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24 Pages

Conservative Prospects

WithGrevel Lindop

First published in Blackwood’s, March 1841, pp. 406–22 and never reprinted. There is no known manuscript. For the attribution, see W. E. A. Axon, ‘The Canon of De Quincey’s Writings’, Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, 32 (1914), pp. 1–46.

The essay forms part of the intense political debate preceding the General Election of June–July 1841. Despite the title, De Quincey focuses mainly on the Whigs, who were widely expected to lose the election, and on their alliance with the Irish MPs led by Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847; DNB). Since late 1834 O’Connell had held the balance of power in the House of Commons, where the numbers of Whig and Conservative MPs were almost equal. By an informal agreement known as the ‘Lichfield House Compact’, O’Connell had agreed to support the Whigs in exchange for measures of reform in Ireland. In fact the Tory majority in the House of Lords had blocked any such measures, but O’Connell had continued to observe the compact. This is ‘the monstrous O’Connell connexion with Ministers’ mentioned by De Quincey. In April 1840 O’Connell had established the Repeal Association to press for repeal of the Act of Union and self-government for Ireland. This is the ‘treason’ with which De Quincey charges him.

It is noteworthy that in this essay De Quincey for the first time uses the relatively new term ‘Conservative’ throughout, and eschews the word ‘Tory’. Sir Robert Peel, who would take office as Prime Minister after the 1841 General Election, had encouraged the use of the term ‘Conservative’ for his political party to avoid the reactionary, Jacobite, High Church and aristocratic connotations of the older ‘Tory’. De Quincey’s adoption of the term indicates his general alignment with Peel’s perspectives on political matters.