How successful was Peel's 'Great Ministry' of 1841-46
To answer this question it is important to consider what Peel did and why he did it. I think it is important to start with what Peel's attitude at this time was like. Ever since the Catholic emancipation saga ultras had partly lost trust in Peel and thought of him as a traitor. When Peel started his career he made a speech about his hate for Catholics and the fact that they didn't deserve emancipation. Peel also said before the election that he would not repeal the Corn Laws although the main reason for this was probably to oppose Whig ideals and to win the elections.
Peel's party had of course now become the Conservative party that gave the impression that they had new ideas and new thinking would be employed in the policies of the party. Peel owed a lot to the 'enlightened period' under Lord Liverpool's ministry when he was made one of the key ministers.
In the 1841 election, however, historians have argued that Peel won the election because of his traditional Tory rather than Conservative or enlightened ideas.
As far as social reform was concerned these were the changes that Peel made:
1. The 1842 mines act, which was a response to the dangerous working conditions revealed in the report of the royal commission that Peel had setup. This meant that all children under the age of ten were not allowed to work in the mines and women were also forbidden to work underground.
2. The factory act of 1844, which was mainly the work of Home secretary Sir James Graham. This meant that the working hours for under 13's in factories would be reduced and that there would be better safety improvements in factories.
3. The railway act was also passed in 1843, which was the work of the President of the board of trade William Gladstone. This would mean that train activities would actually be regulated and also that each company would have to have at least one train per day that stopped at every station on the line.
These changes seem to show that Peel cared for the people, even the working class. The factory act in Particular showed how strongly Peel was in favour of Free trade when he offered to resign after Lord Ashley said that working hours for all should be reduced to 12 hours. Peel felt that there should be freedom for people to work as long as THEY want. Peel agreed a compromise with Ashley allowing women's hours to be cut down.
Peel also made some financial reforms in his 'Great ministry'. The country was in a poor economic state and harvest had also been pretty poor recently. Another serious problem was that the Whigs had left a deficit of over ÃÂ£2,000,000. Peel wanted to solve all this problems and tackle poverty. Peel summed up his aims with a couple of sentences,
"We must make this country a cheap country for living, and thus induce people to remain and settle here- enable them to consume more so they have more to spend".
This started with the 1842 budget in which the main focus was to reintroduce income tax, and to have a gradual removal or lowering of tariffs on imported goods. The income tax was a good idea because it would charge only 7 pence per pound on incomes over ÃÂ£130p.a. and wouldn't really effect these people. The income tax was originally proposed as a temporary measure for 3 years but it was so successful that Peel persuaded parliament to renew it for another 3 years. The money raised would help remove the massive budget deficit that the poor government of the Whigs gad left. This was a revolutionary measure by Peel. Since Peel's government ended no ministry has been able to afford to abandon this measure.
The lowering of tariffs was done by Peel because he believed in a certain group of people calling themselves the Manchester School. They believed that the tariffs on over 1200 commodities were hampering the growth of British industry. Peel was a believer in free trade and he also knew that these tariffs stopped foreign countries from trading with Britain as much as they would have liked to. After 1845 duties on over 600 articles had been removed and duties on 500 others greatly reduced. This reform worked exactly as Peel had intended. Trade revived, exports increased and the rates of unemployment and prices fell. This was the beginning of a golden age of prosperity for Britain lasting until the 1870's.
Other measures such as the Bank charter act 1844 were also introduced to place Britain on a much better financial footing of stability than ever before.
Peel's Irish policy is also very important if one is to judge the success of his ministry. One crucial moment as far as Ireland was concerned was when O Connell, a fierce enemy of Peel held a meeting at Clontarf but Peel banned the meeting and arrested O Connell. O Connell was initially given a one-year sentence in jail (or gaol) and given a fine of ÃÂ£2,000. Although this verdict was crushed at the appeal this signalled the end of any real influence that O Connell had on the Irish people. Peel had kept his cool and scored an important victory. A group calling itself 'Young Ireland' would now take over as the word of the Irish people. Young Ireland, however, were disorganized and often quarreled among themselves. They didn't really have any clear objectives so they didn't really pose a threat to Peel as much as O Connell did.
