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Lord Clarendon's Opinion.


it was pronounced "most excellent.” “It ought," • Lord Clarendon wrote to the Prince, “ to open the «« Emperor's eyes to the consequences of his adulation "" of Russia, and, above all, to put him on bis guard "« against that extremely well-veneered gentleman the 6« Grand Duke Constantine." "1

"Life of the Prince Consort, vol, iv, p. 32.


THERE is no political term which is used more ambiguously than the term Prerogative. The misuse or abuse of the term, if it has not been replete with danger, has certainly been the cause of an indefinite amount of confusion and misunderstanding. The word Prerogative is, in its most general sense, used to express the freedom of independent action which belongs to the Crown; and no distinction is custoinarily drawn between the personal liberty of the Sovereign, which is only hemmed round and restricted by the action of the Crown's constitutional advisers, and the freedom of action of the Crown, which is only controlled by the competing rights of Parliament. To ascertain the prerogative of the Crown in the former sense would be to determine what were the relations of the Crown to its Ministers, the two being regarded from opposite points of view, and as placed in provisional antithesis the one to the other. So far as the Sovereign could act without consulting the Ministry, or could interfere with their free action, or could exercise an unconstrained volition in choosing or dismissing them, so great, and no greater, would be held to be the measure of the Royal prerogative. But the word Prerogative is also used in the sense of the extent of the right of free action of the Crown and its Ministers, looked upon as acting harmoniously together, which is only indirectly, if at all, subject to the control of Parliament. The Ministers of the Crown are indeed always looked upon as responsible for the due and proper exercise of the prerogative in this latter sense of the term; and it has been one Uses of the Term Prerogative. 267 main object of constitutional struggle in this country to render the Ministers of the Crown more and more directly and certainly accountable for the mode, time, and degree in which the prerogative is exercised. In some cases, indeed, where the quality or amount of the prerogative is in any degree uncertain, or too much limited for the purpose in hand, an Act of Parliament is passed to clear up the doubts or to supplement the deficient prerogative by conferring on the Crown new and special powers. An instance of this is at hand in the Act which enables the Crown, by its Ministers, to publish Articles of War for the administration of the Army. The limits of the prerogative in this sense are on the whole less shifting, and defined with greater legal precision, than the limits of the prerogative in the other sense. Though the use of the word Prerogative for both purposes is in the highest degree inconvenient, the two senses of the term are really existent and must be separately examined in any exhaustive constitutional inquiry. In the present section the first sense of the term Prerogative will be alone considered, and the immediate subject of investigation will therefore be the relation of the Sovereign to those who may be properly called the Ministers of the Crown. In the next section the consideration of the other use of the term Prerogative will introduce a discussion as to the relation of the Ministers of the Crown to Parliament.

In order to determine the actual relation of the Sovereign to the Ministers of the Crown, as developed by the most recent history, it is necessary to point out that those Ministers, in their organised character as a Cabinet, are a mere accidental historical outgrowth of ! the older Privy Council; and that they occupy a posi

tion somewhere intermediate between the Houses of Parliament and the Crown, of a kind to which no precedent in former times, and no institution in other countries, supplies any exact analogy. The problem for many centuries before the country was, how to provide an effective administrative Council close to the Sovereign, and yet to secure for Parliament the largest possible amount of control, both over the Council in its corporate capacity, and over every individual member of it. A variety of devices were resorted to in different ages to secure these ends, among which may be noted spasmodic and almost revolutionary appeals to the King to dismiss evil counsellors ;' impositions on the King of specially-named counsellors for temporary purposes, or in order to remedy crying wrongs and abuses; the desultory use of the weapon of impeachment; the more formal effort resorted to in the Act of Settlement to secure responsibility by requiring that all matters • and things relating to the well-governing of the king

dom, which are properly cognisable in the Privy • Council, by the laws and customs of the realm, should • be transacted there, and all resolutions taken there• upon should be signed by such of the Privy Council • as should advise and consent to the same;' and the persistent remonstrances, in Parliament and in the press, during George III.'s reign, against the irregular counsels believed to be afforded to the Sovereign by those who were designated “the King's friends.' But, side by side with the more recent of these expedients, there was growing up the institution of the Cabinet Council, which, with all its defècts and occasional jars in the working, seems admirably qualified to attain the end of combining the utmost concentration

Origin of the Term

Cabinet Council.' 269

and unity of executive force with a very considerable degree of responsibility from day to day to both Houses of Parliament.

The earliest mention of the Cabinet Council is in Pepys' Diary. Writing on the 16th of November, 1667, Mr. Pepys says: “Met Mr. Gregory, my old acquaint

ance, an understanding gentleman; and he and I • walked an hour together, talking of the bad prospect

of the times ; and the sum of what I learn from him • is this : that the King is the most concerned in the ' world against the Chancellor, and all people that do not appear against him, and therefore is angry with the Bishops, having said that he had one Bishop on his side, Crofts, and but one: that Buckingham and • Bristoll are now his only Cabinet Council; and that, • before the Duke of York fell sick, Buckingham was • admitted to the King of his Cabinet, and there stayed • with him several hours, and the Duke of York shut

out.'' According to Lord Clarendon, however, the expression Cabinet Council' originated as early as 1640, in the following way: “The bulk and burden of

the State affairs lay principally upon the shoulders of • the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl of Strafford,

and the Lord Cottington; some others being joined to • them, as the Earl of Northumberland for ornament,

the Bishop of London for his place, the two Secretaries, • Sir H. Vane and Sir Francis Windebank, for ser• vice and communication of intelligence; only the • Marquis of Hamilton, indeed, by his skill and interest, • bore as great a part as be had a mind to do, and had • the skill to meddle no further than he had a mind.

Diary and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys, F.R.S., 5th ed. vol. iii. p. 304.

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