Elections, the Press and Whig Tactics in Opposition: 1812–17

  • William Anthony Hay
Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


The Whigs’ fortunes stood at a low tide in 1812 as the party’s leaders responded with uncertainty to their extended political isolation. Francis Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review., had urged them in 1810 to conciliate and lead what he called the ‘popular party’, insisting that Tike faithful generals whose troops have mutinied’, Whigs join them to guide an unsettled public opinion.1 But how could this be done? The metropolitan focus of Holland House set Whigs apart from popular movements except for radicals in London and Westminster who were tainted by association with extremism or sedition. Although they had long spoken of being a terror to Tories and democrats alike, Whig aristocrats deeply distrusted public opinion. Cautious early efforts at agitation by the Rockingham Whigs in Burke’s day were primarily outdoor gestures in support of an essentially indoor struggle.2 Subsequent Whig appeals to the country in the 1790s had exposed differences with liberal advocacy groups while also tainting Whigs with radicalism. That failure led Fox back to a conventional parliamentary opposition based on tactical manoeuvering and coalition with other parliamentary groups. The need to maintain party unity after 1805 encouraged a hesitant approach, especially on issues like reform that touched on the social order and risked dividing the party anew.3 Given the limits of their own base, however, Whigs also needed a strategy to draw wider support beyond Parliament. Whig leaders thus faced the challenge of mounting an effective opposition to Liverpool’s government while avoiding trouble from radicals whose agenda remained inconsistent with the party’s fundamental interests.


Public Opinion Local Interest Prince Regent Public Credit Tory Press 
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© William Anthony Hay 2005

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  • William Anthony Hay

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