Robert Peel

British Prime Minister, Conservative statesman, and art collector (1788–1850)

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet (5 February 17882 July 1850) was a British Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1834–1835 and 1841–1846) simultaneously serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1834-1835) and twice as Home Secretary (1822–1827 and 1828–1830). He is regarded as the father of modern English policing, owing to his founding of the Metropolitan Police Service. Peel was one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party.

I shall leave a name execrated by every monopolist...but it may be...sometimes remembered with expressions of goodwill in the abodes of those whose lot it is to labour and to earn their daily bread in the sweat of their brow, when they shall recruit their exhausted strength with abundant and untaxed food, the sweeter because it is no longer leavened by a sense of injustice.

Quotes edit

If you had to constitute new societies, you might on moral and social grounds prefer cornfields to cotton factories, an agricultural to a manufacturing population. But our lot is cast, and we cannot recede.

Backbench MP edit

  • [T]he aggression, usurpation, and tyranny of Buonaparté was the only subject upon which all parties united. But to resist him in his encroachments effectually, unanimity was absolutely necessary, and the nature of the contest in which we were engaged, required that every heart and hand should be joined to give strength to the common cause. He hoped, we should still be able, as we had hitherto been, to ride in safety through the storm that had destroyed the rest of Europe, and that we should still stretch forth a hand to succour those who were yet struggling for life against the angry waves.
    • Maiden speech in the House of Commons (23 January 1810) in support of the war against France

Chief Secretary for Ireland edit

  • Let us recollect, that, under the constitution which we have derived from our ancestors, we have enjoyed more liberty, we have acquired more glory, we possess more character and power, than has hitherto fallen to the lot of any other country on the globe; and if there be any man yet undecided on this question, I entreat him that he will give the benefit of his doubt to the existing order of things,—and, that, before he gives his vote to a measure, of the consequences of which he is at least uncertain, he will weigh the substantial blessings which he knows to have been derived from the government that is, against all the speculative advantages which he is promised from the government that is to be.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (9 May 1817) rejecting Catholic Emancipation

Backbench MP edit

  • Do not you think that the tone of England—of that great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs, which is called public opinion—is more liberal—to use an odious but intelligible phrase—than the policy of the Government? Do not you think that there is a feeling, becoming daily more general and more confirmed—that is, independent of the pressure of taxation, or any immediate cause—in favour of some undefined change in the mode of governing the country?
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (23 March 1820), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker...1809 to 1830, Vol. I (1884), p. 170

Home Secretary edit

  • They propose no encroachments upon civil liberty, no extension of executive authority, no rash subversion of ancient institutions, no relinquishment of what is practically good, for the chance of speculative and uncertain improvement. "The work which I propound," as lord Bacon says, "tendeth to pruning and grafting the law, and not to plowing up and planting it again; for such a remove I should held indeed for a perilous innovation."
  • I have endeavoured to steer a middle course between the general verbosity of our English statutes, and the extreme brevity of the French criminal code. ... In the bills I have the honour of submitting to the House, a middle course has been steered between the redundancy of our own legal enactments, and the conciseness of the French code.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 March 1827) on the consolidation of the criminal law
  • I have for years attempted to maintain the exclusion of Roman Catholics from Parliament, and the high offices of the State. I do not think it was an unnatural or unreasonable struggle. I resign it in consequence of the conviction that it can no longer be advantageously maintained. I yield therefore to a moral necessity which I cannot control; unwilling to push resistance to a point which might endanger the establishments that I wish to defend.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (5 March 1829) introducing the Bill for Catholic Emancipation, quoted in The Parliamentary Debates, New Series: Vol. XX (1829), column 730
  • The police are the public and the public are the police.
    • Of Peel's nine principles[1]

Leader of the Opposition edit

  • I want no array of figures, I want no official documents, I want no speeches of six hours, to establish to my satisfaction the public policy of maintaining the Legislative Union [with Ireland]. I feel and know that the Repeal of it must lead to the dismemberment of this great empire; must make Great Britain a fourth-rate power of Europe, and Ireland a savage wilderness; and I will give therefore, at once, and without hesitation, an emphatic negative to the motion for Repeal. 
    • Speech in the House of Commons (25 April 1834)
  • We...were resolved, if invited, not to decline the responsibility, and to exhaust every constitutional means of ascertaining whether the country, or rather whether the constituent body, would support an administration formed upon Conservative principles. Those principles I, for one, consider to be perfectly compatible with cautious and well-digested reforms in every institution which really requires reform, and with the redress of proved grievances.
    • Memorandum (23 July 1834), quoted in Lord Mahon and Edward Cardwell (eds.), Memoirs by The Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., M.P., &c. Part II.—The New Government; 1834–5. Part III.—Repeal of the Corn Laws; 1845–6 (1857), p. 13

