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individual monarch should be a substantive part of the political
system, as a check on the other branches.

In his Essay on Parliamentary Government,? Lord Grey thus ex-
presses himself : ' There is a further safeguard against abuse, in its
being requisite that the ministers of the crown should obtain its
direct sanction for all their most important measures. The crdwn,
it is true, seldom refuses to act upon the advice deliberately pressed
upon it by its servants, nor could it do so frequently without
creating great inconvenience. But the sovereigns of this country
nevertheless may, and generally have exercised much influence over
the conduct of "the government ; and in extreme cases the power of
tfie crown to refuse its. consent to "what is proposed by its servants
may be used with the greatest benefit to the nation. A refusal on
the part of the sovereign to sanction measures which the ministers
persist in recommending as indispensable, is indeed a legitimate
ground for their resignation : and if the question which leads to this
is one on which they have the support of public opinion, they must
in the end prevail. But if this high power is exercised with wisdom,
and is reserved for great emergencies, the crown may generally cal-
culate on the support of the nation in refusing to sanction measures
improperly pressed upon it by its ministers, especially where the
measures so urged involve an abuse of the royal authority for their
own party objects.'

The late Earl of Derby, speaking in Parliament on this subject,
has said : ' The people of this country are under a great mistake if
they suppose that the sovereign does not exercise a real, salutary,
and decided influence over the councils and government of the
country. The sovereign is not the mere automaton, or puppet, of
the government of the day. She exercises a beneficial influence and
control over the affairs of the state ; and it is the duty of the
minister for the time being, in submitting any proposition for the
assent of her Majesty, to give satisfactory reasons that such propo-

n Historical Sketchesof Statesmen,
in the Time of George III. 1st S. ed.
1839, pp. 12-14. But when Lord
Brougham was a cabinet minister,
in the reign of William IV., his
treatment of the king was hardly in
accordance with this deliberately ex-
pressed opinion of the political rights

of the sovereign. See the Duke of
Somerset on Monarchy and Demo-
cracy, p. 8.

V. 3, p. 302. But see Mr.
Senior's comments upon this pa ssage,
in his Historical Essays, v. 1, p. 347.

P New ed. pp. 5, 6.

Earl Grey
on the

on the in-
fluence of
the sove-


sitions are called for by public policy, and justified by the public
interests. If the sovereign is not satisfied with the advice tendered
to her, if, either from the suggestions of her own mind, or from
objections which may be suggested to her [by the Prince Consort]
her Majesty is of opinion that she will not accept the advice of the
responsible minister of the crown, the course of the crown and
the minister is equally open. The course of the crown is to refuse
to accept that advice of the minister, and the inevitable consequence
to the minister would be the tender of his resignation.' 1

The influence which properly appertains to the
opinions of the sovereign, when constitutionally ex-
pressed, would naturally be exerted in such an emer-
gency to place the government of the country in the
hands of a minister whose policy was in accordance
with the views entertained by the crown itself ; but
un ess those views found a response from the nation at
large, and were accepted by Parliament, they could not
ultimately prevail. For ' the greater part of the power
still practically retained by the crown depends upon
the influence it can exercise on individual statesmen,
and through them on the dominant party of the day.' r
In the last resort, no opinions or policy can be carried out
by the government of England but such as meet with
the sober approval of Parliament and of the people. 3

The term ' prerogative ' in its primary sense is used
to express the freedom of independent action which
belongs to the sovereign.* This freedom of action, in
the limited monarchy of England, is, as we have already
pointed out, so restricted and controlled by constitu-
tional maxims, which have practically the force of law,
that it is powerless for evil, however potent and bene-
ficial may be its occasional exercise, to correct or abate
the injurious consequences of ministerial action or ad-
vice. For while the sovereign is free to accept or reject

i Hans. D. v. 130, p. 103. And ' See further, on this point, post,

see Mr. Disraeli's observations, Ib. v. v. 2.

188, p. 1113; v. 191, p. 1705. Earl * See Amos, Fifty Years of the

Uranville, Ib. v. 193, p. 290. Eng. Const, p. 260.

r Quar. Kev. v. 123, p. 544.


the advice of his ministers, upon any matter, by reason
of the prerogative of the crown, the action of the sove-
reign, under such circumstances, must be sustained by
ministers, or it will fail to secure the approval of Parlia-
ment, or the consent of the nation."

