Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports compiled by Rictor Norton

Definition of Whig and Tory


[ This Editorial is presumably by Jonathan Swift ]

24-31 May 1711

Having been forc’d in my Papers to use the Cant-words of Whig and Tory, which have so often vary’d their Significants [sic], for twenty Years past; I think it necessary to say something of the several Changes those two Terms have undergone since that Period; and then to tell the Reader what I have always understood by each of them, since I undertook this Work. I reckon that these sorts of conceited Appellations, are usually invented by the Vulgar; who not troubling themselves to examine through the Merits of a Cause, are consequently the most violent Partisans of what they espouse; and in their Quarrels, usually proceed to their beloved Argument of calling Names, ’till at length they light upon one which is sure to stick; and in time, each Party grows proud of that Appellation, which their Adversaries at first intended for a Reproach. Of thise kind were the Prasini and Veneti, the Guelfs and Gibelines, Huguenots and Papists, Round-heads and Cavaliers, with many others, of ancient and modern Date. Among us of late there seems to have been a Barrenness of Invention in this Point; the Words Whig and Tory, though they are not much above thirty Years Old, having been press’d to the Service of many Successions of Parties, with very different Idea’s fastened to them. This Distinction, I think, began towards the later part of King Charles the Second’s Reign; was dropt during that of his Successor, and then revived at the Revolution; since which it has perpetually flourish’d, though apply’d to very different kinds of Principles and Persons. . . .

     Some time after the Revolution the Distinction of High and Low-Church came in, which was rais’d by the Dissenters, in order to break the Church Party, by dividing the Members into High and Low; and the Opinion rais’d, That the High join’d with the Papists, inclin’d the Low to fall in with the Dissenters.

     And here I shall take leave to produce some Principles, which in the several Periods of the late Reign, serv’d to denote a Man of one or t’other Party. To be against a Standing Army in Time of Peace, was all High-Church, Tory and Tantivy. To differ from a Majority of Bishops was the same. To raise the Prerogative above Law for serving a Turn, was Low-Church and Whig. The Opinion of the Majority in the House of Commons, especialy of the Country-Party, or Landed Interest, was High-flying and rank Tory. To exalt the King’s Supremacy beyond all Precedent, was Low-Church, Whiggish and Moderate. To make the least Doubt of the pretended Prince being Supposititious, and a Tayler’s Son, was, in their Phrase, Top and Top-gallant, and perhaps Jacobitism. To resume the most exorbitant Grants, that were ever given to a Set of profligate Favourites, and apply them to the Publick, was the very Quintessence of Toryism; notwithstanding those Grants were known to be acquir’d, by Sacrificing the Honour and the Wealth of England.

     In most of these Principles, the two Parties seem to have shifted Opinions, since their Institution under King Charles the Second, and indeed to have gone very different from what was expected from each, even at the Time of the Revolution. But as to that concerning the Pretender, theWhigs have so far renounc’d it, that they are grown the great Advocates for his Legitimacy. . . .

     This was the State of Principles when the Queen came to the Crown; sometime after which, it pleas’d certain great Persons, who had been all their Lives in the Altitude of Tory-Profession, to enter into a Treaty with the Whigs, from whom they could get better Terms than from their old Friends, who began to be testy, and would not allow monopolies of Power and Favour; nor consent to carry on the War intirely at the Expence of this Nation, that they might have Pensions from Abroad; while another People, more immediately concern’d in the War, Traded with the Enemy as in times of Peace. Whereas, the other Party, whose Case appear’d then as desperate, was ready to yield to any Conditions that would bring them into Play. And I cannot help affirming, That this Nation was made a Sacrifice to the unmeasurable Appetite of Power and Wealth in a very few, that shall be Nameless, who in every Step they made, acted directly against what they had always profess’d. And if His Royal Highness the Prince had died some Years sooner (who was a perpetual Check in their Career) ’tis dreadful to think how far they might have proceeded.


