Who was Robert Peel?

Though Robert Peel is most famous for being the man responsible for the founding of what is now the British police force, he was also a British Tory prime minister who repealed the Corn Laws.

Early Promise

Robert Peel was born in the Lancashire town of Bury on February 5th, 1788. He came from a wealthy family, with Peel’s father, a textile manufacturer, benefiting from the explosion of the Industrial Revolution. The young Robert Peel was educated at the prestigious Harrow School, before becoming a high achiever at Oxford University. Peel began his political career as an MP aged only 21. His maiden speech received widespread praise, and indicated that the young MP was destined for a great political career.

Peel’s Law and Order Legacy

Robert Peel was born in the Lancashire town of Bury on February 5th, 1788.

Robert Peel was born in the Lancashire town of Bury on February 5th, 1788.

In 1813, Robert Peel, as the Chief Secretary in Dublin, introduced a specialist force that was the foreruner of a modern police force. This force was named after him and was called the Peelers. The British slang term for someone serving in the police, a Bobby, was derived from Robert Peel’s Christian name. Peel consolidated his political career via a number of minor positions before becoming Home Secretary in 1822 (a post he filled on two occasions). It was when Home Secretary that Peel founded the Metropolitan Police Force. He also reduced the number of crimes that were punishable by execution.

Peel’s Rise and Fall

A man of strong convictions, Robert Peel resigned as Home Secretary and as an MP because of his opposition to Catholic Emancipation, but he was such a powerful political figure that he would not be away from politics for long. The early 1830s were a turbulent time in British politics and Robert Peel’s abilities counted in his favour enough for him to be appointed Prime Minister in 1834. Later that year he was also appointed the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Peel was to have a second term as Prime Minister from 1841 to 1846.

It was during his second term that the controversial Corn Laws would result in Peel’s downfall. The Corn Laws had been a definition of mercantilism in the UK for hundreds of years, but Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, often referred to as the father of the early modern period, influenced the turning away from mercantilism, or commercialism. Peel used the Irish Famine as a reason for repealing the Corn Laws, to help get food to Ireland, but it was believed to be more a case of his supporting free trade. Robert Peel died a few years after leaving office, following a riding accident, on July 2nd, 1850.

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