Prime Minister edit

  • I gladly avail myself also of this, a legitimate opportunity, of making a more public appeal—of addressing myself, through you, to that great and intelligent class of society of which you are a portion, and a fair and unexceptionable representative—to that class which is much less interested in the contentions of party, than in the maintenance of order and the cause of good government
  • With respect to the Reform Bill itself, I will repeat now the declaration I made when I entered the House of Commons as a member of the Reformed Parliament—that I consider the Reform Bill a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question—a settlement which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb, either by direct or by insidious means.
  • Then, as to the spirit of the Reform Bill, and the willingness to adopt and enforce it as a rule of government: if, by adopting the spirit of the Reform Bill, it be meant that we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation; that public men can only support themselves in public estimation by adopting every popular impression of the day,—by promising the instant redress of anything which anybody may call an abuse—by abandoning altogether that great aid of government—more powerful than either law or reason—the respect for ancient rights, and the deference to prescriptive authority; if this be the spirit of the Reform Bill, I will not undertake to adopt it. But if the spirit of the Reform Bill implies merely a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances,—in that case, I can for myself and colleagues undertake to act in such a spirit and with such intentions.
  • Our object will be—the maintenance of peace—the scrupulous and honourable fulfilment, without reference to their original policy, of all existing engagements with Foreign Powers—the support of public credit—the enforcement of strict economy—the just and impartial consideration of what is due to all interests—agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial.

Leader of the Opposition edit

  • [A]ll my own interests are identified with agricultural prosperity. It is true that I am under the deepest obligation to commerce and manufactures; and I am proud to acknowledge them; but all my present pecuniary and personal interests are centred in the prosperity of agriculture.
    • Speech from the election hustings at Tamworth (24 July 1837), quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), p. 166
  • I have read all that has been written by the gravest authorities on political economy on the subject of rent, wages, taxes, tithes, the various elements in short, which constitute or affect the price of agricultural produce.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (15 March 1839)

