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Tories and the language of 'Liberalism' in the 1820s

Craig, David (2020) 'Tories and the language of 'Liberalism' in the 1820s.', English historical review., 135 (576). pp. 1195-1228.


This article reconsiders the problem of ‘liberal Toryism’ in the 1820s not by looking at the government’s policies, but instead at the very ‘liberal’ language through which they were expressed. It argues that an existing domestic language of ‘liberality’—which was associated with religious toleration and with freer trade—was quite distinct from the new political movements on the Continent. Canning and Huskisson used this well-established, and generally well-esteemed, language to enhance and extend their appeal to ‘public opinion’. However, many Tories were coming to view this terminology with increased suspicion in the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1820. The article stresses the way that the Tory press popularised a negative typology of the ‘liberal system’ which ran together religious, economic and foreign affairs, and depicted Canning and Huskisson as ‘theorists’ content to ruin the moral fibre and economic health of the nation in quest of an abstract metaphysics. By 1826 ‘liberal’ and ‘illiberal’ were increasingly seen as distinct positions that could not be bridged. Although Canning’s brief ministry was not able to bring about a reconfiguration of parties, the final years of decade saw a clear sense among many Tories that ‘liberalism’ was a powerful threat to traditional religious, political and economic practices.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 24 October 2022.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in English historical review following peer review. The version of record is available online at:
Date accepted:27 August 2019
Date deposited:07 April 2020
Date of first online publication:24 October 2020
Date first made open access:24 October 2022

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