Robert Peel was from Manchester. We are also from Manchester. Peel’s wealth was derived from the cotton-spinning industry. This cotton was picked by slaves throughout the Thirteen Colonies/United States and the British West Indies. He inherited this wealth from his father, who was also proslavery. His father circulated a proslavery petition in 1806. He was also, like his son, a religious bigot and a racist. The wealth that Peel Jnr inherited allowed for him to purchase his first pocket borough seat Cashel, Tipperary, in 1809. Peel was fixated with issues of reputation, consistency honour and posthumous judgement, for these remained his only hope of future salvation. Peel did not merely hope for his reward in heaven — but in history.” He had one eye on history, but we have our eyes on the past, present and future. He knew his legacy was tarnished. This is why these statues must come down.
Many people will argue that Peel enacted legislation such as the Repeal of the Corn Laws, the Factory Act, Catholic Emancipation and the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Regarding the Corn Laws, yes this did make food cheaper for the working poor, but this was an ancillary gain. The principal beneficiaries of this were the rising industrial elite, who could then afford cheaper raw materials to manufacture goods while at the same time increasing productivity of the labouring poor by boosting their caloric intake. The Factory Act was passed in 1844, but Peel opposed any reduction to the proposed 12 hour working day. Catholic Emancipation and the Maynooth Grant were passed, but only after the threat of Irish Rebellion became apparent to Peel. The Peelian principles on their own are sound principles, yet Peel did not apply them throughout the British Empire; in Ireland, India, Australia and beyond. I have chosen to provide evidence directly related to the man himself. He was not overly interested in foreign policy beyond its commercial purposes, so I have separated the actions of him from the actions of his imperial government.
From 1809 onwards, Peel was motivated by hate. He was so extreme that Daniel O’Connell labelled him “Orange Peel.” In Sir Robert Peel: An Historical Sketch his biographer describes his actions, not just words “Mr. Peel, then, in taking up the anti-Catholic policy, took up the practical one.” Another contemporary observer opined that “Peel…made a speech of little merit, but elegantly and clearly expressed, and so well delivered as to be applauded to excess. He now fills the important place of spokesman to the intolerant faction.” The brutal Irish famine of 1845 to 1852 resulted in the death of around 1 million Irish people and two million refugees. This accounted for a population loss of around 20-25% It was Robert Peel who imported £100,000 worth of Indian corn from the United States to Ireland following the first potato blight in 1845 for the sole reason of stabilising food prices, rather than to help the suffering Irish. There was a policy whereby the Irish could build infrastructure to receive the food, but most were too weak from malnutrition to work. He also proposed the Coercive Acts Bill in Parliament on 15th May 1846 to further repress the Irish people, even after the famine. This was so extreme that even the 19th century Parliament rejected it. Peel stated that “You have no idea of the moral depravation of the lower order in that county.” He believed an honest despotic government would be the fittest government for Ireland. The establishment of a police force first deployed in Cashel to quell disturbances in the proclaimed barony of Middlethird in 1814 was his first assay in what would be his most lasting achievement – the London Metropolitan Police, founded in 1829.
Peel’s ministry did force many nations to adopt emancipation during his premiership and use the Royal Navy to hunt slave ships, but this was done as a part of “Informal Empire” where Britain would use its military strength to put diplomatic pressure on smaller nations in order to gain economic, political and cultural domination over them. It was a profitable enterprise. Peel made anti-slavery overtures in the 1840s because proslavery was so repellent and became a taboo after emancipation occurred in Britain.
Much of the written literature on Peel is itself problematic, it is hagiographic in nature and fails to tell the complete story of Robert Peel. He was, what we would call today, a white supremacist. He believed in the primacy of white men and the primary source evidence I have attached proves it. These statues are totemic of the values they represent, racism, bigotry and oppression. They reflect the worst values that still exist in society today, sadly. Many of the people who are outraged by this movement to reclaim our public spaces did not take much notice of these statues before, why are they so concerned now?