Whiggism

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Whiggism (in North America sometimes spelled Whigism) is a political philosophy that grew out of the Parliamentarian faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–1651). The Whigs' key policy positions were the supremacy of Parliament, as opposed to that of the king, tolerance of Protestant dissenters and opposition to a "Papist" (Roman Catholic) on the throne, especially James II or one of his descendants. [1]

Political philosophy sub-discipline of philosophy and political science

Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Roundhead name given to the supporters of the Parliament during the English Civil War

Roundheads were supporters of the Parliament of England during the English Civil War (1641–1652). Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I of England and his supporters, known as the Cavaliers or Royalists, who claimed rule by absolute monarchy and the principle of the 'divine right of kings'. The goal of the Roundhead party was to give the Parliament supreme control over executive administration of the country/kingdom.

Wars of the Three Kingdoms series of conflicts in England, Ireland and Scotland between 1639 and 1651

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, sometimes known as the British Civil Wars, formed an intertwined series of conflicts that took place in the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland between 1639 and 1651. The English Civil War proper has become the best-known of these conflicts; it included the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of the kingdom's monarch, Charles I, by the English Parliament in 1649.

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After the huge success (from the Whig point of view) of the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689, Whiggism dominated English and British politics until about 1760, although in practice the Whig political group splintered into different factions. After 1760, the Whigs lost power – apart from sharing it in some short-lived coalition governments – but Whiggism fashioned itself into a generalised belief system that emphasised innovation and liberty and was strongly held by about half of the leading families in England and Scotland, as well as most merchants, dissenters, and the middle classes. The opposing Tory position was held by the other great families, the Church of England, most of the landed gentry and officers of the army and the navy. Whigs also opposed Jacobitism, a movement of traditionalists tolerant of Roman Catholicism, with substantial Tory overlaps. While in power, Whigs frequently referred to all opponents as "Jacobites" or dupes of Jacobites.

Glorious Revolution 17th Century British revolution

The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English politicians with the Dutch stadtholder William III, Prince of Orange, who was James's nephew and son-in-law. William's successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascension to the throne as William III of England jointly with his wife, Mary II, James's daughter, after the Declaration of Right, leading to the Bill of Rights 1689.

Kingdom of England historic sovereign kingdom on the British Isles (927–1649; 1660–1707)

The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on the island of Great Britain from 927, when it emerged from various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 1707, when it united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707–1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called simply Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 31 December 1800. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". After the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Whiggism originally referred to the Whigs of the British Isles, but the name of "Old Whigs" was largely adopted by the American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies. Following independence, American Whiggism became known as republicanism. The term "Old Whigs" was also used in Great Britain for those Whigs who opposed Robert Walpole as part of the Country Party.

British Isles Group of islands in northwest Europe

The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides and over six thousand smaller isles. They have a total area of about 315,159 km2 and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two sovereign states, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The islands of Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark, and their neighbouring smaller islands, are sometimes also taken to be part of the British Isles, even though, as islands off the coast of France, they do not form part of the archipelago.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Thirteen Colonies British American colonies which became the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and the Floridas.

Another meaning of whiggism given by the Oxford English Dictionary is "moderate or antiquated Liberalism". [2]

<i>Oxford English Dictionary</i> Premier historical dictionary of the English language

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press. It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the world. The second edition, comprising 21,728 pages in 20 volumes, was published in 1989.

Coining of "whiggism"

Quickly following the adoption of "whig" as the name of a political faction, the word "whiggism" was already in use by the 1680s. In 1682, Edmund Hickeringill published his History of Whiggism. [3] In 1702, writing satirically in the guise of a Tory, Daniel Defoe asserted: "We can never enjoy a settled uninterrupted Union and Tranquility in this Nation, till the Spirit of Whiggisme, Faction, and Schism is melted down like the Old-Money". [4] The name probably originates from a shortening of Whiggamore referring to the Whiggamore Raid. [5]

Edmund Hickeringill (1631–1708) was an English churchman who lived during the period of the Commonwealth and the Restoration.

