Peel, Sir Robert

Peel, Sir Robert
   A reforming British prime minister, notable above all for his repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel was born to a wealthy Lancashire cotton manufacturer, chalked up an impressive academic record at Harrow and Christchurch, studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, and was elected a Tory member of Parliament for Cashel at the age of 21. Peel had the gift of oratory and a lucid understanding of the substance of a policy issue. With these qualities he combined an unrepentant ability to change his mind. From 1812 to 1818, he served as chief secretary in Ireland, where he was a consistent opponent of Catholic interests and opposed Catholic Emancipation. As Home Secretary in 1822 and again from 1828 to 1830, he reformed prisons and founded the Metropolitan Police, its constables ever after known as “Bobbies.”
   In 1829, he reversed positions on Catholic Emancipation and steered the Catholic Emancipation Act through Parliament. Briefly prime minister (1834–1835), Peel resigned and used his Tamworth Manifesto to declare support for reforms undertaken by the Whig ministries of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne and to reconstitute the Tories as the Conservative Party. Elected as the head of a majority Conservative government in 1841, Peel passed the Factory Act of 1844 and the Bank Charter Act of 1844 and was prompted by the Irish potato famine, in a combination of conviction and opportunism, to repeal the protectionist Corn Laws. This break in favor of free trade cost Peel his government, as a majority of his party opposed it and it passed with Radical and Whig votes. Conservative rebels against Peel’s policy, led by Benjamin Disraeli, brought down the government in June 1846.
    Crosby, Travis L. Sir Robert Peel ’ s Administration. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1976;
    Evans, E. J. Sir Robert Peel: Statesmanship, Power and Party. New York: Routledge, 2006;
    Jenkins, T. A. Sir Robert Peel. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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