Historical Outline of Restoration and 18th-Century British Literature * * * Alok Yadav * *

Whig and Tory

[¶1] What follows is a discussion of the use of "Whig" and "Tory" as political labels during the Restoration and 18th century, not a rehearsal of Whig and Tory politics in the period. The two questions are not entirely separable, of course, but my effort here is to trace the emergence and continuing use of a particular political terminology, a political rhetoric, not to delineate the fortunes of Whig and Tory political groupings and policies.

Shorter Elaboration (followed by a more extended discussion here)

[¶2] "Whig" and "Tory" are political party labels that have been in use in England since around 1681--and their specific meaning has varied somewhat with changing historical circumstances. As political labels, the terms derive from the factional conflict of the Exclusion Crisis (1679-81), Whigs being supporters of Exclusion (of the Catholic James, Duke of York, brother of the king and next in line for the English throne) and Tories being their Royalist opponents. By extension, then, the Whigs were seen as asserting the primacy of Parliament over the monarch, while the Tories were seen as asserting the inverse. This factional division of English political elites clearly echoed the divisions between Parliamentarians and Royalists in the era of the Civil Wars, and thus portended more than a simple difference of opinion on a particular (albeit rather important) policy matter. Through the rest of the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth centuries, the terms "Whig" and "Tory" would continue to carry the weight of the Civil War conflicts, at least obliquely, even as the two factions came to be defined and redefined, first, in the Exclusion Crisis itself, then, in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1688.

[¶3] During the Exclusion Crisis, the Whigs were seen as political revisionists, activist politicians willing to risk political turmoil in their opposition to the legitimate monarch, while Tories were political loyalists. After the Revolution of 1688-89, however, the Whigs became the defenders of the (new) status quo and the Tories were the political malcontents (and possible supporters of disruption of the new dynastic order). Under the Hanoverians (from 1714), the Whigs monopolized political power, since the Tories (as adherents of the displaced Stuart dynasty) were anathemized by the new monarchs. In these new circumstances, Whigs were defenders of "foreign" and often unpopular monarchs (the Dutch William of Orange and the Hanoverian George I), while the Tories were partisans of the Stuarts (happily so under Anne, the last of the Stuarts, unhappily thereafter). In the early eighteenth century, Whigs were associated with "new" wealth, that is, with the moneyed interest (financiers and merchants), the Dissenting interest, and urban dwellers (in the City of London and elsewhere), while Tories were associated with the "old" landowning gentry class (the country squires) and with defenders of the privileges of the Anglican Church against the "encroachments" of the Dissenters.

[¶4] After a period of political realignments in the middle part of the century, the terms had shifted around somewhat again by the late eighteenth century: a Tory was a "conservative," a supporter of the status quo with its various privileges and exclusions, while a Whig was a "liberal" or "reformer," committed to modernizing the system of church and state. These latest inflections stuck through much of the nineteenth century, during which Tories or Conservatives opposed Catholic Emancipation, electoral reform, and Irish Home Rule, while Whigs or Liberals championed those causes. Subsequently, the term Tory has survived as a label for a conservative or reactionary political outlook; the term Whig has more or less completely died out, having been displaced by "liberal."

[¶5] More generally, the terms refer fundamentally to divisions over conceptions of sovereignty and political power: Whigs conceive of power as ultimately residing in "the people" (or in the people's representatives) and view rulers as serving the will and welfare of the people (as embodied in Parliament); Tories conceive of sovereignty as residing in rulers and view "the people" as subjects whose duty is to obey. Tories are thus identified with a system of hereditary power--exercised especially by monarchs and the established Church--while Whigs are associated with a system of popular power, though generally in the hands of the propertied rather than the populace at large. In the Tory vision, the political organization of society is hierarchical and patriarchal, with governors having a responsibility to look after the welfare of their subjects. In the Whig vision, political rulers are, likewise, responsible for the welfare of "the people," but they are also accountable to them (that is, to Parliament and the political nation it represents). Both Whig and Tory traditions have often had an upper-class bias to them (though they are both capable of making populist appeals, when necessary), and can usefully be distinguished from a properly democratic or "radical" tradition in British politics and society.

[¶6] The terms "Whig" and "Tory" have also often carried strong sectarian (religious) associations, Tories being associated with High Church sentiments (including preservation of the privileges and exclusions of the established Church) and Whigs being associated with latitudinarianism and Protestant Dissent. At different times, both have been associated with strongly anti-Catholic sentiments. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Whigs, as champions of Parliamentary rights over against the Stuart monarchs and as supporters of Protestant Dissent, developed a strongly anti-Catholic, militantly Protestant political rhetoric, while Tories were often seen as "tainted" by their support for the Catholic Stuarts. By contrast, since the early nineteenth century, Whigs have been champions of Catholic Emancipation and Tories have been associated with preservation of Anglican supremacy and privileges. The "high church" leanings of Tories have persisted throughout this era, which, in the nineteenth century, has meant both opposition to the political emancipation of the Catholic community in the UK and an association with the Tractarian Movement, just as, around 1688, it meant both opposition to the displacement of James II and a devotion to the supremacy of the Anglican Church. In the earlier period, Whigs saw themselves as militantly anti-Catholic defenders of the Protestant religion, while more recently Whigs have tended to see themselves as being "above" the sectarian religious politics of the Tories.

[¶7] In relation to both church and state, religion and politics, the terms Whig and Tory have been redefined and transformed in their associations and inflections in the period since they first achieved currency around 1681. Especially in relation to the earlier terrain (through the mid-eighteenth century), the modern associations of Whig and Tory with "liberal" and "conservative" can be misleading or, in any case, can fail to register the actual specificity of political alignments and divisions: neither party can easily be designated as "progressive" and each has to be examined in terms of its particular engagements in specific contexts.

