How could the Walpolean oligarchy be at once exclusive and stable?

Essay by flaminsUniversity, Bachelor'sA, April 2003

download word file, 8 pages 0.0

Downloaded 26 times

How could the Walpolean oligarchy be at once exclusive and stable?

The force and longevity of the Whig dominance of politics in Britain at this time, culminating in Walpole's record term of office, created the most clearly defined period of oligarchical rule in British history. The 'Whig oligarchy' created a powerful and potentially dangerous division in the country, as the Tories were kept from office year after year. With such exclusion, there was real danger of resultant instability as the excluded party sought extra-parliamentary routes to power. The spectre of Jacobitism haunted the political nation throughout the period. Furthermore, the length of the Whig dominance meant that the exclusion of Tories extended beyond the centre of power to social institutions as well. Economically powerful Tory landowners were embittered by the Whig dominance of local and central duties which their rank and acreage would normally have commanded. This disgruntlement, caused by their exclusion from many aspects of political, social and even economic life led to virulent parliamentary criticism, even flirtation with extra-parliamentary dissidence.

With this situation, it is easy to imagine that the political climate was not at all tranquil. However, as Langford points out, stability can often be mistaken for tranquillity. The turbulent and embittered opposition of the Tories to oligarchy translated into a lack of political tranquillity, yet in the period there were no major uprisings, nor was parliamentary government ever threatened. Indeed, the fear of Jacobitism was more advantageous to the Whigs as a reason for the exclusion of the Tories than it was ever for the Tories themselves. It is important to heed Langford's distinction between tranquillity and stability, for though this particular period is epitomised by a bitter political atmosphere, the stability under Walpole was, if not total, great enough to ensure the survival...