Whigs and Tories

Discussion in 'Revolutionary War' started by markpeters, Dec 3, 2006.

  1. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    To get things moving, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to talk about the two political parties, at that time, in the United Kingdom.  Both of which still exist today, in different guises.  This perhaps explains the dynamics in the British system that made prosecuting a successful campaign so difficult.

    Whilst the term 'Tory', in the States, is commonly used to describe loyalists in the American colonies, it had been derived from the gaelic word 'Toraidhe' which means pursuer or robber.  This had been a term of abuse for the traditionalist supporters of the Roman Catholic heir to the throne - James Stuart, Duke of York.  As such, the Tories were a loose grouping of those who believed in maintaining the status quo.  They later became the Conservative Party, and have provided such Prime Ministers as William Pitt 'The Younger', the Duke of Wellington, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher.

    Those who were determined to maintain a Protestant throne were also subject to abuse, being labelled 'Whiggamores', or 'Whigs', which was an alternative term for dour Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters.  This was the major political power, in Great Britain, from the 1720s to 1780s, until Pitt the Younger gained a stranglehold, for the Tories, on the political system.  The Whigs were later transformed into the Liberal Party during the 1840s, and have subsequently become the Liberal Democrats; the third largest force in British politics. 

    As such, most of the events leading up to the Revolution came under Whig administrations, and not Tory.  It is perhaps not surprising that events leading up to the Revolution saw the British turn to the first long serving Tory Prime Minister in Lord North.  This understanding, perhaps, leads to answering a major question in how did the British manage to prosecute such an inept war.  The majority of British military commanders had achieved advancement under Whig political patronage, and then suddenly found themselves anwerable to a Tory administration.  The result was, well ...     
  2. MarylandRev

    MarylandRev New Member

    Thanks for the input Mark! It will be interesting to have your side of the war represented. 8)
  3. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    Thanks Mark,

    When you look at things from a British perspective, you probably see things somewhat differently. :-[

    However, a little knowledge of British society, and particularly issues surrounding patronage, might explain why we appeared to make some inexplicable decisions. The first being, a political party (The Whigs) representing British mercantile interests, creating the seeds of division, and then another (The Tories) attempting to maintain a status quo that was impossible to restore. The second, with commanding officers having obtained their positions through Whig patronage, then proceeding to do as little, and ineptly, as possible in order to cause problems for the government based thousands of miles away.

    Despite these two major hindrances, and French assistance, we should have still won. :'( Still, that's another story.
  4. MarylandRev

    MarylandRev New Member

    I agree Totally Mark! I think the Confederates had a better chance of winning the Civil War than the Continentals did the Rev War. But this country was stocked with all sorts of rebels....Political and Religious who disdained the English way of life. Puritan's in Massachusetts, Baptisit's in Rhode Island, Quaker's in Pennsylvania, Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch in Delaware and New York and Scots, Irish and Cavaliers in the South. Not including the morale problems the Brits had. Desertions were pretty high, especially among the Hessian's. Thanks for your input about your officer corps not supporting the war. I never realized that, however that would be a major problem if you allowed your Military promotions to be based upon political appointments or by buying your title. 8)
  5. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    Indeed Mark,

    I hope we can explore some of your points over the next few months.  I must add though, that at this time buying peerages was not a common event, although commisions at a junior level was. 

    It wasn't until the first entrepeneurs had made their money out of the Industrial Revolution that we started seeing peerages, and associated lands, changing hands for money.  Adam Smith goes into great detail about this in The Wealth of Nations.  Senior commissions were not bought, but usually received due to political patronage and/or family name.  No doubt, I'll have the chance to go into this at a later date.   ::)  Certainly, Great Britain was not a society based on meritocracy!

    Oh, I forgot! You can put me in the Tory camp. ;)
  6. The General

    The General New Member


    I really appreciate the effort in explaining the difference. Frankly, I never did have a good or strong understanding of it.

