11 Mar /15


Since this is an election year in the UK and current government (and focus of media attention) is a majority Tory government, let us examine the word tory today.

Given, many people use the words tory and conservative interchangeably, and most realize that, politically speaking, tories tend to believe in conservatism and traditionalism, but what of the term itself? Interestingly, the word originates from the mid-1500’s Middle Irish tóraidhe, meaning “outlaw” or “pursued man.” The term first came to England in the late 1600’s, as the idea of James, Duke of York, succeeding Charles II was being discussed: “Whigs” were opposed because James was Catholic, and “Abhorrers,” who were abhorred by the Whig stance and supportive of James (who eventually became King), soon started being called by the shortened form, “tories.”

Once the term arrived in English, it wasn’t long before its usage went above and beyond the issue of royal succession. It has been used to define monarchs themselves, such as George Lockhart writing to the Duke of Athole in 1705 that, “Her Majesty having now, more than ever before, devoted herself and interest to the Whigs, the Torys have no hopes of being successful in almost anything..during this parliament.” Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator of 1711, uses the word in a socio-geographic context, writing that, “The Knight is a much stronger Tory in the Country than in Town, which..is absolutely necessary for the keeping up his Interest.” Finally, as with all things political, the term is used in a comedic/satirical sense, with Thomas P. Thompson writing in 1832 that, “The Catilinarian conspiracy..was manifestly a plot in a green bag, and Cicero a Tory Secretary for the Home Department!”

Additionally, political terminology such as this also demonstrates just how difficult it can be to concisely define a word. In one of his essays from 1741, David Hume states that, “A Tory, therefore, since the revolution, may be defined in a few words, to be a lover of monarchy, though without abandoning liberty; and a partizan of the family of Stuart.” 40 years later, in Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, it is said that, “The prejudice of the Tory is for establishment; The prejudice of the Whig is for innovation. A Tory does not wish to give more real power to Government; but that Government should have more reverence.” Another 60 years after Boswell, Lord Macaulay writes that, “If.. we look at the essential characteristics of the Whig and the Tory, we may consider each of them as the representative of a great principle… One is, in an especial manner, the guardian of liberty, and the other of order. One is the moving power, and the other the steadying power of the state.” So, it seems that the true definition of a Tory is really based upon individual perceptions, and, as for the Whig, well, we will have to examine them later in our Word of the day series.