What is a Whig?


“Whig” is a strange word. It comes from the old Scottish “Whiggamore”, the name given to hungry, discontented farmers who spasmodically fought against the English in Scotland.

By the end of the reign of Charles II, Whig had become the name of the basically Protestant, anti-court party in parliament. Up until 1660, When Charles to returned to England to take his throne, Parliament was made up of Members who acted as individuals.

Power, and Parliament began to move towards the party system that we have today. The last part of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries was a time of great social change in England.

The Dutch, who had the monopoly of the trade with the New World and India, were beginning to lose their grip because they were fighting for survival at home, against the Sun King, Louis XIV of France.

So the English, with their tradition of seamanship, stepped in. This meant that huge fortunes were being made from trade by men who had never had money before, because wealth had been in the hands of the old land-owning families of England.

Of course, there were jealousies, rivalries, and basic differences of political thinking between these two parties, and this was reflected in Parliament. The merchant party, who wanted to protect their trade with a peaceful foreign policy and stable currency, became known as whigs.

The land-owning families, who were at court near the King, Loyal to the Stuarts, more tolerant of Catholics and less committed to the expansion of world trade, became known as Tories.      

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