How Could The Walpolean Oligarchy Be At Once Exclusive And Stable?

2134 words - 9 pages

How could the Walpolean oligarchy be at once exclusive and stable?The force and longevity of the Whig dominance of politics in Britain at this time, culminating in Walpole's record term of office, created the most clearly defined period of oligarchical rule in British history. The 'Whig oligarchy' created a powerful and potentially dangerous division in the country, as the Tories were kept from office year after year. With such exclusion, there was real danger of resultant instability as the excluded party sought extra-parliamentary routes to power. The spectre of Jacobitism haunted the political nation throughout the period. Furthermore, the length of the Whig dominance meant that the ...view middle of the document...

The major constitutional achievement of Britain in the eighteenth century in the creation of a stable political system is clear testament to the success of Walpole in ensuring that the oligarchy never threatened to destabilise the kingdom. However, it is false to assume that the inherent stability of the British constitution made instability impossible. Rather, a combination of personal qualities and events ensured the stable continuation of the parliamentary system during the Walpolean oligarchy.Walpolean oligarchy and the exclusion it created meant that in order to preserve stability Walpole would have to steer a course that would permit his opponents to reconcile their unhappiness at being excluded with continued tolerance of his administration. In many respects, it was the character of Walpole that allowed this to occur. Walpole managed to endear himself to two successive Kings, and through clever political manipulation of contacts within the royal family, he embedded himself in the court. In the eighteenth century no minister could hope to attain and maintain office without royal support, and Walpole was able to use the royal patronage he enjoyed to help ensure his exceptionally long tenure. Furthermore, the Tories found it difficult to contemplate extra-parliamentary opposition to Walpole whilst he was so clearly supported by the King. As the Tories were ideologically committed to support the King as far as possible, they could not resort to unparliamentary means to attack Walpole. The policy that Walpole adopted towards foreign policy was also ideologically close to the Tories, for he too favoured peace over war. Walpole's emphasis on peace as a necessary feature of prosperity, and his success in delivering that prosperity, provided perhaps the greatest sweetener to the sour taste of Whig oligarchy for the Tories.Walpole himself also made for a rather poor 'hate-figure'. Although his name became synonymous with corruption and many of his opponents fiercely disliked him, his actions were not those of an 'evil adviser' that might have provided a focus for attack in more traditional exclusion crisis. Walpole's long experience and distinguished career, marked out by his brilliant handling of the South Sea bubble crisis, coupled with his verbal mastery in the House made it difficult for opponents to depict him as a serious and immediate threat to the nation.Interestingly, Walpole's infamous nepotism and favouritism actually served to assist the stability of his administration. Walpole, although not afraid to ditch friends when expedient, was also surprisingly loyal to many of his supporters. At times his actions in protecting his friends were politically ill-advised, yet such support did foster a sense of loyalty and cohesion amidst his allies. Also of importance was the fact that though the Tory gentry were excluded from such professions as the law, this allowed for lower orders to rise, giving social mobility to an appreciative middle class....

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