reason to be ashamed of this ancestry. From the Whigs the Liberals derived their principles of toleration, of emancipation, and of resistance to the arbitrary power of government. The principles of the Foxites are often thought of as the negative side of Liberalism. Plainly a just society cannot be built simply on a protest. But a society in which the old Whig protest against arbitrary power ceases to be heard is no longer a free society.

The name of Liberal was first used as a scornful joke, and that, indeed, is the way in which a great many honourable and famous names have originated. In the early years of the nineteenth century the men of Spain who fought for their country's liberties called themselves Liberales. In France, the supporters of the popular movement called themselves Liberaux. They were moderate enough liberties that these men struggled for, constitutional guarantees mainly. In Spain, they sought a monarch of their own choosing, and the end of the Inquisition. But to the High Tories of that age, the friends of liberty always looked funny as well as disreputable, like the comic brigands in an opéra bouffe. Liberal, therefore, seemed a heaven-sent nickname to apply first to the Whigs, and then to those early Tory Reformers, the followers of George Canning. The word possessed all the qualities to be looked for in an effective label of British political abuse, for it sounded Continental, disloyal, and agnostic. Its success may be judged from its effect upon George IV. His Majesty, writing to Charles Williams Wynn in 1825, was at once put in mind of the French Revolution. The name recalled to the King "the deplorable revolutionary sentiment" that was abroad in England in the 1790's, "when it required all the talent and firmness of Mr. Pitt to put it down."

Let us look at the setting of this period when Liberalism was born. They were cheerless years that followed Waterloo. Times were hard in the cities, labourers went hungry in the shires, there were many walking scarecrows on the roads. The Corn Law of 1815 brought dearer bread at a time when work was scarce. The working people suffered the hardships of the Industrial Revolution long before they enjoyed its benefits. What was most depressing of all, there seemed no hope of change in the social and political order. The narrowest, harshest and most bigoted Conservatism prevailed. In the frozen society of that time, fear played on fear; hate returned hate; and any show of discontent brought sterner repression.

Yet while England seemed to be bound in the hardest of political winters, there, under the ice and snow, the seeds of a new time were germinating. Political persecution created an interest in every political heresy. Decay in the Church set men thinking about the mysterious destiny of their souls. The sloth of the Universities gave learning the spice of illicit pleasure. Reading was seldom pursued with greater fervour than when pamphleteers and printers were being tried at Newgate, and when there was a crushing tax on newspapers. Speculations about the origin of Government, about the relation of man to society, about natural rights and civil rights, about

-12-

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The Liberal Party
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • List of Illustrations 5
  • Introduction 7
  • The Beginnings 11
  • The Golden Age 24
  • Modern Liberalism 31
  • The Party and the Present 42
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