Extended Discussion [back to briefer discussion]

§1. Introduction: "Whig" and "Tory" in English Political Language

[¶8] In the 19th century, Thomas Babington Macaulay opined that the political labels "Whig" and "Tory" are "two nicknames which, though originally given in insult, were soon assumed with pride, which are still in daily use, which have spread as widely as the English race, and which will last as long as the English literature" (The History of England from the Accession of James the Second [1849-61], quoted in Willman 1974: 247). But already by his time, these 17th-century terms (themselves successors to "cavalier" and "roundhead," "Royalist" and "Parliament-man") were being replaced by more modern political terminology such as "liberal" and "conservative," or "radical" and "reactionary," or, from the French Revolution context, "left-wing" and "right-wing." And, despite Macaulay's suggestion of unchanging continuity in the meaning of these terms up into his own time, they actually underwent several shifts and modifications of meaning over the century and a half from the time of their introduction into English political discourse around 1681. (Moreover, despite Macaulay's emphasis on the "Englishness" of the terms "Whig" and "Tory," associating them as he does with the "English race" and "English literature," they derive, in fact, from the wider linguistic world of the British Isles: Tory from Irish and Whig from Scots.) For us, now, the use of these terms across the long 18th century requires some elucidation.

[¶9] The terms "Whig" and "Tory" did not always function as political labels. They were appropriated and reinflected as "party" labels during the Exclusion Crisis, but they have an older history in English usage as general terms. Thus, in Maurice Atkins's Cataplus (1672), a burlesque of the Aeneid, Anchises avers, "I cou'd tell many pleasant stories / Relating to these drunken Tories" (lines 1709-10), where "Tories" means only ruffians. But since the Exclusion Crisis, these earlier usages have been overshadowed by the function of the terms as a central part of English political rhetoric in the Restoration and eighteenth century.

[¶10] In their English political usage, the terms derive from the factional conflict of the Exclusion Crisis (1679-81), when one faction (the Whigs) sought to exclude Charles II's brother, James, Duke of York, who was a professed Roman Catholic, from eligibility to succeed to the throne and the other faction (the Tories) insisted on the inviolability of the chain of succession and the necessity of acceptance of the legitimate heir. The Whigs asserted, in effect, the right of Parliament to determine the succession to the throne and hence, in a larger sense, the right of Parliament (and hence, on some interpretations, of "the people") to choose their rulers--or, in any case, they argued for an inalienable right of resistance when the fundamental rights and privileges of the people (including their religion) are imperilled. The Tories adhered to the older view that kings and queens are God's regents on earth or, in any case, are placed on the throne by God and so must be obeyed by their subjects under all circumstances (doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance). "Tory" thus became a label for political conservatives and royalists and "Whig" for political revisionists and "Parliament-men."

[¶11] The factional division of English political elites during the Exclusion Crisis clearly echoed the divisions between Parliamentarians and Royalists in the era of the Civil Wars, and thus portended more than a simple difference of opinion on a particular policy matter. Through the rest of the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth centuries, the terms "Whig" and "Tory" would continue to carry the weight of the Civil War legacy, at least obliquely, and the fundamental ideological division between tradition-minded legitimists and reform-minded activists would continue to inform political thought through much of the eighteenth century. Its echoes are quite palpable in John Wesley's assertion in 1785 that, "he, his brother Charles, and their late father were Tories in the sense that they held God, not the people, as the origin of all civil power" (Sack 1993: 66), and the ideological distinction would be picked up and revitalized by Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Tories viewed the existing system of hierarchy and subordination as part of a God-given, time-tested order, while Whigs viewed political arrangements in quasi-utilitarian terms as variable means designed to achieve desired ends (e.g., public welfare).

[¶12] In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1688, the Tories came to be identified with Stuart loyalists and the Whigs with supporters of the new Williamite and, later, Hanoverian political order. In the eighteenth century, in social terms, Tories were often identified with the "old" landowning gentry class (the country squires), with the conservative milieu of Oxford, and with High Church elements of the Anglican establishment, while Whigs were associated with the aristocratic elite and with "new" wealth, that is, the moneyed interest (whether derived from finance or commerce), with the Dissenting interest, and with urban dwellers (in the City of London and elsewhere).

[¶13] A religious sectarian conflict was, no doubt, central to Whig-Tory divisions throughout the Restoration and 18th century--with the Tories seen as committed to the necessity of an established church and its various privileges and the Whigs as increasingly skeptical of the importance or even value of such a religious establishment--but this religious demarcation, like the political distinctions between Whigs and Tories, did not have a fixed, unchanging meaning. The historical malleability of these political labels becomes evident if we keep in mind the vehement anti-Catholicism of Whig rhetoric the late 17th and early 18th centuries (which was central to their opposition to the Stuart line with its Catholic representatives)--and contrast it with the early 19th century association of the Tories with adamantly anti-Catholic politics in the context of the Irish question and the Union of Great Britain and Ireland and Whig support of Catholic Emancipation. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Tories decried their Dissenting opponents as "fanatics" and sectarian "zealots," while in the 19th century, the Tories saw themselves as the beleaguered defenders of religion and piety against the forces of atheism and libertinism and were seen by their opponents as sectarian "fanatics" and religious "obscurantists."

[¶14] Some of these shifts in the religious associations of the two parties are to be explained by the fact that in their earlier phase, the Tories were distinguished by their adherence to a notion of prescriptive and hereditary rights and political principles (which tended to imply adherence to the Stuart dynasty), while in their "post-Jacobite phase," with the demise of the Stuart cause after 1745, the Tories retained their adherence to prescriptive rights but their central application of these principles shifted to the terrain of "churchly matters" (Sack 1993: 50). But there were other shifts in positions that responded to other factors: one might note, for example, that during the period when the Tories were excluded from political power (and from "shire, judicial, Church, and military offices under the crown") in the era of Whig hegemony under the first two Georges, they decried "corruption" and supported "a thorough regeneration of the electoral system," while the Whigs sought to preserve the status quo (Sack 1993: 146). Then followed an era of Pittite and neo-Tory dominance at the end of the 18th century (during which the Tories were by no means uniformly opposed to parliamentary reform), but in the early 19th century the Whigs became the proponents of parliamentary "reform" against the conservative resistance of the ministries of Canning and Wellington (whose resistance to such reform echoed Lord North's contention, in opposition to Pitt's motion for reform in 1785, that the constitution secured in 1688-1714 was "the most beautiful fabric that, perhaps, had ever existed from the beginning of time. He never would consent to any attempt to tamper with such a fabric") (Sack 1993: 149).