Prime Minister edit

  • Instead of looking to taxation on consumption,—instead of reviving the taxes on salt or on sugar,—it is my duty to make an earnest appeal to the possessors of property, for the purpose of repairing this mighty evil. I propose, for a time at least, (and I never had occasion to make a proposition with a more thorough conviction of its being one which the public interest of the country required)—I propose, that for a time to be limited, the income of this country should be called on to contribute a certain sum for the purpose of remedying this mighty and growing evil.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 March 1842)
  • My object, having a surplus to deal with, is to consider how I can deal with it to the greatest advantage to the consumer—how, without inflicting any injury on Canada, I can secure the most substantial benefit to this country, to the manufacturing, to the commercial, and to the agricultural interests. ... The real way in which we can benefit the working and manufacturing classes is, unquestionably, by removing the burden that presses on the springs of manufactures and commerce.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 March 1842)
  • I believe that on the general principle of free-trade there is now no great difference of opinion, and that all agree in the general rule that we should purchase in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 May 1842)
  • If you had to constitute new societies, you might on moral and social grounds prefer cornfields to cotton factories, an agricultural to a manufacturing population. But our lot is cast, and we cannot recede.
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (27 July 1842), quoted in Charles Stuart Parker (ed.), Sir Robert Peel from His Private Papers, Volume II (1899), p. 529
  • We must make this country a cheap country for living, and thus induce parties to remain and settle here—enable them to consume more, by having more to spend.
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (27 July 1842), quoted in Charles Stuart Parker (ed.), Sir Robert Peel from His Private Papers, Volume II (1899), p. 530
  • It is a question of time. The next change in the Corn Laws must be to an open trade; and if our population increase for two or three years at the rate of 300,000 per annum, you may throw open the ports, and British agriculture will not suffer. But the next change must be the last.
    • Letter to Sir James Graham (30 December 1842), quoted in Charles Stuart Parker (ed.), Sir Robert Peel from His Private Papers, Volume II (1899), p. 551
  • Sir, the hon. Gentleman has stated here very emphatically, what he has more than once stated at the conferences of the Anti-Corn-law League, that he holds me individually—[Great excitement]—individually responsible for the distress and suffering of the country; that he holds me personally responsible; but be the consequences of those insinuations what they may, never will I be influenced by menaces either in this House or out of this House, to adopt a course which I consider—[The rest of the sentence was lost in shouts from various parts of the House.]
    • Speech in the House of Commons (17 February 1843)
  • If you can keep Peace, reduce expense, extend Commerce, and strengthen our hold on India by Confidence in our justice and kindness and wisdom, you will be received on your Return with acclamations a thousand times louder and a welcome infinitely more cordial than if you have a dozen victories to boast of, and annexe the Punjaub to the overgrown Empire of India.
  • We are bound also to consider what are those taxes, the removal of which will give more scope to commercial enterprise, and occasion an increased demand for labour. ... let the House remember that the principle on which we have gone, and gone advisedly, is the absolute repeal of taxation in many cases. ... We do hope that the direct and instant effect will be increased consumption of many articles now subject to duty, invigorating the industry and extending the commercial enterprise of the country through other channels, and supplying the void we cannot hope to fill up by direct taxation. ... We have taken this course after careful consideration, and we recommend this plan from a deliberate conviction that if sanctioned by Parliament it will conduce to the extension of industry, to the encouragement of enterprise, and that the result of that extension of industry and encouragement of enterprise will be the benefit of all classes of the community, whether they are directly or indirectly connected with commerce, manufactures, or agriculture.
  • [T]he Conservative party...cannot deny that Trade is prosperous, That the people are contented, That the Labourer has a greater Command than he ever had over the Necessaries and Comforts of Life.
    That Chartism is extinguished, or at least fast asleep.
    That the Church is stronger than ever it was except for its own internal stupid differences & Controversies.
    That any wish for organic Change in the Constitution, for addition to popular privileges, is dormant.
    That the Revenue is so prosperous that our calculations of deficiency are certainly baffled.
    That our monetary system is sounder than it has ever been, and yet that there has been boundless activity in commerce and in all speculations of gain.
    That even Land is increasing in value in consequence of the prosperity of Commerce.
    But we have Reduced protection of agriculture, and tried to lay the foundation of Peace in Ireland, and these are offences for which nothing can atone.
    • Letter to Henry Hardinge (27 May 1845), quoted in Donald Read, Peel and the Victorians (1987), pp. 148-149
  • I hope...that this country will never depart from that policy which has secured its safety, namely, that of being strong as a naval Power, and at the same time not attempting to enter into competition with the great military Powers of Europe.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (30 July 1845)
  • The accounts from Ireland of the potato crop, confirmed as they are by your high authority, are very alarming. We must consider whether it is possible by legislation, or by the exercise of prerogative, to apply a remedy to the great evil with which we are threatened. The application of such remedy involves considerations of the utmost magnitude. The remedy is the removal of all impediments to the import of all kinds of human food—that is, the total and absolute repeal for ever of all duties on all articles of subsistence.
    • Letter to Lord Heytesbury (15 October 1845), quoted in Lord Mahon and Edward Cardwell (eds.), Memoirs by The Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., M.P., &c. Part II.—The New Government; 1834–5. Part III.—Repeal of the Corn Laws; 1845–6 (1857), p. 121
  • I think there is a gentlemanlike policy which nations as well as individuals would do well to adopt.
    • Letter (23 October 1845), quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), p. 516
  • If we can place confidence in the Reports which we have received, there is the prospect of a lamentable deficiency of the ordinary food of the people in many parts of Ireland, and in some parts of this country, and of Scotland. ... Can we vote public money for the sustenance of any considerable portion of the people on account of actual or apprehended scarcity, and maintain in full operation the existing restrictions on the free import of grain? I am bound to say my impression is that we cannot.
