Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Peel helped to create the modern concept of the police force and, oversaw the formation of the Conservative Party out of the shattered Tory Party, and repealed the Corn Laws.
Robert Peel was an enthusiastic fan of homeopathy, who considered a marble bust of Samuel Hahnemann to be “prized beyond all the works, foreign or national, in his gallery.”
Peel objected to laws on compulsory vaccination, alongside John Hunter, Herbert Spencer, William Gladstone, John Bright and Lord Salisbury. Robert Peel was also a friend of John Forbes and George Hamilton Gordon.
Peel was thrown from his horse on 29 June 1850 and died three days later. The editors of The Monthly Journal of Homoeopathy provided a lengthy account of Peel’s final hours, noting the failure of the allopathic physicians in attendance who had leeched Peel as part of their treatment. The account concludes by posing the question, what would have been the outcry if an homeopathic physician had helped bring about the statesman’s death instead of recovery, as had happened in Peel’s case?
Robert Peel was born in Ramsbottom, Bury, Lancashire, England to the industrialist and Member of Parliament Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet. His father was one of the richest textile manufacturers of the early Industrial Revolution.
Peel was educated first at Hipperholme Grammar School, then at Harrow School and finally Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a double first in classics and mathematics. He is also believed to have briefly attended Bury Grammar School. While living in Tamworth, he is credited with the development of the Tamworth Pig by breeding Irish stock with some local Tamworth pigs.
The young Peel entered politics at the young age of 21 as MP for the Irish rotten borough of Cashel, Tipperary. With a scant 24 voters on the rolls, he was elected unopposed.
More importantly, his sponsor for the election (besides his father) was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Arthur Wellesley, the future 1st Duke of Wellington, with whom Peel’s political career would be entwined for the next 25 years.
Peel made his maiden speech at the start of the 1810 session, when he was chosen by the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, to second the reply to the king’s speech. His speech was a sensation, famously described by the Speaker, Charles Abbot, as “the best first speech since that of William Pitt.”
For the next decade he occupied a series of relatively minor positions in the Tory governments: Undersecretary for War, Chief Secretary for Ireland, and chairman of the Bullion Committee (charged with stabilizing British finances after the end of the Napoleonic Wars). He also changed seats twice: first picking up another rotten borough, Chippenham, then becoming MP for Oxford University in 1817.
Peel was considered one of the rising stars of the Tory party, first entering the cabinet in 1822 as Home Secretary. As Home Secretary, he introduced a number of important reforms of British criminal law: most memorably establishing the Metropolitan Police Force (Metropolitan Police Act 1829). He also changed the Penal code reducing the number of crimes punishable by death. He reformed the gaol system, introducing payment for gaolers and education for the inmates.
He resigned as Home Secretary after the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, became incapacitated and was replaced by George Canning. Canning favoured Catholic Emancipation, while Peel had been one of its most outspoken opponents (earning the nickname “Orange Peel”).
Canning himself died less than four months later and, after the brief premiership of Lord Goderich, Peel returned to the post of Home Secretary under the premiership of his long time ally Arthur Wellesley 1st Duke of Wellington. During this time he was widely perceived as the number two in the Tory Party, after Arthur Wellesley 1st Duke of Wellington himself.
However, the pressure on the new ministry from advocates of Catholic Emancipation was too great and an Emancipation Bill was passed the next year. Peel felt compelled to resign his seat as MP representing the graduates of Oxford University (many of whom were Anglican clergymen), as he had stood on a platform of opposition to Catholic Emancipation (in 1815 he had, in fact, challenged to a duel the man most associated with emancipation, Daniel O’Connell).
Peel instead moved to a rotten borough, Westbury, retaining his Cabinet position. Peel’s protege William Gladstone later emulated Peel by serving as MP for Oxford University from 1847 to 1865, before himself being defeated for his willingness to disestablish the Irish Church.
It was at this point that he established the Metropolitan Police Force for London based at Scotland Yard. The 1,000 constables employed were affectionately nicknamed ‘Bobbies’ or, somewhat less affectionately, ‘Peelers’ (both terms are still used today).
Although at first unpopular, they proved very successful in cutting crime in London… Known as the father of modern policing, Robert Peel developed the Peelian Principles which defined the ethical requirements police officers must follow in order to be effective. His most memorable principle was, “the police are the public, and the public are the police.” …
The most notable act of Peel’s second ministry, however, was the one that would bring it down. This time Peel moved against the landholders by repealing the Corn Laws, which supported agricultural revenues by restricting grain imports.
This radical break with Conservative protectionism was triggered by the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849). At first skeptical of the extent of the problem, Peel reacted slowly to the famine. As realisation dawned, however, he hoped that ending the Corn Laws would free up more food for the Irish. Though he knew repealing the laws would mean the end of his ministry, Peel decided to do so….
His own party failed to support the bill, but it passed with Whig and Radical support on 29 June 1846. A following bill was defeated as a direct consequence, however, and Peel resigned.
He did retain a hard core of supporters however, known as Peelites, and at one point in 1849 was actively courted by the Whig/Radical coalition. He continued to stand on his conservative principles, however, and refused.
Nevertheless, he was influential on several important issues, including the furtherance of British free trade with the repeal of the Navigation Acts. Peel was a member of the committee which controlled the House of Commons Library, and on 16 April 1850 was responsible for passing the motion that controlled its scope and collection policy for the rest of the century.
Peel was thrown from his horse while riding up Constitution Hill in London on 29 June 1850, the horse stumbled on top of him and he died three days later on 2 July at the age of 62. His Peelite followers, led by George Hamilton Gordon and William Gladstone, went on to fuse with the Whigs as the Liberal Party.