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For the U.S party, see Whig Party

The Whigs were a party in English politics from the late 1600s to the early 1800s. They were a liberal party who felt that Parliament should have more power then the monarchy. In the 19th century the Whigs became the British Liberal Party.[1]

The Whigs were dominant in British Parliament from 1688 to 1760, and again in the 1830s and 1840s. It was the name of a coalition of like-minded leaders of Parliament, and the Whigs were not organized among voters.

The term “Whig” was originally an abusive term for the country party under Shaftesbury in 1679. It was based on the aristocracy and from businessmen from the trading community and the City of London. It upheld parliamentary supremacy and toleration for nonconformist Protestants (but not for Catholics). The Whigs were primarily responsible for the Glorious Revolution of 1688; the "Whig Junto" was a powerful faction during the reigns of William III and Anne. The Whigs were united in opposition to the “Jacobites” (the followers of exiled James II) and put the Hanoverian George I in power. Tories at that time were suspected of disloyalty, so the Whigs under Walpole had a monopoly of power until George III became king in 1760. Then the Whigs were largely in opposition with the Tories dominant. Their great leader, and opponent of George III, was Charles James Fox.[2]

In the 18th century, Whigs were not organized as a party in the modern sense and consisted largely of personal groups contending for power among themselves, kept together by friendship and patronage rather than policies and principles. They were eclipsed by the new Toryism of the younger Pitt from 1783 and after the French Revolution many became Tories. They began to recover unity by supporting moral reforms, especially the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Catholics. They triumphed in 1830 as champions of Parliamentary reform. Earl Grey was a key leader as Prime Minister, and the Reform Act of 1832 was their signature measure, by broadening the franchise. It ended the system of "rotten borough" and "pocket boroughs" where elections were controlled by powerful families, and instead redistributed power on the basis of population. Only the rich and middle classes voted, so this shifted power away from the landed aristocracy to the urban middle classes. In 1832 they abolished slavery in the Empire, by purchasing and freeing the slaves, especially those in the Caribbean sugar islands. The Factory Act of 1832 reduced child labour. Thus between 1830 and 1841 they effected some major reforms. They also acquired many followers of Robert Peel after the Tory party split in 1846. In terms of image, "Tory" suggested gloomy, cynical and cautious, and somewhat sceptically of fancy notions like `freedom' and `progress'. "Whig," by contrast, was more optimistic and occasionally quite radical, placing little value on stuffy old customs. In terms of economic policy the Whigs favouring an open, `free trade' relationship rather than the old-fashioned "protectionist" ideas of the Tories. Increasingly after 1832 the term "Liberal" replaced “Whig”, so that by the late 1860s the term "Whig" was no longer used for current events. See British Liberal Party

See also

See also Whig Interpretation of History


  • John Carswell; The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggism. 1954 online edition
  • H. T. Dickinson; Walpole and the Whig Supremacy. 1973 online edition
  • Warren M. Elofson. The Rockingham Connection and the Second Founding of the Whig Party 1768-1773 1996
  • Keith Feiling; A History of the Tory Party, 1640-1714, 1924 online edition; The Second Tory Party, 1714-1832, 1938 online edition
  • J. R. Jones; The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678-1683, 1961 online edition
  • Ronald Buchanan McCallum; The Liberal Party from Earl Grey to Asquith (1963)
  • L. G. Mitchell. Charles James Fox and the Disintegration of the Whig Party, 1782-1794, (1971)
  • Loren Dudley Reid; Charles James Fox: a Man for the People, 1969 online edition
  • George Otto Trevelyan/ The Early History of Charles James Fox (1880) online edition
  • Basil Williams and C. H. Stuart; The Whig Supremacy, 1714-1760, 1962 online edition
  • E. L. Woodward; The Age of Reform, 1815-1870, 1938 online edition


  1. http://www.saburchill.com/history/chapters/chap4011.html
  2. In the American colonies, the term "Whig" was adopted by the patriots, who denounced the Loyalists and Tories in the colonies and in Britain.