Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

James D. Mochoruk


In the early morning hours of May 16th, 1846 Parliament gathered for the final reading to repeal the Corn Laws. While the Corn Laws had been a highly contested topic within Britain for over two decades, it was at this juncture that the Conservative party of Sir Robert Peel fractured. As this study shall demonstrate, the Corn Law crisis of 1846 did not destroy Peel’s version of Conservativism as has often been argued, but rather put it into a state of suspended animation. The division of the party only twelve years after its formation has long been a topic of interest to historians. As previous histories have suggested, Peel had attempted to revive the old idea of Toryism but also to transform it into his new Conservative idea. This thesis goes beyond this to suggest that Peel’s own unique form of Conservatism not only shaped the party in 1834 but also helped it to recover after the split of 1846. As the blueprint for Conservative political discourse, the ideas set forth in Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto (1834) outlined the fundamental structures and tenets for a national Conservative party. His central argument was that Conservatives should work to actively reform state institutions as a way of preserving them. This was a revolutionary idea and the central pillar of Tamworth Conservatism. Illustrating his own form of Conservativism the manifesto identified what this new political ideology was to entail for his first ministry (1835) and beyond. Peel’s visions for the party after 1835 started a new type of political discourse in British politics. This new discourse was centered on the ideals of preservation of state institutions via careful reforms. To establish a new political organization his Tamworth Conservativism had to become the party’s standard. Peel’s Manifesto, guided the growth and formation of a party ideology from 1834 to 1846. Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846 was met with fierce Conservative opposition, leading to an internal party rebellion. Conservative division in 1846 was fueled by discontent with Conservative leadership and the perceived opaqueness of Peel’s Conservative principles. However, the Conservative split of 1846 did not result in the abandonment of Conservatism but a period of Conservative dormancy. The Conservative party, unlike Peel’s political career, survived and was rebuilt to become a serious contender in British politics. More than a bit ironically, the restoration of Conservativism in 1852 was based upon a return to its origins in Peel’s manifesto; a Conservativism that was built upon the ideas of careful, active, and thought-out reforms designed to preserve and protect state institutions. This suggests that the legacy of Peel’s Tamworth Conservatism and the Corn Laws crisis of 1846 were more intertwined with each other than previously recognized in the historiography.