    • Memorandum read to the Cabinet (1 November 1845), quoted in Lord Mahon and Edward Cardwell (eds.), Memoirs by The Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., M.P., &c. Part II.—The New Government; 1834–5. Part III.—Repeal of the Corn Laws; 1845–6 (1857), pp. 141, 145
  • Whatever country squires may think, it is not safe to guarantee the continuance of the present Corn Laws.
    • Letter to Sir Thomas Fremantle (19 December 1845), quoted in Charles Stuart Parker (ed.), Sir Robert Peel from His Private Papers, Volume III (1899), p. 255
  • The agricultural labourers have been better off this winter and last winter than they were before, and rely upon it that when the working-classes feel convinced that their wages do not rise with the price of food, the worst grounds on which we can fight the battle of true Conservatism is food.
    • Letter to Charles Arbuthnot (7 January 1846), quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), pp. 566–567
  • I cannot...think it inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that we engaged in trying to efface the recollections of the exploits of both countries in war, or extracting from those recollections everything which savours of bitterness; that we should be trying to engage in a rivalry, not in exploits on the field of blood, but in an honourable competition for the advancement of commerce and civilization, and the improvement of the social condition of the people. It is not inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that we should increase the trade of the country by removing restrictions; nor is it inconsistent with sound Conservative policy, that we should reduce the taxation of the country whilst we increased its revenue. It is not, in my mind, inconsistent with true Conservative policy, that we have extinguished agitation and discouraged sedition, not by stringent coercive laws, but by encouraging the idea amongst the great body of the people, that we, the rich and powerful, are willing to take a more than ordinary share of the public burdens, and to remove those burdens from the people so far as it is possible. Sir, believe me, to conduct the Government of this country is a most arduous duty; I may say it without irreverence, that these ancient institutions, like our physical frames, are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
    • Speech in the House of Commons (22 January 1846)
  • It is no easy task to ensure the united action of an ancient monarchy, a proud aristocracy, and a reformed constituency. I have done everything I could do, and have thought it consistent with true Conservative policy, to reconcile these three branches of the State. I have thought it consistent with true Conservative policy to promote so much of happiness and contentment among the people that the voice of disaffection should be no longer heard, and that thoughts of the dissolution of our institutions should be forgotten in the midst of physical enjoyment. These were my attempts, and I thought them not inconsistent with true and enlarged Conservative policy.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (22 January 1846)
  • Do you not admit to me that in the social condition of the millions in the manufacturing districts, who earn their subsistence by the sweat of their brow, the price of wheat is of the first importance, and has become an object of the deepest interest? Have you read the Reports on the Health of Towns? Are you not deeply convinced that some effort ought to be made to improve the social condition of the masses of the population, who earn their subsistence in the manufacturing towns? It seems to me that the first foundation of any such improvement is, that there should be abundance of food. You may talk of improving the habits of the working classes, introducing education amongst them, purifying their dwellings, improving their cottages; but believe me the first step towards improvement of their social condition is an abundance of food. That lies at the bottom of all. It is in vain, if the people are suffering under scarcity, or if any apprehension of scarcity prevails; the suffering, or the apprehension of it, so depresses the spirits, that it is vain for you to inculcate lessons of cleanliness, or to improve dwellings, until the people are provided with abundance of food.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (27 March 1846)
  • Sir, if I look to the prerogative of the Crown—if I look to the position of the Church—if I look to the influence of the aristocracy—I cannot charge myself with having taken any course inconsistent with Conservative principles, calculated to endanger the privileges of any branch of the Legislature, or of any institutions of the country. My earnest wish has been, during my tenure of power, to impress the people of this country with a belief that the Legislature was animated by a sincere desire to frame its legislation upon the principles of equity and justice. I have a strong belief that the greatest object which we or any other Government can contemplate should be to elevate the social condition of that class of the people with whom we are brought into no direct relationship by the exercise of the elective franchise.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (15 May 1846)
  • I can say with truth that Her Majesty's Government, in proposing those measures of commercial policy which have disentitled them to the confidence of many who heretofore gave them their support, were influenced by no other motive than the desire to consult the interests of this country. Our object was to avert dangers which we thought were imminent, and to terminate a conflict which, according to our belief, would soon place in hostile collision great and powerful classes in this country. The maintenance of power was not a motive for the proposal of these measures; for, as I said before, I had not a doubt, that whether these measures were accompanied by failure or success, the certain issue must be the termination of the existence of this Government.
    • Resignation speech in the House of Commons (29 June 1846) after the repeal of the Corn Laws
  • proposing our measures of commercial policy, I had no wish to rob others of the credit justly due to them. ... The name which ought to be, and will be, associated with the success of those measures, is the name of one who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has, with untiring energy, made appeals to our reason, and has enforced those appeals with an eloquence the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned: the name which ought to be chiefly associated with the success of those measures, is the name of Richard Cobden.
    • Resignation speech in the House of Commons (29 June 1846) after the repeal of the Corn Laws
  • In relinquishing power...I shall leave a name execrated by every monopolist who, from less honourable motives, clamours for protection because it conduces to his own individual benefit; but it may be that I shall leave a name sometimes remembered with expressions of good will in the abodes of those whose lot it is to labour, and to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow, when they shall recruit their exhausted strength with abundant and untaxed food, the sweeter because it is no longer leavened by a sense of injustice.
    • Resignation speech in the House of Commons (29 June 1846) after the repeal of the Corn Laws

