Topic for paper “Cleopatra”
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be no shorter than four (4) full pages in length (excluding the bibliography page, endnote page, and cover sheet), and not longer than five (5)
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Dr. Gundersen’s World Civ. II Class
HIST1020 Fall 2011
“Sir Robert Peel: A Man of Compassion,
Courage, and Controversy”
by Kenneth Jones
In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries Great Britain was undergoing a transformation.
Britain had been a naval and colonial power for almost two hundred years, but changes in the
economic, social, and political spheres were challenging long held beliefs of the British people.
A young man named Robert Peel II would become a very influential man in the British
Parliament and eventually Prime Minister. As a member of the Upper House of Parliament and
as Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel would leave an indelible mark on British politics, the effects
of which are still evident today. Sir Robert Peel’s legacy is one of practicality, courage, and
compassion, but Peel’s willingness to challenge established political doctrine would shorten a
Born to a family of weavers, Peel would begin a very lucrative business career in the
textile industry by working for a former partner of the Peel family, the firm of Haworth and
Yates.1 As a young entrepreneur, Peel would introduce the practice of importing paupers and
children from the slums and poorhouses of London to work in the textile factories in in Bury,
England, and later in other parts of England. Peel would take over the firm after the founders
died and would rename it Peel & Company.2
Peel was only twenty-one years old when family and business influence gained a seat in
Parliament for the young man. In 1790, Peel entered Parliament as a representative for the
Tamworth district.3 Shortly after entering Parliament, Peel helped prevent a tax on imported
cotton and opposed the Corn Laws of 1815. Peel would also introduce the Police Act of 1829.
This Act would establish a modern police force.4 Peel’s most controversial act may have been
his support for Catholic Emancipation in Ireland and Britain.
For decades the British Parliament had considered and rejected the idea of a professional
police force. Many members of Parliament feared that a professional police force could and
would be used as a tool of oppression against the people. In 1829, Peel, who by this time is
serving as Home Secretary, introduced the Police Act of 1829 and established Scotland Yard as
Britain’s national civilian police force. By refusing to employ former or current military officers,
Scotland Yard avoided falling prey to the influence of the national military.5 Under the Police
Act, all police were to be un-armed and were trained to use the minimum amount of force needed
in order to enforce the civilian laws and codes. The new police officers were nicknamed
“Bobbies” in honor of Peel.6 Scotland Yard would become the model upon which many modern
police forces are based. The idea of an un-armed police force with the authority and the ability to
enforce civilian laws without abusing the public trust was and still is an idea unique to the British
people. Even the police forces that are most closely modeled after Scotland Yard employ armed
officers trained in the use of physical force. The “Bobby” has become an enduring icon of British
Peel also opposed the Corn Laws which placed a very high tariff on all imported grains.7
These laws were intended to protect British agriculture under the age old system of mercantilism.
Mercantilism was an economic system which called for the protection of home grown industry
and agriculture through excessive government regulations in order for the wealthy merchant
class to make profits. The Corn Laws would remain in effect until 1846 when Peel, as Prime
Minister, pushed repeal of the laws through the House of Commons. In 1845, Ireland, which was
ruled by Great Britain at the time, experienced a great famine due to the loss of the potato crop.
Potatoes had been a staple of the Irish diet for decades, and a blight caused by a fungus
devastated the crop. The famine that resulted quickly became one of the greatest disasters in Irish
history. Peel showed great compassion for the Irish people by secretly authorizing Sir Thomas
Baring, a wealthy banker, to purchase £100,000 of American corn for Ireland.8 Peel’s own party
of conservative landowners opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws even though repeal meant relief
for the Irish people. With the repeal of the Corn Laws and the sudden influx of American grain,
speculators in Britain bought up many grain futures, and this increased grain prices by as much
three times the prices of a few months before. The rampant speculation in commodities soon
brought prices for grain down in so short a time that inflation would actually threaten the
stability of the Bank of England.9 With the repeal of the Corn Laws and the desertion of the
conservative party, Peel resigned from office.