[¶15] But whatever the reasons for the shifting valences of the two party labels, the point is that they do not function as unchanging political tags whose meanings can be defined independently of the context of their usage. There were, of course, stereotyped "characters" of Whigs and Tories in circulation from the time of the Exclusion Crisis, and, in the later 18th and early 19th century especially, we see the development of somewhat generalized, more abstract conceptions of these affiliations, so that it was always possible to speak of "Whig" and "Tory" values, dispositions, sentiments as though these existed as fixed entities, independent of and prior to any particular political issue or debate. But such generalized discourse about Whigs and Tories tends to reflect the configuration of Whig and Tory positions prevalent at a given moment of political strife and does not always give one a good window on the concrete meaning of Whig and Tory investments during diverse moments across the Restoration and up into the 19th century.

§2. Application of These Political Labels in the Exclusion Crisis

[¶16] The terms seem to have entered the vocabulary of English politics around 1681, borrowed and adapted from their earlier use in Ireland and Scotland (Willman 1974: 251). In its original Irish (and English) usage, the term Tories refers to Irish brigands who were "popishly affected, outlaws, robbers, such as our law saith have Caput Lupinum, fit and ready to be destroyed and knocked on the head by any one that could meet with them"[1] (The Character of an Honest Man, whether stiled Whig or Tory [1683]; quoted in Willman 1974: 251-52). This notion of the Tory (or brigand) was popularized in Ireland "in the generation after 1660, following the Cromwellian conquest and the compounded confusion of the Restoration Settlement, which created a large body of footloose men, many of them former gentry, with opportunity and incentive to take to brigandage" (Willman 1974: 252).

[¶17] Most of the Tories preyed on "Irish peasants and petty traders" but the Tory chief Redmond O'Hanlon "began in the late 1670s to disturb the equanimity of the Anglo-Irish gentry by preying directly upon them"; in late 1679, his gang murdered Henry St John of Tanderagee after kidnapping him for ransom. "The event made news in England," as did the betrayal and death of O'Hanlon in April 1681: "O'Hanlon's depredations are important because, thanks to them, the notoriety of Irish Toryism was increased at a moment of extreme tension and anti-Catholic fear in England; and the career of the greatest Irish Tory reached its climax just at the height of the Exclusion Crisis" (Willman 1974: 252). (These "Tories" did not easily disappear: in 1707, the Irish Parliament passed an "Act for the more effectual suppression of tories, robbers, and rapparees" [Irish Act 6 Anne, c. 11].)

[¶18] The term Whig, or its earlier form Whiggamaire, "had been in use in Scotland since the 1640s as a term for Covenanting rebels" (Willman 1974: 252), that is, it was applied to adherents of the Presbyterian cause in Scotland, who achieved victory during the Civil Wars but then were pushed aside at the Restoration when the Episcopalian Church was re-established. "English liberal Protestantism sympathized with the [Scottish Covenanting] rebels of 1679," exemplified, for instance, in "Monmouth's well-known leniency in dealing with them after Bothwell Brig," but "English fellow-feeling did not extend to the small band of sectaries who refused the settlement of 1679 and continued in arms. The Cameronian or 'Cargillite' movement justified itself in terms few English Protestants could accept, excommunicating the King as well as the Dukes of York and Monmouth from the 'true kirk' and declaring it lawful to kill them and all who followed them" (Willman 1974: 253). Thus, by 1681, when the term Whig was applied to English Exclusionists (as in the reference to "these English Whigs . . . as well as their Brethren of Scotland" in Heraclitus Ridens [quoted in Willman 1974: 262]), it carried a negative valence, even for the party so labeled.

[¶19] These terms were appropriated into the linguistic and political maelstrom of the Exclusion Crisis. "The passion for stigmatizing nicknames had begun in 1679 when Exclusionists, styling themselves 'True Protestants,' began to assail their Protestant opponents as 'Protestant Papists' or 'Protestants in Masquerade'" (Willman 1974: 254); the Royalists responded by mockingly calling the Exclusionists "True Blues" or (according to Roger North) "Birmingham Protestants, alluding to false Groats counterfeited at that Place" (Examen [pub. 1740]; quoted in Willman 1974: 249). (The subtitle supplied for John Dryden's Mac Flecknoe when it was published in 1682--A Satyr upon the True-Blew-Protestant Poet, T.S.--alludes to this usage.[2]) "When Exclusionist petitions for the meeting of Parliament [in 1680] were countered by Royalist addresses 'abhorring' the petitions, the Exclusionists responded with a campaign of abuse which contributed 'Yorkist' and 'Tantivy'" to the language, as well as 'Abhorrer'" (Willman 1974: 254).

[¶20] "It was only after the demise of the last Exclusion Parliament [in March 1681] that the first Royalist nickname for the Exclusionists began to appear in print, when the formula 'True Protestant' was expanded to 'True Bromidgham Protestant,' i.e., true counterfeit one" (Willman 1974: 255). Commenting on this development, Laurence Echard, in his History of England (3rd ed., 1720), remarks that "Great Heats and Animosities were created by these Petitioners and Abhorrers . . . and about the same Time . . . arose the pernicious Terms, and Distinctions of WHIG and TORY, both Exotick Names, which the Parties invidiously bestow'd upon each other" (quoted in Willman 1974: 247); and Roger North, in his Examen: or An Enquiry into the Credit and Veracity of a Pretended Complete History (published 1740), describes the Exclusionists as giving their opponents a whole series of labels: "Yorkist," the first such term, "served for meer Distinction, but did not scandalise or reflect enough. Then they came to Tantivy, which implied Riding Post to Rome . . . Then, observing that the Duke [i.e., James] favoured Irish Men, all his Friends, or those accounted such by appearing against the Exclusion, were straight become Irish, and so wild Irish, thence Bog-trotters, and, in the Copia of the factious Language, the Word Tory was entertained, which signified the most despicable Savages among the Wild Irish, and, being a vocal clever sounding Word, readily pronounced, it kept its Hold, and took Possession of the foul Mouths of the Faction" (quoted in Willman 1974: 249). Through James's "favoring" of Irishmen, the traditional English abusive rhetoric for the Irish gets appropriated here for domestic English politics.

