Two of the most misused words in English come from English speaking history. These words are "Tory" and "Whig". I refer to them a lot, and so I've spent a long time learning what they mean. Both of them are names for groups of people, to the behaviors and attributes of that group, and are labels for the people engaging in those behaviors. They also historically have been labels adopted to disguise efforts and misdirect people. As George Orwell noted in reviewing his own book, "Newspeak" wasn't a term he invented to cover a fictional future, but is a feature of the english language.
Our Revolution was against Toryism
There are specific attributes that are "tory" and "whig" and although they overlap the traditions associated with each other, the spirit of toryism and whiggery is alive and well. Once you know the attributes you can identify Tory behavior even when the person calls themselves a "Whig" member of the "labor party", a Democrat or a Republican. Our forefathers understood these terms. The people we were fighting during our revolution were Tories.
The following definitions are partly from the dictionary and partly from history.
The definition you find online of whig is:
"Whig: British political party, 1657, in part perhaps a disparaging use of "whigg" "a country bumpkin" (1640s); but mainly a shortened form of Whiggamore (1649) "one of the adherents of the Presbyterian cause in western Scotland who marched on Edinburgh in 1648 to oppose Charles I." Perhaps originally "a horse drover," from dialectal verb whig "to urge forward" + mare. In 1689 the name was first used in reference to members of the British political party that opposed the Tories. American Revolution sense of "colonist who opposes Crown policies" is from 1768. Later it was applied to opponents of Andrew Jackson (as early as 1825), and taken as the name of a political party (1834) that merged into the Republican Party in 1854-56."
Later it came to be applied to the hair pieces worn by Whigs. I used to think they were called whigs because of the whigs -- because they are also associated with the English Barrister Class and related lawyers and minor aristocracy around the British Isles.
Whigs have been people associated with the terms; commons, commonwealth, common-sense and common rights since their beginnings. One of the men credited with being their spiritual founder is John Locke. The Whigs tended to be associated with mildly rebellious people and when they've been more militant they are related to the "Round-heads" and protestants who fought on Olivar Cromwell's side and the "low church" of Eastern parts of England. Protestant Scots Irish and other Western Brits have tended to be sometimes Whigs and sometimes Tory as the countries mood shifted from an emphasis on commonwealth to militarism.
"mid 17th century: probably from Irish toraidhe ‘outlaw, highwayman,’ from tóir ‘pursue.’ The word was used of Irish peasants dispossessed by English settlers and living as robbers, and extended to other marauders especially in the Scottish Highlands. It was then adopted circa 1679 as an abusive nickname for supporters of the Catholic James II."
Tories historically have tended to stand for:
- Imperialism, Nationalism and Authoritarianism
- (God, King/Queen & Country)
- Affirmation of Hierarchy & anti-Republicanism.
- Support for Church Authority
Tories and Pirates
That history of Tory as derived from "toraidhe" (Outlaw) also refers to the history of Toryism as associated with imperialism and freebooting. After all, you don't create colonies outside your own country unless you have boundary issues with other people's property. Privateering is legalized piracy, and it was the operating method of British Tories in their efforts to gain fame and fortune. From Henry Morgan to J.D. Morgan, we are talking about a Tory Tradition.
Compare and Contrast
Historically, the Whigs try to accommodate all interests. The Tories try to enlist them in the prospect of riches and loot. In times when Tory thinking dominates people who formerly were called Whigs start acting like Tories. During times when Whiggism dominates Tories will act like Whigs, or pretend to be whigs, while pushing Tory ideas.
Extreme Toryism resembles Fascism lite. It's very conventional, authoritarian and was the dominant ideology of the British Empire after 1783 and until 1834, and then again in less obvious form later in the century. Fortunately for US the Generals and Admirals who prosecuted the Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783) were mostly Whigs and thought they could reach accommodation with rebellious "Patriots" and so waged a rather lackluster campaign compared to the mischief they could have done had they been more aggressive. Kevin Phillips writes about this in his "Cousin's Wars" though I believe that had Lord Howe marched up to join Burgoyne at Saratoga, as Mr. Phillips scenario-izes, the long run outcome would have been the same. Just harder to reach.
When we won independence, that so shamed the British Whigs that many of them became Tories, and the Tories came back to power. The Tories of the Napoleonic war, were echoed in the thoughts and arguments of the Federalists who wrote our Constitution. The early "Democratic-Republicans" as organized by Thomas Jefferson were very "whiggish" in orientation and their rhetoric painted the Federalists as Tories. The terms have definite meaning, but the people using them have a habit of using language conveniently for their own personal ambition.
A Little Pre and Post Civil War History
We had a "Whig Party" prior to the Civil War. It had been called The National Republicans earlier and when Jackson and Polk ceased being a threat and it fell apart and many former Whigs became Republicans again. It was created by Henry Clay with help from John C. Calhoun and others. It elected a number of Presidents:
"In 1834 political opponents of President Andrew Jackson organized a new party to contest Jacksonian Democrats nationally and in the states. Guided by their most prominent leader, Henry Clay, they called themselves Whigs—the name of the English antimonarchist party—the better to stigmatize the seventh president as ‘King Andrew.’ They were immediately derided by the Jacksonian Democrats as a party devoted to the interests of wealth and aristocracy, a charge they were never able to shake completely. Yet during the party’s brief life, it managed to win support from diverse economic groups in all sections and to hold its own in presidential elections."
The first irony is that the Jacksonian Democrats, were portrayed as Tories but Jackson saw himself as an heir of Thomas Jefferson, who was very much a Whig in his orientation to Democratic/Republicanism. Andrew Jackson was a Tory in his behavior and sentiments even if he hated the British Crown. His disciple James Polk was even more of a Tory. Jackson might have been the founder of a dynasty if he'd had surviving sons of even near his caliber.
The Second Irony is that before the Whigs fell apart they looked to finding military heroes to lead them, and so completely subverted the reasons Clay had created the party in the first place.
The problem is not the parties, it is the politicians in those parties and the fact that fearful people look to fearless leaders to save them from whatever they are afraid of. The Whig party of Clay may have started out fighting the royalism of Andrew Jackson, but they ended up fielding "hero" candidates of their own. Thus they may have called themselves whigs but the integral meaning of the word soon became lost in unprincipled partisan fighting.
Like with the even older Italian parties of the Guelphs [Lions] and Ghibellines [worms], partisans usually grow to look more and more like each other in deeds even when they claim a stark difference in the policies their ideological banners spell out. The parties tend to de-evolve into tribal mobs.
But that doesn't mean all the Civil War Republicans were Whigs. Some Southern Whigs became Republicans but some reverted back to the Democratic party. In the USA the word "tory" was often used for anti-Whig folks or for folks who were loyal to the established order. For the people who fought as rebels in the Civil War a "Tory" was the person who supported the North. Both our parties are coalitions of many interests and people whose ideological orientations overlap, but never perfectly.
Notes and Further Reading
- The Cousin's Wars by Kevin Phillips
- The "Cousin's Wars" uses the Tory/Whig motiffe to explain some of the internal divisions in the period from James Ist to the arrival of William Of Orange, the Revolutionary War and then the Civil War. He could probably have traced it back to before the Norman Conquest but the terms didn't come into use til the 1600's. He does trace the conflicts back to the various ethnic groups, and whig ideology to the East Anglia region and to a lesser extent where-ever Angles settled in the period immediately after the Romans left.
- Readings on Tories and Whigs
- The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party By Michael F. Holt