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sion for a trial of party strength. It was carried by a
majority of five only, in a full House. Upon the follow-
ing day, Lord John Russell informed the House of the
resignation of ministers ; alleging that it had taken place
on account of their not possessing such support in the
House of Commons as would enable them efficiently to
carry on the public business. 11 Internal weakness, how-
ever, was the true ground of their fall. Having attained
to power through a combination of parties of the most
diverse political aims and aspirations, they were unable
to act with vigour and determination. In their attempts
to carry out the principle in respect to the Irish Church,
by the assertion of which they had driven Sir E. Peel from
power, they signally failed. The Whigs had pledged
themselves to connect the settlement of the tithe ques-
tion with the appropriation of the surplus revenues of the
Established Church in -Ireland. But the Conservatives
were determined to resist that principle, and having a

h Mir. of Parl. 1839, p. 2301 ; and Ib. 1841, p. 2126. And Torrens, Life
see Ld. John Russell's remarks, in of Melbourne, v. 2, p. 299.


large majority in the House of Lords, their resistance 1839.
was effectual. After several attempts to induce the
Lords to give way, the victory gained in 1835 was
abandoned in 1838 by the surrender of the appropria-
tion scheme by ministers themselves. This was a moral
defeat to the Whig ministry, which largely contributed
to turn the scale of popular favour against them. 1

On June 24, 1867, Earl Russell persuaded the House of Lords
to re-open the Irish Church question, by moving for the issue of a
Royal Commission thereupon. The motion was agreed to, with an
amendment restricting the inquiry to the obtaining of full and accu-
rate information on the subject.J In 1868, the Irish Church was dis-
established, but liberal provision was made for the disposal of the
Church property.

Their inability to control legislation in Parliament in
conformity with their avowed convictions was notorious.
Hence arose the necessity for their resignation at this

At the suggestion of the Duke of Wellington, to
whom her Majesty applied for counsel upon this occa-
sion, Sir Eobert Peel was entrusted with the formation
of a new ministry. 11 The next day he submitted to the
-queen a list of the persons whom he proposed to asso-
ciate with himself in office, which was approved of by
her Majesty. But a difficulty occurred in reference to
the ladies of the bedchamber. Sir Eobert Peel was of
opinion that the continuance in attendance upon the
person of the sovereign of ladies who had been originally
appointed upon the recommendation of the Whig
ministry, and who were nearly all related to the leaders
of the opposite political party, was likely to prove pre-
judicial to the interests of his government. His objection
appears to have chiefly applied to the wife of the Lord
Lieutenant of Ireland, and to the sister of the Secretary

1 May, Const. Hist. v. 2, pp. 485- k Duke of Buckingham's Courts
487. and Cabinets of William IV. &c.

J Hans. D. v. 188, pp. 354-423. v. 2, p. 384.


1839. for Ireland, on account of the widely different views of
policy towards that country which were entertained by
himself and by his predecessors in office. He accord-
ingly respectfully urged upon the queen the propriety
of making some change in the appointment of ladies to
fill the great offices of her household. Her Majesty re-
plied that it was repugnant to her feelings to make any
such change, and that she considered such a course to
be contrary to usage, and one that she could not adopt.
Whereupon Sir Eobert immediately relinquished the
trust which had been committed to him. Her Majesty
then reinstated her former ministers. 1 Although the
' bedchamber question ' brought back Lord Melbourne's
ministry, it was only for a few months.

The restored administration made strenuous efforts
to justify their new lease of life. m But they were unable
to conduct the government with credit or success in the
face of a vigorous and united Opposition, through whom
they were subjected to frequent defeats in both Houses
of Parliament.

Abstract of defeats sustained by the Melbourne administration
in the two Houses of Parliament, from its formation in April 1835 to
March 1840. Read to the House of Lords by the Marquis of
Londonderry, who ' pledged his honour for its accuracy.' n

Ministers in a minority In Commons In Lords

In Session of 1835 . . 4 . 11

1836 11 . 18

1837 ..9.5

1838 . 21 4

1839 8 . 11
1840 (up to Mar.) 5

58 49


Total defeats . 107

1 For fuller account of these trans- m Torrens,Life ofMelb.,v.2,p.307.
actions see post, p. 292. n Mir. of Tarl. 1840, p. 2310.