[¶21] The term Tories begins to appear in 1680 with reference to the Irishmen supposedly favored by James, Duke of York; and in 1681, it is being applied also to Englishmen who support the Duke (the Exclusionist Weekly Pacquet of Advice from Rome [no. 49, 13 May 1681] denounces "all the L'Estranges, Thompsons, Club of Heraclitus-Scriblers, Tories, Papists, Masquerade- Protestants, and other Vermin of that Stamp" [quoted in Willman 1974: 260]). The work that more than any other helped establish the use and the conjoining of the terms Whig and Tory in English political discourse was Roger L'Estrange's The Observator (begun on 13 April 1681). In no. 29 (2 July 1681), L'Estrange changed the name to The Observator in Dialogue and the publication, which had previously alternated between "Question" and "Answer," was now (and for the following two years) presented as a dialogue between "Whig" and "Tory": "This moment, 2 July 1681, appears to be the time when English politics were first envisaged as a dialogue between Whig and Tory; here the two words seem to have been first uttered in one breath, as natural complements to each other. Other journalists took their cue from the Observator and began to use the words more frequently, and together" (Willman 1974: 262).

[¶22] The use of these various party labels and terms of opprobrium deepened the partisan divisions of the age. In October 1681, Oliver Heywood (a Nonconformist) noted how "this is the distinction they make instead of Cavalier and Roundhead, now they are called Torys and Wiggs, the former wearing a red Ribband [in their hats], the other a violet--thus men begin to commence war" (quoted in Willman 1974: 263). In his prologue to Absalom and Achitophel (Nov. 1681), John Dryden writes: "He who draws his pen for one party must expect to make enemies of the other, for wit and fool are consequents of Whig and Tory, and every man is a knave or an ass to the contrary side" (quoted in Willman 1974: 262-63).

[¶23] Robert Willman's modern account of the adoption of Whig and Tory into English political discourse in 1681 and thereafter, summarized above, is less colorful than that offered by Daniel Defoe in his Review (no. 75, 16 Sept. 1710)--where he credits Titus Oates with popularizing the term Tories and the Duke of Lauderdale with the like service for Whig--but it is clearly more persuasive, though eighteenth-century historians often repeated Defoe's account. These early historians' interest in the political terminology of "Whig" and "Tory" speaks not only to a concern with the past, but also to conflicts that were still alive in their own era--for the partisan rancor of the Exclusion Crisis produced animosities that did not easily die down, even though the original issue and occasion were relatively quickly overtaken by the march of events.

§3. Use of Whig and Tory Idiom through the Early 18th Century

[¶24] In his Dissertation on Parties (1735-38), Bolingbroke remarks that with the Revolution of 1688-89 and the effective "exclusion" of James II, "The real essences of Whig and Tory were thus [in 1689] destroyed, but the nominal were preserved" (OED, sv "Tory n. and a.," sense 3a). But, of course, the dynastic issue was not entirely settled in 1689: the existence of non-jurors and Jacobites testified to the complications of the new settlement, and the accession of Anne (last of the Stuart monarchs of England) in 1702 renewed the emotions around the Stuart claim to the throne and the political language of Whig and Tory enjoyed a new lease on life during the partisan conflicts of Anne's reign (1702-14).[3]

[¶25] But with the settlement of the succession in the Protestant line after the Revolution of 1688, and especially after the eventual accession of the Hanoverians to the throne in 1714, the changed political context meant that the political programs of the Whigs and Tories were radically altered: the Whigs now figured much of the time, and certainly after 1714, as the supporters of the established political order and the Tories were those who stood in opposition (whether or not they actually supported a return of the Stuart line). In 1682, in an epilogue to the Duke of Guise, Dryden equates a "Whig" with a rebel: "When Sighs and Prayers their ladies cannot move, / They rail, write Treason, and turn Whigs to love" (OED, sv. "Whig n. and a.," sense 3b). But after 1688, and especially after 1714, it was the Tories who could be tarred with the charge of "disloyalty"--at least in relation to the political settlement. The flight of the Tory leader, Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, to France in 1715, seemed to cement the notion that the Tories were untrustworthy Jacobites and the unsuccessful Jacobite plots and risings (especially in 1715 and 1745) kept the Whig hegemony firmly in place--despite the fact that "about 100 country gentlemen, regarding themselves as Tories, remained members of the House of Commons throughout the years of the Whig hegemony. . . . [and] at the level of local politics, administration, and influence, such 'Tories' remained of considerable importance" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. "Whig and Tory").

[¶26] The Tory adherence to the established privileges of the Anglican Church allowed them to retain a "loyalist" identity on the terrain of church issues and to cast their opponents as those who would upset the established order in the religious sphere. This dynamic produced a complex situation, in which the Anglican Church was divided between those with Whig and those with Tory leanings (though, given the political control of the upper levels of church patronage the upper hierarchy tended to have a Whig coloring). Moreover, whatever the personal antipathies between the Tories and Whigs fostered by a couple of generations of sectarian strife, as the eighteenth-century progressed many Tories increasingly accepted the Revolutionary Settlement of 1688-89 and the Whig notions of a limited or constitutional monarchy in place of the Tory battlecry of unlimited royal prerogative. As a result, the ideological differences between the two camps became less predictable.

[¶27] So, too, individuals could be of one mind in political matters and of another in church and religious matters. In 1713, Richard Steele introduces the persona of the Guardian in precisely these terms: "I am, with Relation to the Government of the Church, a Tory, with Regard to the State, a Whig" (The Guardian, no. 1 [12 March 1713]). Steele's amphibious Tory-cum-Whig stance is consonant with the outlook of Addison (who avers that "an honest Englishman is a Tory in church matters and a Whig in politics") and Swift (who writes in a letter to Thomas Tickell of 7 July 1726, "I am weary of living among Ministers whom I cannot govern, who are all rank Tories in Government, & worse than Whigs in Church, whereas I was the first Man who taught & practised the direct contrary Principle") (quoted in Stephens, ed. 1982: 605n.10).

[¶28] David Hume, taking stock of the new situation in the Hanoverian age in his essay "Of the Parties of Great Britain" (1741), ignores the church issue altogether and remarks that, "A Tory, . . . since the revolution [of 1688], may be defined in a few words, to be a lover of monarchy, tho' without abandoning liberty; and a partizan of the family of Stuart," while a "Whig may be defin'd to be a Lover of Liberty, tho' without renouncing Monarchy; a Friend to the Settlement in the Protestant Line" (OED, sv "Tory, n. and a.," sense 3a; "Whig, n. and a.," sense 4). Hume's defintion of "Tory" and "Whig" maintains the centrality of the dynastic issue, but begins to transform the associations of the two political labels, so that Tories come to be seen as the party of "order" and Whigs as the party of "liberty."

