This was hugely unpopular with the landowners, and therefore a great section of his parties support base however, it was greatly successful and despite being expected to raise 3-4 million a year it actually raised £5million. The removal of duties on 600 goods, and the reduction on 500 more, considerably reduced the cost of living for the majority of the British population. It was also a step towards free trade, an issue which Peel had been greatly influenced by a free trade philosopher, Adam Smith, who argued the fewer restrictions, the better the economy would become.
Peel also passed reform in 1844 with the ‘Bank Charter Act’ creating a more efficient banking system on which the government could trust and rely, as well as the ‘Companies Act’ which monitored company’s progress and improved the nation’s financial health. Some historians have accused Peel about being too focused on his financial policies, however throughout his ministry he made genuine attempts to improve the conditions for workers, especially in mines and factories.
Peel had always shown sympathy for the less-well off, and even early in his career in 1829 he had shown this through some of his reforms. His government set up of the ‘National Relief Fund’ in 1841 to investigate the conditions for workers in growing industrial cities in addition to the pressure from leading figures like Lord Ashley, which prompted social reform. The reforms he made were not really radical, but were common sense and made the working environment for workers safer, reducing fatalities where death was frequent.
The ‘1842 Mines Act’ forbade women and children under 10 to work underground, and the ‘1844 Factory Act’ which was largely driven by Peel’s home secretary, Sir James Graham, limited the hours children under 13 could work, and recommended safety improvements. The reform was successful in improving working conditions for some, and it reduced the death rates at work places as environments became safer. However, this did come at a cost in that it frustrated many Tory supporters as the efficiency of their industry was being compromised.
Peel’s ministry also introduced ‘The Railway Act’ in 1844 aimed to regulate the activities of railways to safeguard passenger’s interests, and called for a ‘parliamentary train’ to run once a day which stopped at every station on the line. The improvement in living conditions for most people, and therefore success of Peel’s ministry, was marked by the decline of radical groups such as the chartists. One historian, Donald Read said Peel was: “The hero of equally the newly enfranchised, the middle classes and of the unenfranchised property less masses. ”
Peel’s ministry really benefited the poor and the middle class, as it narrowed the gap in some way between them, and the monopolising landowners through the introduction of fairer policies. The popularity of such groups like chartists depended on economic crisis which Peel effectively contained through timely and accommodating reform which kept the majority happy. Peel vitally saw that although it was important to maintain traditional Tory values to retain the support of much of his party, they were holding the party back in many ways, most of them unfairly and unnecessary.
He worked around this by successfully diluting traditional policies to appeal to a wider number of people. Peel’s political career was closely intertwined with Ireland and O’Connell’s career, an Irish political figurehead. Peel’s policies towards Ireland were on a whole relatively unsuccessful, and his attempts to win over moderate Catholic opinion while retaining the key features of the established church greatly failed, in some cases actually angering both Protestants and Catholics. The ‘Irish Colleges Bill’ in 1844 which Peel hoped would bridge gaps between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland ironically did the opposite.
However, Peel’s policies to Ireland were hindered by Protestant Peers, and the self-interested landowners constantly slowing and refusing most of it, in the case of the ‘Maynooth Grant’ in 1845, although it won over some catholic opinion it was passed too late, and just increased tension within the Conservative Party between Tory Ultras, and Peel. Despite Peel’s overall disappointment on the issue of Ireland, in 1843 he crucially took firm action to prevent the ‘Repeal of the Union Act 1800,’ which made Ireland part of Britain. O’Connell tried to use mass agitation to force the repeal as it had worked for him in 1829.
However, when Peel recognised the seriousness of the threat from the ‘Repeal Organisation’ as it became known, he made it clear he would be prepared to use force to uphold the act. Peel also took more decisive action in 1843 by passing a Coercion Act which banned O’Connell’s huge meeting at Clontarf, and arresting him for conspiracy. This approach was successful in keeping Ireland in the Union, one of the many problems Peel’s ministry faced, although it did come at some cost as Irish nationalists now rejected O’Connell’s constitutional approach and resulted to violence to bring about change.
Peel has been named a ‘betrayer’ of his party by some historians such as the modern historian Eric Evans who said Peel: “Either ignored his followers’ sensibilities or bludgeoned them into submission. ” However, as Prime Minister of Britain he was using his skills as a leader and administrator not only to represent and benefit a small select group, but fairly to the whole nation. A successful ministry has to primarily address its nation and not its party’s interests; this is what Peel’s ministry did.
Although Peel had the backing of many Ultra Tories to get into government, Peel had very much created a ‘new’ conservative party that stated they would reform if and when they saw necessary. In 1846 Peel saw the ‘Corn Laws’ as the last major obstacle of achieving free trade. He believed that by repealing the ‘Corn Laws’ British industry would become more competitive, and exports would be increased. He knew that he risked the unity of his part, and his own career but he believed that agricultural protection was no longer necessary or fair.
They were in place for political and not economic reasons, and despite the Conservative party’s negative view towards reform, Peel believed it would boost manufacturing, and lower prices for living, as well as demonstrate he was ‘in touch’ with the needs of ordinary people. Peel did ultimately split the party he had created by forcing through the ‘Repeal of the Corn Laws’ in 1846 however, he did it in the nations best interest, Britain’s economic prosperity for the next 30 years bearing witness to this.
Some may argue that by splitting his party and not abiding to polices he was elected on, most notably he had promised not to repeal the Corn Laws, Peel’s ministry was a failure. He caused such a split in the party that it took around 30years for the conservative party to really find its feet again. Peel’s policy to winning over moderate opinion had been hugely successful nationally except it had come at a cost. Peel’s ministry from 1841 can be considered a success despite it concluding in the split of the Conservative party in 1846.
This is because on a whole, the nation benefited greatly from moderate reform which caused working conditions to improve and the cost of living to be reduced, which improved living conditions. A greater deal of economic stability was reached as well as the national debt being eradicated. The reduction in radical activity emphasised the fact that conditions were improving in Britain at this time. As the average man of Britain benefited from Peel’s ministry, it came at a cost to the landowners and Tory Ultras who were a considerable part of the Conservative party’s support base.
In a sense Peel’s ministry was unsuccessful in terms of the negative impact it had on the Conservative party, and the tension that it created which peaked in 1846 as the ‘Corn Laws’ were repealed and the Conservative party split. However, Peel’s ministry was prevailingly successful, in comparison to its party failure, as it greatly benefited the nation as a whole, most importantly though its financial reform, and also reaching its climax in 1846 with the ‘Repeal of the Corn Laws. ‘