Number of Bills introduced by this ministry, and not passed 1841.
through Parliament:

In Session 1836 ... 29

1837 . . -. 21

1838 ... 34

1839 ... 28

Total . . 112

At length, on May 27, 1841, after the ministry had
sustained a defeat upon the important question of the
sugar duties, and had still declared their intention of
proceeding with the business of the country, Sir Eobert
Peel moved a vote of want of confidence, which embraced
two propositions : (1) that ' her Majesty's ministers do
not sufficiently possess the confidence of the House of
Commons to enable them to carry through the House
measures which they deem of essential importance to
the public welfare ;' (2) that ' their continuance in office
under such circumstances is at variance with the spirit
of the constitution.' He based his first proposition upon
their repeated defeats and obstructions in the attempt
to carry on the public business. He defined the ' spirit
of the constitution ' to mean the system of parliament-
ary government which has prevailed since the accession
of the house of Hanover, which implies that the minis-
ters of the crown should have the confidence of the
House of Commons, and which has placed ' the centre
of gravity in the state ' in that House. He defended
his second proposition by reviewing the history of the
principal prime ministers from the days of Sir Eobert
Walpole to recent times, showing that they had invari-
ably yielded to the necessity implied by a withdrawal of
the confidence of the House of Commons, and abdicated
their functions as servants of the crown. The seeming
exception in the case of Mr. Pitt, in 1783, he met by

They would have resigned at this Parliament. Martin's Pr. Consort,
time, but that a majority of the Cabi- v. 1, p. 107. And see Mir. of Parl.
net were in favour of a dissolution of 1841, pp. 1843, 2129, 2137.


18U. showing that the protracted hostility of the House of
Commons against that minister (and which he resisted
until he could take the sense of the people by a dissolu-
tion of Parliament) did not arise from want of confidence
in his measures, having commenced before he took his
seat on the Treasury benches, but from a suspicion that
he owed his appointment to an unconstitutional pro-
ceeding that is to say, to secret influence, by whose
agency the previous administration had been overthrown.
Mr. Pitt, however, resisted the attempt of the majority
of the House of Commons, on the ground that it was
irregular to endeavour to control the prerogative of the
crown in the choice of its ministers, by denouncing them
without waiting to see their acts. p

In reply, Lord John Eussell acquiesced in the general
principle that ministers ought to possess the confidence
of the House of Commons, and admitted that, if the
House should 'continue to refuse its confidence' to them,
it would be ' impossible for them to continue in office,'
provided there is ' a ministry capable of being formed
to succeed them.' q His lordship contended, however,
that isolated defeats of a government possessing the
general confidence of the crown and of Parliament,
although they be upon questions of great importance, do
not involve the necessity for resignation. For example :
Lord Sunderland was defeated upon the Peerage Bill, a
measure recommended by royal message, and did not
resign, neither did Lord North when Dunning carried
against him his famous resolution against the influence
of the crown. Mr. Pitt was defeated, on different occa-
sions, on the Westminster scrutiny, on parliamentary
reform, on his proposition for a general fortification
of the coasts, on his French commercial treaty, on his
proposition concerning the trade of Ireland, on the im-

Mir. of Parl. 1841, pp. 1933-1945, 2119.
o Ib. pp. 2119, 2120.


peachment of his friend and colleague, Lord Melville,
and also his India Bill, which was one of the principal
measures of his administration ; and yet, in none of
these cases, did he feel called upon to resign/

Upon the rejection of the India Bill, Mr. Fox said, ' I readily
agree that the failure of any Bill proposed by a minister afforded
no ground for that minister's dismissal from office : this is a sound
doctrine.' This remark was quoted, with approval, by Lord John
Russell. s

Again, Lord Liverpool was defeated upon the Bill
of Pains and Penalties against Queen Caroline, and, in
1816, on the question of the renewal of the property-
tax, the loss of which occasioned a deficiency of twelve
millions of revenue.* And the Duke of Wellington was
defeated upon a motion for the repeal of the Test and
Corporation Acts, which was carried against ministers
in the House of Commons. 11 In none of these instances
did a resignation ensue.

