PEEL, Jonathan (1799-1879), of Marble Hill, Twickenham, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1826 - 1830
1831 - 1868

Family and Education

b. 12 Oct. 1799, 5th s. of Sir Robert Peel†, 1st bt. (d. 1830), of Drayton Manor, Staffs., and 1st w. Ellen, da. of William Yates, calico printer, of Springside, Bury, Lancs.; bro. of Edmund Peel*, Laurence Peel*, Robert Peel* and William Yates Peel*. educ. Rugby 1812. m. 19 Mar. 1824, Lady Alicia Jane Kennedy, da. of Archibald, 12th earl of Cassilis [S], 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.). d. 13 Feb. 1879.

Offices Held

2nd lt. Rifle Brigade 1815; lt. (half-pay) 95 Ft. 1818; lt. 71 Ft. 1819; capt. (half-pay) 2 W.I. Regt. 1821; lt. and capt. 1 Ft. Gds. 1822; brevet maj. (half-pay) 1825; maj. 69 Ft. 1826; lt.-col. 53 Ft. 7 June 1827, half-pay (unattached) 9 Aug. 1827; brevet col. 1841; maj.-gen. 1854; lt.-gen. 1859; ret. 1863.

Surveyor-gen. of ordnance Sept. 1841-July 1846; sec. of state for war Feb. 1858-June 1859, July 1866-Mar. 1867; PC 26Feb. 1858.

Biography

Peel, guided by his eldest brother Robert, entered the army and was unpropitiously commissioned as a second lieutenant three days before Waterloo. His father reflected in 1817 that ‘promotion in time of peace cannot be very rapid, consistent with a due regard for economy’: his subsequent promotions were by purchase.1 He was with the Rifle Brigade in Ireland in 1818. On his marriage in 1824 his father settled on him £60,000 of the £106,000 earmarked as his personal fortune. This sum was later increased by £29,000, so that he inherited a further £75,000 on his father’s death in 1830.2

Late in 1824 he and Robert considered the possibility of his engaging himself to stand for Newcastle-under-Lyme as an opponent of Catholic relief at the next general election. They failed to obtain satisfactory financial guarantees and, deciding that it would be foolish to ‘embark on the uncertainty which the present prospect affords’, they eventually gave up all thought of the enterprise.3 In 1826 the leaders of the ministerialist Orange and Purple interest at Norwich, where one of the sitting Members on the rival Blue and White interest had unexpectedly decided to retire, approached Robert Peel with an offer to bring in one of his brothers without opposition. Edmund was ruled out by his pro-Catholic views and Robert, having ascertained that £1,500 would probably cover all contingencies, accepted on behalf of Jonathan, who may otherwise have been in line for a seat on Lord Falmouth’s interest. Sir Robert Peel gave his blessing:

I am anxious to see ... [Jonathan] in Parliament if it can be effected at an expense not exceeding £1,500. I should object to some situations as not affording employment enough for a young man wishing to have his time occupied. Norwich is a manufacturing town of considerable consequence, and ... the business to be done requires constant attendance. As we wish to avoid being involved in a contested election, and Norwich being notorious in favour of one, should Jonathan feel himself called to give up all prospect of being one of the Members, could you afford him hopes of getting a seat recommended by government? If the invitation of voters be of that respectable kind that will almost secure him a seat, it is to be hoped that your brother will, by attention to his duties, make its continuance easy to him afterwards.

Peel, who declared his rooted opposition to Catholic relief and parliamentary reform, remained on tenterhooks to the end, as his opponents made frantic efforts to find a third man. He was prepared to go to a poll, his father having authorized the necessary expenditure, but a late bid to mount an opposition collapsed.4

Peel, who, with Robert, was admitted to the freedom of Norwich, immediately began to involve himself conscientiously in constituency business. In October 1826 he secured his temporary restoration to full pay in a bid to enhance his prospects of promotion. At the beginning of 1827, anticipating the duke of Wellington’s appointment as commander-in-chief, he wondered if Robert could ask the duke to make him one of his aides-de-camp, which ‘would relieve me from the necessity of moving about with my regiment and would be a sure step to promotion’. Nothing came of this, but he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in June.5 He presented Norwich petitions against Catholic relief, 26 Feb.,6 and divided against the proposal, 6 Mar. 1827. He voted against the spring guns bill, 30 Mar. It was thought that he might speak in defence of Robert’s refusal to serve under Canning, but he held his tongue.7 He presented a Norwich Baptists’ petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June 1827,8 but voted against that measure, 26 Feb. 1828. He presented petitions complaining of the 1827 Malt Act, 21 Feb., 7 Mar., voted against Catholic relief, 12 May, and was in the Wellington government’s majority on the ordnance estimates, 4 July 1828.

