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Chapter Thirteen

[Ireland 1800-1850 Copyright © 2001 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Peel’s First Ministry

(December 1834 to April 1835)

Summary. This was  a brief ministry. The Whigs failed to form a Government, and Robert Peel failed to get a majority. Following the Emancipation Act, Peel issued his Manifesto at Tamworth in Staffordshire in which he set out a modern programme for the Tories, now to be called Conservatives, which embraced reform only when necessary. It also welcomed Catholics into the Conservative ranks.


Peel’s First Ministry

General Election 1834

Peel’s First Term


Peel’s First Ministry 

            Wellington held the fort from the 17th November until the beginning of December being minister for everything.  When Peel returned from the Continent he had to try to build up his parliamentary strength so he asked the king to dissolve Parliament. This was done on 29 December 1834, and canvassing immediately commenced.

[December 1834] He saw that the Tory party could not turn the clock back to 1828. So he issued a manifesto on future policy from his constituency of Tamworth, whence its name the 'Tamworth Manifesto'. He stated that while the Party would try to conserve what was best in the old it would bring in such moderate reforms as were necessary. Old religious antagonisms should be put aside, and the Tory Party itself should be open to members of all Christian denominations.

            Peel, in his appointments, had to rely on old party stalwarts. Wellington became Foreign Secretary, and Goulburn Home Secretary. Lord Maryborough (Wellesley-Pole) became Post Master General, and a young supporter, William Ewart Gladstone, became a Lord of the Treasury. The Earl of Haddington was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Sir Henry Hardinge Irish Secretary. A capable English barrister named Edward Sugden became Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Blackburne stayed on as Attorney General, and Edward Pennefather became Solicitor General. Stanley refused to join Peel, but promised independent support.

            The Orange faction was overjoyed at the unexpected fall of the Whig ministry, while O'Connell's supporters were shocked. When Haddington arrived the High Tories rushed to greet him, expecting that the clock would be turned back. But Haddington, Hardinge, and Sugden promptly made it clear that they had no such intention. An English newspaper observed that O'Connell was worth a great many votes to the Tories. Another tithe affray occurred at Rathcormack in county Cork in which several people were shot. The Tories claimed that they had issued no new instructions to the police who were therefore still acting under Whig regulations. Still the rumour was put about that this was what a Tory administration would be like. (Others claimed that the clash was caused by bad advice given by O'Connell, who told tithe resisters that bailiffs coming to destrain goods could be treated as trespassers on private land and 'walloped'.)  [Top] 

General Election December 1834-January 1835           

[January 1835] The bitter in-fighting continued in Carlow between those Catholics who wished to vote for the local resident Tory landlord and the priests who wished to support O'Connell. The new bishop of the diocese Dr Edward Nolan, who had succeeded after the death of Doyle, allowed some of his political priests, in what he perceived as an emergency, to canvass Catholic voters, to explain to the 'real nature of the question', namely, the need to protect the people from (alleged) tithe massacres, to rescue education from proselytizers, to prevent the return of the 'old ascendancy faction', and to remove the 'enormous abuses of a Church establishment'. It can be seen that the bishop had not bothered to read the Tamworth Manifesto or to consult Colonel Bruen, the local Tory landlord and MP. The bishop was not stating a general policy on political priests and considered his permission to the priests as being limited to what he regarded as a time of national crisis. But he set a precedent that was to endure until the setting up of the Irish Free State. Every election thereafter could be depicted as critical either for Church or national interests or both.

