Tory and Whig: Insults that were worn as badges of honour


Ever wondered where the term “Tory” came from? It is true to say that this word has been used as a slur from the left to describe anyone with anything resembling a conservative opinion. Here, Dan Pitt explores why, in fact, this term should be used as a badge of honour.

One could argue that the Conservative Party ancestry or at least the roots of conservatism is in answering this question. The question could be reformed thus: who should hold power, the King or Parliament?  Indeed, politicians formed factions in the seventeenth century around their positions on these very questions.

For example, the differences between Cavaliers and Roundheads during the English Civil Wars. The Cavaliers, who wore long ringleted hair, supported the monarchy of Charles I (and his son and successor, Charles II). The Roundheads with their cropped short hair, backed the Parliamentarians.

Roots of Conservatism

The names ‘Tory’ and ‘Whig’ derive from the heated political struggles of the reign of King Charles II, and the Exclusion Bill of 1679-80, which was the failed attempt by the Whigs to exclude the Duke of York (afterward James II) from the line of succession to the throne.

These names originated from the position held regarding the Exclusion Bill. Tories were for the succession and Whigs were against it. In the fine tradition of taking an insult and wearing it as a badge of honour, the names Tory and Whig (labels if you will) where terms of abuse and were meant to be derogatory and derisory and, dear reader, they were not lacking in power to be so.

The term ‘Tory’ is from the Irish Gaelic word ‘tóraighe’ used at the time to denote the dispossessed Irish Papists who were attacking, molesting and ravaging the English settlers in Ireland. The term was also extended to those who held Popish sympathies. The Tories were traditionalists and loyalists, part sympathetic to Catholicism and more sympathetic to the Stuart line of succession. They thought that legitimacy was founded in history, custom and the status quo rather than in some mere doctrine.

Their shibboleth or cry would ring out: “For King and Constitution.” In the American Revolution, the word Tory was used to describe those colonialists who advocated loyalty to the King and fought on the British side (circa half a million people or one-fifth of the American colonials). They went into exile to Canada when the war was lost.  Here is a quote to demonstrate the power of the term to abuse.

“A Tory is a monster with an English face, a French heart, and an Irish conscience. A creature of a large forehead, prodigious mouth, supple hams, and no brains. They are the sort of wild boars, that would root out the Constitution, … that dark lanthron policies would at once blow up the two bulwarks of our freedom, Parliaments and Juries; making the first only a Parliament of Paris, and the latter but mere tools to echo back the pleasure of the judge.”

Laying it on thick with a trowel, one would say.

What about the term “Whig?”

This discussion inevitably leads to the question: where does the term ‘Whig’ derive from and what do they believe in?

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The term ‘Whig’ was truncated from ‘whiggamor’ meaning cattle-driver. The ‘whigs’ were rebels who held out in the Scottish Lowlands in 1679 and also resisted the Act of Uniformity in 1662. The label was then applied to the English aristocratic faction that sought to transfer the power of the King to Parliament.

The term was meant to conjure up in one’s mind a sour, bigoted, canting, money-grubbing Scots Presbyterian. The money-grubbing part of this image would spark up an image of a wild pig grubbing in the soil.  The Whig faction in Parliament stood for Protestantism, anti-Catholicism, non-conformity and rebellion, according to the Tories. The Whig reforms were seen to be calculated to capture power from the monarchy and distribute it to the modernising aristocracy. Or in other words, to themselves.

The Whigs saw the Tories as endeavouring to reverse the English Reformation.

The following quote demonstrates the power of the term to abuse.

“A Whig talks of nothing but new light and prophecy, spiritual incomes, indwellings, emanations, manifestations, sealings, … to which also the zealous twang of his nose adds no small efficacy… This little horn takes a mouth to himself, and his language is Overturn, Overturn. He prays for the King, but with more distinctions and mental reservations than an honest man would in taking the Covenant.”

Rather racy stuff.

A badge of honour

Of course, these terms were cherished by those upon whom the label had been fastened and were reappropriated to become terms of pride, honour and to provide a sense of belonging and membership.

The Labour Party still use the term Tory as an insult, and people like me still wear it as a badge of honour. At this point, I see that the eyes of the person, who asked the question, have started to glaze over and is asking God: when will he bring the answer to a conclusion?

Therefore, I will conclude with this recent example of taking an insult and wearing it as a badge of honour, which comes from across the Atlantic; Hillary Clinton was calling Trump supporters “deplorables.”

Of course it is now Trump’s supporters who now call themselves “The Deplorables.”  This is a great tradition indeed!

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