[¶29] In such a transformed context, the use of the labels "Whig" and "Tory" continued apace, but they were not so clear-cut in their reference as they had been in the era of Charles II and James II. With the Jacobite baggage adhering to the Tories, their formal proscription from ministerial power under the early Hanoverians, and the changing alliances among opposition groups (especially in the era of Walpole), there were manifest pressures for a "modernization" of political labels, not only through the kind of semantic transformation effected by Hume but also through the adoption of new political labels. The ideological relevance of the old opposition between Whig and Tory was compromised by the 1730s, when the old idiom came to be overlayed and modified by a newer idiom in which the opposition between "court" and "country" or between "court" and "patriot opposition" became a more crucial political distinction--one that cut through the "Whig" camp, separating out court Whigs, on the one hand, and lumping country Whigs and Tories together (in the "patriot" grouping), on the other hand. The traditional Tories had been supporters of James II (and sometimes of the Jacobite succession); they had been Non-Jurors (or sympathetic with them) at the time of the Revolution of 1688; they had been staunch supporters of the Anglican establishment, against both Catholics and Dissenters (Fabel 1974: 101)--the first two of these allegiances became increasingly outdated as the 18th century progressed and with them the traditional meaning of "Tory" and, consequently, the traditional meaning of the Whig-and-Tory opposition.

[¶30] The definitions of "Whig" and "Tory" offered in various dictionaries and encyclopedias from 1699 through the 1740s suggests the primary importance of the Restoration era in the definition of these terms--and, by implication, the space for their modification and adaptation in the 18th century:

From Abel Boyer's Royal Dictionary (1699), "which he had prepared for the use of the Duke of Gloucester in studying French":

Whig (in opposition to Tory, a Nick-name given to the Fanaticks that were against the Kings Interest in King Charles the second and James the second's time.) un Fanatique, un ennemy du Roy ou de la Cour, un Republicain.

From Dr. Adam Littleton's Linguae Latinae Liber Dictionarius (4th ed., 1703):

A Whig is translated Homo fanaticus, factiosus; Whiggism, Enthusiasmus, perduellio; A Tory, bogtrotter or Irish robber, Praedo Hibernicus; A Tory opposed to whig, Regiarum partium assertor.

From the Kersey-Phillips New World of Words (1706; [a revision of Edward Phillips's The New World of English Words, 1658?]):

Whig, Whay, or very small Beer; also a Nickname, contradistinguished from Tory, and given to those that were against the Court-Interest in the time of K. Charles II. and James II: A Fanatick, a Factious Fellow.

From Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopaedia (1728; 5th ed., 1741-43):

the tories, says M. Rapin, appear fierce and haughty: they treat the whigs with the last contempt, and even somewhat hardly, when they have the advantage over them. . .

(These examples are all quoted from Kolb & Sledd 1952: 882-85)

[¶31] Kolb and Sledd note that "Nicholas Tindal, in his annotated translation of the Dissertation sur les Whigs et les Torys by Paul de Rapin-Thoyras, had used Burnet to correct Rapin's etymology of whig [see "A Dissertation on the Whigs and Torys," The History of England, by Paul de Rapin-Thoyras, 3rd ed. (London, 1743-47), II, 798]" (Kolb & Sledd 1952: 883). Rapin was the chief source for the article on Tories in Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopaedia [1728; 5th ed., 1741-43]: both Rapin and Chambers warn that the terms Whig and Tory are "alike equivocal, in that they referred both to moderates and to extremists, to matters political and to matters ecclesiastical" (Kolb & Sledd 1952: 884). Rapin and Chambers warn us that "Whig" and "Tory" are complex terms, open to multiple inflections. And, one might add, the passage of time and changing political contexts only served to make the terms more equivocal. If David Hume resolved some of this complication by ignoring "matters ecclesiastical" in his brief definitions of Whigs and Tories (as noted above), Samuel Johnson, in his entries for the terms in his Dictionary (1755), excises any reference to the respective dynastic principles of the two parties that figure so prominently in Hume's defintion:

From Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755):

Tory, n.s. [A cant term, derived, I suppose, from an Irish word signifying a savage.]

One who adheres to the antient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a whig.

The knight is more a tory in the country than the town, because it advances his interest.

To confound his hated coin, all parties and religions join whigs, tories.xxxSwift.

Whig. n.s. [hwœg, Saxon.]

1. Whey.

2. The name of a faction.

The southwest counties of Scotland have seldom corn enough to serve them round the year; and the northern parts producing more than they need, those in the west come in the Summer to buy at Leith the stores that come from the north; and from a word, whiggam, used in driving their horses, all that drove were called the whiggamors, and shorter the whiggs. Now in that year before the news came down of duke Hamilton's defeat, the ministers animated their people to rise and march to Edinburgh; and they came up marching on the head of their parishes with an unheard-of fury, praying and preaching all the way as they came. The marquis of Argyle and his party came and headed them, they being about six thousand. This was called the whiggamor's inroad; and ever after that, all that opposed the court came in contempt to be called whigs: and from Scotland the word was brought into England, where it is now one of our unhappy terms of disunion.xxxBurnet.

Whoever has a true value for church and state, should avoid the extremes of whig for the sake of the former, and the extremes of tory on the account of the latter.xxxSwift.

(Quoted from Kolb & Sledd 1952)

[¶32] Johnson, who in his private life proclaimed himself a Tory, defines the term as referring, in effect, to a loyalist, one who supports king-and-church, ignoring the Jacobite inflection of much Tory sentiment under the early Hanoverians. He offers no substantive definition of "Whig" at all (in its political usage), merely dismissing it as "The name of a faction" and relying on his quotation from Burnet to suggest that Whigs are those who "oppos[e] the court"--which may have been true in the reigns of Charles II and James II but is clearly inadequate for 18th-century uses of the term. If this review of the changing contexts in which the terms were used up through the mid-18th century shows us anything, it is the necessity of examining who is speaking (and with what purpose), if we wish to understand what they mean by Whig and Tory and, correspondingly, the danger involved in assuming that the terms have a fixed and settled meaning.