     Since that Time, the bulk of the Whigs appears rather to be link’d to a certain Set of Persons, than any certain Set of Principles: So that if I were to define a Member of that Party, I would say, he was one who Believed in the M——ry [Ministry?]. And therefore, whatever I have affirm’d of Whigs in any of these Papers, or objected against them, ought to be understood either of those who were Partisans of the late Men in Power, and privy to their Designs; or such who join’d with them, from a Hatred to our Monarchy and Church, as Unbelievers and Dissenters of all Sizes: Or Men in Office, who had been guilty of much Corruption, and dreaded a Change; which would not only put a stop to further Abuses for the future, but might, perhaps, introduce Examinations of what was past. Or those who had been too highly oblig’d, to quit their Supporters with any common Decency. Or lastly, the Mony-Traders, who could never hope to make their Markers so well of Premiums, and Exorbitant Interest, and high Remittances, under any other Administration.

     Under these Heads, may be reduc’d the whole Body of those whom I have all along understood for Whigs: For I do not include weithin this Number, any of those who have been misled by Ignorance, or seduc’d by plausible Pretences, to think better of that sort of Men than they deserve, and to apprehend mighty Danger from their Disgrace: Because, I believe, the greatest Part of such well-meaning People, are now thorowly converted.

     And indeed, it must be allow’d, that those two fantastick Names of Whig and Tory, have at present very little Relation to those Opinions, which were at first thought to distinguish them. Whoever formerly profess’d himself to approve the Revolution, to be against the Pretender, to justify the Succession in the House of Hannover, to think the British Monarchy not absolute, but limited by Laws, which the Executive Power could not dispense with, and to allow an Indulgence to Scrupulous Consciences; such a Man was content to be called a Whig. On t’other side, whoever asserted the Queen’s hereditary Right; that the Persons of Princes were Sacred; their lawful Authority not to be resisted on any Pretence; nor even their Usurpations, without the most extream Necessity: That Breaches in the Succession were highly dangerous; that Schism was a great Evil, both in itself and its Consequences; that the Ruin of the Church, would probably be attended with that of the State; that no Power should be trusted with those who are not of the Establish’d Religion; such a Man was usually call’d a Tory. Now, tho’ the Opinions of both these are very consistent, and I really think are maintain’d at present by a great Majority of theKingdom; yet, according as Men apprehend the Danger greater, either from the Pretender and his Party, or from the Violence and Cuning of other Enemies to the Constitution; so their common Discourses and Reasonings, turn either to the first or second Set of these Opinions I have mention’d, and are consequently styl’d either Whigs or Tories. Which is, as if two Brothers apprehended their House would be set upon, but disagreed about the Place from whence they thought the Robbers would come, and therefore would go on different sides to defend it. They must needs weaken and expose themselves by such a Separation; and so did we, only our Case was worse: For in order to keep off a weak, remote Enemy, from whom we could not suddenly apprehend any Danger, we took a nearer and a stronger one into the House. I make no Comparison at all between the two Enemies: Popery and Slavery are without doubt the greatest and most dreadful of any; but I may venture to affirm, that the Fear of these, have not, at least since the Revolution, been so close and pressing upon us, as that from another Faction; excepting only one short Period, when the Leaders of that very Faction, invited the abdicating King to return; of which I have formerly taken notice.

     Having thus declared what sort of Persons I have always meant, under the Denomination of Whigs, it will be easy to shew whom I understand by Tories. Such whose Principles in Church and State, are what I have above related; whose Actions are derived from thence, and who have no Attachment to any Set of Minsters, further than as these are Friends to the Constitution in all its Parts, but will do their utmost to save their Prince and Country, whoever be at the Helm.

     By these Descriptions of Whig and Tory, I am sensible those Names are given to several Persons very undeservedly; and that many a Man is call’d by one or t’other, who has not the least Title tothe Blame or Praise I have bestow’d on each of them throughout my Papers. [The Examiner]

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Definition of Whig and Tory", 24 April 2002 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/whigtory.htm>

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