mulgrave, 5 and 17 February 1838, MCA M/896-9; RA Victoria’s journal, 6 February 1838. See B. L. Kinzer, ‘The unEnglishness of the Secret Ballot’, Albion, 1978, X, 239–40Google Scholar
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