Edinburgh Politics : 1832-1852
Williams, Jeffrey Charles
The Scottish Reform Act of 1832 and the Scottish Municipal Reform Act of 1833 destroyed the domination of the Tory party over Edinburgh politics. The champions of reform, the Edinburgh Whig lawyers, emerged as the triumphant new political leaders of the new, overwhelmingly liberal electorate. But by the late 1830s a large number of middle class electors had grown critical of the Whigs. Some radicals resented the domination of a legal clique over the constituency and attacked the Whig government for its slowness in dealing with outstanding grievances, such as the corn laws and the desire for further franchise reform. Another dissident group were the Dissenters who called for the abolition of the state church relationship and the annuity tax (the Edinburgh property tax maintaining the Established Church clergy). The Non-Intrusionist (later Free Church) movement was strong in Edinburgh and from 1840 onwards increasingly hostile to the Whigs. In 1847 an alliance fashioned out of these three disgruntied groups by the Dissenter leader, Duncan McLaren, achieved the humiliating defeat of the Whig candidate, T.B. Macaulay. The Liberal party that emerged out of this election was aiming at the complete overthrow of the Edinburgh Wnigs, but due principally to the inability of the Dissenters and Free Churchmen to reconcile their ideological differences over voluntaryism and their jealous rivalry for control of the Liberal party, the alliance collapsed in 1852. In the election of that year, Macaulay was triumphantly re-elected and McLaren was defeated. Although the latter's attempts to replace the Whig oligarchy with a broadly based Liberal party of alienated sectarians and middle class radicals failed in 1852, McLaren's efforts can be seen as one of the earliest and most significant attempts to create the basis of the Gladstonian Liberal party. This thesis describes in detail the local socioeconomic, religious and political circumstances which crucially affected McLaren's activities, while trying to isolate those aspects of Edinburgh politics which reflect national political developments in early Victorian Britain. I have used the terms Tory and Conservative interchangeably in this thesis since in newspapers, private letters and public speeches both terms were used interchangeably throughout the early Victorian period. The use of the term liberal in the 19th century was subject to much variation. Many Whigs styled themselves Liberals after 1832, but in Edinburgh at least, this change was never very popular and most journalists and letter writers continued to speak of the Whigs as Whigs, especially after McLaren's coalition of Dissenters and middle class radicals began to term themselves Liberals. Since this group did have a separate party structure and a self-conscious sense of independence from the Whig oligarchy, I have used the term Liberal for McLaren's party and not for the Whig party. Confusion may be avoided by pointing out here that the Whig party structure was called the Liberal Aggregate Committee, but functioned very much for Whiggish purposes. When the terms liberal and conservative are used without capitalization, they are used in an ideological rather than party sense. This is particularly relevant when discussing the Whigs among whom were politicians with conservative and liberal attitudes towards further reform after 1832; these differences are dealt with in Chapter Two below.