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If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whig = Whey

Liberal and conservative are labels - and sometimes slurs - thrown around in the news every day. Not many people know that their use in the U.S. were greatly influenced by the parties that dominated Victorian England, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Those names developed as descriptives from two earlier parties, the Whigs and the Tories.

Those grew out of political, social, and religious divisions among the aristocracy of England and Scotland starting in the late 1600s. They grew deeper after Scotland was forced into a union with England in 1707, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The Whigs weren't exactly men of the people, but they gathered their strength from the countryside, the great rural estates, and opposed those who were directly supportive of the King and known as the Crown party.

Over time, the Whigs became more representative of the masses, advocating an increase in the suffrage, allowing more people - people defined as men who were white and not poor - to vote. They called for Parliament to rule the country rather than the King or Queen. They were the anti-slavery party as well. The Tories represented more control and order.

Americans knew these political fights as well as they did their own. Our modern Democratic and Republican parties have evolved to represent similar divisions in the U.S.

Something I didn't know was the origin of the term Whig. In his excellent history, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur Herman gives this explanation:

Whigg is Scots for a kind of sour milk or whey. In hard times it was the main diet of the poor and indigent; since many of the Covenanters were thought to be lower-class trash, opponents taunted them with the word. When a group of Covenanters marched on Edinburgh to present the Engagement with Charles I in 1848, it became known as the "march of the whiggamores" or "sour milk men." Whiggamore soon shortened to Whig: in John Locke's day, it referred to anyone bound and determined to have a Protestant succession, whether in Scotland or England.

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