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Conservative Principles

In this letter to Henry Goulburn, Sir Robert Peel explains what he means by "Conservative" principles.

Peel to Goulburn, 3 January 1833

I presume the chief object of that party which I called Conservative, whatever its number may be, will be to resist Radicalism, to prevent those further encroachments of democratic influence which will be attempted (probably successfully attempted) as the natural consequence of the triumph already achieved.

I certainly think that - as that party will be comparatively weak in numbers; as victories gained by mere union with the Radicals will promote mainly the views of the Radicals; as there is no use in defeating, no use in excluding a government, unless you can replace it by one formed on principles more consonant to your own - our policy ought to be rather to conciliate the goodwill of the sober-minded and well-disposed portion of the community, and thus lay the foundation of future strength, than to urge an opposition on mere party grounds, and for the purpose of mere temporary triumph.

I think it is very difficult to lay down any course of action in detail. Circumstances which we cannot foresee or control will determine that. I should recommend a system of caution and observation at the first commencement of the Session, rather than that we should be the first to take the field, of instantly begin hostilities. We act on the defensive. The Radicals must move, they must attack. We can, in my opinion, act with more effect after that attack shall have commenced than before.

The best position the government could assume would be that of moderation between opposite extremes of Ultra-Toryism and Radicalism. We should appear to the greatest advantage in defending the government, whenever the government espoused our principles, as I apprehend they must do it they mean to maintain the cause of authority and order.

Possibly we shall find them indifferent to this, and afraid of an open rupture with the Radicals. In that case we must oppose their united forces with all the energy we can, but even so our power will be greater should the union which we resist appear to be the voluntary deliberate act of the government, rather than an act forced upon them by our precipitate or unreasonable opposition.


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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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