Political parties in the Regency Era

As you read Claire Tomalin’s biography, you may see a few mentions of how Jane Austen grew up in Tory country. So what does that mean? Here is a very brief look at the political parties in Jane Austen’s time:


Major parties


Tory

The Tories were mostly wealthy landowners content to keep most policies the same, as those policies ensured their power and wealth. According to “The Regency Years,” written by JASP 2020 speaker Robert Morrison, the Tories as a political party were anti-French, anti-slavery, anti-Catholic and anti-reform. They were the majority party and held on to their power throughout Jane’s lifetime.


Whig

Members of the Whig party were also aristocratic and affluent, although they did occasionally oppose Tories on some key issues. Whigs were particularly critical of the prince and would protect those who openly criticized him. They supported allowing Catholics some religious freedoms, a free press and reforming Parliament, and opposed slavery.

As both of the major political parties opposed slavery, it should not come as a great surprise that England outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and then abolished slavery in 1833.

‘Argus’ by James Gillray, published by W. Renegal, hand-coloured etching, published 15 May 1780. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Other groups

Only wealthy land-owning men older than 21 had the right to vote, so not everyone felt represented by the two parties in power. Instead, some organized into small groups or factions to champion certain causes. Here are just a few:


Quakers and Evangelicals

Although they were mostly seen as a religious groups, Quakers and evangelicals both supported prison reform.


Philosophical Radicals

This group comprised individuals who favored radical ideas such as doing away with religion altogether.


Luddites

According to “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy and Leslie Adkins, the Luddites were a radical group opposed to the early stages of the industrial revolution, sometimes going so far as to attack the knitting frames in factories.


To learn more about the political issues facing Jane Austen’s world, check out:

The Regency Years,” by Robert Morrison and “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy Adkins and Leslie Adkins.


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