Sir Robert Peel and the 'moral authority' of the House of Commons, 1832-41

Cragoe, Matthew (2013) Sir Robert Peel and the 'moral authority' of the House of Commons, 1832-41. The English Historical Review, 128 (530). pp. 55-77. ISSN 0013-8266

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On his departure from office in April 1835, Sir Robert Peel delivered a very personal tribute to, and testament of faith in, the House of Commons. Members from all sides of the House cheered the outgoing Conservative Prime Minister as he said:
For himself, the whole of his political life had been spent in the House of Commons—the remainder of it would be spent in the House of Commons; and whatever might be the conflicts of parties, he, for one, should always wish, whether in a majority or in a minority, to stand well with the House of Commons.1

Peel’s career as a ‘Commons man’ has rarely been explored.2 In the period after 1835, however, not only did he fulfil his duties as Leader of the Opposition and engage fully with the business of the House, he also emerged as a pugnacious champion of the Commons’ privileges when these came under attack later in the decade.3 This article focuses on his Controverted Elections Act of 1839, which ensured that the House retained the privilege of adjudicating cases where a petition had been presented against a return, alleging some breach of electoral law. The first two sections examine why this issue became so controversial and the arguments for and against Peel’s measure. A third section briefly examines Peel’s contribution to the concurrent debates around the Stockdale v. Hansard case, when the immunity from legal action of material published under the authority of the House was called into question. On both occasions, Peel voted consistently in favour of the Commons and its privileges; his distinctive course of action, it will be suggested, sheds new light on an important but overlooked aspect of ‘conservative’ strategy in the 1830s.

Keywords:oaopen, History, House of Commons, Politics
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V144 Modern History 1800-1899
Divisions:College of Arts
ID Code:13948
Deposited On:15 May 2014 10:58

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