Whigs (British political party)

The Whigs were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Between the 1680s and 1850s, the Whigs contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs merged into the new Liberal Party in the 1850s, though some Whig aristocrats left the Liberal Party in 1885 to form the Liberal Unionist Party, which merged into the Liberals' rival, the modern day Conservative Party, in 1912.

Founded1678; 343 years ago (1678)
Dissolved1859; 162 years ago (1859)
Preceded byRoundheads
Merged intoLiberal Party
IdeologyLiberalism (British)[1][2]
Classical liberalism[3]
Free trade[5]
Political positionCentre-left[6][7]
Colours  Orange

The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute monarchy, supporting a parliamentary system. The Whigs played a central role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and were the standing enemies of the Stuart kings and pretenders, who were Roman Catholic. The Whigs took full control of the government in 1715 and remained totally dominant until King George III, coming to the throne in 1760, allowed Tories back in. The Whig supremacy (1715–1760) was enabled by the Hanoverian succession of George I in 1714 and the failed Jacobite rising of 1715 by Tory rebels. The Whigs thoroughly purged the Tories from all major positions in government, the army, the Church, the legal profession and local offices. The party's hold on power was so strong and durable that historians call the period from roughly 1714 to 1783 the age of the Whig oligarchy.[9] The first great leader of the Whigs was Robert Walpole, who maintained control of the government (1721–1742) and whose protégé Henry Pelham also led (1743–1754).

While the Whigs and Tories began as loose groupings or tendencies, both became quite formal by 1784 with the ascension of Charles James Fox as the leader of a reconstituted Whig party, arrayed against the governing party of the new Tories under William Pitt the Younger. Both parties were founded on rich politicians more than on popular votes. Although there were elections to the House of Commons, only a few men controlled most of the voters. The Whig party slowly evolved during the 18th century. Its tendency supported the aristocratic families, generally the continued disenfranchisement of Catholics and toleration of nonconformist Protestants (the dissenters such as the Presbyterians) while the Tories favoured the relative smallholders (whether narrowly) or minor gentry with High Tories preferring high church elements or even the exiled Stuarts' claim to the throne (Jacobitism) and virtually all maintained the legitimacy of a strongly established Church of England. Later, the Whigs drew support from the emerging industrial reformists and mercantile class while the Tories drew support from farmers, landowners, imperial military spending and relatedly royalists.

By the first half of the 19th century, the Whig programme came to encompass the supremacy of parliament, free trade and acceleration of the completion of Catholic equal rights, the abolition of slavery and expansion of the franchise (suffrage). The 19th-century Whig support for Catholic emancipation was a complete reversal of the party's historic sharply anti-Catholic position in the late 17th century.[10]