§4. Demise of Tory Idiom by 1760

[¶33] Although the terms "Whig" and "Tory" may have acquired new inflections, they had certainly lost their original salience by the 1730s--and this was still more the case by the 1760s. Whig and Tory identifications lost much of their purchase on contemporary political alignments and concerns between the 1730s and 1760s, during the long era of Whig hegemony and Tory proscription in British politics, first under the reconfiguration of party conflicts in terms of "court" versus "country" or "court" versus "patriot" oppositions, and then with the disarray of party groupings. This is not to say that the terms themselves faded out of use entirely, but what is different about the situation after mid-century, compared to the earlier eighteenth century, is that only the "Whig" label is claimed by anyone in the arena of formal politics (though the "Tory" label continued to be foisted on others as a term of reproach). In 1767, for example, John Wilkes remarks that, "You can never trust any ministers in our country. The Whigs in power turn Tories; tho' alas the Tories do not turn Whigs!" (quoted in Christie 1965: 62). Here, the terms "Whig" and "Tory" are still being used as the currency of political exchange, but "Tory" comes to mean something like "Court Whig," while "Whig" carries the oppositional cast of the "Patriot" or "Country" party from the earlier decades of the century. There may indeed have been a revival of "Whig" and "Tory" factions at the end of the 18th century and thereafter, as we shall see, but in the quarter century after the late 1750s, these labels functioned as somewhat hollow (and often misleading) epithets.

[¶34] Indeed, through much of the 18th century, there was not only a commonplace denunciation of factionalism and partisanship (even by the most rabid party-men), there was also a widely expressed sentiment that there was little in terms of principles, beliefs, or policy that distinguished the one side from the other (whatever significant differences there may have been in the past). Steele's Guardian and the quotation from Swift in Johnson's Dictionary (both quoted above) already exemplify a rhetoric that seeks to get beyond the polarized partisanship of Whig and Tory conflict. So, too, Jonathan Swift's satire on the "big-enders" and "little-enders" of Lilliput in Gulliver's Travels (1726) is echoed by Tobias Smollett's satire on the "two inveterate parties" in the fictional "Japan" of his The Adventures of an Atom (1769): "The people of Japan had long been divided between two inveterate parties known by the names of Shit-tilk-ums-heit, and She-it-kums-hi-til, the first signifying more fool than knave, and the other more knave than fool" (quoted in Fabel 1974: 104). In his political periodical, The Briton (1762-63), Smollett likewise maintained that the "war-words Whig and Tory" were no more meaningful than "the cabalistical terms Abraxas and Abracadabra" (No. 38) (quoted in Fabel 1974: 104).

[¶35] This notion that political factions or parties are merely petty, self-interested, and corrupt conglomerations of individuals--rather than meaningful ideological groupings--informs the Namierite historiography of the mid-20th century which denies "all validity to the names of whig and tory" in the 1760s (Fabel 1974: 102n.11). But, in acknowledging that the inherited political vocabulary of "whigs" and "tories" had been hollowed out by this point, having lost touch with the changing political configurations of the 18th century, one need not accept the notion that there were no meaningful political distinctions in this era (only a cynical maneuvering for preferment, a "politics" of who was "in" and who was "out"). The aging and eventual anachronism of a given political vocabulary (as of other cultural idioms) may be a very real phenomenon, but the creation, vitality, and conflict of political ideas, values, and policies is a perennial phenomenon--even if individual politicians prove themselves to be merely opportunists in the hunt for personal gain.

[¶36] Periodicals associated with Tory outlooks during the mid-18th century include the London Evening Post (which retained Jacobite leanings until at least 1754) and which was "the most important English newspaper during the period between the administrations of Walpole and North" (Sack 1993: 8); Tobias Smollett's "country" oriented Critical Review, begun in 1756 as a rival to Ralph Griffiths's latitudinarian Monthly Review (begun in 1749)--Samuel Johnson remarks of these two leading monthly periodicals, "The Monthly Reviewers . . . are not Deists; but they are Christians with as little christianity as may be; and are for pulling down all establishments. The Critical Reviewers are for supporting the constitution, both in church and state" (Boswell's Life of Johnson).

§5. Afterlife of Whig and Tory Idiom in Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries

[¶37] In the later 18th century, after the dissolution of coherent party groupings in the early part of George III's reign (though not necessarily the dissolution of partisan "Whig" and "Tory" sentiments in the wider culture), party groupings took shape again around William Pitt the Younger, on the one hand, and the Marquis of Rockingham and Charles James Fox, on the other hand. In this period, there was a Tory revival and a renewed definitiveness to Whig political identities, incipiently from the end of the War of American Independence (1776-83) and the time of the French Revolution (1789) and picking up steam through the early 19th century. The Tory revival and the reconsolidation of Whig groupings gave renewed vitality to Whig-and-Tory polemics, even as a new political vocabulary of "liberal" and "conservative," "left-wing" and "right-wing," "radical" and "reactionary" came into being.

[¶38] This era also saw the reversal of Whig and Tory fortunes, with an extended period of Whig exclusion from power between 1783 and 1830 (with the brief exception of the Grenville-Foxite coalition in 1806-07)--to be followed by a new period of Whig rule, then Conservative resurgence, followed by Liberal rule into the late 19th century. Nonetheless, the "Tory" label--with its baggage of Jacobites, non-jurors, crypto-Catholics, Laudians, and Hutchinsonians--was never entirely comfortable as a party label, and both "Whig" and "Tory" came increasingly to be associated with general values and dispositions (the one for liberty, the other for order; the one for religious tolerance and Catholic emancipation, the other for preserving the privileges of the Anglican establishment; the one for reform, the other for maintenance of the inherited status quo). The old terms of "Whig" and "Tory," however dated, were simply "transferred to the new political alignments" of the Pittite "Tories" and the Foxite "Whigs":

This [transference of political labels] was done at the level of anti-ministerial propaganda, both in parliamentary speeches and in public prints, more particularly during the later years of the American war [1776-83]. There is no question but that Rockingham, Charles Fox, and others began to think of themselves as the true representatives of the Whig tradition, and the aura of whiggism was regarded as a political advantage to be exploited. Spokesmen on the government side, however, did not concede this claim and . . . represented themselves as upholding Whig principles against Tory tendencies in the colonies. (Christie 1965: 61)

This equivocal use of the terms "Whig" and "Tory" would be continued when the terms were revived more emphatically in the context of the conflicts over the French Revolution at the close of the 18th century (even as the newer political terminology of "liberal" and "conservative" came into use). The very title of Edmund Burke's Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) exemplifies both the re-circulation of the old terms and the felt need to adapt them to changing political circumstances. (Like Swift in the early eighteenth century, Burke is often retrospectively labeled a "Tory," but he claimed the label of "Whig" for himself throughout most of his public career--though he did concede, in an undated private letter, "that he did not greatly care if his principles were thought to be Whig or not. 'If they are Tory principles, I should always wish to be thought a Tory'" [Sack 1993: 66n.13].)