Tory A conservative political philosophy

A Tory is a person who holds a political philosophy known as Toryism, based on a British version of traditionalism and conservatism, which upholds the supremacy of social order as it has evolved throughout history. The Tory ethos has been summed up with the phrase "God, King, and Country". Tories generally advocate monarchism, and were historically of a high church Anglican religious heritage, opposed to the liberalism of the Whig faction.

Daniel Defoe English trader, writer and journalist

Daniel Defoe, born Daniel Foe, was an English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer and spy. He is most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe, which is second only to the Bible in its number of translations. He has been seen as one of the earliest proponents of the English novel, and helped to popularise the form in Britain with others such as Aphra Behn and Samuel Richardson. Defoe wrote many political tracts and often was in trouble with the authorities, including a spell in prison. Intellectuals and political leaders paid attention to his fresh ideas and sometimes consulted with him.

Origins

The true origins of what became known as whiggism lie in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the power struggle between the Parliament of England and King Charles I, which eventually turned into the English Civil Wars, but only after the example of the successful use of violent opposition to the king set by the Bishops' Wars, which were fought between the same king in his capacity as king of Scotland on the one side and the Parliament of Scotland and the Church of Scotland on the other. However, the immediate origins of the Whigs and whiggism were in the Exclusion Bill crisis of 1678 to 1681, in which a "country party" battled a "court party" in an unsuccessful attempt to exclude James, Duke of York, from succeeding his brother Charles II as king of England, Scotland and Ireland. This crisis was prompted by Charles's lack of a legitimate heir, by the discovery in 1673 that James was a Roman Catholic, and by the so-called "Popish Plot" of 1678. [6]

Parliament of England historic legislature of the Kingdom of England

The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England, existing from the early 13th century until 1707, when it merged with the Parliament of Scotland to become the Parliament of Great Britain after the political union of England and Scotland created the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Charles I of England 17th-century monarch of kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Charles I was the monarch over the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

English Civil War series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over, principally, the manner of England's governance. The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

While a major principle of whiggism was opposition to popery, that was always much more than a mere religious preference in favour of Protestantism, although most Whigs did have such a preference. Sir Henry Capel outlined the principal motivation of the cry of "no popery" when he said in the House of Commons on 27 April 1679:

From Popery came the notion of a standing army and arbitrary Power... Formerly the Crown of Spain, and now France, supports this root of Popery amongst us; but lay Popery flat, and there's an end of arbitrary Government and power. It is a mere chimera, or notion, without Popery. [7]

Although they were unsuccessful in preventing the accession of the Duke of York to the throne, the Whigs in alliance with William of Orange brought him down in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. By that event, a new supremacy of parliament was established, which itself was one of the principles of whiggism, much as it had been the chief principle of the Roundheads in an earlier generation. [8]

The great Whiggish achievement was the Bill of Rights of 1689. [9] It made Parliament, not the Crown, supreme. It established free elections to the Commons (although they were mostly controlled by the local landlord) free speech in parliamentary debates, and gave all Britons freedom from ‘cruel or unusual punishment’. [10]

Variations

Title page of Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1698) Algernon Sidney 1622-1683 Discourses 1698.jpg
Title page of Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1698)

