Peel, Sir Robert

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Peel, Sir Robert,

1788–1850, British statesman. The son of a rich cotton manufacturer, whose baronetcy he inherited in 1830, Peel entered Parliament as a Tory in 1809. He served (1812–18) as chief secretary for Ireland, where he maintained order by the establishment of a police force and consistently opposed Irish demands for Catholic EmancipationCatholic Emancipation,
term applied to the process by which Roman Catholics in the British Isles were relieved in the late 18th and early 19th cent. of civil disabilities.
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. In 1819 he was chairman of the parliamentary currency committee that recommended and secured Britain's return to the gold standard. As home secretary (1822–27, 1828–30) Peel succeeded in reforming the criminal laws and established (1829) the London police force, whose members came to be called Peelers or Bobbies. Early in his career Peel scrupulously defended Tory interests, but he gradually came to believe in the need for change. The first sign of a modified outlook was in his sponsorship (1829) of the bill enabling Roman Catholics to sit in the House of Commons. In opposing parliamentary reform he recovered some of the Tory support that he lost by this position, and after the Reform Bill of 1832 (see Reform ActsReform Acts
or Reform Bills,
in British history, name given to three major measures that liberalized representation in Parliament in the 19th cent. Representation of the counties and boroughs in the House of Commons had not, except for the effects of parliamentary
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) had passed despite his opposition, he rallied the party and was prime minister for a brief term (1834–35). In 1834, however, Peel made the election speech known as the Tamworth manifesto, in which he explained that his party accepted the Reform Bill and would work for further changes but "without infringing on established rights." This statement came to be regarded as the manifesto for the Conservative partyConservative party,
British political party, formally the Conservative and Unionist party and a continuation of the historic Tory party. The Rise of the Conservative Party
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 now emerging, under Peel's leadership, from the old Tory party. Among the able young men who rallied around Peel were William Ewart GladstoneGladstone, William Ewart,
1809–98, British statesman, the dominant personality of the Liberal party from 1868 until 1894. A great orator and a master of finance, he was deeply religious and brought a highly moralistic tone to politics.
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 and Benjamin DisraeliDisraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield
, 1804–81, British statesman and author. He is regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party.
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. Peel was asked to form a cabinet in 1839 but declined when the young Queen VictoriaVictoria
(Alexandrina Victoria) , 1819–1901, queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1837–1901) and empress of India (1876–1901). She was the daughter of Edward, duke of Kent (fourth son of George III), and Princess Mary Louise Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
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 refused to make requested changes in her household. He returned to power in 1841, however, and the reshaped party attitudes were very apparent in his new ministry, which introduced an income tax and a revised system of banking control, gave aid to the Irish Catholic Church, and attempted Irish land reform. Of far greater importance were the virtual abandonment of custom duties and the repeal of the corn lawscorn laws,
regulations restricting the export and import of grain, particularly in England. As early as 1361 export was forbidden in order to keep English grain cheap. Subsequent laws, numerous and complex, forbade export unless the domestic price was low and forbade import
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. Peel had formerly defended these laws, which protected Tory agricultural interests, but he was impressed by the arguments of Richard CobdenCobden, Richard
, 1804–65, British politician, a leading spokesman for the Manchester school. He made a fortune as a calico printer in Manchester. A firm believer in free trade, after 1838 he devoted himself to the formation and work of the Anti-Corn-Law League.
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 against them and convinced by the disastrous effect of the potato famine in Ireland. The laws were repealed in June, 1846, but Peel's action split his party, and he resigned from office after a tactical defeat within the same month. Much abused as an apostate during his lifetime, Peel is now recognized as a practical statesman of forward-looking views and great courage. His memoirs were posthumously published (1856). His correspondence and private letters were edited by C. S. Parker (3 vol., 1891–99) and later by George Peel (1920).


See biographies by N. Gash (2 vol., 1961–72) and D. Read (1987).

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Peel, Sir Robert

(1788–1850) reorganized British police; established Irish constabulary. [Br. Hist.: Flexner, 276]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.