Alpheus Todd.

On parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) online

. (page 15 of 85)
Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 85)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Dunning (with the title of Lord Ash burton) was added
to the cabinet, without previous communication with
Lord Eockingham. The contest in which the North
administration had been overthrown was a struggle of
the king's personal will, backed by the influence of the
crown, against the independent portion of the House of
Commons. When the result was known, Fox openly
treated it as a victory of the Commons over the king ;
declaring in his place in Parliament that the new minis-
ters must remember that they owed their situations
to the House. The king, though fully sensible that he
had sustained defeat, was prudent enough to tolerate
for a time a ministry composed for the most part of
men whom he regarded as his personal enemies. The
only member of the late ministry who remained in
office was Lord Chancellor Thurlow, who retained his
place at the express desire of the king, and who showed
his independence of his new colleagues by opposing
them in council.* But the new ministry were very
short-lived ; within four months of their appointment
they were dissolved, by the death, on July 1, of the
premier, Lord Eockingham. g

. 2. Shelburne Administration. July 1782.

Two days afterwards, Mr. Secretary Fox advised the
king to appoint some member of the Eockingham party
as premier ; but his Majesty refused, and gave the ap-
pointment to Lord Shelburne, whereupon Fox, Burke,

' See posf, v. 2. * Lewis, Adminis. p. 20.


Sheridan, and others of their friends, resigned office. 1732.
Nevertheless the new ministry was decidedly Whig, and
professed the same principles as their predecessors. Mr.
Pitt, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and leader
of the House of Commons, was, at this time, accounted
a good Whig, Fox, after his resignation, continued in
opposition, and soon afterwards entered into his famou?
Coalition with Lord North, which immediately placed the
government in a very perilous position. The compara-
tive strength of parties in the House of Commons was
estimated to afford the ministry 140 votes, Lord North
120, Fox 90, and the residue uncertain. Preliminaries
of peace, which recognised the independence of the
American colonies, had been agreed upon by the govern-
ment, and presented to Parliament. It was decided that 1783 .
their acceptance should be a test question between
the new Coalition and the ministry. Accordingly, a
motion of censure upon the terms of the preliminaries
was proposed by Lord J. Cavendish, on February 21,
and agreed to by the House of Commons, by 207 to
190 votes. Three clays afterwards, the ministry re-
signed. Owing to the difficulties of the situation, there
- was a ministerial interregnum, which extended to the
beginning of April. In the interim, the king made an
unsuccessful attempt to induce Mr. Pitt to form a
government ; and the Commons, on March 24, passed
an address, praying his Majesty to form a strong and
united administration, which was graciously received,
and responded to through Earl Ludlow. 11 On March 31,
a motion was made for a further address upon the
subject ; but the House being of opinion that it was
premature to interpose again with their advice so soon
after his Majesty's gracious reply to their former address,
the motion was withdrawn. 1

11 Adolpbuf, Geo. III. v. 3, pp. Life of Ld. Shelburue, v. 3, cc. iv., v.
1 50, 464, 466. And see Fitzmaurice, ' Parl. Hist. v. 23, pp. 687-709.


3. Duke of Portland's First Administration.
April 1783.

1783 At length, on April 2, 1783, the celebrated ' Coali-

tion Ministry' was formed, under the nominal presidency
of the Duke of Portland. It included Lord North and
Mr. Fox, heretofore such bitter and, as was supposed,
irreconcilable opponents. The other cabinet offices
were chiefly filled by followers of Fox, who was him-
self the virtual prime minister . j The Coalition was un-
popular with the nation on public grounds, and was
vehemently assailed both in and out of Parliament.
Lord North and his friends attempted to vindicate
their conduct by arguments of expediency. 1 " The king
himself resented the Coalition for personal reasons. He
had long entertained a great aversion to Fox, which
was aggravated by the friendship that -had sprung up
between Fox and the Prince of Wales. Lord North
was formerly a favourite with the king, but he now
looked upon him as a deserter to the enemy's camp.
He therefore resolved to take the earliest opportunity
of ridding himself of his obnoxious advisers. Nothing
remarkable occurred during the remainder of the ses-
sion in which the ministry was appointed. But, on the
reassembling of Parliament, in the autumn of 1783, the
king's speech announced that the treaties of peace had
been signed. Mr. Pitt, as leader of the Opposition, re-
minded ministers that these treaties were substantially
identical with the preliminary articles, upon which they
had turned out their predecessors in office. 1 Early in
the session, Mr. Secretary Fox introduced his famous
India Bill. Its principal feature was that it vested the

