Sir Robert Peel; The Life and Legacy (Library of Victorian Studies) (pdf)
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Sir Robert Peel - paragon or pariah? Peel was the greatest political leader in mid-Victorian Britain and a titan of Conservative politics. He held the greatest offices of state over a political career spanning forty years and was twice Prime Minister. He was a tireless reformer who put "nation" before "party" with a range of modernizing measures including giving political rights to Catholics, reform of banking, the railways, the criminal law and prisons, as well as founding the Metropolitan Police. He introduced "free-trade" budgets and repealed the Corn Laws to give cheap food to Britain's growing industrial and urban population. He was the first acknowledged leader of the Conservative Party and the Founder of Modern Conservatism. Yet Peel's seemingly peerless reputation has never been secure. Abolition of the Corn Laws split his party, his "Peelite" supporters joined the Liberals and the Conservatives remained in opposition for thirty years. Richard Gaunt, drawing on a huge archive of state papers, contemporary writings -- including Peel's own memoirs -- and the latest historiography, paints a convincing picture of Peel as a exponent of effective government in the modern industrial state, of a calculating practitioner, supremely self-confident, who dominated both his Party and the House of Commons. And even Conservative "backwoodsmen" were moving towards Peel's new model Conservatism. Gaunt's thoughtful, revisionist study is essential for all students of Peel and mid-Victorian politics.