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The term Tory derives from the Tory Party, the ancestor of the modern UK Conservative Party. To this day it is often used as a shortened alternative for Conservative. A similar usage for Tory exists in Canada to describe the Conservative Party. It was also used during the American Revolutionary War to refer to British Loyalists in the colonies. During the American Civil War, supporters of the Confederacy extended the term to Southern Unionists.

Currently this term is considered to be derogatory by some British Conservatives since many UK voters associate it with uncomplimentary recollections of the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Others simply use it as a shorthand for Conservative Party - for instance the domain points directly to the Conservative Party website (although it is not owned by the party). Others still do not regard the terms as synonymous and some, such as the late Enoch Powell, proudly regarded themselves as "Tories", precisely because of its supposed reactionary or die hard connotations. This is particularly true of Monarchists, who refer to its use as one in favour of personal execution of royal powers.

Despite its archaic origins "Tory" is unlikely to fall from common usage, since newspapers find it too useful as an alternative for "Conservative" when space is limited. In Canada, the term is neutral and is a common shortening for the party name by supporters and opposition alike.


The term originates from the Exclusion Bill crisis of 16781681. The Whigs (initially an insult — whiggamore, a cattle driver) were those who supported the exclusion of James VII and II from the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland (the "Petitioners"), and the Tories (from the Irish term tóraidhe, modern Irish tóraí — outlaw, robber) were those who opposed it (the Abhorrers).

James II's attacks on the Church of England led some Tories to support the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and during the reigns of William III and Queen Anne they fiercely competed with the Whigs for power, although both monarchs generally tried to employ both Whigs and Tories in ministerial positions. However, the stresses of the continuing War of the Spanish Succession led most of the Tories to withdraw into opposition by 1708, leading to an almost entirely Whig ministry. Queen Anne's discomfort with being dependent on the Whigs led to a reaction in 1710, when she sacked her Whig ministers and replaced them with the Tory ministry of Harley and Bolingbroke, which in 1713 negotiated the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession but which was denounced by George, Elector of Hanover, who would succeed Anne.

In 1714 Bolingbroke sought to bring about a Jacobite restoration, but the plans were thwarted by Anne's death and George's accession. The following year he supported the Jacobite uprising (the "Fifteen"). George I, who had already formed a Whig ministry upon his accession in 1714, dismissed the remaining Tories from office and as a party they were confined to the wilderness for half a century, though occasionally individual Tories held office in the Whig ministries of George I and George II. The Tories ended their opposition in 1757 when they gave support to the coalition government of William Pitt the Elder and the Duke of Newcastle. Upon the accession of George III the old political distinctions dissolved into a mass of personal factions, most regarding themselves as "Whigs". However Tory sentiments remained, most prominently with the writer and critic Samuel Johnson.

The label "Tory" came to be applied to the Prime Ministers Lord Bute (17621763) and Lord North (17701782) though it is difficult to trace a continuous "Tory Party" from either Bolingbroke or subsequently to William Pitt the Younger and the later Tories, and both ministries largely relied on the support of factions (particularly the Grenvillites and the Bedfordites) who generally saw themselves as Whigs.

In the late 18th century the label of Tory came to be applied to believers in the right of Kings to determine the direction of the state rather than to act merely in accordance with the wishes of parliament, politicians and the powerful families who largely dominated the parliamentary system in the absence of universal suffrage, secret ballots and equal constituencies.

Applied by their opponents to Parliamentary supporters of the ministry of Lord North (1770–1782) and again of those who supported the younger William Pitt (1783–1801), the term came to represent the political current opposed to the "Old Whigs" and the radicalism unleashed by the American and French Revolutions. However, Pitt himself rejected the Tory label, preferring to refer to himself as an "independent Whig." The group surrounding Pitt the Younger came to be the dominant force in British politics from 1783 until 1830 and after Pitt's death the term "Tory" was increasingly used by its members, the first prominent one being George Canning.

Generally, the Tories were associated with lesser gentry and the Church of England, while Whigs were more associated with trade, money, larger land holders (or "land magnates"), expansion and tolerance. Both were still committed to the political system in place at that time. Neither group could be considered a true political party in the modern sense.

After becoming associated with repression of popular discontent in the years after 1815, the Tories underwent a fundamental transformation under the influence of Robert Peel, himself an industrialist rather than a landowner, who in his 1834 "Tamworth Manifesto" outlined a new "Conservative" philosophy of reforming ills while conserving the good.

Though Peel's supporters subsequently split from their colleagues over the issue of free trade (1846), ultimately joining the Whigs to form what would become the Liberal Party, Peel's version of the party's underlying outlook was retained by the remaining Tories, who, led by the Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli, adopted his label of Conservative as the official name of their party.


In Canada the terms Blue Tory and Red Tory have long been used to describe the two wings of the Conservative and previously the Progressive Conservative (PC) parties. Originally a Blue Tory was one associated with the urban business elite, while a Red Tory was a rural populist from the country's hinterland. Over time, however, the term Blue Tory has come to embody the more ideologically conservative elements in the party, while a Red Tory is a member of the more liberal wing of the party.

The term is also used to designate the pre-Confederation British ruling classes of Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

After the merger of the PC's with the Canadian Alliance in 2003, there was some debate as to whether the "Tory" nickname should survive at the federal level. Although it was widely believed that some Alliance members would take offence to the term, it was officially accepted by the newly-merged party during the 2004 leadership convention. Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, regularly refers to himself as a Tory and has suggested that the new party is a natural evolution of the conservative political movement in Canada. However many former Progressive Conservatives who opposed the merger take offence to the new party using the term.

American Revolution

The term Tory was used in the American Revolution to describe those who remained loyal to the British government, or Loyalists. Since early in the eighteenth century, Tory had described those upholding the right of the Kings over parliament. During the revolution, particularly after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 this use was extended to cover anyone who remained loyal to the British government. Those Loyalists who settled in Canada, Nova Scotia, or the Bahamas are known as United Empire Loyalists.

Tory was frequently used as an adjective to make otherwise neutral terms pejorative to the revolutionaries. So a Tory militia was a militia unit which took the British side during the Revolutionary War.

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