    If you would, could you please elaborate on the custom of buying and selling commissions? It's really an alien concept to most of us.

  7. markpeters

    markpeters New Member


    The explanation was my pleasure, and just wanted people to realise that many of the 'seeds were sown' well before Lord North and the Tories. I also think that an apology is in order, here. I promised to explain the commissions issue, for you, ages ago. Now seems a good time. :-[

    Firstly, a bit of light reading. The source is: Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade (Penguin Books, 1958), pp. 28-30

    "The purchase system, under which a man first bought his commission and then paid for each subsequent step in rank, and which enabled a rich man to buy the command of a regiment over the heads of more efficient officers, appears at first sight so childishly unjust, so evidently certain to lead to disaster, that it is almost impossible to believe that sensible people ever tolerated, much less supported it. Yet the purchase system expressed a principle which is one of the foundations of the British Constitution; famous victories were won by the British Army while it was officered by purchase, and it was upheld by so great a master of military administration as the Duke of Wellington.

    No sentiment is more firmly rooted in the English national character than a hatred of militarism and military dictatorship. ‘An armed disciplined force is in its essence dangerous to liberty,’ wrote Burke, and Parliament in its dealings with the Army has always been concerned, above all else, to ensure that no British Army shall be in a position to endanger the liberties of the British people.

    The vital period in the formation of Britain's policy towards her Army was the period of government by Cromwell's Major-Generals. The people of England were then subjected to a military dictatorship, they were ruled by Army officers who were professional soldiers, and, who, though admittedly the finest soldiers in the world, usually had no stake in the country, and often were military adventurers. Their government was harsh and arbitrary, and the nation came to detest the very name of the Army.

    After the Restoration, nation and Parliament were equally determined that never again should the Army be in the hands of men likely to bring about a military revolution and impose a military dictatorship. With this object, purchase was introduced when a standing Army was formed in 1683. Men were to become officers only if they could pay down a substantial sum for their commission; that is, if they were men of property with a stake in the country, not military adventurers. As a secondary consideration the purchase price acted as a guarantee of good behaviour, a man dismissed the service forfeited what he had paid. From that date it was the settled policy both of Parliament and of the Crown to draw the officers of the British Army from the class which had everything to lose and nothing to gain from a military revolution. The formation of an Army on the lines of Continental models, officered by professional soldiers, dependent on their pay and looking to the service to make their fortunes, was deliberately avoided. ‘Parliament has never sought to attract to the command of the army men dependent on their pay, either to hold their place in Society as gentlemen, or to maintain the higher social status assumed by Military officers over the civil community,’ wrote Clode, the nineteenth-century authority on military administration. Men of no fortune were not wanted; if they chose to come in it was at their own risk. It was laid down that ‘the pay of an officer is an honorarium, not a merces’, and as late as 1869—purchase was substantially abolished in 1870—the pay of officers remained almost precisely what it had been in the reign of William III, though the pay of private soldiers and non-commissioned officers had been repeatedly increased.

    As the eighteenth century passed into the nineteenth the people of England had reason to congratulate themselves. Gazing across the Channel they observed country after country groaning under military despotism. They observed the fate of France, bled white for Napoleon's wars, passing from revolution to revolution; Spain starving under military oppression; Austria, ruled by an army. where even to speak of liberty was a crime. They alone were free. Thanks to their military-system the country which had the finest troops in Europe, which had broken Napoleon's power in the Peninsula and crushed him at Waterloo, had not, and had never shown any signs of having, a revolutionary army."

    The link to that extract is from an American site, and is as follows:

    I have a number of issues with the extract about some of the assumptions made. For example, the Parliamentarian Army was not staffed by professional soldiers at the time of our 2nd Civil War. But, it provides a good starting point to what the system entailed.

    Generally, I might agree that the British Army was the most professional in the world, yet this was despite the system - not because of it, as suggested. Whilst it is fair to say that Wellesley was outstanding, there were many that were not. Many of them were sent to the colonies in the 1770s! ???