The power of the sovereign in England, as has been influence
well remarked by a recent political writer, is consider- sovereign
ably increased when rival political parties are evenly in P L il ?'

11 i MI 11 r cal affairs.

balanced ; and ' it rises still higher when the competi-
tion between the various statesmen of all parties be-
comes close. For, though the rise and fall of parties is
decided in the main by the constituencies, their power
extends only in very rare cases to the careers of indi-
vidual politicians. Unless a man be singularly eminent,
the sovereign can place a ban upon him, and exclude
him, if not from all office, at least from the highest
office, without any great risk of a collision with the
House of Commons or the people. Court favour, there-
fore, is no matter of tinsel, but an object of substantial
importance to politicians ; and the fear of losing it
avails, to a certain extent, to mould their policy,
-whether they are in office or in opposition. If this spe-
cies of influence were merely used to give a due weight
to the personal opinions of the sovereign, there would
be no reason to complain, and its exercise would be ac-
quiesced in cheerfully.' In past times there have been
' obscure favourites concealed under the shadow of the
throne,' whose conduct gave rise to complaints of un-
authorised advice and backstairs influence ; but ' in our
day the sense of honour has become keener, and po-
litical combatants no longer consider stratagems of this
kind legitimate. ' v

Let us now consider the prerogative of the crown
in the appointment of ministers of state, to whom the
government of the country is to be entrusted.

u See Amos, Fifty Years of the v Sat. Rev. Aug. 1, 1863, p. 142.
Eng. Const, p. 307.


Appoint- From the high and commanding position occupied

masters ^J tne sovereign, it would be natural to infer that he
by the should be free to secure the services of the wisest and
ablest men for this purpose. Accordingly the British
Constitution distinctly recognises the right of the sove-
reign to make choice of all his responsible ministers, 1 "
and the continuance of the royal confidence in an ex-
isting ministry is an. essential prerequisite to its remain-
ing in office.

their Commenting upon the exercise of this branch of the

dismissal, royal prerogative, Lord Brougham asserts that it is the
' unquestioned power of the crown to choose and to
change its servants ; ' and that ' no one would think of
questioning the foundation of this power, of objecting
to its existence, or of wishing to restrict it,' provided
only that it is exercised ' on grounds capable of being
stated and defended.' The grounds upon which the
sovereign may constitutionally dismiss a ministry he
has thus defined : ' If they exhibit internal dissensions
amongst themselves ; if they differ from the sovereign,
or from the country at large [upon a question of public
policy] ; if their measures are ruinous to the interests
of the country, at home or abroad ; or if there should
exist a general feeling of distrust and disapprobation of
them throughout the country. ' x

Furthermore, as observed by Mr. Pitt, ' the sove-
reign exercises his opinion on the sentiments as well as
capacity of his ministers ; and if upon either he judges
them to be incompetent, or in any degree unfit, it is the
prerogative and, with perfect loyalty let me add, the
duty of the crown to dismiss such ministers.' 7 For
' the king cannot be required to take advice from men
in whom he cannot confide ; and, were there no other

w Ilallam, Const. Hist. v. 3, p. And see May, Const. Hist. v. 1,

392. And see a resolution of the p. 122.
House of Lords, on Feb. 4, 1784. y Parl. Hist. v. 35, p. 1121.

1 Mir. of Parl. 1835, pp. 28, 29.


reason, a diminution of confidence is a sufficient ground
for a change in his Majesty's councils.' 2 But these ab-
stract considerations, as will be hereafter shown, are
modified and restrained by the necessity for obtaining
the approval of Parliament to the choice of ministers by
the crown. For constitutional usage requires that the
sovereign shall not exercise his undoubted right of dis-
missing his ministers for mere personal motives, but
solely in the interests of the state, and on grounds which
can be justified to Parliament.*

It is the undeniable right of either House of Parlia- Advice of
ment to advise the crown upon the exercise of this or m " n t a <>n
any other of its prerogatives ; but this right cannot be th< ? ap "

T f, -, . pomtment

pressed so far as to render the sovereign ' accountable of mi
to Parliament for his conduct in changing his advisers,'
or as to entitle Parliament ' to question the motives of
his Majesty for dismissing ministers who had lost his
confidence.' b

The House of Lords have nothing to say to the changes which
may take place in his Majesty's councils. It is his Majesty's prero-
gative to appoint his own ministers, and to change them as he
pleases ; and the House of Lords cannot take into consideration the
special circumstances under which such changes have been made,
except in particular cases, in which an administration has been re-
moved in consequence of an address from this house.