* Fitzmaurice, Life of Ld. Sbel- and against the Coalition, see Adol-
burne, v. 3, cc. vii., viii. Russell's phuv, v. 3, pp. 460-464 ; Lewis, Ad-
Mem, of Fox, v. 2, p. 95. minis, p. 60.

k For the principal arguments for l Parl. Hist. v. 23, p. 1140.


government of India, for four years, in a commission of
seven persons, named in the Bill, and not removable by
the crown, except upon an address from the two Houses
of Parliament. Pitt denounced the plan as dangerous
to the constitution, and a violation of the chartered
rights of the East India Company.

A protest signed by Lord Buckingham, the Duke of Portland,
Lord Fitzwilliam, and other peers to a Bill for the management of
the East India Company's affairs, in 1773, contained the following
passage, which, from its striking applicability to Mr. Fox's Bill, was
much quoted at the time: 'The election of executive officers in
Parliament is plainly unconstitutional, and an example of the most
pernicious kind, productive of intrigue and faction, and calculated
for extending a corrupt influence in the crown. It frees ministers
from responsibility, while it leaves them all the effect of patronage.' m

But though the measure was unpopular in the country,
the Coalition were sufficiently strong to carry it through
the House of Commons without difficulty. In the Lords
it obtained a different reception. Lord Temple, at the
instigation of the king himself, n brought about its
rejection, in that House, on December 17, by 95 to 76
votes. On the following day the king dismissed the
ministry, and again appealed to Pitt to assume the
~ reins of government.

4. Mr. Pitt's First Administration. December 1783.

On December 19, 1783, Mr. Pitt's first administra-
tion was formed. Earl Temple, who had been ap-
pointed a Secretary of State, advocated an immediate
dissolution of Parliament. But Pitt would not agree to
this, being of opinion that the time had not yet come
when the country could be appealed to with success.
He ' wisely determined to give the public feeling time

m See Adolphus, v. 4, p. 59, n. ; n See ante, p. 117.
Lords' Journals, June 19, 1773. Ed. Fitzmaurice, Life of Ld. Shel-
Rev. v. 107, p. 578. burne, v. 3, p. 406.


1783. to gather strength,' p whereupon Temple resigned, on
the 22nd instant, leaving the youthful premier to bear
the brunt of the severest contest ever waged in Parlia-
ment. For though Pitt possessed the unlimited confi-
dence of the king, and the support of the House of
Lords, yet a powerful majority of the House of Com-
mons was arrayed against him. His cabinet consisted
of seven persons, all of whom, save himself, were peers. q
His only assistant in the House of Commons was his
friend Dundas. He was assailed at once by every
imaginable device of a hostile Opposition votes of
want of confidence, censures upon the government,
obstructions and defeats in every shape. 1 ' But he stood
firm ; and though frequently urged by his supporters,
and even by the king himself, to dissolve Parliament,
he refrained from doing so until he considered that the
country was prepared to sustain him. It was not until

1784. March 24 that the prorogation took place, to be fol-
lowed by an immediate dissolution. But such was the
inveteracy of the Opposition that Pitt was obliged to
prorogue before the passing of an Appropriation Act.
Upon the reassembling of Parliament, however, it ap-
peared that the amount of unauthorised expenditure
had been very small, so that no objection was urged,
or indemnity sought for, in regard to the same. 8 The
sense of the country, in reference to the great issues
involved in the contest between Pitt and the Coalition,
had been expressed at the time by numerous addresses
.to the king. It was afterwards unmistakably pro-
nounced by the return of a House of Commons which
gave a triumphant support to .the new administration.
Above 1 60 members lost their seats at this election, nearly

P T. B. Macaulay, Life of Pitt, in office, in December 1783, to the dis-

Ency. Brit. solution of Parliament, in March

'' Stanhope's Pitt, v. 1, p. 165. 1784, see Mir. of Parl., 1841, pp.