Lee Ward (2008) argues that the philosophical origins of Whiggism came in James Tyrrell's Patriarcha Non Monarcha (1681), John Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1689) and Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1698). [11] All three were united in opposing Sir Robert Filmer's defence of divine right and absolute monarchy. Tyrrell propounded a moderate Whiggism which interpreted England's balanced and mixed constitution "as the product of a contextualized social compact blending elements of custom, history, and prescription with inherent natural law obligations". [12] However, Sidney emphasised the main themes of republicanism and based Whig ideology in the sovereignty of the people by proposing a constitutional reordering that would both elevate the authority of Parliament and democratise its forms. Sidney also emphasised classical republican notions of virtue. [13] Ward says that Locke's liberal Whiggism rested on a radically individualist theory of natural rights and limited government. [14] Tyrrell's moderate position came to dominate Whiggism and British constitutionalism as a whole from 1688 to the 1770s. [15] The more radical ideas of Sidney and Locke, argues Ward, became marginalised in Britain, but emerged as a dominant strand in American republicanism. The issues raised by the Americans, starting with the Stamp Act crisis of 1765, ripped Whiggism apart in a battle of parliamentary sovereignty (Tyrrell) versus popular sovereignty (Sidney and Locke). [16]

Across the British Empire

Whiggism took different forms in England and Scotland, even though from 1707 the two nations shared a single parliament. [17] While English whiggism had at its heart the power of parliament, creating for that purpose a constitutional monarchy and a permanently Protestant succession to the throne, Scottish Whigs gave a higher priority to using power for religious purposes, including maintaining the authority of the Church of Scotland, justifying the Protestant Reformation and emulating the Covenanters. [17]

There were also Whigs in the North American colonies and while whiggism there had much in common with that in Great Britain, it too had its own priorities. In the unfolding of the American Revolution such whiggism became known as republicanism. [18]

In India, Prashad (1966) argues that the profound influence of the ideas of Edmund Burke introduced Whiggism into the mainstream of Indian political thought. The Indians adopted the basic assumptions of Whiggism, especially the natural leadership of an elite, the political incapacity of the masses, the great partnership of the civil society and the best methods of achieving social progress, analysing the nature of society and the nation and depicting the character of the ideal state. [19]

Further reading

Primary sources

See also

Notes

  1. Ronald Hamowy, "Whiggism" in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, Cato Institute 2008), ISBN   978-1-4129-6580-4, OCLC 750831024, LCCN 2008009151, DOI 10.4135/9781412965811.n328 pp 542–43
  2. Whiggism, n. at oed.com. Retrieved 16 August 2011 (subscription required)
  3. Edmund Hickeringill, The history of Whiggism: or, The Whiggish-plots, principles, and practices, (mining and countermining the Tory-plots and principles) in the reign of King Charles the first, during the conduct of affaires, under the influence of the three great minions and favourites, Buckingham, Laud, and Strafford; and the sad forre-runners and prologues to that fatal-year (to England and Ireland) 41: Where in (as in a mirrour) is shown the face of the late (we do not say the present) times [In two parts] (London: Printed for E. Smith, at the Elephant and Castle in Cornhill, 1682)
  4. Daniel Defoe, The shortest way with the Dissenters: or Proposals for the establishment of the Church (1702), p. 15
  5. "whig | Origin and meaning of the name whig by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  6. Odai Johnson, Rehearsing the revolution (2000), p. 14
  7. John Kenyon, The Popish Plot (Phoenix Press, 2000), pp. 2–3
  8. Melinda S. Zook, Radical Whigs and conspiratorial politics in late Stuart England (1999), p. xiv
  9. Maurice Adams; Anne Meuwese; Ernst Hirsch Ballin (2017). Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law: Bridging Idealism and Realism. Cambridge UP. p. 97.
  10. Robert Blackburn, "Britain's unwritten constitution" British Library (2015)
  11. Lee Ward, The Politics of Liberty in England and Revolutionary America (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  12. Ward, p. 14
  13. Ward, ch. 6
  14. Ward, ch. 8–9
  15. Ward, ch. 11
  16. Ward, pp. 327–50
  17. 1 2 Jonathan Hearn, Claiming Scotland: national identity and liberal culture (2000), p. 138
  18. George Herbert Guttridge, English whiggism and the American revolution (1974), pp. 10, 68
  19. Ganesh Prashad, "Whiggism in India," Political Science Quarterly Vol. 81, No. 3 (Sep. 1966), pp. 412–31 in JSTOR

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