Post-Prime Ministerial edit

  • ...if wheat were at this moment subject to a duty of twenty shillings the quarter, and if Indian corn were virtually excluded, next winter would not pass without a convulsion endangering the whole frame of society, without the humiliation of constituted authorities forced to yield after a disgraceful struggle...if their [the Protectionists'] advice had been taken, we should have had famine prices for many articles, and a state of exasperated public feeling and just agitation, which it would require wiser heads than theirs to allay. So far from regretting the expulsion from office, I rejoice in it as the greatest relief from an intolerable burden. To have your own way, and to be for five years the Minister of this country in the House of Commons, is quite enough for any man's strength. He is entitled to his discharge, from length of service. But to have to incur the deepest responsibility, to bear the heaviest toil, to reconcile colleagues with conflicting opinions to a common course of action, to keep together in harmony the Sovereign, the Lords and the Commons; to have to do these things, and to be at the same time the tool of a party—that is to say, to adopt the opinions of men who have not access to your knowledge, and could not profit by it if they had, who spend their time in eating and drinking, and hunting, shooting, gambling, horse-racing, and so forth—would be an odious servitude, to which I will never submit. I determine to keep aloof from party combinations.
    • Letter to Lord Hardinge (24 September 1846), quoted in Charles Stuart Parker (ed.), Sir Robert Peel from His Private Papers, Volume III (1899), pp. 473-474
  • [Famine-stricken districts in Ireland] would require some better consolation than the doctrine of Adam Smith on the true Principles of demand and supply and the danger of Government interference.
    • Letter to Henry Goulburn on the Great Famine (21 November 1846), quoted in Donald Read, Peel and the Victorians (1987), p. 105
  • It was impossible to reconcile the repeal of the Corn Laws by me with the keeping together of the Conservative party, and I had no hesitation in sacrificing the subordinate object, and with it my own political interests.
    • Letter to Lord Aberdeen (19 August 1847), quoted in Lord Mahon and Edward Cardwell (eds.), Memoirs by The Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., M.P., &c. Part II.—The New Government; 1834–5. Part III.—Repeal of the Corn Laws; 1845–6 (1857), p. 322
  • I believe as firmly as any of those who dissent from me with respect to the mode in which the object is to be attained, that it is a vital question for the country—that unless our domestic industry be encouraged, we cannot expect peace, contentment, or prosperity. ... It is a question which affects the happiness of the people, which affects their social progress, their progress in morals, in the enjoyment of life, in refinement of taste and civilisation of manners—it concerns these things at least as much as it concerns the accumulation of wealth.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 July 1849), quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates: Third Series, Commencing with the Accession of William IV. Vol. CVI. (1849), column 1448
  • I boldly maintain that the principle of protection to domestic industry, meaning thereby legislative encouragement for purpose of protection—duties on import imposed for that purpose, and not for revenue, is a vicious principle. I contest the hon. Gentleman's assumption, that you cannot fight hostile tariffs by free imports. I so totally dissent from that assumption, that I maintain that the best way to compete with hostile tariffs is to encourage free imports. So far from thinking the principle of protection a salutary principle, I maintain that the more widely you extend it, the greater the injury you will inflict on the national wealth, and the more you will cripple the national industry.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 July 1849), quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates: Third Series, Commencing with the Accession of William IV. Vol. CVI. (1849), columns 1449–1450
  • The principles which should govern the commercial intercourse of nations, do not differ from those which regulate the dealings of private individuals.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 July 1849), quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates: Third Series, Commencing with the Accession of William IV. Vol. CVI. (1849), column 1450
  • Each town and each country will command the amount of currency which it requires for its own purposes, undisturbed in the slightest degree by consulting its manifest interest, namely, by purchasing that which it wants in the cheapest market. [Derisive cheers.] Yes, by purchasing that which it wants in the cheapest market. You consider this a very low and unworthy principle; that it is a doctrine of the Manchester school; that it is a novel doctrine of some speculative political philosophers, and that it may be safely rejected. But this doctrine of purchasing in the cheapest market is not a doctrine of speculative philosophers only. It is not a doctrine introduced by modern economists. It is, no doubt, a doctrine sanctioned expressly and directly by the authority of Adam Smith. It is the doctrine of Say and of Hume. It is opposed to a doctrine which was fashioned some eighty or ninety years since, of which such writers as Montesquieu and Voltaire were the patrons; but Smith, and Say, and Hume, demonstrated the true principles which ought to regulate the commercial policy of a nation.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 July 1849), quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates: Third Series, Commencing with the Accession of William IV. Vol. CVI. (1849), column 1452
  • My belief is, that a wiser decision than that to which you came—to subject property to direct taxation within certain limits—to remove the prohibition upon foreign cattle—to permit swine and sheep to be imported—to reduce the duty on corn, on sugar, on lard, on butter, and on cheese—you never made. My belief is that you have been amply repaid for any loss you may have sustained by that reduction; that you have gained the confidence and goodwill of the labouring classes in this country, by parting with that which was thought to be directly for the benefit of the landed interest. It was that confidence in the generosity and justice of Parliament which in no small degree enabled you to pass triumphantly through that storm which convulsed other nations during the year 1848.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 July 1849), quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates: Third Series, Commencing with the Accession of William IV. Vol. CVI. (1849), column 1460
  • What is this diplomacy? It is a costly engine for maintaining peace. It is a remarkable instrument used by civilised nations for the purpose of preventing war. Unless it be used for that purpose, unless it be used to appease the angry passions of individual men, and check the feelings which arise out of national resentment, unless it be used for that purpose, it is an instrument not only costly but mischievous. If then your application of diplomacy be to fester every wound, to provoke instead of soothing resentments, to place a minister in every court of Europe for the purpose, not of preventing quarrels, or of adjusting quarrels, but for the purpose of continuing an angry correspondence in this place, or of promoting what is supposed to be an English interest by keeping up conflicts with the representatives of other powers, then I say that not only is the expenditure upon this costly instrument thrown away, but this great engine, used by civilised society for the purpose of maintaining peace, is perverted into a cause of hostility and war.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the Don Pacifico affair (28 June 1850), quoted in James Richard Thursfield, Peel (1891), pp. 244–245

