Whigs (British political party)

British political party

The Whigs were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom.


  • [T]here are...powerful Motives to make the Whigs open their Arms to embrace all Strangers: One to strengthen their Party. For I scarce ever knew a Foreigner settled in England, whether of Dutch, German, French, Italian or Turkish Growth, but became a Whig in a little time after mixing with us: An Argument that all the World know our Constitution better than we; or that as Strangers have less Concern for us, they strike in with those who are the least affected to England.
  • A body of men connected with high rank and property, bound together by hereditary feelings, party ties, as well as higher motives, who in bad times keep alive the sacred flame of freedom, and when the people are roused stand between the constitution and revolution and go with the people, but not to extremities.
    • Sir Francis Baring, letter (15 February 1855), quoted in Robin James Moore, Sir Charles Wood's Indian Policy, 1853–66 (1966), p. 19
  • You may observe yourself...what a difference there is between the true strength of this nation and the fictitious one of the Whigs. How much time, how many lucky incidents, how many strains of power, how much money must go to create a majority of the latter; on the other hand, take but off the opinion that the Crown is another way inclined, the church interest rises with redoubled force, and by its natural genuine strength.
    • Lord Bolingbroke to Mr. Drummond (10 November 1710), quoted in Gilbert Parke, Letters and Correspondence, Public and Private, of The Right Honourable Henry St. John, Lord Visc. Bolingbroke; during the Time he was Secretary of State to Queen Anne; with State Papers, Explanatory Notes, and a Translation of the Foreign Letters, &c.: Vol. I (1798), pp. 16–17
  • The party with which I acted had, by the malevolent and unthinking been reproached, and by the wise and good always esteemd and confided in—as an aristocratick Party. Such I always understood it to be in the true Sense of the word. I understood it to be a Party, in its composition and in its principles, connected with the solid, permanent long possessed property of the Country; a party, which, by a Temper derived from that Species of Property, and affording a security to it, was attached to the antient tried usages of the Kingdom, a party therefore essentially constructed upon a Ground plot of stability and independence; a party therefore equally removed from servile court compliances, and from popular levity, presumption, and precipitation.
    • Edmund Burke, letter to William Weddell (31 January 1792), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), pp. 52-53
  • I look upon the Whigs as an anti-national party. ... Believing that the policy of the party was such as must destroy the honour of the kingdom abroad and the happiness of the people at home, I considered it my duty to oppose the Whigs, to ensure their discomfiture, and, if possible, their destruction.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, speech in Taunton (28 April 1835), quoted in William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield. Vol. I, 1804–1859 (1929), p. 286
  • [A]s a rule a man not born a Liberal, may become a Liberal; but to be a Whig, he must be a born Whig.
  • To the Whigs of the seventeenth century we owe it that we have a House of Commons. To the Whigs of the nineteenth century we owe it that the House of Commons has been purified. The abolition of the slave-trade, the abolition of colonial slavery, the extension of popular education, the mitigation of the rigour of the penal code, all, all were effected by that party; and of that party, I repeat, I am a member. I look with pride on all that the Whigs have done for the cause of human freedom and of human happiness. I see them now hard pressed, struggling with difficulties, but still fighting the good fight. At their head I see men who have inherited the spirit and the virtues, as well as the blood, of old champions and martyrs of freedom... While one shred of the old banner is flying, by that banner will I at least be found.
    • Thomas Macaulay, speech in Edinburgh (29 May 1839), quoted in Speeches of The Right Honorable T. B. Macaulay, M.P., Vol. I (1853), pp. 219-220
  • The British Whig, in the natural history of politics, forms a species which, like all those of the amphibious class, exists very easily, but is difficult to describe. Shall we call them, with their opponents, Tories out of office? or, as continental writers love it, take them for the representatives of certain popular principles? In the latter case we should get embarrassed in the same difficulty as the historian of the Whigs, Mr. Cooke, who, with great naïvété confesses in his “History of Parties” that it is indeed a certain number of “liberal, moral and enlightened principles” which constitutes the Whig party, but that it was greatly to be regretted that during the more than a century and a half that the Whigs have existed, they have been, when in office, always prevented from carrying out these principles. So that in reality, according to the confession of their own historian, the Whigs represent something quite different from their professed-liberal and enlightened principles.” Thus they are in the same position as the drunkard brought up before the Lord Mayor who declared that he represented the Temperance principle but from some accident or other always got drunk on Sundays.
  • The Whigs are the aristocratic representatives of the bourgeoisie, of the industrial and commercial middle class. Under the condition that the Bourgeoisie should abandon to them, to an oligarchy of aristocratic families, the monopoly of government and the exclusive possession of office, they make to the middle class, and assist it in conquering, all those concessions, which in — the course of social and political development — have shown themselves to have become unavoidable and undelayable. Neither more nor less. And as often as such an unavoidable measure has been passed, they declare loudly that herewith the end of historical progress has been obtained; that the whole social movement has carried its ultimate purpose, and then they “cling to finality.” They can support more easily than ‘the Tories, a decrease of their rental revenues, because they consider themselves as the heaven-born farmers of the revenues of the British Empire. They can renounce the monopoly of the Corn Laws, as long as — they maintain the monopoly of government as their family property. Ever since the “glorious revolution” of 1688 the Whigs, with short intervals, caused principally by the first French Revolution and the consequent reaction, have found themselves in the enjoyment of the public offices. Whoever recalls to his mind this period of English history, will find no other distinctive mark of Whigdom but the maintenance of their family oligarchy. The interests and principles which they represent besides, from time to time, do not belong to the Whigs; they are forced upon them. by the development of the industrial and commercial class, the Bourgeoisie.
  • It is evident what a distastefully heterogeneous mixture the character of the British Whigs must turn out to be: Feudalists, who are at the same time Malthusians, money-mongers with feudal prejudices, aristocrats without point of honor, Bourgeois without industrial activity, finality — men with progressive phrases, progressists with fanatical Conservatism, traffickers in homeopathical fractions of reforms, fosterers of family — nepotism, Grand Masters of corruption, hypocrites of religion, Tartuffes of politics.
  • With the Bourgeoisie it has in common the hatred against aristocrats. In the Whigs it hates the one and the other, aristocrats and Bourgeois, the landlord who oppresses, and the money lord who exploits it. In the Whig it hates the oligarchy which has ruled over England for more than a century, and by which the People is excluded from the direction of its own affairs.
  • Belonging to the Whig party, the aim of that party has always been my aim — 'The cause of civil and religious liberty all over the world.'

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