Robert Peel

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J. Linell: Portrait of Sir Robert Peel , 1838. Peel's signature:
Signature Robert Peel.PNG

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet (born February 5, 1788 in Chamber Hall near Bury , Lancashire , †  July 2, 1850 in London ), was a British statesman and politician . He is considered the founder of the Conservative Party .

Peel was Prime Minister to 18 April 1835 and from 30 August 1841 to June 30, 1846 and represented as a deputy in the December 10, 1834 the House of the interests of the landed gentry (the " Gentry ") and the clergy in the Kingdom as well as the interests of English Upper class in Ireland .


He was the eldest son of Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet (1750-1830), from his marriage to Ellen Yates. His father was a wealthy cotton manufacturer and Member of Parliament for Tamworth , Staffordshire, and promoted his son's education for a political career at an early age.

Peel attended the Harrow School , coinciding with Lord Byron , and studied at Christ Church College of Oxford University . He was the first student to complete two subjects, namely Classics and Mathematics , each with first-class honors according to the new study regulations .

With the financial support of his father, he ran in 1809 in Borough Cashel in County Tipperary, Ireland as a candidate for the by-election to the British House of Commons. Cashel was then a rotten borough with only 24 eligible voters and Peel was elected unopposed on April 15, 1809. Like his father, he supported the Tory government of William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland . In his first parliamentary speeches, Peel drew attention to himself by justifying the government's war policy with regard to the so far unsuccessful support of Austria and Spain against Napoleon Bonaparte and later the unsuccessful landing in the Kingdom of Holland .

State Secretaries

Robert Peel

After only a year in the House of Commons, the Duke of Portland offered him the post of Parliamentary Undersecretary in the War and Colonies Department . He served there under Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool .

When Lord Liverpool became Prime Minister in May 1812, he named Peel Chief Secretary for Ireland . In the parliamentary elections in October / November 1812 Peel was re-elected to the House of Commons, this time as a member of Parliament for the borough of Chippenham in Wiltshire, England . As Chief Secretary for Ireland, he worked to reduce nepotism within the Irish administration and to consolidate finances. In particular, he fought against improper access to money from the state pension fund. He ended the sale of public office, leaving only the character and professional qualifications of the applicant to be determined when such posts were awarded, and ended the practice of removing public office holders who voted against the government. In addition, he tried to preserve the fragile rule of a small Anglican upper class over the Catholic majority in Ireland . Catholics and Presbyterians were also barred from membership in parliament and high state offices because, due to the Test Act or the Corporation Act , they had to take other oaths in addition to the supreme oath on the king, with which they de facto important basic convictions of their religion in favor of Anglican teaching would have revoked. To maintain this order, he had a police force founded in 1814, which later became the Royal Irish Constabulary . He campaigned against the emancipation of Catholics and took the view that Catholics cannot become members of Parliament because they refused to take the test oath of the British King . Before a bill by Henry Grattan for more rights for Catholics was voted in parliament on May 9, 1817 , Peel held a passionate opposition - the bill was then rejected by 221 to 245 votes.

In 1817 Peel decided to withdraw from his post in Ireland. This upset the Irish Protestants in the House of Commons. 57 of them signed a petition urging him not to leave office. The University of Oxford recognized Peel's "service to Protestantism" by inviting him to be their MP in the House of Commons, which he accepted.

As chairman of the Bullion Commission , he was tasked with stabilizing British finances after the end of the Napoleonic Wars . In 1819 he enforced a law named after him "Peel's Bill", which ordered the restoration of the gold standard , which had only been abolished in 1797, by 1821.

Interior minister

Robert Peel

In 1822 he returned to the government of Lord Liverpool when he accepted the office of Home Secretary. In his capacity as Home Secretary, he presented a series of reforms to British criminal law. His changes to the Criminal Code resulted in fewer death penalty offenses. He also reformed the prison system by rewarding prison guards and training inmates.