The friends of the ministry, however, pressed this
point too far when they proceeded to state that it
mattered little whether government were able to carry
their legislative measures, so long as they were not
censured by Parliament for the exercise of their ad-
ministrative functions. Lord Stanley and Sir R. Peel
concurred in declaring this to be a most unconstitutional
and dangerous doctrine/ Lord John Russell's views on
this subject were more cautiously and correctly ex-
pressed. He called attention to the fact that in recent
times, and especially since the passing of the Reform
Bill, the country and the constitution, in its practical
development, have demanded more at the hands of
ministers than formerly. Up to the time of Mr. Pitt,
his lordship observed, ' the usages of the constitution
did not require that those at the head of the govern-

r Mir. of Parl. 1841, pp. 1970, * Ib. pp. 2030, 2095.
1971, 2030, 2095. Ib. p. 2121.

5 Ib. p. 2119. v Ib. pp. 2110, 2134.


1841. ment should bring forward legislative measures, and,
indeed, for the greater part of the last century, did not
even require them to take a uniform and consistent part
either in supporting or opposing measures submitted to
Parliament.' Nowadays, ' what with the necessity for
legislation, the difficulty which individual members ex-
perience in carrying through Bills, the great changes so
long delayed, and which (after the passing of the Eeform
Bill) it became indispensable to make, suddenly, and on
various subjects from all these causes an expectation
has arisen that the government should bring forward
measures on matters which excite public attention, and
do their best to carry them through the House.' ' In
this case,' he added. ' I think it is unreasonable to expect
that a government should possess the same uniform and
general support, on the part of the House of Commons,
which was required when ministries had merely acts of
administration to perform.' ' If, on the one hand, new
duties have been imposed on ministers, and you require
them to carry through Parliament measures which they
deem of essential importance, so, on the other hand, you
must make a fair allowance for the effect of discussion
and the expression of the deliberate opinions first, of
members of this House, and, secondly, of our con-
stituents which will inevitably occasion the alteration
of some measures and the rejection of others.' As a
case in point, he instanced an alteration, suggested by
Sir K. Peel, when at the head of only a small minority,
in an important government measure, and to which the
government, after due consideration, acceded. w

Adverting to the probability of a dissolution of Par-
liament, Lord John Eussell remarked that the ministry
had uttered no threats or menaces on the subject. He
considered that ' a dissolution, like other prerogatives
of the crown, is one in which the House has a right, in

w Mir. of Parl. 1841, pp. 2120-2122.


certain cases, to interfere. But I think the only ground i84i.
upon which it can properly interfere is when this House
can say that the course of legislation and administration
is proceeding harmoniously, and likely to continue to
lead to beneficial results, .... and that a dissolution
would be a needless and wanton interference with the
course of business. Such was the ground taken by Mr.
Fox, in 1784, when an Address was moved against the
dissolution of Parliament.' * Such was the ground that
we took, when, in 1835, we moved and carried a vote
of censure against Sir E. Peel for the advice he gave to
the crown for the dissolution of that Parliament.' He
then added that it had been asserted by no one that the
present Parliament, if not sooner dissolved, was likely
to continue to its natural term with benefit to the
country, or with improvement to its legislation/

Upon the whole, Lord John Russell resisted the mo-
tion, as ' not rightly founded in precedent, and, above
all, ill-suited to the present condition and state of our
constitution.' If it meant that the ministry were not
entitled to advise a dissolution of Parliament, it was an
unjustifiable interference with the royal prerogative.
~If not so intended, he was prepared to admit that
ministers would not think it right, after the decision of
the House on the sugar question, to continue in office
with the existing Parliament any longer than would
suffice to prepare for the speedy assembling of a ' new
Parliament to decide upon the whole question at issue.'
With this admission, ' where is the necessity and where
the justification of the resolution ? ' y

In reply, Sir R. Peel acknowledged that no minister
who is obstructed by a powerful Opposition, upon the
first formation of his government, is bound to resign
after his first defeat. He did not consider it the duty
of a minister, having met with obstructions upon his

* Mir. of Parl. 1841, pp. 2127-2129. * Ib. pp. 2129, 2J30.