            At this time too the leader of the Catholic Tories in Carlow, a man named Thomas Finn, whose brother was married to O'Connell's sister, wrote a public letter in which he accused him of gross immorality. Rebutting a charge of ‘profligacy in his political opinions’ made against him by O’Connell in the Anti-Tory Association he replied, ‘This is pretty well coming from the proprietor of a seraglio, composed of every order of the Cyprian profession, from the lofty runagate of Kerry down to the lowly under-wench of the Earl of Meath’s Liberty’ (Carlow Sentinel 14 Feb 1835. No evidence was adduced, and most newspapers quoted the letter with no comment. This letter appears to be the origin of the rumour, cherished in both Orange and Republican circles, that O'Connell had a bastard child in every parish in Ireland.) In Carlow and elsewhere there were allegations that the Tory landlords were threatening to evict any tenant who failed to support them. Col. Bruen and others rebutted the allegations, but the Repealers tried to bankrupt Protestant shopkeepers in the boroughs through 'exclusive dealing,' i.e. dealing only with Catholic shopkeepers. (This policy had been considered earlier by the Catholic Association but was rejected on the grounds that it could hurt Catholics more than Protestants. For example, Protestants could refuse to hire any Catholic servants. The policy was to be enforced as the 'boycott' fifty years later, leading inevitably to the refusal to hire Catholic servants.)

            The Trades' Political Union, now (January 1835) legal again, met to organize the return of O'Connell and Ruthven. Their adoption as candidates was proposed by Lawless. The meeting was a public one in Townsend Street chapel, so presumably anyone could speak. O'Connell had already formed the Anti-Tory Association.

O'Connell and Ruthven were returned in Dublin, Wyse in Waterford, Sheil in Tipperary, More O'Ferrall in Kildare, and Michael O'Loghlen in Dungarvan. Sharman Crawford was elected in the borough of Dundalk. In Louth, Sir Patrick Bellew, now Lord Lieutenant of the county, and his brother Montesquieu, beat off a strong Tory challenge and took both seats for the Whigs. The Repealers in Carlow could get no support among the local Whig gentlemen, and so they put up outsiders. The Tories took both seats in the county, and the seat in the borough, Colonel Bruen and his brother both being elected. In Kerry O'Connell threw his influence behind Mullins, the Whig candidate, against the Knight of Kerry. The number of O'Connell's supporters in the House of Commons (‘O’Connell’s Tail’) was estimated to be about twenty. The Catholic Whigs, Stephen Woulfe and Nicholas Ball were returned in by-elections in 1835 and 1836. Feargus O’Connor was elected in Cork but was unseated on petition, not having sufficient property. He went to England, failed to find a seat there, and devoted himself to promoting what was to be called Chartism.

            Petitions against the return of Bruen and Kavanagh in Carlow and against O'Connell and Ruthven in Dublin were lodged, and parliamentary committees were appointed to examine the claims. There are indications, chiefly in the Protestant Carlow Sentinel, that the two Tory landlords were popular and received the support of some Catholic freeholders. Indeed a local magistrate had to send for a file of soldiers to protect Catholics who had voted for Colonel Bruen (Carlow Sentinel 14 March 1835). A Catholic priest accused the Rev. James Maher of telling lies. Also, it would appear that some of the Catholic clergy were not supportive of O’Connell. It would seem too that, notwithstanding the election landslide in Clare in 1828 the old habit of tenants voting for their landlord’s candidate had not died out, and that Peel’s invitation in the Tamworth Manifesto to support the Tories had reasonable hopes for success. The reason for the fanatical opposition of some of the Catholic priests to Peel is not obvious. Archbishop Murray, during the Famine, expressed a high opinion of Peel and explained to Rome that the Protestant Government was very mild, as indeed it was. The highly-charged language of the two rival Carlow newspapers at this time, and the cockpit atmosphere they reflected, were to be typical of Irish local newspapers for almost a century. Into this highly passionate conflict many Catholic priests rushed. Dr Nolan would have been better advised to forbid them to take any active part in elections. But it must also be remembered that among some Protestants the anti-popery campaign was equally strong.

