The New Student's Reference Work/Whig Party, The

Whig Party, The. (1) In British history one of the two political parties in the state, of an advanced and reforming character, now known as Liberals. The term had its origin in the middle of the 17th century and was applied to the Scotch Presbyterians (Covenanters as opposed to the Cavaliers), who had rebelled against the crown; and thus the appellation was at first regarded as a contemptuous epithet, hurled at them by the Tory party — the organization opposed to them in the state and favoring monarchy and conservative rule. The Whigs may be said to be the successors of the Cromwellian Roundheads, whose liberal principles led them to favor and defend the Revolution of 1688, insist upon parliamentary control of the government, and desire the Hanoverian rather than the Stuart rule. The influence of the party became powerful in the state from the era of George I, and was represented by the great Whig families of the time — Burke and Fox being its chief leaders. After the era of the Reform Bill (1832), a piece of legislation brought about by the Whigs, the latter term began to be replaced by that of the progressive and reforming Liberals. Goldwin Smith (q. v.) thus defines the two party names: “The Tory was the friend of government by prerogative and of church privilege; the Whig was the friend of constitutional liberty and toleration; in effect, the Tory was a supporter of monarchical, the Whig of parliamentary, supremacy. . . . In later times the Tory party became that of political and ecclesiastical reaction, the Whig party that of general progress.”

(2) In American history the Whigs of the days of the American colonies were those who favored the Revolution, as opposed to the Tories, who advocated adherence to the mother country. The term more specifically dates, however, from 1830 and refers to the political party under the leadership of Henry Clay, known as National Republicans (or Whigs), as opposed to the Jackson, and later to the Democratic, Republicans. The Whigs favored a protective tariff, a national bank and a system of internal improvements. It was they who in 1840 elected W. H. Harrison to the presidency, and sought in 1844 to elect Clay to the office. With the election of Zachary Taylor the Whig party fell into a state of disintegration, many of the northern Whigs becoming Free Soilers and most southern Whigs becoming Democrats. The Whigs had a long line of representative leaders in the north; but the term fell into disuse, or, more correctly, gave place to that of Republicans — the last action of what remained of the Whig party being the nomination by the Constitutional Union party, in 1860, of Bell and Everett at Baltimore for the presidency and vice-presidency.