||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Friday, April 22, 2005
The politics of the House of pre-David
In the United Kingdom of the 1700s and 1800s, one doesn't see the Labour / Conservative rivalry in the history books; one sees Liberal / Conservative and before that, Whig / Tory. Unlike Labour, which arose from practical concerns, the Liberals and Conservatives as of 1900 held to theoretical principle. The Liberals believed in free enterprise and social mobility. The Conservatives believed in the Church and aristocratic tradition; they also made noise about agricultural protection (e.g. Corn Laws) but they don't seem to have acted on this consistently.
Over the last few years I've been doing research into our family tree. What I've turned up covers the period from 1827, when Joseph Ross and his wife Mary (Ann Sheldon?) had their first recorded child in Bloxwich; to 1881, when Joseph's second son Edward and his son Thomas Harry ("Popsy" to us) contributed to the (incompetent) Census in Wednesbury. During that period, the men in our family served as awl-blade makers and engineers.
Although our religion was and basically still is Church of England, I don't know our politics in the nineteenth century. The Labour party didn't exist; and Thomas Harry went on to become a vicar in the C of E and so probably didn't vote for it when it did. But my father and I have strong libertarian principles, him more so; which made him Liberal as of his youth. When I turned 18, I was still in England, and I voted for the Liberal slate when elections came 'round.
In 1846, Benjamin Disraeli turned on the Conservative leadership under Robert Peel for its un-Toryish repeal of the Corn Laws. When Disraeli's faction looked about to win out, a number of Tories, including current and future Prime Ministers Peel and William Gladstone, resigned and allowed the Whigs under John Russell to take over. The Whigs increasingly became identified with their Liberal faction, as more pro-Liberal Tories continued to switch their support to them. In 1859 Gladstone, Russell, and Palmerston (who had crossed to the Whigs in 1830) helped reorganise the Whigs and their new allies as "Liberals" in name.
I would have supported the end of the Corn Laws, but maybe my family would not have then. That would make me a proud Gladstone Liberal (and anti-Chartist), and if I'd been in my 20s at the time I'd have been pretty insufferable about it. I like to think that I've grown since then, and to that point I know that Disraeli grew in his career; as of the 1870s the Disraeli-led Conservatives were a force worth voting for (if not quite by me).
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