' See ante, p. 119. For a list of 1953, 195*4.
the defeats of Pitt, in the House of 3 TIats. Prec. 208.
Commons, from his acceptance of


all of whom were Oppositionists. Upon the meeting of ITS*.
Parliament, an amendment was moved to the address in
answer to the royal speech, to rescind the paragraph
which expressed approval of the late dissolution ; but it
was negatived by a majority of more than two to one.*
In the course of this session, Pitt introduced his India
Bill, which was carried by a majority of 271 to 60. It
created a Ministerial Board of Control for the affairs
of India, to act in concert with the Court of Directors
of the East India Company. This system of ' double
government ' continued in operation until after the
great mutiny of 1857, when, by the Act 21 and 22
Viet. c. 106, the government of India was assumed by
the queen herself, acting through a responsible Secre-
tary of State. Mr. Pitt's majority in the House of
Commons continued unshaken during the whole period
of his administration, which lasted upwards of seventeen
years. The unpatriotic conduct of Fox and his followers
in regard to the French Eevolution, and consequent war
between England and France, contributed largely to
the popularity of the government. 11 It so alarmed and
disgusted the aristocratic section of the Whig party as
to induce them in 1792 to desire a Coalition with the
government. For a time Fox himself was not unfavour-
able to union, but jealousy of Pitt would not suffer him
to take a subordinate place in a ministry headed by
his great rival. So he drifted off into more violent
opposition, and openly avuwed republican ideas. Where-
upon the Duke of Portland, with other eminent Whig
leaders, agreed, in the summer of 1794, to coalesce
with Pitt. This Coalition was publicly ratified by the
introduction of five new cabinet ministers from the
ranks of the Opposition to the Treasury Bench/ The

* Knight, r. 7, pp. 140-143; Adol- T Life and Letters of first Earl of
phus, v. 4, pp. 103, 117. Minto, v. 2, cc. i.-iv,,xi. Jesse, Life

u See Lewis, Adminis. pp. 137, of George III. v< 3, pp. 183-194.

VOL. 1.


course pursued by Fox reduced his party so low that,
near the end of the century, it was jocularly estimated
that the entire Opposition could have been held in one
h ackney -coach . w

The retirement of Pitt's administration took place in
isoi. 1801. It was not purely voluntary, but was brought
about by differences with the king in regard to the
Eoman Catholic claims. Mr. Pitt, in order to facilitate
the passing of the legislative Union between Great
Britain and Ireland, had intimated his readiness to pro-
pose the removal of the Eoman Catholic disabilities
from office-holders and members of Parliament. A pro-
position to this effect was discussed in the cabinet for
about six months previous to its being communicated
to the king, notwithstanding the known repugnance
of his Majesty to any legislation upon the subject.
When the desire of his ministers to submit to Parlia-
ment some measure of relief became known to the king,
by a letter from Mr. Pitt, dated January 31, 1801, in-
forming him that, unless the royal sanction thereto was
granted, he must resign his office, the king at once
declined to discuss the proposition. He nevertheless
urged Mr. Pitt not to leave his service. But Pitt would
riot yield. So the king declared that he should form
a new administration. 35 Canning, who was in office at
the time, is said to have strongly advised Pitt not to
give way on this occasion ; for that, for three years
back, so many concessions, as he termed them, had
been made, and so many important measures overruled,
from the king's opposition to them, that government
had been weakened exceedingly ; and if in this instance
a stand was not made, Pitt would retain only a nominal

Campbell's Lives of the Clianc. by other motives. See Massev's
p. 614. George III. v. 4, pp. 537-559.

ee post, v. 2. It has been sur- Lewis, Adminis. pp. 144, 207, 270,

v. 5, p. 614. George III. v. 4, pp. 537-559.

* See post, v. 2. It has been sur- Lewis, Adminis. pp. 144, 207, 270,
raised that while the Catholic question 282. But see Life of Earl Minto,

was the ostensible ground for Pitt's v. 3, c. ix.
resignation, h<- was largely influenced


power, while the reality would pass into the hands of isoi.
those who influenced the king's mind and opinion out
of sight. 7 The causes of this change of ministry were
very briefly stated to Parliament ; and Mr. Pitt's ex-
planations were neither full nor satisfactory. 2 This
reticence was evidently resorted to in order to avoid
bringing the royal name too prominently forward in
connection with these events ; a but it naturally gave
rise to much misapprehension at the time, and it was
not until after the death of Pitt that the whole truth
transpired. 1 *

