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in their measures for the public good. In fact, he
appears to have taken a lively interest in the pro-
gress of state affairs, judging from the active corre-
spondence he kept up with his ministers/ From defects
of personal character, the regal influence of George IV.
was limited to the strict exercise of the prerogative ;
and his personal influence was so small, that it was even
difficult for his ministers to bear the weight of his
unpopularity, and to uphold the respect due to the
crown, when it encircled the head of such an unworthy
sovereign^ On one point of public policy, however,
he attempted to make a stand, in behalf of his own
sense of right, namely, upon the question of further
concession to the Eoman Catholic claims, but ministers

u Campbell's Chanc. v. 7, pp. 345, Times, pp. 416, 437, 445. Welln.

346. See Welln. Desp. 3rd ser. v. 4, Desp. 3rd ser. passim.
p. 665, and v. 6, p. 293. w Lewis, Adminis. p. 421

T See Stapletou's Canning and his


were firm, and obliged him to give way. For George IV.
had not his father's spirit, and could not persevere in
opposing an act which he nevertheless considered to be
contrary to his coronation oath, and a dereliction of his
duty as a Protestant king. x

Case of The domestic relations of George IV. were, it is

Caroline, well known, extremely unhappy ; and they led, in
1820, to serious difficulties between the king and his
ministers, which threatened to terminate in an open
rupture, a catastrophe which was only averted by the
patience and good sense of ministers themselves. Some
account of these events will afford a valuable illustra-
tion of the ministerial status during this reign. The
queen having, when Princess of Wales, disgraced her-
self by levity of conduct, and exposed herself to the
charge of adulterous practices, the king desired the
premier to prepare, without delay, a bill of divorce
against her. He also determined if possible to proceed
against his guilty consort for high treason. The cabinet,
however, were not in favour of such severe measures.
In a minute dated February 10, 1820, ministers com-
municated to the king their opinion, individually as
well as collectively, that a proceeding against the queen
for high treason was out of the question ; and that to
attempt to procure a divorce might seriously prejudice
the interests of the crown and of the monarchy, inas-
much as, bearing in mind the king's own conduct, it
would be impossible to establish a case sufficient to
justify the grant of a divorce by Act of Parliament.
They agreed, however, to propose certain measures to
prevent personal annoyance to his Majesty by the
return of the queen to England, and were willing to
justify the king in omitting her name from the Liturgy,
and refusing to allow her to be crowned. The king
replied to this memorandum at considerable length,
reiterating his objections. On February 14, the cabinet

* See post, p. 1 85.


re-stated to the king their unanimous opinion that, Queen
whatever other measures they might agree to propose, Carolme -
they could not recommend the introduction of a Bill of
Divorce. The king was angry, and peremptorily reite-
rated his commands. Whereupon his ministers, finding
expostulation fruitless, threatened to resign. No other
men could be found to take their place, on condition of
performing what they had refused to do ; accordingly
the king, sorely against his will, yielded, being ' ready,
for the sake of decorum and the public interest, to
make this great and this painful sacrifice of his personal
feelings.' 7

A few weeks afterwards we learn, through a private
letter from Lord Chancellor Eldon to his daughter, that
the king ' has been pretty well disposed to part with
us all, because we would not make additions to his
revenue.' 2 Upon which transactions a recent historian
justly remarks, ' These minor troubles have a happy
capacity for adjustment in a constitutional monarchy,
when responsible ministers possess the requisite degree
of firmness.' a The king was well aware that he could
not ask his advisers to advocate any measures affecting
himself individually, but such as they could properly
submit for the sanction of Parliament, upon their own
personal responsibility ; and that, had he taken upon
himself, under such circumstances, to dismiss his
ministry for refusing to be subservient to his wishes,
he would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to
induce any one to take their places, and assume the
responsibility of his act. Notwithstanding the crimina-
tory evidence obtained against the princess in 1806,
and again in 1819, ministers determined to take no

y See the correspondence between Life of Melbourne, v. 1, p. 145.
the king and his ministers on this * Twiss, Life of Eldon, v. 2, p. 362.
subject, in Yonge, Life of Ld. Liver- a Knight's Hist, of Eng. v. 8,

