Conservative Party


Conservative Party
   A political party of the United Kingdom that introduced the term conservative in its current meaning into the English language. The party was not commonly known by that name until the 1830s. It traces its roots through the antirevolutionary politics of William Pitt the Younger to the eighteenth-century oppositional or “country” Tory party, and thence to the Anglican and royalist successors to the cavaliers of the English Civil War. By the 1820s, however, egalitarian political reform was gaining wide support, even among some Tories, and those generally opposed to reform and supportive of Anglican and aristocratic privilege came to describe themselves as “conservatives.” With the fracturing of Lord Grey’s Whig administration after the 1832 Reform Act, the Tories of Sir Robert Peel were able to attract a wider body of supporters by styling themselves Conservatives rather than Tories.
   By the late nineteenth century, the Conservative Party, as it came to be known, was associated with imperialism, but it had not always been so. In the middle years of the century, self-assertive foreign policies were more commonly associated with Lord Palmerston, and plans for imperial expansion were often put forward by radicals. The Liberals, however, were also partisans of colonial self-government and were accused by Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli of plotting “the disintegration of the empire of England.” Given at times to florid imperial rhetoric, Disraeli’s administration of 1874–1880 managed to become embroiled in a series of wars in Afghanistan and South Africa, which opponents linked to what was beginning to be called “ imperialism. ” Disraeli’s successor, Lord Salisbury, was able to use imperial feeling - and the parallel and far from unintended implication that the Liberals were lacking in imperial patriotism - to cement a broad-based “Conservative and Unionist” party. Imperialism, in the sense of support for the Empire, remained a key part of Conservative ideology through the 1950s, when the Suez crisis served to emphasize the extent of its costs and the paucity of its rewards.
   FURTHER READING:
    Blake, Robert. The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1970.
   MARK F. PROUDMAN

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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