It has been contended, indeed, that ' it is the right and
privilege of the House of Commons to express its opinion
and judgment, and even to offer advice to the sovereign,
as to the circumstances under which, and the mode in
which, he may have been advised to exercise his un-
doubted prerogative of choosing the ministers of the
crown. ' d But such an interference with the free choice
of the sovereign would be justifiable only in the extreme

z Ld. Selkirk, Parl. D. v. 9, p. 377. 377. And see Ld. Colchester's Diary,

See Mr. Gladstone's comments upon v 2, p. 119.

the dismissal of the Melbourne Minis- c Duke of Wellington, Parl D

try, in 1834, by William IV. Glean- N.S. v. 17, p. 455.
ings of the Past Years, v. 1, p. 231. d Lds. Morpeth and Stanley Mir

a See post. v. 2. of Parl. 1835, p. 74.

b Ld. Selkirk, Par!. D. v. 9, p.



case, if we may suppose that such could occur, wherein
the crown had selected unfit or improper persons as its
advisers. 6 In all ordinary circumstances, the ministers
chosen by the sovereign are entitled to receive from
Parliament, if not ' an implicit confidence,' at the least
a fair trial. < a f a i r trial.' f This has been the established rule and
practice of the constitution, as the following cases will
show :


right to

When Mr. Pitt was appointed prime minister by George III., in
1 783, in the face of a hostile majority in the House of Commons, he
braved the fierce opposition with which he was encountered, and
disregarded the factious obstructions of his foes, until he was in a
position to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the people.e Advert-
ing, nearly twenty years afterwards, to the conduct of the House of
Commons upon this occasion, Mr. Pitt declared that amidst all the
violence which characterised the proceedings of the House at the
time, the ' general principle ' of the sole right of the king to nominate
his ministers ' had never been attempted to be denied in the abstract.' 11
The hostility of the House to Mr. Pitt arose, according to Sir Robert
Peel, from a suspicion that he owed his appointment to unconstitu-
tional motives ; that is to say, to the exercise of secret influence, by
means of which it was notorious that the previous administration
had been overthrown. But Mr. Pitt took his stand upon the princi-
ple that it was irregular for the House to endeavour to control the
prerogative of the crown in the choice of its ministers, by denounc-
ing them without waiting to see their acts. 1

In 1801, after the retirement of Mr. Pitt from office, and the
appointment of Mr. Addington to the premiership, an arrangement
which was not satisfactory to Parliament, Mr. Pitt expressly claimed
for the king ' the sole right of nominating his ministers,' and con-
tended ' that the House had no right to form any resolution till
their conduct came to be judged of by the acts of their administra-
tion.' He asserted, moreover, that the new ministers were entitled,
at the outset, to ' a constitutional confidence ' ; in other words, ' that
unless some good reason were assigned to the contrary, the House
was bound, by the best principles of policy, as well as by the true
spirit of the constitution, to wait to see the conduct of the ministers
of the crown before they should withhold their confidence. 'J The

' Ld. Selkirk's speech, Parl. D. v.
0, p. 377. And see Adolphus, Hist,
of KPK. v. 3, p. 46(5, n.

< Sir R. Peel's Mem. v. 2, p. 07.
Hans. D. v. 101, p. 1728.

K See ante, p. 144.
h Parl. Hist. v. 35, p. 9fi2.
' Mir. of Parl. 1841, p. 1937.
J See ante, p. 150.


House of Commons acquiesced in this reasoning, and refrained from
any attempt at disturbing the new ministry.