pool, v. 3, cc. xxiv., xxv. Lewis, p. 165.
Adminis. pp. 356-411. Torrens,



Queen active measures against her unless she should obtrude
Caroline, herself upon public notice by demanding to be regarded
as Queen of England. She imprudently decided upon
this course, and in the summer of 1820 left the con-
tinent, where she had been residing for several years,
and made her appearance in London, for the purpose
of prosecuting her claims. On the day of her arrival
in London, a message from the king was presented to
both Houses, communicating certain papers respecting
the conduct of her Majesty since her departure from the
kingdom, and recommending them to the immediate and
serious attention of Parliament. In the House of Lords,
on the motion of Lord Liverpool (the prime minister),
these papers were referred to a committee of secrecy,
upon whose report a Bill of Pains and Penalties for the
degradation of the queen, and for her divorce from her
husband, was introduced by his lordship. After evi-
dence taken at the bar, the second reading of this Bill
was carried by a majority of 28. In committee a motion
was made to expunge the divorce clause, which, though
unsuccessful, was voted for by all the ministers present,
nine in number. By this proceeding they preserved
their consistency, and maintained their independence of
the personal influence of the king. On November 10,
the third reading of the Bill was carried by a majority
of nine only ; whereupon Lord Liverpool arose, and
announced that the measure would be abandoned. In
the state of excitement which prevailed throughout the
country on the question, and the feeling which existed
against the king, the attempt to carry the Bill through
the House of Commons, after such a close division in
the Lords, would have been most disastrous, and would
probably have resulted in the overthrow of the adminis-
tration, whose popularity had been already diminished
by the degree of assistance they had rendered to the
king on this occasion.

The reign of William IV. has been rendered mernor-


able by the passing of the Eeform Bill ; a measure to 1330-1837.
which the king was at first opposed, but which was Jy 11 ^
ultimately carried through Parliament with a high the Re-
hand by his own personal exertions. Impressed with
the necessity for Eeform, to save the country from
revolution, and to avert the perils anticipated by the
defeat of the Bill in the House of Lords, the ministry
extorted from the king a pledge to create a sufficient
number of peers to turn the scale in favour of Eeform ;
but a dread of the consequences of such an arbitrary
proceeding induced the king, with the knowledge and
consent of his ministers, to cause a circular letter to be
addressed to the Opposition peers, urging upon them
to drop all further resistance to the Bill, so that it
might pass without delay, and as nearly as possible
without alteration. b This direct interference with the
independent deliberations of the House of Lords, how-
ever objectionable it may appear, was not unprece-
dented under the peculiar circumstances of a conflict
between the two Houses. At any rate, it was a less
obvious evil than the creation of additional peers, and
it had the desired effect.

The Eeform Bill became law, through the active Effects of
interposition of the crown, and with the reluctant f p m cm.
assent of the House of Lords. It has effected an
important revolution in the English political system.
Professedly based upon a ' careful adherence to the
acknowledged principles of the constitution, by which
the prerogatives of the crown, the authority of both
Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of
the people, are equally secured,' d it has contributed,
in its consequences, to increase the power of the House
of Commons, not only by lessening the aristocratic

b Roebuck's Hist, of the Whig a The king's speech at the opening

Ministry, v. 2, pp. 331, 334. of Parliament, in June 1831. And

c See post, p. 191. For a fuller dis- see Earl Russell's comments thereon,

cussion of this point, see post, v. 2. in his Eng. Const, p. 52.