            In the Carlow case the Committee, dominated by Whigs and Radicals, fairly speedily accepted the allegations against the Tories and both candidates were unseated. For the by-election in Carlow O’Connell told a London merchant, Alexander Raphael, formerly a Jew but now a Catholic, that he could have the seat for £2,000. At a subsequent inquiry, O'Connell maintained that the sum referred only to the cost of essential expenses. He was cleared but people believed what they liked. A Whig gentleman named Vigors and  Raphael, were elected, but were themselves promptly unseated on petition. Vigors was finally elected for Carlow county in 1837 as a radical Whig. The Rev. James Maher emerged as the chief political broker in Carlow, and charges were made against him, which were to be repeated all his life that he was careless with the truth.

            O'Connell proved more difficult to remove from Dublin but it was managed eventually. An MP sat and voted in Parliament while the case against him was being examined. The resurgent Orange faction was determined to challenge every possible vote registered by members of the Trades' Political Union. O'Connell retaliated by challenging the Orange votes. As witnesses had to be brought to Westminster to testify in person for or against each vote the case dragged on for some years. When O'Connell was eventually dislodged, a member of the ‘Tail’ resigned his seat to get him back to Westminster without delay. [TOP] 

Peel’s First Term 

[February 1835] The election did not give Peel the majority he needed so he had to be very cautious about the kind of legislation he introduced. When Parliament met on 19 February 1835, the first thing it had to do was elect a Speaker and the candidate of the Whigs won. The King's Speech outlined Peel's programme for 1835 and mentioned the commutation of tithes in England and Wales, measures to improve Church discipline and the Dissenters’ Marriages Bill to give Dissenting clergymen control over their own weddings. Peel brought in two Bills on tithes, one for England and one for Ireland, and both were later adopted by the Whigs and passed. He accepted Stanley’s National Education Board as it stood, again offending the High Tories. Archbishop Murray continued his custom of attending a levee of the Lord Lieutenant once a year to pay his respects. The London Observer noted that the two main parties were agreed that tithes plus arrears must be collected and that landlords should not benefit from the changes. On 6 March 1835 Sheil introduced a debate in the Commons on the Orange societies which he considered illegal. A parliamentary committee that included O’Connell, Sheil, Wyse, etc. was set up to examine the Orange Order. Haddington refused to allow the police to become involved with Commissions of Rebellion. Haddington, as was customary at the time, wore a piece of shamrock when taking the salute of the guard on St. Patrick’s Day. This displeased the Orange newspapers. Conway of the Post noted that formerly all Irishmen wore the shamrock, but it was now becoming a badge of a faction (DEP 19 March 1835).  

            Lord John Russell was now established as the leader of the Whigs in the Commons and he planned a series of ambushes to bring down the ministry. A meeting of the leading Whigs was held in Lichfield House, London, and O'Connell was present, it is suspected at Lord Duncannon's invitation. The king refused to give any post to O'Connell but he nonetheless pledged support for Melbourne. He could do nothing else. As was pointed out at the time, he was very valuable to the Tories and worth many votes to them. If he attempted to bring down Melbourne he would be accused in Ireland of letting in the Tories. There never was a 'Lichfield House Compact' between him and Melbourne, though both his own supporters and the Tories liked to pretend there was.

            At a meeting of the Irish Society for Educating the People of Ireland in March it was reported that 737 Catholic schoolmasters were accepting their conditions and support. It was announced that Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent (Countess of Dublin) had agreed to become a patron of a bazaar for the Sisters of Mercy, Baggott Street. Dr Kelly, the short-lived Catholic archbishop of Armagh who had succeeded Dr. Curtis died suddenly of a fever. A newsagent named Mr. Johnson chartered a railway engine and a single coach to rush details of the debates in Parliament from Kingstown to Dublin in nine minutes, and so enabling the Dublin Evening Post to publish a second edition. The railway was by then carrying several thousand passengers a day. 

            Under Peel's careful direction the minority Government lasted some months, but after a series of defeats he had to resign, and Melbourne was again asked to form a ministry. He resumed office on 11 April 1835.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.