[¶39] Ian Christie remarks that though these older terms continued to be used in the political polemics of the later 18th century, in which reformers cast themselves as "Whigs" battling a "Tory reaction," in fact, the reformers were arguing for new, modern expansions of liberties and the battle-lines were between "liberals" and "conservatives" (Christie 1965: 75-76); and, indeed, in this era the terms "Whig" and "Tory" begin to be conflated with "liberal" and "conservative," respectively, and thus to acquire a new lease of life through this semantic transformation. Similarly, J. C. D. Clark contends that the so-called Tories of the late 18th century were actually conservative Whigs, though most historians agree that there was "a Tory revival sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century" (Sack 1993: 48).

[¶40] James Sack points to the role of the wartime Pitt government in fostering this Tory revival through its subsidization of newspapers and periodicals: "What is striking about the founding of the Sun [a daily newspaper, est. Oct. 1792], the True Briton [another daily, est. Jan. 1793], and the British Critic [a monthly periodical, est. mid-1793] is that with the backing of sources within or close to government, a press milieu was created, and more importantly sustained, which was in the long haul strikingly similar in its religious, societal, and political appeals, in its rhetoric, and in its overall world view to the Tory-Jacobite press of the 1750s and Northite-Bateian[4] press of the 1770s. . . . The Irish rebellion of 1798 and the Union of 1801 provided it with the over-riding theme of anti-Catholicism, an issue lacking during the 1750s and 1770s" (Sack 1993: 13-14).

[¶41] In the context of the revival of the terms "Whig" and "Tory" in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, both labels were used variously to refer to a range of positions that may well have had some affinities with each other but that hardly constituted a single, unified political outlook. In this era, the label "Tory" can refer to "tendencies as disparate as late Jacobitism, High Church Anglicanism, Pittite 'Toryism,' and ultra [or Orangeist] Protestantism"; it does not refer to some consolidated "early equivalent of Disraelian Conservatism or Chamberlainite Unionism" (Sack 1993: 2). Nonetheless, James Sack argues, these various groups shared some "common threads," most importantly, "a marked insistence, increasing by the early nineteenth century, on the spiritual, Christian, Anglican basis of English political life" (Sack 1993: 2). By this point, then, in the early 19th century, "Toryism" becomes a name for Counter-Enlightenment tendencies in British politics and culture, for reactionary defenses of the Anglican establishment in church and state, even if they have not yet coalesced into an organized political ideology or movement with a coherent agenda. Toryism comes to signify the defense and valorization of customary practices, inherited traditions, the values of "our forefathers," the Anglican order, "patriotic" loyalty to the government, xenophobic and anti-semitic sentiments (especially in the 18th century), the received ideas embedded in the institutions and practices of the status quo--or, it comes to signify the political strategy of emphasis on such "cultural" values in the defense of wealth, property, and the political power of traditional elites. In an essay in the Quarterly Review of January 1830, John Miller suggests that the Tory party

might with more propriety be called the Conservative party, a party which we believe to compose by far the largest, wealthiest, and most intelligent and respectable portion of the population of this country, and without whose support any administration that can be formed will be found deficient both in character and stability. (quoted in Sack 1993: 5)

We see here the way in which the "Tory" label is coming to be displaced by the language of "conservatism," and we see also how much Toryism operates as an upper-class stance in defense of the establishment against the onslaught of the "rabble" and their political allies, even though it deploys the language of cultural identity, heritage, and patriotism to cultivate, at times, a populist, chauvinistic appeal. Above all, Toryism, by the 19th century, was characterized by a visceral hatred for "irreligion" and divergence from "proper" sexual and gender norms: hysterial outcries by the right-wing press against "any suggestion of sexual or religious deviance from accepted familial or spiritual orthodoxies" became a signature piece of Tory politics in this era (Sack 1993: 39), allowing the Tories to cultivate sympathies with all the most reactionary elements of popular consciousness against the perceived profligacy of the Whig elites. Cultivating the bigotry of the masses (and of elites)--whether cast in terms of religion, gender, ethnicity, race, or sexuality--has been a central feature of Tory or right-wing politics ever since. (But, as the earlier history of Whig anti-Catholicism or the "modern" evangelical sense of superiority to "heathens" or the "liberal imperial" sense of superiority to "backward" and "primitive" peoples and cultures suggests, such appeals to bigotry have not been the exclusive property of right-wing British politics.)

[¶42] In some 19th-century uses of the terms, "Whig" and "Tory" become somewhat diffuse, breaking free of their partisan embeddedness in particular political conflicts and functioning as labels for general tendencies in political and social life. In this usage, "Whig" becomes a synonym for "liberal" and "Tory" for "conservative." Thus, for example, J. W. Croker, Tory MP and journalist, sees "Toryism as a synonym for stability and Whiggism for experiment" and suggests that the two principles underlie all government. Similarly, Thomas B. Macaulay sees "Toryism as guarding order and Whiggism as protecting liberty." Samuel T. Coleridge, likewise, posits two pervasive and mutually antagonistic principles in society, "religious adherence to the Past and the Ancient" and "the Passion for increase of Knowledge" (Sack 1993: 34). In such usage, Whig and Tory begin to function like the terms "classic" and "romantic," as labels for "universal" tendencies found throughout human history. Already in the mid-18th century, William Shenstone wrote (in his Letters, 1746): "As for politics, I think poets are tories by nature, supposing them to be by nature poets. The love of an individual person or family, that has worn a crown for many successions, is an inclination greatly adapted to the fanciful tribe. On the other hand, mathematicians, abstract reasoners of no manner of attachment to persons, at least to the visible part of them, but prodigiously devoted to the ideas of virtue, liberty, and so forth, are generally whigs. It happens agreeably enough to this maxim, that the whigs are friends to that wise, plodding, unpoetical people, the Dutch." This comment was picked up and recirculated by William Hazlitt in his essay, "On Paradox and Common-Place" (in his Table Talk, 1822) and again in "On the Spirit of Monarchy" (published in The Liberal, Jan. 1823), since it resonates with this common 19th-century tendency to divorce the term "Whig" and "Tory" from any specific political conjuncture or issue and to transform them into labels for general human traits or habits of mind or broad social processes and values.