In February 1827, Lord Liverpool suffered a stroke, resigned and was replaced by George Canning as Prime Minister. Canning was an advocate of Catholic emancipation who was strongly opposed to Peel. Believing that he would not be able to serve under the new prime minister, he resigned.

Canning himself died less than four months later and after a brief tenure from Prime Minister Frederick Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich , Peel returned to his post as Minister of the Interior in the government of the Duke of Wellington . During this time he was perceived as number two of the Tories, behind Wellington.

But the forces exerted on the new ministry by proponents of Catholic equality were too great. Peel voted in February 1828 for Russell's motion to repeal the Test Act and the Corporation Act. On July 26, 1828, Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, wrote to Peel. He claimed Ireland was on the brink of rebellion and asked if Peel could not use his influence to make concessions to Catholics. Although Peel was against Catholic emancipation for twenty years, this letter from Lord Anglesey encouraged him to reconsider his position.

Peel now wrote to Wellington that "although emancipation is a great danger, civil war would be a greater danger". He added that, as William Pitt rightly said, "to maintain a constant demeanor under changed circumstances is to be a slave to highly useless vanity". Although the Duke of Wellington agreed with Peel, King George IV was violently opposed to Catholic emancipation. In February 1829, Peel successfully brought a bill to the lower and upper houses, which made it possible for Catholics to enter parliament and most public offices by changing the formula of the oath. With Wellington's government threatened with resignation, the king reluctantly agreed to a change in the law. When Peel presented the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 on March 5, 1829 , he told the House of Commons that credit for this measure was due to its longtime competitors Charles Fox and George Canning.

The University of Oxford, which had chosen him, then withdrew their confidence in him; even his brothers and his father declared against him. Peel felt compelled to give up his parliamentary seat because what first attracted him to this constituency was his opposition on the issue. So that Peel could stay in Parliament, put his party friend Sir Manasseh Lopes, 1st Baronet (1755-1831), from his mandate for the Rotten Borough Westbury in Wiltshire, whereupon Peel was elected to the House of Commons in the following by-election of this borough and his Cabinet position retained.

For a long time, politicians were concerned about the law and order problems in London . In 1829 Peel decided to reorganize the way the police guarded London and initiated the establishment of the Metropolitan Police , the first uniformed non- paramilitary police force in England. This improvement in police violence in the capital can still be remembered today in the names Peelers (outdated slang) or Bobbies (after Peel's first name) used by the police. Although initially unpopular, the measures proved very effective in fighting crime. Therefore, after his tenure in 1835, all cities in the United Kingdom were ordered to form their own police force.

On May 3, 1830, on the death of his father, he inherited the title of Baronet , of Drayton Manor in the County of Stafford and of Bury in the County Palatine of Lancaster , which had been awarded to this on November 29, 1800 in the Baronetage of Great Britain.

In the general election of 1830 Peel ran in his father's former constituency, Tamworth, and remained a member of the House of Commons for this borough until his death. At this time, there was a change of mood in favor of a liberal parliamentary reform, which should give the bourgeoisie a greater share in power. This mood was further promoted by the accession to the throne of Wilhelm IV and the outbreak of the French July Revolution . The Wellington government resigned on November 16, 1830 was replaced on November 22, 1830 by the Whig government under Charles Gray, 2nd Earl Gray .

Peel's constituencies
Years MP for
1809-1812 Cashel City (Tipperary), Ireland
1812-1817 Chippenham, England
1817-1829 Oxford University
1829-1830 Westbury, England
1830-1850 Tamworth, England

For the first time in over twenty years of membership in the House of Commons, Peel was now a member of the opposition. He totally rejected Grey's proposals for parliamentary reform. Between July 12 and 27, 1831, Peel gave 48 speeches in the House of Commons against the project. One of his main arguments was that the Rotten Boroughs system had enabled remarkable men to get into Parliament. Peel, who now took over the leadership of the opposition in the House of Commons, fought 18 months, admittedly in vain, against the reform law introduced by the Gray government.

After the Reform Act of 1832 was passed, the Tories were badly beaten in the general election that followed. Though victorious in Tamworth, Peel, now leader of the Tories, had just over a hundred MPs to count on against Grey's government.