financial propositions, at once to resign. He should
not feel himself bound to resign on any single defeat,
being of opinion that ' the propriety of resignation de-
pends on a combination of circumstances.' 2 He also
admitted the existence of an alternative, in the case of
a ministry who had lost the confidence of the House of
Commons, between resignation and dissolution, saying,
' if there be a clear intention forthwith to dissolve Par-
liament, that may be a vindication of the government,
but the dissolution ought to be immediate. The House
of Commons has no other mode of marking its sense of
the unconstitutional tenure of power than by passing
some such resolution as that which I have proposed,
and which I most properly submitted because I could
not, and did not, know the intentions of government
with respect to a dissolution.' In conclusion, Sir Robert
Peel said that he had selected this course ' less with a
view to any party advantage than to the vindication of
the just authorit)?- of the House of Commons, and to
uphold the great principles of the constitution. ' a

On division, upon June 4, Sir B. Peel's resolution
was agreed to by a majority of one. At the next meet-
ing of the House, Lord John Eussell announced the
intention of ministers to advise a dissolution of Parlia-
ment as soon as practicable. He also declared that,
under existing circumstances, he should not introduce
an important motion, of which he had given notice,
respecting the Corn Laws. He added that it could not
be denied that the only method of solving the doubt
implied by the adoption of the aforesaid resolution was
k to let the country itself decide the question thus
gravely submitted to them. Until this decision shall
be given, I think it would not be proper that any
further party struggle should take place.' b Whereupon

z Mir. of Parl. 1841, p. 2133. a Ib. pp. 2137, 2142.
b Ib. pp. 2162-2164.


Sir R. Peel said that, a dissolution having been deter-
mined upon, he would throw no impediment in the way
of completing the public business, provided it should
take place with the least possible delay, and no measure
be proposed meanwhile that was not imperatively
required. It was also necessary, and -according to
precedent, that ' the new Parliament should be called
together without delay.' He apprehended that there
could be no constitutional objection to giving the House
an assurance to this effect, inasmuch as in 1807, in
1820, and in 1831, the crown, in proroguing Parlia-
ment, intimated that ' a new Parliament ' should be
convoked ' forthwith,' or ' without delay.' Lord John
Russell, under the peculiar circumstances of the case,
gave these assurances ; but he ' did not think, on
ordinary occasions, any guarantee should be called
for from, or given by, the advisers of the crown,' in
respect to the exercise of this prerogative.

Agreeably to promise, the ministry postponed the
consideration of the Corn Law and Poor Law Bills ;
but they pressed forward a Bill for the improvement of
the administration of justice in the Court of Chancery
on the ground that all parties were agreed upon its
principle. This Bill, however, proposed to create two
new judicial offices, the patronage of which would be
in the hands of the Lord Chancellor. Sir R. Peel,
although favourable to the passing of the Bill, was un-
willing that it should go into operation at this juncture.
Accordingly, on motion of Sir E. B. Sugden, a clause
was added to the Bill, postponing its operation for four
months. Whereupon Lord John Russell refused to
proceed with the Bill, declaring that this decision
affixed a stigma on the Lord Chancellor, ' as unfit to
advise the disposition of offices relating to the adminis-
tration of justice ; ' that it was ' a violent infringement of

Mir. of Parl. 1841, pp. 2165, 2166.


the prerogative of the crown, and an unfair interference
with the executive government.' d Sir E. Peel repudiated
the idea that the action of the House in this matter was
any infringement of the royal prerogative. He said that,
in the present position of ministers, there was no other
alternative than ' resignation or immediate dissolution ; '
in other words, a dissolution as soon as the exigencies of
the public service would allow ; and that ministers had
no right to bring forward any contested motion what-
ever, or to ask of the House any act implying confidence
in themselves, such as would be implied by the devolu-
tion of any new authority ; that for the House to ac-
quiesce in any such demand would be inconsistent with
its former declaration of want of confidence in ministers ;
and that they, in preferring the same, did not ' do
homage to the principles of representative government.'
Lord John Eussell's motion, to give the Chancery Bill
a ' three months' hoist,' was then agreed to without a
division. 6