[¶43] This transformation makes it easier to see how the terms could outlive their particular historical moment, but ironically, once they achieved this apotheosis as general terms, they did not survive as vital parts of the political vocabulary for too much longer (having become redundant with terms like "liberal" and "conservative"). The terms continued in informal use through the 19th century, even though they did not serve as official party names (having been displaced by the labels of Conservative and Liberal). The term "Tory" has fared better than "Whig" in this regard, since it continued to be used in various contexts through the 20th century and to the present, but the term "Whig" does not seem to have outlived the 19th century. Both terms do, however, carry on oblique afterlives in notions such as those of "tory radicals" and "tory radicalism" or "whiggish" and the "whig interpretation of history." The opposition "Whig-and-Tory" has long ceased to be a fundamental building-block of political discourse in the English-speaking world, but across the Restoration and (long) 18th century--from the time of the Exclusion Crisis in 1679-81, through the partisan politics of the later Stuart era, on through the long Whig ascendancy after 1714, and then through the period of Whig exclusion from power between 1783 and 1830 (with the brief exception of the Grenville-Foxite coalition in 1806-07)--the language of "Whig" and "Tory" was an essential part of English politics and culture.


[1] The murderous idea expressed here is elaborated in the Diary of Thomas Burton: Member of the Parliaments of Oliver and Richard Cromwell (pub. 1828): in 1656, Burton records the comments of one Major Morgan, "We have three beasts to destroy [in Ireland], that lay burdens upon us,--1st, is a public Tory, on whose head we lay 200l., and 40l. upon a private Tory's. . . . 2d. beast, is a priest, on whose head we lay 10l., if he be eminent, more. 3d. beast, the wolf, on whom we lay 5l. a head if a dog; 10l. if a bitch" (OED, sv "Tory, n. and a.," sense 1a). [back]

[2] The historical fortunes of the idiom of "True Blue" Protestantism also testifies to the shifting valences of political labels. During the Restoration, in the context of the Popish Plot, the Exclusion Crisis, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and by allusion to the Scottish Presbyterian party (which had adopted blue as its color, in contradistinction to the royal red), the Whigs were known as the "True Blues" and had proclaimed themselves to be the "true blue" defenders of English Protestantism (against the onslaught of Catholicism). Later in the 18th century, the "King-and-Church" men were the ones who proclaimed themselves to be the True Blues (sometimes even in preference to the "Tory" label), in allusion now only to the figurative sense in which "true blue" means "faithful, staunch and unwavering (in one's faith, principles, etc.): sterling, genuine, real" (OED, sv "blue, adj.," sense 1e). For example, in 1755, the Tory newspaper Felix Farley's Bristol Journal "alluded to 'the Blues' or 'the Blue interest' rather than to the Tories" and Edward Ward's British Weekly Intelligencer charged "that the True Blues of Bristol sang Jacobite songs" (Sack 1993: 50, 54n.35). The Tories in this era saw themselves as the defenders of the Old Interest and, later, especially of "religion," that is, Anglicanism (against the onslaught of libertinism and Irish Catholicism). The association of the color blue with the Tories or Conservatives has persisted across the 19th century and beyond. Thus, for example, writing to his sister in 1835, Disraeli proclaims, "I . . . have gained the show of hands, which no blue candidate ever did before" and Anthony Trollope, in Farmley Parsonage (1860) states of a conservative neighborhood, "There was no portion of the county more decided true blue" (OED, sv "blue, adj.," sense 6a and 6b). [back]

[3] This was the case not only in England, but also in Ireland: "In Anne's reign the Dublin Parliament had been infected by English-style 'party' politics, as Irishmen fought the battles of Whig and Tory as lustily as their English counterparts. . . . After 1714, however, the two-party structure broke up quickly in Ireland. The frightening implications of the succession issue for the Anglo-Irish tended to shift the centre of gravity in Irish politics decisively over on to the Whig side. So comfortable was the Whig majority returned at the 1715 general election (and without an Irish Triennial or Septennial Act this Parliament lasted the whole reign) that the party could enjoy the luxury of a schism in the very first session, with discontented Whigs joining Tories in Opposition. The Tories, for their part, also split. Toryism had struck shallower roots in Ireland, and without the prospect of a return to power by their allies in England the more moderate, more ambitious and needier Tories came over to the court. The bulk of Tories probably remained in Opposition throughout the 1720s, and although party distinctions were not entirely lost sight of even later, in terms of management the family- or territorial-based 'connection' soon came to be the significant unit of parliamentary organisation--the 'clans' of the court party in 1729, for example, the 'Boyleites', 'Wynneites' and other 'tribes' of the later 1730s, the 'Cork squadron', the 'north-countrymen', and even at one point the 'toopees', set apart by the cut of their hairpieces" (Hayton 1984: 99-100). The demise of Whig-Tory party conflicts in Hanoverian Ireland created a space, however, for the rekindling of "national" conflicts voiced by Irish "patriots" against English subordination of Ireland: "As the Englishman Bishop Godwin observed in 1717, 'now the Tories are brought low I find the distinction between English and Irish grows more wide'" (Hayton 1984: 100). [back]

[4] "Bateian" refers to the Rev. Henry Bate (later Dudley), "the father of English aggressive right-wing journalism in the reign of George III," whose tenure at the Morning Post in 1776-80 and the Morning Herald in 1781-82 "resurrected much of the xenophobic, anti-semitic, anti-dissenting, often High Church, quirkily humanitarian, exceedingly invective tone of the pre-1760 Tory and Jacobite newspaper and periodical press" (Sack 1993: 11). [back]

[revised 3 Dec. 2011]