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Relation of the Sovereign to the Cabinet. 299 constitution at the present moment, baving been explored, it now remains to consider what is the true constitutional attitude of the Sovereign towards the Cabinet Ministers, so far as that attitude can be discerned from a careful study of the most recent history. It happens that not only do the reigns both of William IV. and her present Majesty supply copious illustrations of the position relative to each other of the Sovereign and the Ministers of the Crown, but in the case of both these Sovereigns documentary evidence of an unprecedented sort is in existence, from which the historical inquirer is able to ascertain what was the view of their constitutional relations which these Sovereigns severally have theoretically held, and, to some extent at least, practically acted upon.
The relations of the Sovereign to the Ministers of the Crown are indicated, 1, in the mode of selecting those Ministers, 2, in the mode of dismissing them, 3, in the limits of intervention in the official conduct either of the Ministry as a whole or of individual Ministers, and, 4, in the independent action of the Sovereign, with little or no reference to the concurrence, co-operation, or even the knowledge, of the Ministers.
1 2. It is not easy in theory to impose any bounds on the liberty of action of the Sovereign with respect to the selection or dismissal of Ministers. On the one hand, it could not be expected that the Sovereign should continue to engage in amicable correspondence and even incessant communication with a Minister who, on whatever grounds, had rendered himself personally odious; nor, on the other hand, could the Sovereign obtain any advantage by retaining in his service a Minister who commanded no confidence whatever in either House of Parliament. Admitting, then, that if the Sovereign is to retain any independent functions at all, he must have a certain amount of liberty left him in the choice of those who are called upon to co-operate with him, it remains to be seen how far the Sovereign is entitled to exercise this choice in deference to a mere personal caprice on the one hand, or to personal and private conceptions of the public advantage on the other. At the time of the dissolution of a Ministry, there is seldom more than a very narrow field of selection open to the Sovereign for the nomination of a Prime Minister who shall at once command the general confidence of Parliament, and be able to combine with himself a number of adherents to fill the several official departments in the Government. Where the Sovereign is in any perplexity in making his choice, the practice has of late been either to resort to the advice of some experienced counsellor, who may be supposed to be personally removed from the arena of party conflict, or to be superior to the coarser passions aroused by these conflicts (such as was, or seemed to be, the Duke of Wellington in the earlier part of the present reign), or to consult the outgoing Prime Minister as to the state and prospects of parties in Parliament, or to make tentative overtures to a series of prominent statesmen in order to see which among them can alone, at the time, form a Government. The following extract from the Duke of Buckingham's memoirs, giving a brief report of her present Majesty's selection of Sir Robert Peel as her Prime Minister to succeed Lord Melbourne in 1839, represents what has been the customary practice of the present reign. "Sir Robert Peel bad an interview with the Queen, when Her Majesty repeated
Statement of King William IV.
that she had parted with her Ministers with great • regret, acknowledging that they had given her entire • satisfaction; and stated that, as it bad become neces
sary to take some step towards the formation of 6 another administration, she had sent for him at the
suggestion of the Duke of Wellington. The conver
sation that followed has not been reported, but Sir * Robert subsequently in the House of Commons affirmed • that no one could have expressed more fully, more .naturally, or more becomingly, the regret wbich Her • Majesty felt for the loss of her late advisers, or prin
ciples more strictly constitutional with respect to the • formation of a new Government.'
The history of William IV.'s reign exhibits some extreme instances of the active interference of the Sovereign in the selection and dismissal of Ministers, on grounds not, presumedly, of personal caprice, but of independent views of public utility. In the Memoirs of Baron Stockmar there is published for the first time a remarkable document written by King William IV. himself, in the year 1835, and purporting to be “A · Statement of His Majesty's general proceedings and of • the principles by which he was guided from the period 6 of his accession in 1830 to that of the recent change
in the administration, January 14, 1835. The King relates that upon his accession to the throne he determined without any hesitation to maintain in the • administration of the affairs of the country those who
had been the confidential servants of his late brother;' and that on the resignation, in 1830, of that Govern
I Memoirs of the Courts and Cabinets of William IV. and l'ictoria. By the Duke of Buckingbam and Chandos. Vol. ii. p. 384.
ment, headed by the Duke of Wellington, His Majesty was advised by the Lord Chancellor to address himself to Earl Grey, who consented to take upon himself the trust proposed on the condition that a measure for the extensive reform of Parliament should receive the King's countenance and support. On Lord Grey and his colleagues bringing forward a proposition for an increase of the Peerage which appeared to His Majesty • so unreasonably extensive, so injurious to the charac• ter of that branch of the Legislature, and so degrading
in its effects to the aristocracy of the country,' that the King refused to acquiesce in it, the Government resigned, and His Majesty sent for Lord Lyndhurst, the late Lord Chancellor, and “requested him to communi• cate with the Duke of Wellington and others who • might be disposed to come to his assistance and to « attempt to form an Administration. After some ineffectual attempts to accomplish the purpose, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Lyndhurst stated to His Majesty that their endeavours had become hopeless, and advised His Majesty to resort again to Earl Grey, 6 and to make the best terms he could with him with
respect to the Peerage question, if his Lordship should • consent to return to the direction of his counsels.' When Earl Grey resigned, in 1834, it occurred to the King .that advantage might be taken of this state of 6 affairs to effect a union of parties, of which the object • should be Conservative, and this became the subject • of communications to Lord Melbourne, and through • him to the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel and • Mr. Stanley. After fully weighing every contin6 gency, he determined to entrust to Viscount Melbourne, whom he had employed in the communications, Dismissal of Lord Melbourne.
the reconstruction of the Administration. The King then gives an account of one of the most remarkable pieces of modern history in respect to the relation of the Sovereign to the Ministers of the Crown,—that of his peremptory dismissal of Lord Melbourne's Government in 1834, in spite of their having constant majorities in the House of Commons. The death of Lord Spencer on the 10th of November, and the consequent elevation to the House of Lords of Lord Althorp, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, led to Lord Melbourne's proposing that Lord John Russell should succeed Lord Althorp as leader of the House of Commons. His * Majesty objected strongly to Lord John Russell ; he 6 stated, without reserve, his opinion that he had not the abilities nor the influence which qualified him for
the task, and observed that he would make a wretched • figure when opposed by Sir Robert Peel and Mr. • Stanley. The King objected equally, if not more, to Mr. Abercrombie; and Lord Melbourne persisted in urging the nomination of Lord John Russell. But • His Majesty had further objections. He considered • Lord John Russell to have pledged himself to certain • encroachments upon the Church, which His Majesty “had made up his mind and expressed his determina
tion to resist.' '. Nor did His Majesty conceal from • Lord Melbourne that the injudicious and extravagant 6 conduct of Lord Brougham had tended to shake his
confidence in the course which might be pursued by • the Administration of which he formed so prominent 6 and so active a feature, and in its consistency.' Finally, His Majesty made up his mind to communicate to Lord Melbourne "his regret that circumstances did not in his opinion justify his sanctioning the arrange