In 1807, after the dismissal by George III. of the Grenville ad-
ministration, and the appointment of the Duke of Portland's
ministry, debates arose in both Houses of Parliament upon this
event, and upon the circumstances which had given rise to it. The
ex-ministers had a majority in both Houses. Their friends accord-
ingly endeavoured to embarrass the new government by proposing
resolutions expressive of regret at the change in the royal councils.
But Parliament, while they were inclined to approve of the conduct
of the late ministry in the matter which had occasioned their dis-
missal, refused to concur in resolutions of censure, or to take any
steps which would appear like an attempt to limit the exercise of
the prerogative by refusing to the new ministers of the crown a fair
trial. Accordingly the resolutions were superseded in the Lords by
a motion of adjournment, and in the Commons by a resolution to
pass on to the orders of the day. k During the debate in the House
of Commons, Sir William Grant took occasion to show that the
attempt of the late ministers to convert Parliament into a court of
appeal against the king's decision was unwarrantable and unprece-
dented. 1

In 1812, the newly appointed ministry of Lord Liverpool was
vehemently assailed in the House of Commons, and motions were
submitted to express regret that men had not been chosen who
were more entitled to the support of Parliament, and to the confi-
dence of the country. But after much debate it became apparent
-that the sense of the House was opposed to any proceedings that
might appear like an attempt to dictate to the crown in regard to the
choice of its advisers. The leader of the government, moreover,
claimed for the new ministry ' the constitutional support of Parliament
till their actions should show them to be unworthy of it.' The
several motions of censure were then put and negatived. 1 "

In 1834 Sir Robert Peel, by desire of William IV., undertook
the formation of a ministry, although his party was in a decided
minority in the House of Commons. A dissolution of Parliament
ensued, but this did not add very materially to the strength of the
new administration. Ministers sustained very severe defeats in the
new House ; nevertheless, Sir R. Peel refused to resign, saying, ' I
hold there is nothing unconstitutional, in the post I fill, and in the
fulfilment of my duty, to persevere in the discharge of those duties
to which my sovereign has called me, in defiance of the majority
that is against me upon any abstract question, &c. I will perform

k See ante, p. 158. mons after the death of Mr. Perceval :

1 Parl. D. v. 9, p. 474. See also ante, p. 164.
the proceedings in the House of Coin- bee ante, pp. 172, 173.



my duty until the House shall by its vote refuse its sanction to some
measure of importance which I think necessary to submit to its
consideration.' n He accordingly persisted in the attempt to maintain
his position, in the face of repeated defeats in the Commons for
nearly two months ; when, being convinced of the evil of permitting
the House of Commons to exhibit itself to the country free from
any control on the part of the government, and believing that ' in
conformity with the constitution, a government ought not to persist
in carrying on public affairs, after a fair trial, against the decided
opinion of a majority of the House of Commons,' he resigned, and a
new ministry, whose views were in accordance with the opinions of
the Commons, was appointed.

Earl Derby in 1852, in 1858, and in 1866, assumed the reins of
government, by command of the Queen, with an adverse majority in
the House of Commons. Upon each occasion the new ministry
were treated with great forbearance by the House, and were per-
mitted to remain in office without molestation or annoyance until
they had developed their policy, and had shown themselves to be
decidedly at issue with the House of Commons upon some great public

The Conservative ministry, appointed in July 1866, continued in
office for nearly two years and a half, notwithstanding that their
party was in a minority in the House of Commons. 3

The interval between the resignation or dismissal of
a ministry, and the appointment of their successors,
varies according to the exigency of the case, and the

Delays in
a new

thecrown difficulties that may attend the formation of another
thereon. ca binet. During this interval, should it appear expe-
dient to either House to tender advice to the sovereign
in regard to the formation of a ministry whether it be
to urge the appointment of a strong and efficient ad-
ministration, or even to indicate the political character
of a ministry that would prove acceptable to Parlia-
ment it is perfectly constitutional to do so.

In 1783, thirty-seven clays (February 24 to April 2) elapsed be-
tween the resignation of the Shelburne ministry and the appoint-
ment of a Coalition ministry, under the Duke of Portland, On
March 24, the Commons passed an address to the king, praying him

n Mir. of Pnrl. 1835, p. 135. Hans.
J). v. 119, p. 1278.
See ante, p. 199.