After completing the necessary business, Parliament
was prorogued on June 22, and dissolved upon the fol-
lowing day. The ' cry ' with which ministers went to
the hustings was not that of confidence in themselves,
but in favour of ' cheap bread,' and the modification of
the Corn Laws. f This roused the agricultural interests,
and a large majority against ministers was returned to
the new House of Commons ; they nevertheless deter-
mined to meet Parliament, upon the ground that they
could not constitutionally infer the opinions of members
from anything save their voices in Parliament. This
determination, although undoubtedly a correct one,

d Mir. of Parl. 1841, pp. 2227, that all opposed measures, not being of

urgent necessity, should be dropped.

e Ih. p. 2231. Subsequently, in re- See Ib. pp. 2258, 2282.
card to the Bribery at Elections Bill, f Ib. p. 2142 ; Ann. Reg. 1841, pp.
I A. John Russell showed his willing- 143-140.
ness to carry out the understanding


placed them in the disagreeable position of advising 1841.
a royal speech which could not fail to give dissatisfac-

Upon the meeting of the new Parliament, which
took place on August 19, amendments were proposed
to the Address in both Houses, asserting a want of con-
fidence in the advisers of the crown. In the Lords, the
constitutionality of this course was defended by the
Duke of Wellington. In the Commons, attention was
drawn to the fact that, since the elections, Lord John
Eussell had informed his constituents that the ministry
would ' take the first opportunity of asking for a clear
and decided judgment upon their policy.' This inten-
tion, however, was forestalled by the proposed amend-
ment. Sir E. Peel, in commenting upon the result of
the elections, observed that it was ' a great constitu-
tional principle, that the favour and support of the
crown ought not to maintain, for a long and indefinite
period, a government in existence against the will of the
representatives of the people. It compromises the prero-
gatives of the monarchy so to retain power, because it
exhibits those prerogatives without their just influence,
it exhibits the House of Commons as wanting in its just
influence, when it can thwart the measures and censure
the acts, but cannot decide the fate of a ministry.' In
reply, Lord John Eussell complained of the insufficient
reasons assigned on behalf of the motion, but had no
fault to find with the motion itself. The proposed
amendment was carried by large majorities in both
Houses. The royal answer was as follows : ' Ever
anxious to listen to the advice of the Parliament, I will
take immediate measures for the formation of a new
administration.' In communicating the same to the
House of Commons upon August 30, Lord John Eussell
announced the resignation of ministers, adding the
assurance that their duty to the sovereign and to the
country had, in their conviction, rendered it incumbent

p 2


upon them ' to continue the struggle to the present
moment.' g

18. Sir Robert Peel's Second Administration. 1841.

1841. Immediately upon the resignation of the Melbourne
ministry, her Majesty sent for Sir Robert Peel, and
charged him with the formation of a new administra-
tion. On September 8, the arrangements were complete,
and the new writs were moved for in the House of Com-
mons. On September 16, the prime minister made a
statement to the House of his general policy. But it
was very brief and reserved, and afforded no indication
of the course he intended to pursue upon the great
questions of commercial and financial policy that were
agitating the public mind. He claimed for his ministry
that time should be afforded to them to consider those
measures which they might deem it expedient to submit
to Parliament on these important subjects. 11 Sir Robert
Peel had, in fact, undertaken a most difficult task. ' He
was obliged to be at once a Conservative and a Reformer,
and to carry along with him, in this double course, a
majority incoherent in itself, and swayed, in reality, by
immovable and untractable interests, prejudices, and
passions.' ' Elected as the champion of agricultural
Protection, one of his first acts was to obtain the con-
sent of his colleagues to a material change in the Corn
Laws, and to the removal of the prohibition which ex-
isted against the importation of foreign cattle and meat.
But this, while it failed to conciliate the advocates of
free trade, was not effected without occasioning serious
dissatisfaction amongst his own supporters. In fact the
Duke of Buckingham resigned his seat in the cabinet
rather than become a party to these measures ; and it

* Mir. of Parl. 1841, sess. ii. pp. h Knight, Hist, of Eng. v. 8, p.

29-62, 68, 74, 164, 211, 222, 236. 492; Mir. of Parl. 1841, sess. ii.

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 85)