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"Whigs" & "Tories"

The Whigs go back to the roundheads, a member or adherent of the Parliamentary party in the English Civil War of the 17th century, so called from their custom of wearing the hair close cut: the Tories to the cavaliers, 17th century royalists, those who fought on the side of Charles the First. The Tories were always the champions of church interest. Whigs were always "more ready than their opponents to patronize merit independant of pedigree." The Whig party "enlisted wealth, activity and intelligence from many quarters, it was a minority party prior to the Industrial Revolution. The landed interest and the Church together made up far the greater part of old England. ... The Whigs could hope to prevail only through the divisions of the majority and through their own closer union. ... the Whigs were agreed on the main political questions of the day [during the reign of Queen Anne; 1702-1714]; religious toleration for the protestants; war with France by land as well as by sea; the Scottish union; and the Hanoverian Succession. On all of these occasions the Tories were at variance with one another."1

During the latter half of the 18th century, during the times of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the political powers still broke down into two factions (a preferable expression than that of parties which is a modern day term applied to highly organized political groups): the Whigs and Tories. Whigs usually traced their lines back to the families who supported the Glorious Revolution. Lord Rosebery when touching upon the political careers of Fox and Burke (His Lordship considered neither of them Whigs as they were too extreme in their position2) wrote:

The Whig creed lay in a triple divine right: the divine right of the Whig families to govern the Empire; to be maintained by the Empire; to prove their superiority by humbling and bullying the sovereign of the Empire. Grenville was an admirable embodiment of this form of faith."3

[1] Trevelyan's England Under Queen Anne, vol. 1, p. 194.

[2] As Lord Rosebery wrote, "Burke was a unique and undefinable factor in politics, for both parties might claim him, and both with justice." [Pitt (London: MacMillan, 1891) at p. 112.]

[3] Ibid., pp. 112-3.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)