    Okay, some of the things he ommitted. In British society; really since medieaval times, it had been common-place for the eldest son to inherit in entirety, the second to join the church, and the third to make their best way in life. At the time of British expansion; say from the 1750s onwards, it was a good way of advancement for a younger son to seek his fortune with the army, navy, or West/East India Trading Companies.

    Therefore, a father would buy his young son a commission as ensign, in the army, or midshipman, in the navy (the most junior British commissioned ranks at that time). With regards to the army, this would continue until captain when future advancement was determined by patronage. The navy was different as progression past midshipman, to lieutenant, was by exam and then seniority. By the time a naval officer reached captain, he was once again reliant on patronage. Rather than Horseguards, it was to the Admiralty.

    If an army officer decided to resign his commission, he would often sell this to the highest bidder. The navy had no such system, although rich parents would often throw a successful captain a few guineas to gain their son a place as midshipman.

    However, at time of war this system was not rigorously enforced and commissions were often made by merit. Even non-commissoned officers got on the first step of the ladder, despite the obvious prejudice that would have been exhibited towards them. I would suggest that this was a major reason why British Napoleonic armies began to achieve results. Some of the worst would have either died or resigned, for a quieter less dangerous life. Merit would have started to come into play ...
  8. The General

    The General New Member

    It seems an odd and unworkable system to me, but it was what it was. That system led to the advancement of incompetents such as Lord Cardigan, but it also produced some very fine officers such as Lords Cornwallis. So, I guess it's a mixed bag.

    Thanks for the explanation, Mark. It's very helpful.

  9. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    This is probably a good time to mention that Charles Cornwallis was most definitely a Tory, and received 'troubleshooting' posts in Ireland and India after the war.

    However, Henry Clinton had achieved his position through the patronage of the Whigs, which would explain his difficulties in working with London and Cornwallis. This, despite Clinton's previous military achievements. Such were the political tensions within the British military hierarchy at that time.
  10. mvkwasny

    mvkwasny New Member

    I would offer a slightly different opinion on the quality of the generals sent to America. I believe Howe, Burgoyne, Clinton, and Cornwallis, as well as many of the lower level generals and officers, were effective military leaders, perhaps as good as England had to offer in the late 18th century. But I agree, politics interfered a lot with the war. But then when don't politics interfere in war? I'm not sure if the politics of the Revolutionary War were any more disruptive or devisive than in other wars fought by democratic nations. And Engand was democratic enough in the 1770's to face such disruption. Despite the interesting system for commissioning and promotion, most of the British leaders were veterans of past wars, and had been successful in those past wars.
  11. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    mvkwasny provides an interesting list of British officers, which in itself highlights the difficulties faced. Hopefully, these will be explored at a later date, but they all had major failings apart from, in my honest opinion, Cornwallis. Even Cornwallis could be considered too delegatory when you consider debacles like Cowpens. I'd be more than happy to discuss some of these under the British military commanders section whilst I still maintain a thick skin, if any of them are of particular interest. I have quite strong views on some of the US commanders too! :-X

    At that time, Great Britain was most certainly not a democratic country; but run by a few families and vested interests. Corruption was endemic, and the vast majority of Britons disenfranchised. It was also politically unstable as the Tories held office, but the Whigs still maintained support in much of the establishment.

    By the time that Great Britain was involved in the Napoleonic Wars, the Tories had wrested much of the institutional power away from the Whigs due to longevity of power, the establishment of their own power-base, and the personalities of the the likes of Pitt and Dundas. Hence, we see relatively junior officers such as Wellesley and Nelson being 'pushed' up the promotional ladder, despite protests from Whig politicians who had their own favourites. With all due respect, I believe that no other war that Britain fought overseas was so adversely affected by political intrigue. :'(

  12. mvkwasny

    mvkwasny New Member


    I would enjoy a discussion of different leaders from the war. Just to offer an opinion, I personally believe Cornwallis was perhaps the least effectiver of the major British leaders in America. But I'llleave that to another discussion on the commanders board.

