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Mr. Gladstone on the Dismissal.


Mr. Gladstone is one of the most recent critics of William IV. in these transactions, though, in estimating the constitutional character of the King's act, he hardly displays his customary refinement of analysis in distinguishing the kind of formal legality which is mentioned in text-books of law, and can alone be tested in courts of justice, from the true constitutional legality which is outraged if that is done in a single instance.which, if often repeated, must entirely impair the nature and working of the Constitution.

• The endeavour of King William IV., in 1834, to • assert his personal choice in the appointment of a

Ministry without reference to the will of Parliament, gave to the Conservative party a momentary tenure of office without power. But, in truth, that indiscreet proceeding of an honest and well-meaning man pro• duced a strong reaction in favour of the Liberals, and greatly prolonged the predominance which they were

on the point of losing through the play of natural 'causes. Laying too great a stress on the instrument

of Royal will, it tended not to strengthen the Throne, * but to enfeeble it. Such was the upshot of an injudicious, though undoubtedly conscientious, use of power.”'

There is, indeed, one great and critical act, the responsibility for which falls momentarily or provi“sionally on the Sovereign ; it is the dismissal of an

existing Ministry, and the appointment of a new one. • This act is usually performed with the aid drawn from 6 authentic manifestations of public opinion, mostly such

as are obtained through the votes or conduct of the • House of Commons. Since the reign of George III.

i Gleanings of Past Years, vol. i. p. 38.


The Crown.

there has been but one change of Ministry in which • the Monarch acted without the support of these 'indications. It was when William IV., in 1834, dis

missed the Government of Lord Melbourne, which ' was known to be supported, though after a lukewarm • fashion, by a large majority of the existing House of • Commons. It can hardly be said that the King's

initiative left to Sir R. Peel a freedom perfectly un'impaired. And, most certainly, it was a very real

exercise of personal power. The power did not suffice for its end, which was to overset the Liberal predominance; but it very nearly sufficed. Unconditionally

entitled to dismiss the Ministers, the Sovereign can, * of course, choose his own opportunity. He may defy

the Parliament, if he can count upon the people. • William IV., in the year 1834, bad peither Parliament nor people with him. His act was within the limits of the Constitution, for it was covered by the respon“sibility of the acceding Ministry. But it reduced the • Liberal majority from a number considerably beyond three hundred to about thirty; and it constituted an exceptional, but very real and large action on the politics of the country, by the direct will of the King. I speak

of the immediate effects. Its eventual result may have • been different, for it converted a large disjointed mass ' into a smaller but organised and sufficient force, which “ held the fortress of power for the six years 1835–41. • On this view it may be said that, if the Royal inter• vention anticipated and averted decay from natural 'causes, then, with all its immediate success, it defeated • its own real aim.''

Gleanings of Past Years, vol. i. p. 231.

Nature of the Right Assumed.


It is obvious that the claim set up by William IV. was no less than a claim despotically and irresponsibly to dismiss any Ministry which would not pledge itself to advocate a policy of which the King personally approved, and to select in its place a Ministry which would so pledge itself. The result of a course of conduct such as this, must be, to make the Sovereign a far more potent factor in the working of the Constitution than could be compatible with the free action of the two Houses of Parliament. The claim is one, indeed, which had been set up in a far more noxious form by so recent a Sovereign as George III.; and there were abundant precedents for the same claim in earlier history. But the whole movement of the Constitution up to 1834 had been in the direction of preferring the automatic action of the Houses of Parliament to the automatic action of the Sovereign. Of course, there might be crises when, owing to contests between the two Houses of Parliament, or to the fact of the House of Commons at the moment not really representing public opinion outside, a wary and astute Sovereign could not but succeed, even while complying with the form and spirit of the Constitution, in making his own personal will prevalent over all competing forces. But no statesman would recommend, nor political theorist erect into an ideal, a condition of things as permanent which could only draw its justification from precedents afforded by the accidental advantage obtained, either by the Sovereign or by the Houses of Parliament, in a spasm or chaos of a wholly exceptional kind. Did such periods of strained differences between the two Houses, or want of conformity between the representative House and the electoral body, become lengthened, or threaten to be permanent, the Constitution itself must undergo a vital change. But it is only on such an hypothesis that any justification can be found for conjuring up so violent a mechanism for governing the country in spite of the ascertained will of the House of Commons, and the substitution for that will of the will of the Sovereign. Even could the theory implicitly advocated by those who would call the conduct of William IV. legal be compatible with the working or existence of the Constitution, it is needless to point out how politically vicious it must be to substitute the possibly immature, uninformed, or prejudiced opinion of an hereditary Prince for the deliberate will of the country, as expressing itself in an incalculable number of more or less organised and articulate forms. That the act in question was at the best a constitutional anomaly, and such as could never bear repetition, even in what are called bad times, is proved from the utter disuse of such an exercise of the prerogative during the present reign, even when the interest of the Queen and the late Prince Consort in the strife of political parties,-not to say in the triumph of one party over another,--was as active as it well could be. The Prince Consort was a specimen of what may be looked for in a mind carefully trained and habituated to the duties of active kingship, and he was not without a knowledge of the limits of such activity in kingship imposed by the English Constitution. His direct practical concern in every political step taken or contemplated by the Government of the day, was unintermittent; and, as has been seen in a previous part of this chapter, the only defence of his position as a gratuitous counsellor of the Government was that he directly personated the Queen, and his acts must be Personal Relations with Ministers.


looked upon as indistinguishable from hers. Nevertheless, in all the political crises which occurred during the period of his married life,—not excepting those of the Crimean War, in which Court intervention in administrative affairs far exceeded the limits of discretion, if not of right,—there is no sign that the notion of directly superseding the Government of the day, irrespectively of the vote and will of the House of Commons, ever even suggested itself to the Queen or the Prince. Had it suggested itself, and been for a moment entertained, or even had a rumour got abroad that such a notion was afloat in Court circles, there is no doubt that the watchful jealousy with which the influence of the Prince Consort was habitually regarded would have expressed itself in a form and with a determination for which constitutional history since the time of James II. scarcely affords a parallel.

3. The topic of the right of intervention on the part of the Sovereign in the conduct of the Ministers of the Crown has been to some extent anticipated in the preceding remarks. But while it may be admitted that the dismissal of a Government which still enjoys the favour of the House of Commons may be entirely outside the limits of the Sovereign's right, it must still be matter of question how far the Sovereign is entitled to refuse to retain in his service any particular Minister, or to control in a variety of ways, direct and indirect, the policy of the Cabinet. It has already been hinted that it would be unreasonable to expect the Sovereign to continue to hold communication with a Minister who, on purely personal grounds, had rendered himself obnoxious; and the test of the degree of animosity existing between a Sovereign and a Minister which

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