5. Addington Administration. 1801 .

Mr. Addington, who at that time was speaker of the isoi.
House of Commons, was empowered by the king to
form a cabinet as soon as the correspondence between
his Majesty and Mr. Pitt had terminated. But before
the outgoing ministers had their audiences to deliver
up their seals, the king, in consequence of the agita-
tion produced by the change of ministry, was seized
_with a return of his mental malady. He was unable to
attend to business until about March 10, when he was
sufficiently recovered to sign documents and give audi-
ences to some of his ministers. Pending the completion
of the new arrangements which were thus unavoid-
ably delayed, Mr. Pitt continued to conduct the public
business in the House of Commons, performing the
official duties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
although he had formally resigned that office on Feb-
ruary 5. c

But his resignation was not legally complete until the appoint-

y Malmesburv, Diaries, v. 4, p. 4. b Parl. Deb. v. 9, p. 232 : Quar

1 Parl. Hist.* v. 35, pp. 945, 967, Rev. v. 112, p. 369.

1112. c Parl. Hist. v. 35, p. 959.
Ib. p. 1121.


1801 ment of his successor ; he was therefore competent to transact
official business." 1

The king did not receive the seals of office from Mr. Pitt until
March 14 ; and he gave them to Mr. Adclington on that day. In
order to facilitate the new arrangements, Mr. Addington vacated
his seat in Parliament, by accepting the Chiltern Hundreds, on
February 19 ; but owing to the king's illness it became impossible
to confer upon him his ministerial office previous to his re-election
for Devizes. Accordingly, on March 16, a new writ for Devizes was
again ordered, upon the acceptance by Mr. Addington of the offices
of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. The
result of these delays was that it was March 23 before Mr. Adding-
ton again took his seat in the House. 6

On February 16, he moved the House into Com-
mittee of Supply, for the purpose of enabling him to
open the budget. The motion was opposed on the
ground that ' the responsibility of the former ministers
was at an end,' and the incoming ministers were as yet
absent from their places ; and that therefore ' further
proceedings on the estimates should be delayed until the
new ministers, by taking their seats, have assumed re-
sponsibility.' This was resisted by Mr. Pitt, who said
that ' when there arises a change among his Majesty's
ministers, it must be left to his Majesty to determine when
the new arrangements shall be formed ; and it is contrary
to the spirit of the constitution for the House to assume
any right of determination on a subject of this kind.'
He also contended that the perilous state of the country,
in its foreign relations, demanded that there should be
no delay in granting the supplies, and ' that every de-
partment of the public service should be accelerated to
the greatest possible degree.' If the new ministers were
not responsible for framing the estimates (a responsi-
bility from which he himself would not shrink), they
would be undoubtedly responsible for expending the

d See Hula. Prec.v. 2,p.394 ; Parl. tice as to the competency of retiring

Deb. v. 16, p. 735. ministers to conduct the ordinary

Sidmouth's Life, by Pellew, v. 1 , business of the crown in Parliament,

pp. 204, 345. This wholesome prac- aee post, v. 2.


money. He claimed, moreover, that there was no isoi,
ground to ' call for the interference of the House, either
from a change of measures or of men.' Until the ap-
pointments of the new ministers ' were publicly noti-
fied, it was inconsistent with the constitution to come to
any determination. In no previous instance had it been
attempted to be denied, that, according to the constitu-
tion, his Majesty had the sole right of nominating his
ministers, and that the House had no right to form any
resolution till their conduct came to be judged of by
the acts of their administration. Even in 1784 this
general principle had never been attempted to be
denied in the abstract.' 1 Adverting to his having re-
frained from entering into explanations as to the cause
of his own resignation, Mr. Pitt observed that it appeared
to him to be a new and not very constitutional doctrine,
that ' a man must not, in compliance with the dictates
of his conscience, retire from office without being bound
to give to this House, and to the public, an account
of all the circumstances that weigh in his mind and
influence his conduct. Where this system of duty is
established, I know not.' g The motion for going into
Committee of Supply was then put and agreed to, with-
out a division. On February 18, Mr. Pitt introduced
the budget, which excited no opposition. The House
continued to sit, and to debate various public political
questions up to March 17, when the new administration
were formally inducted into office. But even then,
owing to the unsettled condition of the king's mind, a
further delay of several weeks took place before the
ministry was entirely completed. 1 '

Mr. Addington's administration was constructed

f Parl. Hist. v. 35, pp. 960-962. impossible to afford full explanations

e 76. p. 969. See also p. 1121, for to Parliament of the causes which

further remarks from Mr. Pitt on this have led to the resignation or dis-

point, showing that the reciprocal missal of a ministry.

duty between a sovereign and his h Adolphus, v. 7, pp. 450, 468 ;

ministers may sometimes render it Lewis, Adminis. p. 210.