    As for politics, I agree that politics played a major role in the American War. But politics had a major impact in the War of Spanish Succession, concerning Whigs and Marlborough, and the debate between Whig strategy (land war in Holland) and the Tories (naval war, and perhaps the Spanish peninsula). Also, politics concerning the Stuarts, James II, and all the issues that continued from the Exclusion Crisis 1678-1680 and the Gorious Revolution of 1688-1689. Even in the Seven Years War, politics, William Pitt's rise and then fall, and the balance of war between Europe, the empire, and where to fight, all affected the course of the war. I do believe, and agree with you,that after the American war, the British government was overhauled to an extent, and politics had been reined in some by the time of the French Revolution and especially the Napoleonic Wars.

    As for Great Britain being democratic, certainly not by 21st century standards. But for Europe in the mid-18th century, it had enough democratic characteristics that the government had to pay attention to the populous, mostly of course the wealthy and powerful, but to some extent even the commoners (out of fear of riots, of which there were many before and during the American war).

    Hopefully no one will need a thick skin for these discussions! Just some good, honest, all for fun, historical discussion and debate.

  13. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    Another Mark?

    That's at least three of us :eek:

    I look forward to discussing all these issues with you. Nice sentiments about future discussion by the way. ;D

    Best wishes,

  14. Uncle Ben

    Uncle Ben Member

    Greetings and a Merry Christmas to all
    This forum will be great fun and a big learning experience for me. I have already read much which will need time to digest. I take it that Eric is a Yank and Mark is a Brit. As a RA reenactor and a former Marine, my attention has been mostly military with politics on the back burner. Cornwallis and William Phillips are two of my personal heroes. Lord Percy is a third.
    FYI, Many years ago, we met a Brit family at Williamsburg. The father was stationed at the embassy and the daughter was starting high school. she joined my gun crew and served loyally and most efficiently for three and a half years. Just recently she earned her PhD at Cambridge. Her doctoral thesis (book) is The Role of National Defense in British political Debate, 1794-1812.
    With your permission I hope to introduce her to this forum specially with regard to Wigs and Tories.
    Another FYI, like the Navy, the RA officers were promoted by merit not purchase.
    YMH &OS, Ben Newton Capt Lt RA fourthbnra@hotmail.com
  15. tonyt

    tonyt New Member

    Thank you for the detailed explanation between the two Whigs and Tories . I had a slight knowledge , enough to be dangerous , from dealings I have had with people in London . I think from Mark's explanation at the time I would have fallen into the Tory camp . Which means if I would have been around at that time I may have been writing this from Halifax .
    The explanations are quite interesting .
  16. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    With Tony and Ben, I'm not feeling quite so lonely now.  Anymore loyalists lurking out there?

    Ben, make sure that your friend contributes to the site!  No invitation is required. ;D

    As for me being English, I thought I had kept that a secret due to my impartial comments. ???

    Best wishes,

  17. MarylandRev

    MarylandRev New Member

    we get enough of you guys and we can hold a Tar and Feathering party! ;D
  18. markpeters

    markpeters New Member

    we get enough of you guys and we can hold a Tar and Feathering party!

    Well, I expect most are waiting to see which side comes out on top, before declaring their allegiance. Never happened before, of course! :eek:

    Best wishes,

  19. Uncle Ben

    Uncle Ben Member

    I egerly await the opening of the British Commanders site. if Cornwallis was a Tory then I most likely would have been one as well. Does anyone know to which party MG William Phillips belonged?
    YMH & OS, Ben Newton
  20. markpeters

    markpeters New Member


    Pleased to see that you're able to post again!

    Major General William Phillips of the Royal Artillery? Other than his capture at Saratoga, I know nothing about him. Probably too professional to be tied up in politics. :D A look at his family history might show up something, but my guess is that he was your typical professional soldier.

    Best wishes,


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