Even before the repeal of the Corn Laws, Peel supported another legislative act that was
more controversial, the Catholic Emancipation of 1829. Ireland, a Roman Catholic country, was
dominated politically, socially, and economically by Protestant Britain. Under British law, Irish
Catholics could not hold any high ranking positions in the military, nor were Irish Catholics
fairly represented in Parliament. Peel, as a member of the conservative Tory party, had been
opposed to any legislation allowing Irish Catholics more power over Irish political and social
issues. In 1824, the Catholic Association was formed and led by Daniel O’Connell.10 O’Connell
pressed for reform of anti-Catholic laws which Britain used to subjugate Ireland. According to
Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, the Catholic Association quickly became very
powerful.11 The Orange Society, a group of British Protestants in Northern Ireland, were
constantly provoking Irish Catholics by defacing property owned by the Catholic Church, and
members of the Catholic Association were responding to the Orange Society with riots and
vandalism of British property. The turmoil in Ireland caused a great division among members of
both the liberal Whig and conservative Tory parties in the British Parliament. By 1827, the
administration of Lord Liverpool, who opposed Catholic Emancipation, was dissolved after the
resignation of Peel and several other Tory members of the administration.12 Peel showed a
willingness to compromise his most strongly held beliefs in order to bring peace to Ireland and to
recognize Catholic equality by joining the new administration of pro-Catholic Prime Minister
George Canning. Canning’s administration would last less than a year because of the dissention
among members of Parliament. Canning would be replaced as Prime Minister by the Duke of
Wellington. Even with a different administration in power, the Catholic crisis in Ireland
threatened to turn into civil war. Peel introduced his Emancipation Bill on March 5, 1829.13 This
act called for suppression of the Catholic Association as a condition for Emancipation. The Duke
of Wellington, a military hero, supported the bill in the House of Lords, Britain’s equivalent to a
Senate. Peel and the Duke of Wellington were denounced by Protestants as traitors.14 Peel felt
that his primary responsibility was to help form and operate an effective government for both
Ireland and Britain. Peel realized that personal beliefs must be set aside in order to avoid
violence and to bring order to a very chaotic situation. Even as one of the youngest members of
Parliament, an easy demeanor and passion for fairness made Peel a much sought after ally among
members of both parties. The ability to compromise for the sake of unity made Peel an easy
target for the Protestant press in England. Peel’s Emancipation Act, known as the Reform Bill of
1829, was finally passed.15 The passage of the Reform Bill brought Wellington’s administration
down just as the Emancipation Act had done to Canning’s administration. With the demise of
Wellington’s administration, Peel was commissioned by King William to form a new
government, and, in 1834, Peel would become Prime Minister of Great Britain for the first
Sir Robert Peel was compassionate, courageous, and controversial. Peel would introduce
the first modern police force, Scotland Yard, which would become a model of how governments
could enforce law and order without oppressing the people. As a conservative, Peel at first
opposed Catholic Emancipation, but as a pragmatist, later supported and sponsored legislation
that granted Irish Catholics more rights. The Reform Act of 1829 allowed Irish Catholics to
represent Ireland in the British Parliament. As a man of compassion, Peel sacrificed a political
career in order to relieve a great famine in Ireland. As a man of courage, Peel endured the attacks
of a press and populace dominated by Protestant opponents of Catholic Emancipation. Often,
Peel’s sense of fairness and compassion for the oppressed would lead to great controversy.
Throughout a long political career, Sir Robert Peel was often thought of as a great statesman by
contemporaries. Over one hundred fifty years after retiring from politics, Sir Robert Peel’s
contributions to politics, government, and society are still a model of what a great statesman
1. A. A. W. Ramsey, Sir Robert Peel (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc.1971), 3.
2. ibid. 4.
3. ibid. 4.
4. Jerome H. Skolnick. “The Police Force: A Problem of Reconciling Government Power
With Individual Freedom.” Washington Post, 17 November 1977,
Page=true&rand=131712736 (accessed September 27, 2011).
7. Ramsey, 4.
8. John Reader, “When The Spuds Died: An Earlier Blight.” The International Herald
Tribune, 17 March 2008,
(accessed September 27, 2011).
10. Cassell’s History Of England, Vol, V, Special Ed., “From the Peninsular War To The
Death Of Sir Robert Peel (London: Cassell And Company, Ltd) 248.
11. ibid. 250.
12. ibid. 256.
13. ibid. 295.
14. ibid. 299.
15. ibid. 299.
16. Ramsey, 179.
Cassell’s History Of England, Vol. V, Special Ed., “From The Peninsular War To The Death Of
Sir Robert Peel.”London: Cassell And Company Ltd. 1971.
Reader, John. “When The Spuds Died: An Earlier Blight.” The International Herald Tribune,
17 March 2008. www.lexisnexis.com, Web. 27 September 2011.
Ramsey, A. A. W. Sir Robert Peel. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971.
Skolnick, Jerome H. “The Police Force: A Problem of Reconciling Government Power
With Individual Freedom.” Washington Post, 17 November 1977. www.lexisnexis.com
Web. 27 September 2011.
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