When Peel entered the reformed parliament in February 1833, he found the old supporters of his party melted down by almost two thirds. He gathered these remains around himself, in a short time also drew many Whigs over to him, who were terrified of the consequences of the reforms that had taken place and the connection between the Ministry and the radicals, and so he was the founder of a new party in Parliament (Peelites), which between centered on the rigidity of the old Tories and the agility of the younger Whigs.

Those few years were extremely turbulent, but perhaps too many reforms had been carried out. King William IV harbored this conviction and again entrusted the Tories with the formation of a government, the governments of Earl Gray and Viscount Melbourne subsequently.

Prime Minister (1834-1835)

In November 1834, King William IV dismissed the Whig government and appointed Robert Peel as the new Prime Minister. But he was in Italy at the time, which is why Wellington was the temporary incumbent for those three weeks in November and December that Peel needed to return.

Peel immediately called a general election and during the January 1835 election campaign appeared what became known as the "Tamworth Manifesto". In the election speech to his voters in Tamworth, Peel promised to accept the Reform Act of 1832 and argued for a policy of moderate reform to preserve Britain's important traditions. The Tamworth Manifesto marked the shift from the old, repressive Toryism to a new, more enlightened conservatism . Peel laid the foundation for the Conservative Party of England from the ruins of the Tory Party.

The elections brought Peel more supporters, although there were still more Whigs than Tories in the House of Commons. Regardless of this, the king commissioned him to form a government. With the support of the Whigs, Peel's government passed the Dissenters' Marriage Bill and the English Tithe Bill . The Whigs allied themselves by making agreements with the Irish radicals of Daniel O'Connell to defeat the government in various proposals. However, because Peel was constantly overruled by the House of Commons, he resigned from office with his minority government on April 8, 1835.

This is also because the House of Commons accepted a proposal by Lord Russell to transfer part of the Irish church property for non-church purposes. Again Lord Melbourne took over the administration and Peel the opposition in the lower house. Nevertheless, as he promised, he supported the government in all moderately liberal measures. In 1836 he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow .

In May 1839 he was again given the opportunity to form a government. This time from the new monarch, Queen Victoria . Since it would have become a minority government too, he wanted another token of confidence from the Queen. In the so-called court ladies affair, the queen opposed the idea of ​​dismissing staff related or close to the Whigs from her house, and Peel renounced the formation of a government. The Whigs retained power.

Prime Minister (1841–1846)

Peel received a second chance to lead a majority government after the next election. In August 1841 Robert Peel was charged again with the formation of a conservative government. He again promised to implement moderate reforms.

In September 1841, after Lord Palmerston had previously been defeated in the House of Commons for his customs policy, a new ministry came together under Peel's leadership, which united the heads of the Tories and the moderate Whigs and constituted one of the most memorable episodes in British history. The same triumphed in the question of the Corn Laws and enforced a temporary income tax. Peel then proceeded with great caution in reducing the high protective tariffs.

Over the past few years Britain had spent more than it received. Peel decided that the government should raise taxes. On March 11, 1842, he announced the introduction of an income tax of 7 percent. He added that he hoped this would allow the government to reduce tariffs on imported goods.

In 1843, Peel again had trouble with Daniel O'Connell, who was leading a campaign against Union law. O'Connell announced a large meeting to be held at Clontarf . The British government announced that the venture was illegal. When O'Connell continued his efforts at the scheduled Clontarf meeting, he was arrested and jailed for conspiracy.

Peel tried to overcome the religious conflict in Ireland by founding the Devon Commission , which should examine "the laws and practices with regard to the land acquisition in Ireland". He also increased the grant for Maynooth, a college for the Irish priesthood, from £ 9,000 to £ 26,000 a year.

The second bank act of 1844 was a reaction to the victory of the British Currency School around David Ricardo and Robert Torrens over the British Banking School around Thomas Tooke and John Fullarton . After that, the Bank of England was not allowed to issue more banknotes than it had gold reserves. From then on, only she was allowed to circulate banknotes in Wales and England . The main features of today's two tier banking system originated in the UK.