1801 upon an avowedly ' anti-Catholic ' basis. It had been
formed, at the outset, ' with the concurrence of Mr.
Pitt, who wished all his private and personal friends to
remain in office.' 1 It began its career upon March 14,
1801, the day when the king transferred the seals of
office from the outgoing to the incoming premier.
Ministers had no sooner taken their seats in the House
of Commons when, on March 25, Mr. Grey moved for
a committee of the whole to consider the state of the
nation. His speech was an elaborate attack upon the
conduct and policy of the preceding ministry, and a
condemnation of the existing one, because of their pre-
sumed incompetency to fill their places properly ; and
because it had been avowed, on their behalf, that their
principles were similar to those of their predecessors in
office. Mr. Pitt defended himself and his late col-
leagues, and claimed for the new ministry, at the outset
of their career, 'a constitutional confidence ;' in other
words, ' that, unless some good reason were assigned to
the contrary, the House was bound, by the best prin-
ciples of policy, as well as by the true spirit of the
constitution of this country, to wait to see the conduct
of the ministers of the crown, before they should with-
hold their confidence. ' j The new premier expressed
himself to the same effect, saying, ' In what degree the
confidence of the House might be supposed to extend to
his Majesty's present ministers, it was not for him to
conjecture. They only asked, however, for that portion
of it which should be constitutionally reposed in persons
duly appointed by his Majesty, unless it was precluded
by their antecedent conduct and characters.' k The
House then divided on Mr. Grey's motion, which was
negatived by a large majority. A similar motion, pro-
posed to the House of Lords on March 20, met with a

' Rose, Diary, v. 1, p. 292. J Parl. Hist. v. 35, pp. 962, 1115.

k Ib. p. 1160.


similar fate. Nevertheless it was evident that the new
administration did not possess the confidence of either
House of Parliament to the same extent as their prede-
cessors. Conscious of this, Mr. Addington, in March
1803, made overtures to Mr. Pitt, offering him the isos.
selection of a new premier, if he would consent to serve
with himself in the capacity of Secretary of State. Pitt
would not listen to this arrangement. He was then
offered the premiership, on condition that there should
be no extensive changes in other offices. But neither
would he agree to this, although he and his friends were
tired of bolstering up a feeble government. 1

Commenting on these transactions, Sir G. C. Lewis pointedly re-
marks: 'It appears that the king's consent to the negotiation,
however necessary an element in the business, had never been pro-
cured by Addington ; so that, in fact, no distinct offer, by competent
authority, was made to Pitt. Addington assumed to act as plenipo-
tentiary, but had not full powers to treat. ... It is remarkable
that the latter should have ventured to make the offer, or that the
former should have been willing to entertain it, without the king's
express authority being previously obtained. It was not a mere
question of changing a cabinet office, as to which a prime minister
might properly make a preliminary arrangement, subject to the
king's confirmation. It was* practically a negotiation for a complete
alteration of the character of the government ; and the whole dis-
cussion proceeded on the assumption that Addington and Pitt were
between them to settle who was to be the new prime minister.'
After he had received Pitt's final answer, Addington took an oppor-
tunity to mention the matter to the king. But he represented
Pitt's conduct in such an unfavourable light, as to excite the king's
anger; and when, shortly afterwards, he gave the king copies of the
correspondence, his Majesty refused to read the letters, and re-
marked that ' it was foolish business, which was begun ill, conducted
ill, and terminated ill.' m

Accordingly, Addington continued at the helm for
another year, when it became notorious that he had
lost his hold upon both Houses. In the Commons,
ministerial majorities on important divisions were

1 See post, v. 2. And Lewis, Ad minis, pp. 223-229, 272
m Ib. pp. 229, 272.


gradually reduced ; while in the minority were found
most of the leading men of all parties, including Pitt, Fox,
1804. and Sir Francis Burdett. On April 22, 1804, Mr. Pitt
wrote to the king, intimating that he could no longer
refrain from direct opposition to the ministerial mea-

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 85)