Ib. pp. 221, 228, 237.
Ib. p. 237.


to form a strong and united administration. His Majesty sent a p rece _
gracious reply to this address through Earl Ludlow, 1 " expressing his dents,
earnest desire to do everything in his power to comply with the
wishes of his faithful Commons. 8 On March 31, a motion was made
for the adoption of another address, representing the urgent necessity
which existed for the immediate appointment of an efficient and
responsible administration ; but after some debate, the motion, being
regarded as premature, was withdrawn.*

Upon the break-up of the Perceval administration, owing to the
assassination of the premier, on May 11, 1812, four weeks elapsed
before a new ministry, under the Earl of Liverpool, was appointed.
On May 21, a motion was made in the House of Commons for an
address to the Prince Regent, praying him to form a strong and effi-
cient administration. It being known that the former colleagues
of Mr. Perceval were desirous of remaining in office, and were in
communication with the prince upon the subject, the motion was
resisted by the friends of the late government, on the ground that it
was an attempt to interfere with the crown in the choice of its
servants, which was not justified by existing circumstances. The
motion was nevertheless agreed to by a small majority, and the
mover and seconder of the address were ordered to present it to
his Royal Highness. The mover reported on the following day that
the prince had promised that the address should receive his imme-
diate and serious consideration. Viewing this address as equivalent
to a declaration of their own inefficiency, the remaining members of
the administration immediately placed their offices at the disposal
t)f the Prince Regent. Negotiations were then commenced with the
Whig party, but they proved unsuccessful ; and the old ministry was
reinstated in office, under the premiership of the Earl of Liverpool."

During this interval, on May 30, and again on June 5, notice
was given in the House of Commons for a further address to the
Prince Regent, beseeching him to proceed without delay to appoint
a strong ministry, in which the House could confide. But the House
being informed that negotiations were in active progress, with every
prospect of a successful termination, the motions were not made. v

A fortnight elapsed between the resignation of Lord Liverpool,
on March 27, 1827, and the appointment of the Canning administra-
tion. Meanwhile, after eight days had elapsed, notice was given, for
April 6th, of an address to the crown, to be pleased to appoint a
ministry who were unanimous on questions of vital importance to
the empire. But when the day arrived for bringing on this motion, it
was withdrawn upon an intimation that the formation of a ministry

r He was Comptroller of the ' II. March 31, 1783.
Household. u See ante, pp. 161-172.

5 Com. Jour. March 20, 1783. " Ib. pp. 168, 170.



was about to take place. Four days afterwards the Canning
ministry was appointed. w

Precedents Upon the resignation of the Grey ministry, on May 8, 1832,
of prpce- consequent upon their defeat upon the Reform Bill in the House of
! " Lords, the House of Commons passed an address to the king on the
forming 10th inst., expressing their deep regret at the retirement of ministers,
new minis- an( j imploring his Majesty ' to call to his councils such persons only
as will carry into effect, unimpaired in all its essential provisions,'
the measure of Reform to which the House had recently agreed.
The address was ordered to be presented by members of the House
who were of the Privy Council. 1 Four days having elapsed without
the reception by the House of any reply to their address, the Speaker
was questioned upon the subject. He could only state that the ad-
dress had been placed in proper hands for presentation, and suggest
that his Majesty, not having any responsible minister or confidential
adviser, might think it better to delay sending an answer till he had
such a minister, through whose hands it might be conveyed. This
surmise was afterwards confirmed, and declared to have been the
reason why no reply had been sent to the address, by the Chancellor
of the Exchequer, upon his return to office.y For the king, having
failed in the attempt to form a Tory administration, had been obliged
to recall his late advisers.

Ten days elapsed between the resignation of Sir Robert Peel, in
1835, and the appointment of the Melbourne ministry ; and there
was a similar interval between the resignation of the Derby ministry,
in 1852, and the appointment of their successors. Upon neither of
these occasions was there any action taken by Parliament, although
a change of ministry is ordinarily effected within one week.

But on February 1, 1855, the Aberdeen Ministry resigned, and
the Palmerston Ministry accepted office on the 8th inst. Notwith-
standing this short interval, on the motion to adjourn the House of
Commons, on February 6, a short debate ensued, in which dissatis-
faction was expressed at the delay in forming a ministry, and hints

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 30 of 85)