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Peel's First Ministry: December 1834 to April 1835

In November 1834 Melbourne resigned and Peel was appointed as Prime Minister with Wellington as caretaker until Peel returned from his holiday in Italy. Peel's Conservative ministry of 1834-5 had no majority, and he took the post out of a sense of duty. He saw himself as the king's minister: Peel had a national conception of politics, not a party concept. Peel was not fundamentally a party politician: party loyalty did not come first for him. He was a proponent of the idea that a parliamentary party was there to sustain a government, not to create or control it.

His central policy was the 'maintenance of our settled institutions in Church and State' - that is, opposition to further political reform and the defence of the Constitution. This latter meant

Both implied strong government but did not rule out moderate reform. When in government the Conservatives tried to widen the basis of their support beyond the aristocracy, country gentry and Anglican clergy and get into the ranks of the middle classes. This was the message of the Tamworth Manifesto which was published on 18 December 1834. It was a declaration of Peel's moderate views and formed the basis of Conservative parliamentary behaviour until the 1840s. The Tamworth Manifesto was the opening shot in the 1835 election campaign. It was an electioneering document aimed not at Peel's constituents but at the electorate at large. It displayed the 'progressive' credentials of the Conservative party especially in relation to contemporary issues. It was a fundamental statement of Peelite Conservatism, but was approved of by the Cabinet, and was made available to the national press.

The new Conservative government was supported enthusiastically by the party as a whole. Peel carried the main burden as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Cabinet contained Gladstone and Sidney Herbert, both of whom were High Tories, and therefore marked a further stage in consolidating party unity. Stanley and Graham refused Cabinet posts because they were suspicious of the 'liberal' nature of the Conservative party and were reluctant to abandon the Whigs totally. Peel was therefore more dependent on Ultra support than he wished to be.

Because it was a minority government, it depended on its policies for survival. This was unlikely if, as Charles Greville said, 'Peel makes a High Tory government and holds High Tory language'. During this ministry, Peel set up the Ecclesiastical Commission which enabled the Church of England to take the opportunity to overhaul its finances and administration. Peel also prepared to deal with some of the grievances of the Dissenters, but he refused to abolish the Malt Tax.

Peel's first ministry led to his emergence as a major national figure and the 'Hundred Days' is important because

NET CONSERVATIVE GAINS, 1833-41

England and Wales

 Scotland

 Ireland

 Total

Boroughs

Counties

By-elections 1832-3

10

General election 1835

53

27

3

9

92

Changes of Party 1835*

25

10

2

6

43

By-elections 35-7

8

General election 1837

-1

22

-1

-7

13

Changes of party 1837

1

1

By-elections 38-41

10#

General Election 1841

19

23

3

5

50

Changes of party 1841

2

2

* It is necessary to assume that MPs changed party at the start of each parliament
# Two by-elections resulting from petitions are included in the 1837 general election results

The Conservatives gained seats in all regions and almost all types of constituency because