Classic Podium: The Tories' historic mission

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From Benjamin Disraeli's address as Conservative leader to a mass audience at the Crystal Palace, London. The speech set out some of the principles of modern Toryism

(3 April, 1872)

GENTLEMEN, THE Tory party, unless it is a national party, is nothing. It is not a confederacy of nobles, it is not a democratic multitude; it is a party formed from all the numerous classes in the realm - classes alike and equal before the law, but whose different conditions and different aims give vigour and variety to our national life.

We know that in the estates of the realm, and the privileges they enjoy, is the best security for public liberty and good government. We believe that a national profession of faith can be maintained only by an established Church, and that no society is safe unless there is a public recognition of the providential government of the world, and of the future responsibility of man.

Take the case of the House of Lords. The House of Lords has been assailed during this reign of liberalism in every manner and unceasingly. Its constitution has been denounced as anomalous, its influence declared pernicious; but what has been the result of this assault and criticism of 40 years? Why, the people of England, in my opinion, have discovered that the existence of a second chamber is necessary to constitutional government.

Therefore, the people of this country have congratulated themselves that, by the aid of an ancient and famous history, there has been developed in this country an assembly that possesses all the virtues which a senate should possess - independence, great local influence, eloquence, all the accomplishments of political life, and a public training which no theory could supply.

Well, gentlemen, so far as these institutions of the country - the monarchy and the Lords spiritual and temporal - are concerned, I think we may fairly say, without exaggeration, that public opinion is in favour of those institutions, the maintenance of which is one of the principal tenets of the Tory party, and the existence of which has been unceasingly criticised for 40 years by the Liberal party.

One of the most distinguishing features of the great change effected in 1832 was that those who brought it about at once abolished all the franchises of the working classes.

The discontent upon the subject of representation, which has from the time more or less pervaded our society, dates from that period, and that discontent, all will admit, has now ceased. It was terminated by the Act of Parliamentary Reform of 1867-8. That Act was founded on a confidence that the great body of the people of this country were "Conservative".

When I say "Conservative", I use the word in its purest and loftiest sense. I mean that the people of England , and especially the working classes of England, are proud of belonging to a great country, and wish to maintain its greatness - that they are proud of belonging to an imperial country, and are resolved to maintain, if they can, their empire. That they believe, on the whole, that the greatness and the empire of England are to be attributed to the ancient institutions of the land.

Gentlemen, I have referred to what I look upon as the first object of the Tory party - namely, to maintain the institutions of the country, and reviewing what has occurred, and referring to the present temper of the times upon these subjects, I think that the Tory party, or, as I will venture to call it, the National party, has everything to encourage it.

I think that the nation, tested by many and severe trials, has arrived at the conclusion which we have always maintained - that it is the first duty of England to maintain its institutions, because to them we principally ascribe the power and prosperity of the country.

Gentlemen, another great object of the Tory party, and one not inferior to the maintenance of the empire, or the upholding of our institutions, is the elevation of the condition of the people.

It must be obvious to all who consider the condition of the multitude with a desire to improve and elevate it, that no important step can be gained unless you can effect some reduction of their hours of labour and humanise their toil. When you return to your homes, when you return to your counties and to your cities, you must tell to all those whom you can influence that the time is at hand, that, at least, it cannot be far distant, when England will have to decide between national and cosmopolitan principles. The issue is not a mean one.