Quotes about Peel edit

  • [T]here is always so much wisdom and prudence in the view he takes of great and difficult affairs, that his opinion cannot but be valuable.
    • Lord Aberdeen to Princess Lieven (22 January 1850), quoted in The Correspondence of Lord Aberdeen and Princess Lieven, 1832–1854, ed. E. Jones Parry (1938), p. 364
  • Peel himself is a much better man than any we can oppose to him. He really is exceedingly dexterous and handy, as well as eloquent and powerful.
    • John Campbell to his brother (17 March 1835), quoted in Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England: From the Earliest Times till the Reign of Queen Victoria, Volume 12 (1881), p. 130
  • I decidedly liked Peel; and could not but hope some real good might yet lie in him for the country... Incomparably better furnished both with talent and disposition than any other we have at present.
    • Thomas Carlyle to his mother (22 March 1848), quoted in Fred Kaplan, Thomas Carlyle: A Biography (1983), p. 330
  • The statesman who more than any other had the instinct of the necessity of the moment
    • Cavour, quoted in Evelyn Martinengo Cesaresco, Cavour (1904), p. 31
  • Peel was the most admirable and high-principled of contemporary politicians.
  • Now, the whole interest centres in yourself. You represent the IDEA of the age, and it has no other representative amongst statesmen.
    • Richard Cobden to Peel (23 June 1846), quoted in John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden [1879] (1903), p. 392
  • Practical reforms are the order of the day, and you are by common consent the practical reformer. The Condition of England Question—there is your mission!
    • Richard Cobden to Peel (23 June 1846), quoted in John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden [1879] (1903), p. 396
  • I myself am satisfied that he is much nearer to the Radicals than to any other party in the State.
    • John Wilson Croker to the Duke of Wellington (29 June 1847), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. III (1884), p. 112
  • Sir Robert had studied the change which has been progressively taking place in the public mind and, from very close observation, I am thoroughly convinced that one of his greatest objects was, if possible, to encourage a kind and sympathetic feeling between the different classes and ranks in society, so that each might have adapted itself to a change which is inevitable. This belief is so firmly fixed in my mind, that I have always regarded it as the key by which much of his conduct that has exposed him to obloquy, was to be explained.
    • Lord Dunfermline to Baron Stockmar (c. 1846), quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), p. 713, n.
  • Peel was decidedly for a property tax. He wished to reach such men as Baring, his father, Rothschild, and others, as well as absentees and Ireland. He thought too it was expedient to reconcile the lower with the higher classes, and to diminish the burthen of taxation on the poor man.
    • Lord Ellenborough, diary entry (14 March 1830), quoted in Lord Ellenborough, A Political Diary, 1828-1830, Vol. II, ed. Lord Colchester (1881), p. 213
  • There were two things especially conspicuous about him. One was his over-mastering sense of public duty; this never deserted him. The other thing was his sense of measure. He had generally an exact sense of the proportion between one Bill, and the general policy of the Government; also of the proportion between the different parts of the same Bill; and of the relation in which the leaders of his party stood to their followers.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, remarks to Lionel Tollemache (29 January 1894), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), p. 116
  • The great virtue of Peel was that he had such an enormous conscience. Conscience, they say, is a very expensive thing to keep. Peel certainly kept one.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, remarks to Lionel Tollemache (13 January 1896), quoted in Lionel Tollemache, Talks with Mr. Gladstone (1898), pp. 126–127
  • I believe it to be impossible that anything can prevent Peel's speedy return to office; he has raised his reputation to such a height during this session, he has established such a conviction of his great capacity and of his liberal, enlarged, and at the same time safe views and opinions, that even the Radicals, such as Hume, join in the general chorus of admiration which is raised to his merits; he stands so proudly eminent, and there is such a general lack of talent, that he must be recalled by the voice of the nation and by the universal admission that he is indispensable to the country.
    • Charles Greville, journal entry (3 April 1835), quoted in The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reigns of King George IV, King William IV and Queen Victoria, Volume III, ed. Henry Reeve (1888), p. 247
  • Peel brought forward his financial plans in a speech of three hours and forty minutes, acknowledged by everybody to have been a masterpiece of financial statement. The success was complete; he took the House by storm; and his opponents, though of course differing and objecting on particular points, did him ample justice... It is really remarkable to see the attitude Peel has taken in this Parliament, his complete mastery over both his friends and his foes. His own party, nolentes aut volentes, have surrendered at discretion, and he has got them as well disciplined and as obedient as the crew of a man-of-war. This just measure, so lofty in conception, right in direction, and able in execution, places him at once on a pinnacle of power, and establishes his Government on such a foundation as accident alone can shake. Political predictions are always rash, but certainly there is every probability of Peel's being Minister for as many years as his health and vigour may endure. Only a few weeks ago I heard from my Whig friends of nothing but his weakness and embarrassments, and of all the difficulties his own supporters would cause him, what a poor figure he cut, &c.; but now they have not a word to say, and one of them who had been loudest in that strain brought to the Travellers’, where I was dining, an account of Peel's speech, and said, ‘One felt, all the time he was speaking, “Thank God, Peel is Minister!”’ There can be no doubt that he is now a very great man, and it depends on himself to establish a lasting reputation.
