THE years after Waterloo saw a governing class in England overcome by the same sort of fears as continental aristocracies. Liverpool, Prime Minister from 1812 to 1827, Eldon, Lord Chancellor from 1801 to 1827, Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary, and their colleagues, were not bad or foolish men, but they opposed more than one necessary reform and enforced several repressive measures such as the Six Acts against popular demonstrations. The reactionary side of their policy was typified by the Peterloo massacre in Manchester (1819), when an orderly demonstration was ridden down and many men and women killed. After 1822 less reactionary Tories (notably Canning, Peel, and Huskisson) tended to control the Cabinet, while the Whigs' stock recovered from the depression of fifty years out of office and "Radicals" urged reform.
Peel mitigated the savage penalties of the old criminal laws and reorganised the police. Wellington as Prime Minister was forced in 1829 to free all Roman Catholics from the restrictions of not being allowed to vote in elections, sit in parliament, be magistrates or officers, or hold office under the Crown. Protestant dissenters had also been freed (1828). The measure was of most interest to the Irish.
The old party allegiances of Whig and Tory were now breaking up and a new alignment of parties, corresponding to the realities of a new era, was soon to come about. The Whigs had stood for the limitation of the king's power and for a policy favouring the interests of commerce rather than those of agriculture. The Tories had been the party with high notions of the king's place in the constitution, fervid in their loyalty to High Church principles, and opposed to war waged against France in the supposed interests of trade and overseas dominions. Many of these issues were now moribund, and new ones, born of the French Revolution, were taking their place.
The new parties were to be the Liberals and Conservatives, which may be broadly said to have represented respectively desire for change and the opposition to it. The ancestry of the Liberal party was mainly Whig, but not entirely so, since many Whigs had been influenced by Burke's anti-Jacobin diatribes at the time of the French Revolution, and became an ingredient of Conservatism. The Liberals who were descended originally from the left wing of the Whig Party, stood for Parliamentary reform and freer trade. They therefore received a great infusion of new blood, chiefly of distinctly radical hue, when the great Reform Bill was passed, enfranchising the industrial North and Midlands.