influence of the proprietors of close boroughs, but also
by diminishing the strength of the crown in that
assembly. The disfranchisement of constituencies, in
England alone, which formerly returned 143 members,
the distribution of seats to various localities hitherto un-
represented, and the general extension of the franchise,
have been the means of emancipating a large propor-
tion of voters from the direct influence of the landed
gentry, and of introducing into the House of Commons
a body of independent members, who cannot be relied
upon as the staunch supporters of any political party,
but who think and act for themselves. 6 This has
brought about a silent but material change in the rela-
tions between Parliament and the ministers of the crown.
The stable administrations of former days have passed
. away, and no government can now expect to continue
increas- in office by dint of mere party strength. The House
difficult to of Commons has become more difficult to control, from
control the lack of a sufficient number of members upon whose
of Com- support an existing ministry could generally depend,
and from the necessity of conciliating the goodwill of
divers important and independent interests, which are
now represented therein/ Nevertheless, as we have
already remarked/ the influence of ' the great govern-
ing families of England,' though materially reduced, is
still powerful over many constituencies. And while
the representation of the people has been made more
direct and efficient, rank and hereditary property have
been permitted to retain a fair proportion of legitimate
influence in that chamber which has become the source
and centre of political authority. 11 To this we owe it
that the complex machinery of parliamentary govern-
ment has continued in successful operation, and that

c See mite. h See May, Const. Hist. v. 1, p.

1 See Ed. Rev. v. 95, p. iL'5. 355 ; v. 2, p.' 84.



the House of Commons has been hitherto preserved
from the evil effects of democratic ascendency.

Two years after the passing of the Reform Bill, the
prerogatives of the crown were again called into activity,
in a manner which seemed to revive the political history
of 1784. Lord Grey's government had lost the confi-
dence of the king. The retirement of several members
of the cabinet on the question of the appropriation of
the surplus revenues of the Church of Ireland excited
the apprehension of the king as to the safety of the
Irish Church, and, without consulting his ministers, he
gave public expression to his alarm, in replying to an
address of the prelates and clergy of Ireland. 1 ' The
ministry, enfeebled by the loss of their colleagues, by
disunion and other embarrassments, soon afterwards re-
signed ; notwithstanding that they continued to com-
mand a large majority in the House of Commons. They
were succeeded by Lord Melbourne's administration,
which differed little in material politics and parliament-
ary strength. But this administration was distasteful to
the king, who had meantime become a convert to the
political opinions of the Opposition.' 3

Taking advantage of the removal of Lord Althorp Dismissal
from the leadership of the House of Commons, and from ministers
the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, owing to his ^mTv
accession to a peerage by the death of his father, the ^ 1834 -
king suddenly dismissed his ministers, and consulted the
Duke of Wellington upon the formation of a govern-
ment from the Tory party, who were in a decided
minority in the House of Commons. k The propriety
of this act has been questioned by May, for the reason
that ' all the usual grounds for dismissing a ministry
were wanting. There was no immediate difference of
opinion between them and the king upon any measure or

1 See post, p. 286. J May, Const. Hist. v. 1, p. 120.

k See post , p. 104.


question of public policy ; there was no disunion among
themselves, nor were there any indications that they had
lost the confidence of Parliament. But the accidental
removal of a single minister not necessarily even from
the government, but only from one House of Parliament
to the other was made the occasion for dismissing the
entire administration. It is true that the king viewed
with apprehension the policy of his ministers in regard
to the Irish Church ; but his assent was not then re-
quired to any specific measure of which he disapproved,
nor was this the ground assigned for their dismissal.
The right of the king to dismiss his ministers was un-
questionable ; but constitutional usage has prescribed
certain conditions under which this right should be
exercised. It should be exercised solely in the interests
of the state, and on grounds which can be justified to
Parliament to whom, as well as to the king, the minis-
ters are responsible. But here it was not directly alleged
that the ministers had lost the confidence of the king :
and so little could it be affirmed that they had lost the
confidence of Parliament that an immediate dissolution
was counselled by the new administration. The act of
the king bore too much the impress of his personal will
and too little of those reasons of state policy by which
it should have been prompted ; but its impolicy was so
signal as to throw into the shade its unconstitutional
character.' 1

The Duke of Wellington advised that the formation
of the new administration should be entrusted to Sir
Kobert Peel ; and as that statesman was abroad at the
time, he himself accepted the office of First Lord of the
Treasury, together with the seals of office as Secretary
of State, which, there being no other secretary, consti-
tuted his grace Secretary for the Home, Foreign, and
Colonial Departments.