    • Charles Greville, journal entry (13 March 1842), quoted in The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1852, Volume II (1885), pp. 87–88
  • I appeal to the contemptible speech made lately by Sir Robert Peel to an applauding House of Commons. "Orders of merit," said he, "were the proper rewards of the military" (the desolators of the world in all ages). "Men of science are better left to the applause of their own hearts." Most learned legislator! Most liberal cotton-spinner! Was your title the proper reward of military prowess? Pity, you hold not the dungeon-keys of an English Inquisition! Perhaps Science, like Creeds, would flourish best under a little persecution.
    • John Joseph Griffin, in Chemical Recreations (7th Edition, 1834) "The Romance of Chemistry" p. 232
  • What struck me above all in the conversation of Sir Robert Peel was his constant and passionate preoccupation with the state of the working classes in England.
    • François Guizot, Sir Robert Peel (1856), p. 78, quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), p. 685
  • The Protection Parliament has voted and passed, by a great majority, the total repeal of the Corn-laws! No living soul could have done this but Peel, and I am not surprised at the increasing rage of the Protectionists. They appear more angry than ever.
    • John Hobhouse (15 May 1846), quoted in Lord Broughton, Recollections of a Long Life, with Additional Extracts from His Private Diaries, Vol. VI. 1841—1852, ed. Lady Dorchester (1911), p. 172
  • Sir Robert Peel, perhaps the greatest peacetime prime minister in British history... Probably no one man has ever possessed such a comprehensive and detailed grasp of the whole machinery of government... As he saw it, the problem facing the ruling class, during a period when Britain was undergoing a revolution in population and in rising expectations, was how to preserve a fundamentally sound system from violent overthrow by making it more acceptable and efficient. In his view acceptability and efficiency were inseparable. To work, Conservatism thus demanded well-judged and carefully timed but none the less fundamental reforms. The entire operations of government had to be improved and so popularized by applying sensible commercial principles. That is the pragmatic and, if you like, materialistic approach which Mrs Thatcher so clearly shares.
    • Paul Johnson, ‘Thatcher's glorious forebear’, The Times (6 February 1988), p. 8
  • His very name seems a synonym for all that is safe, judicious, business-like, sound, and practical. In spite of the two great schisms of 1829 and 1846, we cannot help looking back upon him as a man whom any party would have been wise to follow. We cannot help it. Nor can I doubt that if he had been spared, his old followers would again have fallen under the spell, and again have mustered under his banner.
    • T. E. Kebbel, A History of Toryism: From the Accession of Mr. Pitt to Power in 1783 to the Death of Lord Beaconsfield in 1881 (1886), p. 299
  • For concocting, producing, explaining, and defending measures he had no equal, or anything like an equal. There was nothing simile aut secundum. When a thing was to be done, he did it better than anybody.
    • George Cornewall Lewis to Sir Anthony Head (11 July 1850), quoted in Letters of the Right Hon. Sir G. C. Lewis to Various Friends, ed. Gilbert Frankland Lewis (1870), p. 226
  • The Whig opposition in the house appears spiritless and several of the Radicals, Roebuck, Raikes, Curry etc., laud Peel to the skies and contrast his vigour and liberality with the feebleness and irresolution of the late Ministry.
    • William Lucas, journal entry (c. 14 April 1842), quoted in A Quaker Journal: Being the Diary and Reminiscences of William Lucas of Hitchin (1804–1861) a Member of the Society of Friends, Volume I, ed. G. P. Baker (1934), p. 275
  • [T]he right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government is a man of considerable capabilities as a legislator: he possesses great talents for debate, for the management of this House, and for the transaction of official business. He has great knowledge, and I doubt not is actuated by a sincere desire to promote the interests of the country; but it is impossible for me with truth to deny that there is too much ground for the reproaches of those who having, in spite of bitter experience, a second time trusted him and raised him to power, have found themselves a second time deluded. It is impossible for me not to say that it has been too much the habit of the right hon. Baronet to make use of, when in opposition (as he has done in reference to the present question), passions with which he has not the slightest sympathy, and prejudices which he regards with profound contempt. As soon as he reaches power, a change—a salutary change for the country—takes place. The instruments are flung aside—the ladder by which he climbed is kicked down. This is not a solitary instance, and I am forced to say that this sort of conduct is pursued by the right hon. Baronet on something like a system.
  • Lord Robert Cecil while at Oxford occasionally joined in the debates of the Union Society, taking the strong Tory side, and speaking sometimes with a young man's vehemence. I recollect his declaiming that Sir Robert Peel, for breaking up the Conservative party, should be left to lie in the grave of infamy which his tergiversation had dug.
