This article investigates the influence of the Maynooth and Repeal crises on Conservative politicians after 1846 and the putative maintenance of their identity as defenders of the Church after the Disruption of the party. Historians of the Conservative party have long realized that it suffered from a crisis of identity for a long time after 1846. Some of the leading Peelites were heading more and more towards the Liberal party, and most backbench Peelites gradually joined the Protectionist party; but the Protectionists did not have enough experienced leaders to qualify for the inheritance. Norman Gash has argued that “the Protectionists were not a political party in the sense of one able to provide and sustain a Government in the circumstances of the mid-nineteenth century…. The weakness of the Protectionists was not merely that after 1846 they represented the Conservative party with most of the brains knocked out, but that until they could shake off the monolithic character implied by their title, they could scarcely hope to become a national party or form a viable Government.” Likewise Robert Stewart and John Ramsden consider that the Protectionists were unable to take the place of the Conservative party, given their lack of effective and experienced leaders. It is undeniable that the Protectionist party was not as strong as the Conservative party had been in terms of executive capacity or party organization. But to say also that it was unable to inherit the mantle of Conservatism is to fall into the same trap as Gash and to exaggerate the importance of Peelite executive ability. More significant is the fact that the party of Stanley and Disraeli maintained fidelity to the core principles of the Conservative party—i. e. the constitution of Church and State, and the principle of protectionism. In this sense, the Protectionist party did become the sole inheritor of the Conservative party during the later 1840s.
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