' May, Const. Hist, v, 1, pp. 122, 123. And see Trevelyan, Life of
Macaulay, v. 2, p. 64.


Upon the arrival of Sir R. Peel, he immediately
waited upon the king, and accepted the proffered charge.
And ' so completely had the theory of ministerial re-
sponsibility been now established that, though Sir E.
Peel was out of the realm when the late ministers were
dismissed though he could have had no cognisance of
the causes which induced the king to dismiss them
though the Duke of Wellington had been invested with
the sole government of the country without his know-
ledge, he yet boldly avowed that, by accepting office
after these events, he became constitutionally responsible
for them all, as if he had himself advised them. m He
did not attempt, like the ministers of 1807, to absolve
himself from censure for the acts of the crown, and at
the same time to denounce the criticism of Parliament,
as an arraignment of the personal conduct of the king,
but manfully accepted the full responsibility which had
devolved upon him.' n

A dissolution of Parliament was at once determined
upon ; its result proved, upon the whole, unfavourable
to Sir Robert Peel, for, although his own supporters
were largely increased, yet a majority against his minis-
try was returned. For a while he endeavoured, with
great tact and consummate ability, to carry on the
government, but he was confronted at every turn by a
hostile and enraged majority in the House of Commons,
and compelled to succumb. After several previous dis-
comfitures he was defeated on a resolution affirming that
no measure on the subject of tithes in Ireland could be
satisfactory that did not provide for the appropriation
of the surplus revenues of the Irish Church. He then Replaced
resigned, and Lord Melbourne's administration, with whig 6
some alterations, was reinstated. But it is remarkable ministr y-
that the appropriation of Irish Church property to other

m Hans. D. 3rd ser. v. 26, pp. 216, n May, v. 1, p. 125. And see
223. post, p. 196.



of the

Reign of



uses, which was a favourite project of the Whigs at this
time, and the immediate occasion of the change of
ministry, was afterwards abandoned, and the resolution
of the House of Commons, upon which Sir Eobert Peel
resigned, remained a dead letter on the Commons'

The failure of the efforts of William IV. in favour of
the Tory party was complete, and it affords an instruc-
tive illustration of the effects of the Eeform Act, in
diminishing the ascendant influence of the crown. In
George III.'s time the dismissal of a ministry by the
king, and the transfer of his confidence to their oppo-
nents followed by an appeal to the country would
certainly have secured a majority for the new ministers.
Such had been the effect of the dissolutions in 1784 and
1807. But the failure of this attempt to convert Parlia-
ment from one policy to another by royal prerogative
and influence proved that, with the abolition of the
nomination boroughs, and the extension of the franchise,
the House of Commons had emancipated itself from the
control of the crown ; and ' that the opinion of the
people must now be changed before ministers can reckon
upon a conversion of the Parliament.' 15

Lord Melbourne's ministry continued in office during
the rest of the king's reign, and on the accession of our
present gracious queen, in 1837, she confirmed them in
their places, arid gave them her entire confidence. q In
1839, however, they were obliged to resign office, on
account of their inability to carry on the government
with success. Sir Eobert Peel was then charged with the
formation of a new ministry. Acting upon the advice
of Lord Melbourne, her Majesty was induced, on this
occasion, to insist upon retaining the ladies of her house-
hold, notwithstanding the change of ministry. This

See post, p. 200. " May, v. 1, p. 127. See alao Ed. Rev. v. 115, p. 211.
"> See post, v. 2.


decision of the Queen compelled Sir Robert Peel to relin-
quish the task entrusted to him, and the Melbourne ad-
ministration were reinstated. But being defeated upon
a vote of want of confidence in the House of Commons
in ] 841 they again resigned, when Sir E. Peel was sent
for, and fully empowered to make such alterations as he
thought fit in the composition of the royal household.
More particulars in regard to this transaction will be
found in a subsequent chapter.'

