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Peel Sir Robert

Peel, Sir, Robert (1788-1850), statesman, born near Bury, in Lancashire, was the son of Sir Robert Peel, Bart., a wealthy cotton manufacturer. He was educated at Harrow and Christ Church, Oxford. In 1809 he was elected Tory member for Cashel, and in 1811 was made Under-Secretary for the Colonies. As Chief Secretary for Ireland (1812-18) he aroused so much ill-feeling by his ultra-Protestant policy that he was at length compelled to resign. Meanwhile he had exchanged his former seat for that of Oxford University. In 1819 he was chosen Chairman of the Bank Committee, and in this capacity effected a return to cash payments. His tenure of the office of Home Secretary under Lord Liverpool (1822-27) was marked by many useful measures. Being unable to agree with Canning, who succeeded Lord Liverpool as premier, on the question of Catholic Emancipation, he resigned; but in 1828 he joined the Duke of Wellington in forming a new Cabinet, in which he again took charge of the Home department. At the same time he became leader of the House of Commons, and found himself forced to move the Catholic Relief Bill (March, 1829), the very measure which had occasioned his withdrawal so short a time before. This change of policy led to his defeat at Oxford, and ultimately to the overthrow of the Government (November, 1830). For the next ten years he was leader of the Opposition, with the exception of an interval in 1833-34, during which he led a Conservative Ministry, which speedily found itself too weak to combat the Whigs. His attitude in regard to the reforming policy of the Melbourne Administration was marked throughout by moderation, good sense, and great practical ability. He was hailed with enthusiasm as leader of the Tory party on its return to power in 1841, but such measures as the Maynooth grant and the establishment of the "godless" colleges in Ireland, no less than the Premier's financial policy, which was evidently in the direction of Free Trade, caused a rift in the Conservative party which resulted ultimately in its collapse. The climax came with the proposal to repeal the Corn Laws (q.v.), which Peel - already a Free-Trader at heart - felt to be forced on him by the Irish famine and the bad harvest in England in 1845. Deserted by an important section of his followers, he retired to make way for Lord John Russell; but the latter failed to form a ministry, so that it actually fell to Peel to carry through the House the Bill-for the complete abolition of all duties on corn. In July, 1846, he was defeated on an Irish Coercion Bill through a combination of the Whigs and the dissatisfied Tories. During the rest of his life he gave an independent support to the Whigs as far as their home government was concerned, though he opposed their foreign policy. He died in 1850.