AS History: The Age of Robert Peel 1829-1846

A brief overview of the Conservative Government under Robert Peel from 1829-1846

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Why Was Ireland so Important for Peel's Career?

Sir Robert Peels relations with Ireland form a crutial element of his political career. Considered to be an expert in Irish affairs serving as Chief Secretary for Ireland between 1812 and 1818. His connection with Ireland continued from when he became Home Secretary under Liverpool and Wellington and when he was Prime Minister between 1841 and 1846. Ireland was important for Peel's career for a number of reasons:

  • He had his first expirience of Cabinet responsibility as Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1812-1818.
  • he was arguably the first modern politician to grasp the complexities of Irish affairs as regards land,religion and education
  • from 1841as Prime Minister, he successfully resisted and dealt with the repeal movement led by O'Connell (Clontarf 1843). 
  • Negatively; his Irish policies brought him into open conflict with critics within his administration. 
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Peel and Irish Affairs

Roman Catholic Emancipation

 This issue of Catholic Emancipation 1829 was a perpetual controversy in both Ireland and Britain and the campagin in favour of its passing was stimulated by Dainiel O'Connell, leader of the non-militent movement known as the Catholic Association which proved very popular among the people. in 1828 O'Connell sezed an opportunity to undermine the anti-Catholic Tory government by running for the position as MP for County Clare (County Clare Election) which he duly won but he was unable to represent his constituency. Ireland was in a state of unrest and the discontent would only subside if O'Connell was to be granted his position in Parliament. Wellington faced a major crisis which was only to be resolved if the Emancipation Bill was passed. Both Wellington and Pell decided the law must be changed to settle dissputes in Ireland, the Bill was passed in April 1829. Pell was heavily critisied by the Tory Ultras for what they considered a humiliating U-turn in upholding political values.

The Defeat of the Repeal Movement

Both Peel and O'Conell were in conflict yet again during Peels Prime Ministerial premiership. This time it was concerns over the repeal of the Act of Union signed with Ireland in 1800. Leading the Repeal Association, O'Connell was determined to forec Peel into subbmitting to their demands of repealing the Act by forcing the issue to the front of a political agenda. Peel, already facing internal problems from the Chartist movement (working class campaigning for voting rights) was quite prepared to use force to uphold the Union. 1843, when a huge protest meeting was organised by the Repeal Movement at Clontarf, Peel acted swiftly to ban the meeting and arrest O'Connell. Peel was successful in the defeat.

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Peel and Irish Affairs

The Issue of Land 

The episode involving the Repeal Movement forced Peel to consider the grievances of the Irish people, in particular the issue of Land Tenure (the ownership of land).  In 1843, he appointed Lord Devon to investigate, which the issues facing the Irish people were summarised in his Devon Commission.

  • Leases on land were too short - therefore there was no incentive for peasants to invest and make improvements and no compensation was granted even if they did.
  • Evictions from the land were common - by the English (often absentee) landlords
  • Rents were extremely hight - as aresult of growing population. Many peasants were landless and forced to live on only potatoes.

Devon recommended limited compensation for those tenants who had carried out improvements on their land. Peel agreed and drew up a Bill in support. the issue was defeated by the Lords, who refused to improve the life of the Irish peasant to the derogation of the landowner, a key constituent for the Tory administration.

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Peel and Irish Affairs

Education Policy

having failed so far with the issue of land, Peel now turned his attention to the issue of education. He was convinced that the role of Priesthood in Irleand needed to be re-examined. Priests were so influetial in Irish society that Peel thought they should recieve a subsidy to help win them over towards the establishment. in 1845 £30,000 was to be granted to the Irish college Maynooth, an important institution in training Catholic priests. Despite opposition within his own Party the Maynooth Grant was passed. Public opinion in England was outraged that public money was to be funded to the enemy. Peel was unmoved by the disparagment and determined to win over the moderates. his gain was a loss for one of his most loyal supportes, William Gladstone, resigned in response to the grants passing. 

Famine and its Consiquence

the Irish Famine 1845-1849. Peel as Prime Minister was faced with a humanitarian crisis on a proportional scale. The potato crop had failed on consecutive occations and the poor were literally starving to death. Prices tended to rise in a crisis and there was no welfare state to control the catastrophe. Peel had to act, and saw that the reduction of tariffs on all food-stuffs as the only measurement to combat the appalling issue, included the celebrated Corn Law of 1815. Peel knew that a majority landowning interest within his own ministry would deem this as a betrayal and a final straw in a long history of grievances against him.  Nonetheless Peel was determined to place humanitarian concern above his politial career. Inevitably the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 lead to the demise of Peels government.   

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How Effective was Peel as a Party Political Leader

Peel was leader of the Tory/Conservative (pre1834/post 1834) from around 1830 up to his fall from office in 1846. his successes can be measured on certain key aspects:

  • Reorganised the party - and adapted to the changes of 1832 regarding the Great Reform Act, the creation of the Carlton Club 1831 created the centre of reorganisation for the party.
  • Widened the basis of party support - as shown in his Tamworth Manifesto of 1834
  • Won the 1841 election - and returned the party to power winning over a Whig majority
  • Created the Carlton Club - and place the party on a national footing
  • Pursued Protestant policies in Ireland

Equally he can be critisied for:

  • Ignoring the wishes of the majority - of his party over major policies
  • lying to the electorate in the 1841 elections - claiming he was committed to retaining the Corn Laws
  • Turning his back on his party - when it had provided him with the foreground to display his abilities 
  • Splitting the party - over his actions during the repeal crisis of 1846 concerning the Corn Laws
  • Putting the nations interests first - knowing it would upset the majority within his own party


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Why is Peel's Ministry of 1841-1846 Considered to

Peel's ministry was considered to be successful for a variety of factors

  • It dealt with the Chartist unrest - by improving living and working conditions, thus eliminating many grievances the Chartists used for support.
  • Transformed the condidtions of the working classes- through reduced tariffs in his 1842 Budget. 
  • The finacial structure was reorganised- with the Bank Charter Act 1844 and Budget successes.
  • Businesses were placed on a more secure footing- with the Companies Act 1844 desigend to improve efficiency through annual accounts. 
  • Social improvments took palce- with the Mines and Factories Acts
  • The Corn Laws were repealed 1846- providing a generation of prosperity
  • Economic Growth escalated- and the budget deficit inherited from the Whigs was reduced

Yet it could be argued otherwise:

  • Opponents both aristocratic, complained and opposed -  the reintroduction of income tax and matters considering his Irish Policies 
  •  The reforms of the Mines and the Factories could have gone further
  • The repeal of the Corn Laws 1846 split the party 


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