' From this time,' says May, ' no question has arisen
concerning the exercise of the prerogatives or influence
of the crown which calls for notice. Both have been
exercised wisely, justly, and in the true spirit of the con-
stitution. Ministers enjoying the confidence of Parlia-
ment have never claimed in vain the confidence of the
crown. Their measures have not been thwarted by
secret influence and irresponsible advice. Their policy
has been directed by Parliament and public opinion, and
not by the will of the sovereign, or the intrigues of the
court. Vast as is the power of the crown, it has been
exercised through the present reign by the advice of
responsible ministers, in a constitutional manner, and
"for legitimate objects. It has been held in trust, as it
were, for the benefit of the people. Hence it has ceased
to excite either the jealousy of rival parties or popular
discontents.' 8

r See post, p. 290. parties are now designated, instead of

5 May, Const. Hist. v. 1, p. 155. being styled Whigs and Tories, as of

For the origin of the terms ' Con- yore, see Speeches, &c., of Edward,

servative ' (which has been errone- Lord Lytton, edited by his son, v. 1 ,

ously attributed to Sir R. Peel) and p. Ixxix.

' Liberal,' by which the rival political



1782 TO 1873.

IT is proposed in the following chapter to give a brief
account of the circumstances attending the appointment,
resignation, or dismissal, of the several administrations
of England, from 1782 to 1873 ; together with a men-
tion of the various constitutional questions, illustrative
of ministerial responsibility, which arose during their
term of office, and which have not been specially
noticed in other parts of this treatise.

The year In selecting the year 1782 as our starting-point, we

constitu- do so because it is the date of an important epoch in
tionai constitutional history. It marks the first introduction

epoch. / i IT -TCI

oi the practice, since universally recognised, of the
simultaneous change of the whole ministry upon the
enforced retirement of the cabinet . a Prior to that time,
there had been frequent instances of partial alterations
in the cabinet, with a view to conciliate the favour of
Parliament, but it was not until the downfall of Lord
North's administration, in 1782, in consequence of its
having lost the confidence of the House of Commons,
that the necessity for a complete change in the ministry,
under such circumstances, was freely acknowledged.
Moreover, previous to this occasion, there had been
but one example that of Sir Robert Walpole, in 1741
of the retirement of a prime minister on account of
a defeat in the House of Commons. 15

, v. 2. b ib.


1. Roekingham Administration. March 1782.

In March 1782, upon the resignation of the North 1782 -
administration, the Marquis of Eockingham was ap-
pointed First Lord of the Treasury. The history of the
formation of this ministry is remarkable. The North
administration, after a successful career of twelve years,
came to an end in consequence of its growing unpopu-
larity in the House of Commons. The House had passed
resolutions denouncing the great and increasing influence
of the crown, and in favour of peace with the revolted
American colonies. George III. was strongly averse to
the recognition of American independence ; and Lord
North, though personally inclined towards conciliation,
is said to have remained in office ' to carry into effect
the personal wishes of the sovereign, which he preferred
to the welfare of the state.' d But the House of Com-
mons had become impatient at the continuance of the
war, and it was evident that the war ministry were losing
ground. A direct vote of want of confidence had indeed
been negatived by a bare majority of nine ; but Lord
Surrey had given notice of a similar motion, for March
20, 1782, which it was anticipated would pass. With
some difficulty Lord North induced the king to forestall
this defeat, by accepting the resignation of ministers ;
an event which was communicated to the House on the
day the debate was to have begun. 6 The king made
several attempts to induce the Whig party to take office
upon his own terms, but without success. He was at
length obliged to authorise Lord Roekingham to form
an administration upon the basis of the independence
of America, and a curtailment of the influence of
the crown. The list of the new cabinet, before being

c See Lewis, Adminis. p. 25. d Russell's Mem. of Fox, v. 1,
Fitzmaurice, Life of Ld. Shelburne, p. 247.
v. 3, p. 129. e See po3t, v. 2.


1782. submitted to the king, received the approval of the lead-
ing Whigs. The king refused to see his new premier until
he was actually in office, and conducted the ministerial
negotiations through Lord Shelburne, who was ap-
pointed Home Secretary, and at whose suggestion Mr.

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 85)