What Divided Whigs and Tories in the Reigns of William Iii and Queen Anne (1688-1714)?

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Jack Wilson

What divided Whigs and Tories in the reigns of William III and Queen Anne (1688-1714)?

The early days of the new reign of King William III of Orange and his wife Queen Mary II were overshadowed by uncertainty. Could James II hasty departure be treated as abdication? If so by which means- mere physical absence or a violation of fundamental laws? And what kind of steps should be made to ensure such monarchic contractual failures didn’t occur again? Such questions were a true cause of glory in the “Glorious revolution”. People with incompatible views, despite the passion of beliefs and the heat of the moment, where driven together in pursuit of a compromise through diplomacy. This uncertainty, arising as a result of political discord was, upon the succession William and Anne, in its infancy[1]. Along with the creation of a Parliamentary monarchy and, to a large extent, as a corollary of it, such partition in political opinion rapidly developed and cemented during William’s reign[2]. And with it came the coalescence of party divisions. The so-called “rage of party” had begun- and would last for over two decades. The two major parties- the Whigs and the Tories took shape and began to battle each other for power and influence. To succeed they would have to earn favour with William who had the exclusive power of appointing ministry[3]. Despite theoretically being a joint ruler with his wife Mary in reality William held all executive power. “If the purse was the lever by which Parliament controlled the King,” writes Mark Kishlansky “party was the lever by which the King controlled Parliament.”[4] Such a “lever” was also exercised by William’s sister-in-law and successor Queen Anne of Great Britain after his death in 1702. As well as being split compositionally there were a number of issues that divided the Whigs and the Tories between 1688 and 1714: Long-standing topics such as the matter of Protestant succession, the relationship between Crown and Parliament and the potentially pernicious subject of religion were joined by others that emerged during, or came as a result of William and Anne’s succession- issues such as the financial revolution and approaches to foreign policy. The stance each party adopted towards these crucial matters would ultimately shape their political success[5].

In the 19th century, Thomas Babington Macaulay opined that the political labels "Whig" and "Tory" are "two nicknames which, though originally given in insult, were soon assumed with pride, which are still in daily use, which have spread as widely as the English race, and which will last as long as the English literature" There are two principle flaws with this description[6]. Firstly, despite Macaulay's suggestion of unchanging continuity in the meaning of these terms up into his own time, they actually underwent several shifts and modifications of meaning over the century and a half from the time of their introduction into English political discourse around 1681. Moreover, despite Macaulay's emphasis on the "Englishness" of the terms "Whig" and "Tory," associating them as he does with the "English race" and "English literature," they derive, in fact, from the wider linguistic world of the British Isles: Tory from Irish and Whig from Scots[7]. The Whigs entered English political discourse during the Exclusion Bill crisis of 1678–1681. Whilst the Whigs (or Petitioners) opposed the hereditary ascendance of the Catholic Duke of York, future James II, to the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland, the Tories (or Abhorrers) supported him. The first Tory party could trace its principles and politics, though not its organisation, to the English Civil War- where the Long Parliament’s increasing radicalism estranged a number of reformers, and drove them to make common cause with the King[8]. As the century progressed and party policy began to coagulate, the social groups which tended to support each party became apparent. Tory policy...
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