A second praised act by this government was directed at the reformers themselves, who had the support of the new industrial empires in their constituencies. The Factory Act ( Factory Act ) of 1844 aimed more down to them as the traditional stronghold of the Conservatives, the landed gentry. It restricted the number of hours women and children could work in the factories and set rudimentary safety standards for the machines. Interestingly, this was a continuation of his own father's parliamentary work. Robert Peel Sr. was notable for his reform of working conditions in the first half of the 19th century.

The most outstanding achievement of the Peel government, however, was what was to spell its downfall. This time, Peel turned against the landlords by abolishing the import duties on grain Corn Laws - which protected local agriculture from unpleasant competition. The Manchester Liberals , particularly the Anti-Corn Law League , also pushed for the abolition of the Corn Laws .

The debate about the abolition of the Corn Laws also overshadows the political controversy over relief efforts to benefit Ireland during the Great Famine in Ireland . On the official justification that these tariffs made the import of food more expensive for Ireland too, Robert Peel argued for the abolition of the Corn Laws . Historians, however, consider this argument to be a pretext, since, as evidenced by the parliamentary debates at the time, hardly any MPs assumed that the abolition of the Corn Laws would reduce the Irish famine. Peel's parliamentary speeches also show that Ireland, due to the great dominance of the agricultural sector, would belong to the parts of the country for which the abolition of the Corn Laws would have to be disadvantageous.

In 1846 Peel introduced three legislative proposals, the first of which requested a complete abolition of the grain tariffs after three years, the second a new reduction in the general tariff, and the third asked for coercive measures to protect property and life in Ireland. The grain and tariff bill were adopted, but the Irish compulsory bill was rejected through the efforts of a coalition of protective tariffs and radicals, Whigs and Irish.

His own party refused to support it, but with a majority of the Whigs and the Radicals, two bills passed Parliament on June 29, 1846. This decision split the conservative faction. A subsequent submission was thrown down as a direct consequence and Peel gave up the following day.

Although the Grain Acts were repealed in 1846, the Conservative party remained split and Peel was forced to resign by the party's protective tariff supporters.

Later years

Peel was subsequently the leader of a middle party that came closer to the moderate Whigs than the Tories. In particular, he proved himself to be a mainstay of the government in 1847-48, whose free trade principles he defended wholeheartedly.

Robert Peel continued to pay his respects to the House of Commons, giving considerable assistance to Lord John Russell and his government from 1846-47. He remained true to his conservative principles. He remained influential in some important areas, such as the promotion of British free trade, because he positioned himself with some supporters ( Peelites ) as a middle-class party.

On June 28, 1850, he gave a momentous address on Greece and Lord Palmerston's foreign policy . The following day, when Peel rode up Constitution Hill, he was thrown from his horse. He was seriously injured and died of his injuries on July 2, 1850.

Statue in Parliament Square , London


The Peel River in the Australian state of New South Wales is named after Robert Peel .


  • Daniel A. Benda: Robert Peel's Financial System or On the Advantages of Income Tax in Contrast to Government Bonds and Interest Reductions. Hirschwald, Berlin 1842 digitized


Web links

Commons : Robert Peel  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ramsay: Sir Robert Peel. P. 12.
  2. Jenkins: Sir Robert Peel. P. 7.
  3. ^ Hansard : Roman Catholic Question. May 9, 1817 ( ).
  4. Baronetage: PEEL of Drayton Manor, Staffs at Leigh Rayment's Peerage
  5. Cheryl already hard Baily: From the Corn Laws to Free Trade. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006, ISBN 978-0-262-19543-0 , p. 176
  6. Christine Kinealy: A Death-Dealing Famine. The Great Hunger in Ireland. Pluto Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-7453-1074-9 , p. 58.
predecessor title successor
Robert Peel Baronet, of Drayton Manor and of Bury
Robert Peel