Peel no decided to set up the 'Devon Commission' to 'inquire into the law and practice in respect of the occupation of land in Ireland'. The commission found out about many injustices about land owning in Ireland. In July 1844 Heytesbury was appointed as Lord lieutenant of Ireland. He held similar views as Peel about granting concessions to Roman Catholics and was the opposite to his predecessor Grey who was a supporter of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. As peel wanted to improve the relations between Protestants and Catholics he introduced the Irish colleges bill 1844. Peel proposed to establish three new Queen's colleges to educate Irishmen regardless of their backgrounds. O Connell and the Catholic Church opposed these. The latter called them 'godless colleges' determined to undermine their influence but nevertheless these colleges were built in Belfast, Cork and Galway. The Maynooth act 1845 was also introduced to help Maynooth college and for Peel to win moderate Catholic support. Peel offered a lump sum of ÃÂ£30,000 for it's rebuilding, after all it had been on the verge of closing down, and Peel also increased its annual grant. This act was very controversial and although one hundred and forty nine Tory backbenchers voted against this the grant was passed. Peel's critics said he had performed a major U-turn and threatened the whole basis of the Anglican Church in Ireland. These arguments were rather weak because the priests who were being trained in these colleges were very influential in the eyes of the Peasantry and if they were telling the peasantry to listen to England then they would. If this didn't happen then there would be the threat of serious violence and perhaps even revolution because the priests would be telling the peasants that the English were not helping the Irish people and were taking their wealth and land.
The move that led to the downfall of Peel was to repeal the Corn Laws, which had originally been passed during the Napoleonic wars. Peel knew that to implement his ideas of free trade the Corn Laws would have to be repealed. There were many others who believed what Peel said about the Corn Laws. One of the main reasons that the Corn Laws were introduced in 1846 is the Irish famine. The main food for the Irish had been potato but because of a mystery disease the Irish lost even this bit of hope. The Corn Laws prevented food from going to Ireland for as much as the Irish could afford. Although Peel had secretly imported corn from the United States this was not a long-term solution. Peel knew that the situation was so desperate that he had to repeal the Corn Laws. It is fair to say that Peel would probably have repealed the laws anyway but maybe not so quickly if the famine hadn't come and not like this at one time.
I think it is fair to call Peel's Great Ministry a successful one because of what he achieved not just in the short term but also in the long term. His policies, especially in Ireland were very clearly thought through and he was always trying to ward off the threat of revolution. The ultras simply did not understand this point and they also didn't understand what the Corn Laws would do in the long term. The repeal of the Corn Laws certainly led to relative social stability in the nineteenth century compared to the continental power and the United States.
It is also worth referring to the ministries before Peel. They were very unstable with the exception of Lord Liverpool and the Whigs had left a massive deficit of over ÃÂ£2,000,00. That was a huge amount of money and by the time Peel left office he had not just cleared the deficit but there was also a surplus. Considering the amount of money that needed to be collected and the time that Peel spent in office to do it, as any historian will agree, is a truly remarkable achievement. The income tax introduced by Peel was truly revolutionary. Peel's changing of the party is also remarkable. Just a decade or so ago the Tory party, as it was known, was in a total mess and Peel was the only real leader. During the Great Ministry Peel worked around the ignorance of the traditionalist Tories and managed to keep his cool in many difficult situations. For example with the Devon commission Peel set it up but he never said that he was going to act upon it. This kept the more liberals minded people in his party happy along with the Irish and on the other hand the traditionalist were also satisfied because no real practical action was being taken to act upon the findings of the Devon commission. Peel can be seen as the Lord Liverpool kind of figure but the man who was able to also pass many things which in Lord Liverpool's era would never have even been considered. Peel, like Lord Liverpool, was able to incorporate a balancing act keeping both sides of the party happy although in Peel's era it seemed to be the liberals that were happier. We still see Peel's success today as his statue still stands tall in Tamworth. When Lord Liverpool died the Tory party was in a mess and when Peel died the Party was split up into Peelites and Conservative Conservatives. Many Peelites went on to join the liberals.
On the other hand some people say that Peel's Great Ministry was not a success and that all he did was lie and betray Tory values like a bad politician does. These people say that his betrayal started with Catholic emancipation in 1829 going against what he had always said and that it continued with the Tamworth manifesto. It is also said that his free trade ideas damaged the agriculture of the country because cheap goods were coming into the country and doing the opposite of what Peel said they would do. It is also said that Peel not just betrayed the Tory party but also himself and the Anglican Church with the Maynooth grant. This is considered a very bad move because at the same time he as doing this he was saying that he would not repeal the act of union and this was exactly what he was threatening with the Maynooth Grant. The biggest betrayal came when he defied two thirds of his party and repealed the Corn Laws. The historian Eric Evans claims that Peel 'proved himself untrue to Tory principles on Ireland, on religion, on commerce, and finally and fatally, on the landed interest itself'.
I disagree with the argument calling Peel's ministry a failure because essentially he was doing what would keep the English in power of Ireland by stopping the roots of revolution, giving his party a sense of direction which they had never really had before and effectively making conditions better for everyone living in England. The ignorant Tory ultras did protest against Peel but there ignorance stopped them from seeing how solid Peel's policies were for the better of Britain. Peel's Great Ministry DEFINETELY WAS A SUCCESS.