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To What Extent Were the Tory Reforms, 1822-1830, ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’?

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The year 1822 has been traditionally regarded as a ‘turning point’ for Tory policies and attitude. The Cabinet reshuffle, replacing conservative Tories with ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’, and had been influenced by the ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith, seemed to effect a change in Tory policy. However, a significant case suggests that Tory reforms in this period were not so ‘liberal’ or ‘enlightened’.

The term ‘enlightened’ is used to describe party members’ open-mindedness to change and tolerance of new ideas and perspectives. ‘Liberal Toryism’ is a term used to describe the fashion of Tory policy after the supposed ‘turning point’ in government, and means that they were far more tolerant towards change and new ideas, and adopted the ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’ ideas suggested by philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith, who, respectively, wrote about ‘natural rights’ and economic reform. The three main ‘liberal’ ideas to which the party’s most ‘liberal’ Acts that were passed related were freedom, equality and tolerance. The phrase ‘Liberal Tory’ was coined in the 1940s by Brock.

Home Office reforms introduced were the Repeal of the Combination Act (1824/25), which granted workers the right to express their grievances due to the legislation of trade unions; Penal Code Reform, which made hundreds of minor crimes no longer punishable by death, which made the justice system fairer; The Gaols Act (1823), which gave inmates better conditions in prisons; and The Metropolitan Police Act (1829), which provided safety and peace of mind for civilians due to a lower crime rate.

Economic policies that may be seen as ‘liberal’, because they advance towards free-trade, are the Reduction in import duties, which consequently encouraged trading between Britain and other countries; the Modification of Navigation Duties, which reduced tariffs for certain countries; the Reciprocity of Duties Act (1823), which allowed the government to sign agreements with other countries to access each other’s ships freely; and the Modification of the Corn Laws (1828), which allowed the free transport of foreign wheat if British wheat sold at 7s a quarter, and this was subject to a sliding scale.

Religious reform was also regarded extremely important in the new Cabinet’s ‘liberal’ attitude. The Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts (1823) gave all non-Anglicans the right to hold jobs and offices in central government and town corporations. These laws had, before, prohibited such positions being held by non-Anglicans. However, this repeal did not apply to Catholics. The Catholic Emancipation Act (1829) legalised the sitting of Catholics in both houses of parliament and allow them to obtain positions in all important offices of state, except Monarch, Lord Chancellor and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, so they had increased representation in Parliament.

However, it is argued that this was not such a period of reform and enlightenment. This is due to a number of reasons. In regards to Home Office reform, it is suggested that Peel was more concerned with efficiency, and these reforms only came when the economy had recovered and post-war discontent had died down. The Combination Acts had to be amended, as striking was impossible and there was a fear of further discontent amongst workers because of this, although the amendment banned picketing, which made striking almost impossible in any case.

The economic reforms introduced during this period had already been planned by Wallace during the reactionary period and before the ‘turning point’ of 1822. Wallace recommended the relaxation of the Navigation Act. Vansittart had reinstated the Gold Standard in 1819, stabilising the currency and economy, and free-trade was a continuation of the policy taken up by William Pitt in the 1780s, but long suspended during the war. The government still relied on import duties for a substantial portion of its revenue and the Corn Laws still existed.

The religious reforms were also restricted, as although Irish Catholics were granted representation in Parliament, the number of Irish citizens eligible to vote was reduced dramatically, and a whole social class had been denied representation. This was due to the introduction of new voting qualifications; forty shillings freehold was replaced with a property qualification of �10. In addition, there were restrictions to the repeal of the Test and Corporations Acts, as non-Anglicans were still denied the right to hold positions such as Monarch, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Lord Chancellor.

The Gaols Act did not prove very effective and only applied to prisons in large cities, and its main purpose was to improve efficiency. It could also be argued that the Metropolitan Act was introduced to increase the government’s restraint on the public.

Finally, the ‘reshuffle’ of the cabinet does not seem so much to be a reinstatement of ‘enlightened’ politicians with fresh, ‘liberal’ ideas, as each of these ‘new men’ had served in the Cabinet during the reactionary phase.

In conclusion, as a revision of this period of apparent ‘liberalism’, it seems that it was not so. The reforms of the period all had limitations, the Cabinet consisted of existing members of the reactionary phase and the government only had efficiency and a means of evading parliamentary reform in mind. Therefore, it may be fair to state that 1822 is overstated as being a ‘turning point’. The historian, Eric Evans, expressed that Liverpool was simply following in the footsteps of Pitt in that he simply continued his policies introduced before the Napoleonic War. Liverpool believed that it was unsafe to introduce reforms during the protest period after the war. After the war, when the economy had recovered, he continued with Pitt’s reform and policies.

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