Peel felt unable to follow Robert in his volte face on Catholic emancipation and, without giving him any warning, impulsively declared in the House, 9 Feb. 1829, that it would overturn the constitution, yet fail to pacify Ireland.9 In explanation he wrote to his brother:

I have had the misfortune to take a very different view from yours ... and in consequence of the very recent and very decided opinion I have given on the Catholic question (in answer to a letter requesting me to present the petition of the clergy of Norfolk) I thought it necessary to declare my opinion publicly, as I felt that remaining silent would lead everybody to suppose that I had changed it ... I ... hope that as soon as this unfortunate question is settled ... all difference of opinion between us will have ceased and in the meantime ... [I] assure you that no political event whatever can ever alter those feelings of affectionate regard I have ever entertained for you.

He was mortified when Robert, who was deeply hurt, suggested that he had deliberately ‘selected an opportunity of declaring my difference of opinion from you, that should have the effect of giving weight and colour to attacks upon you, that were personally hostile and offensive’. In his defence, he tried to prove ‘how unintentional any unkindness on my part has been’. It seemed possible that he would resign his seat in pique, but his father-in-law Lord Cassilis intervened to soothe the ruffled feelings on both sides.10 Peel presented several anti-Catholic petitions, 19, 26 Feb., 9, 18, 24, 27 Mar. On 6 Mar. he spoke and voted against emancipation, likening it to an attempt to apply to religion the same free trade principles which had proved so damaging to industry and commerce. He called for a general election on the issue, the outcome of which ‘would at least prove to the Roman Catholics that the public opinion of this country is entirely adverse to granting them political power’. The Whig Member George Agar Ellis thought it a ‘good’ speech, while another backbencher noted that it was ‘done with great feeling and so perfectly in the tone of a gentleman’.11 He voted against the relief bill, 18, 30 Mar., but paired for the divisions of 23, 27 Mar. 1829.

Peel, who was appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 9 Feb., was not permanently alienated from the government, and he voted with them against parliamentary reform proposals, 18 and (as a pair) 23 Feb. 1830. He accused the advocates of economy of never being satisfied, 2 Apr., and voted with ministers on the grant for South American missions, 7 June. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He condemned the subscription fraud exposed by the committee on the Birmingham and London Junction Canal bill, of which he was a member, 18, 20 May. He endorsed a Norwich petition for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 17 Mar., and presented a similar one himself, 4 June; but he was credited with pairing against the proposal, 7 June 1830. At the general election he stood again for Norwich, where he was challenged by two opponents of government, who were set up by disaffected weavers to promote parliamentary reform and reduced taxation. In response to this Peel, of whom it was said that he had at least been useful in forwarding the scheme to link Norwich to the sea by canal, merely promised to support ‘every requisite reduction’. He denied having opposed the principle of the sale of beer bill, and boasted of his resistance to the attempt to curb the distribution of colours at elections. He and his colleague Ogle were comfortably beaten, to the delight of Robert Peel’s political opponents. Lord Holland reported gleefully that a Norwich clergyman ‘preached the Sunday after the election on the following text out of 2 Samuel, ch. 1, v. 26: "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan"’.12

At the general election of 1831 Peel was returned, after a token contest, for Huntingdon, which the Dowager Lady Sandwich had placed at the disposal of opposition. On the hustings he admitted that unyielding resistance to parliamentary reform was no longer tenable and professed himself to be ‘a moderate reformer’, in favour of enfranchising large towns and having ‘the constituency of the country generally increased’. However, he objected to the wholesale disfranchisement of small boroughs proposed in the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which he thought likely to lead to universal suffrage, the ballot and the spoliation of church property.13 He was a less than dedicated attender in the 1831 Parliament. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, was in the minority against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, put the case for Huntingdon to retain two seats, 29 July, and voted against the third reading and passage of the bill, 19, 21 Sept. He was a defaulter, 10 Oct., when the motion of confidence in the government was carried. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, which reinstated Huntingdon as a two Member borough, 17 Dec. 1831. He was in the minority against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., expressed his ‘objection to the whole of the disfranchising principle’ of the bill, 2 Mar., and voted against its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. His only other known votes were against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832. He criticized the magistrates who had dealt with the Nottingham riots, 31 Jan., 1 Feb., thinking that ‘a great deal of mischief had arisen from the tone of certain speeches which had been made by them’. He refuted Hume’s allegation that a cav