    • Frederick Meyrick, Memories of Life at Oxford and Experiences in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Spain, and Elsewhere (1905), p. 85
  • [F]or God's sake, be sure, if the King is driven to the wall, of Peel. An appeal to him and his countrymen could not be disregarded. Unless you have Peel, the House of Commons cannot be managed.
    • Earl of Munster to the Duke of Wellington (16 May 1832), quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), p. 34
  • [T]he people at large did care and enthusiastically care for the Conservative statesman who had sacrificed power to give the millions cheap bread; and there was scarcely a schoolboy who had not got by heart Sir Robert Peel's pathetic expression of his hopes that his name might live in the homes of those whose lot it was to labour, when at the end of their day's toil they recruited their exhausted strength by “abundant and untaxed food, no longer leavened by a sense of injustice.”
  • Whether he was a model of statesmanship may be doubted. Models of statesmanship are rare, if by a model of statesmanship is meant a great administrator and party leader, a great political philosopher and a great independent orator, all in one. But if the question is whether he was a ruler loved and trusted by the English people there is no arguing against the tears of a nation.
    • Goldwin Smith, ‘Peel, The Right Honourable Sir Robert’, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, Vol. XVII (1859), p. 366
  • For a quarter of a century, at least, he was without question the first public servant of England; not the first in position only, but in knowledge of the public business, and in capacity for transacting it throughout all its departments; the man to whom all good public servants looked up as their model and their worthy chief. He must be credited with all the industry, the self-control, the patience, the judgment which such a part required. His integrity was as great as his other qualities; no jobbery, no connivance at abuses stains his name. Setting party questions aside, he was the man who would have been chosen as the chief ruler of England by the almost unanimous voice of the English people, and a heavy price was paid for party when he was excluded from the administration during ten of the best years of his life, and banished from power at the moment when the national confidence in him was at its height.
    • Goldwin Smith, ‘Sir Robert Peel’, The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, New Series, Vol. IX, No. 2 (February 1869), p. 131
  • Peel is, in fact, the embodied reflex of the public mind of England.
  • Peel's speech is, to me, the most affecting public event which I ever remember: no return of Cicero from exile, no triumphal procession up to the temple of Capitoline Jove, no Appius Claudius in the Roman Senate, no Chatham dying in the House of Lords, could have been a truly grander sight than that great Minister retiring from office, giving to the whole world free trade with one hand, and universal peace with the other, and casting under foot the miserable factions which had dethroned him.
    • Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, reaction to Peel's resignation speech, quoted in George Granville Bradley, Recollections of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, late dean of Westminster : three lectures delivered in Edinburgh in November, 1882 (1883), p. 63
  • [W]hat was Peel really notable for? It was surely the perfection of what may be called “concessionary” Conservatism. This is the concept that the highest virtue in politics is to resist change until change becomes inevitable, and then to concede to it with as little fuss and as much obeisance to tradition as possible... Peel assumed, as most Conservative politicians until Mrs Thatcher generally have, that his political opponents represented the future. Their excesses must be resisted, but most of their causes in the end would prevail and the business of the Conservative Party was to make the transition as smooth as possible.
    • T. E. Utley, ‘Peel's misplaced mantle’, The Times (9 February 1988), p. 16
  • He says no other Minister but Sir Robert Peel could have carried the repeal of the Corn Laws; that half the commercial men in the City would have been against it, had it been attempted by Lord John or anyone else; but their confidence in Sir Robert Peel's knowledge and sagacity is such that they say—‘Upon a question where so much is said on both sides, upon which our own minds are not made up, we feel that the safest course is to trust to him who has proved himself the greatest financier of the day’.
    • Charles Pelham Villiers, quoted in Lady Westmoreland to Charles Arbuthnot (8 June 1846), quoted in Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel after 1830 (1972), p. 605
  • Your Lordships must all feel the high and honourable character of the late Sir Robert Peel. I was long connected with him in public life. We were both in the councils of our Sovereign together, and I had long the honour to enjoy his private friendship. In all the course of my acquaintance with Sir Robert Peel, I never knew a man in whose truth and justice I had a more lively confidence, or in whom I saw a more invariable desire to promote the public service. In the whole course of my communication with him I never knew an instance in which he did not show the strongest attachment to truth; and I never saw in the whole course of my life the smallest reason for suspecting that he stated anything which he did not firmly believe to be the fact.
    • Duke of Wellington, speech in the House of Lords (4 July 1850), quoted in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, Third Series, Commencing with the Accession of William IV, Vol. CXII (1850), column 865

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  1. Known as the Peelian principles, from the General Instructions (1829) for the Metropolitan Police.