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Extension of Ministerial Responsibility. 325
wbich have hitherto been familiar is, whether, for pur- / poses of administration and of initiating and guiding legislation, there is or is not some authority outside the body of the responsible Ministers of the Crown which is legitimately entitled to control the action of those Ministers, and yet which itself is subject to no responsibility of any kind. The undoubted course of the development of the English Constitution, from the epoch of its true modern foundation at the Revolution, has been towards extending the responsibility of Ministers and annulling all responsibility in the Sovereign. It was not before the House of Hanover was firmly established on the throne, not only by law, but by public sentiment and traditional usage, that it can be said that the Sovereign was really liberated from all recognisable responsibility to Parliament and the country. The Declaration of Rights and the Act of Settlement—as interpreted by all the circumstances of the Civil Wars and the Revolution, and by the other documents (such as the Petition of Right) which grew out of and were the expression of some of the most signal of those circumstances,—were ever before the eyes of the people as constituting the written terms of a formal contract between the Sovereign on the one hand, and the Houses of Parliament, as representing the country, on the other. The existence of this idea of contract or engagement does not depend for its validity on the casual value and prevalence of abstract theories on the origin of society, or on what is known as the Social Contract.' It was merely felt, universally and strongly, that if the country had definite duties towards the Monarch, the Monarch equally had definite duties towards the country. One conveniently arranged and systematised
list of these duties on the part of the Monarch was contained in the celebrated documents to which first the Revolution, and then the fresh settlement of the Succession, gave rise. But the gradual establishment on the throne of the Hanoverian family, and its solidification, for the purposes of popular sentiment, in the person of George III., have in fact silently altered the conditions of the Sovereign's tenure. Though it is still disputed in some learned quarters whether the adoption by the Sovereign of the Roman Catholic faith, or of some other creed not conformable to the standards of the Church of England, would ipso facto involve a forfeiture of the Crown, there is in truth no opening left by which the Sovereign could, apart from the co-operation of responsible Ministers, so infringe any written or unwritten article of the Constitution as to weaken his legal position. This change has been only rendered compatible with the progress of public freedom by substituting at every point a wholly unprecedented amount of several and joint responsibility in the advisers of the Crown, for all responsibility of the Sovereign. The place in which such errors as those of Baron Stockmar lurk is where it is supposed, either that this process of substitution is not yet complete, or that, if in appearance complete, it is not a real substitution at all, but merely a confusion of responsibility between the Sovereign and his advisers. The only remaining hypothesis—namely, that there is some authority which for some purposes is wholly irresponsible, and therefore may become as tyrannical or capricious as the accidents of personal character may determine, -is obviously an impossible one, inasmuch as the truth of it would drive the English Constitution some five centuries backward.
Real Duties of the Sovereign.
The real difficulty which appertains to the question, and which probably was the one unconsciously felt by Baron Stockmar, was how to find for a really intelligent, well-educated, and patriotic Sovereign any place at all commensurable with his personal dignity and the due use of his faculties in such a Constitution as that which the British Constitution has become, where all responsibility, and therefore all freedom of politiral action, is shifted from the Sovereign to the Ministers of the Crown. There is no doubt that the functions of government are more limited in the case of the occu-' pant of the Throne than in the case of any other English citizen. But this is no reason why, in order to provide a field of activity for an energetic Sovereign, the Constitution should be invaded, any more than why an impulsive soldier or minister of religion should overstep the limits of his proper professional activity, and intrude into work which can only be effectively discharged by others. It has, however, often been pointed out that, even for a Sovereign who would preserve the freedom of the Ministers of the Crown unimpaired by any sort of interference, however subtle or courteous, and who would sternly abstain from all independent action outside the region marked out by the Constitution, there still remains enough to be done to afford almost infinite ground for public gratitude or public censure. The mere capacity of appreciating the distinctions of party, and in critical moments facilitating the solutions which alone can terminate, in a way beneficial to the country, party conflicts, without being immeshed in the tangles of party alliances, or, on the other hand, entertaining a cynical indifference to the contests of the national and Parliamentary life, is a rare gift to inherit by nature, and is a hard attainment to acquire by culture. The possession, however, of such a capacity, and of the faculty of social discernment which shall enable hiin who above all others must not only lead society, but largely prescribe the current standard of morality and even of public taste, unerringly to distribute rewards and distinctions of that class for which Parliamentary responsibility is wholly insufficient as a mode of check or control, is surely one of the richest boons which can fall to the share of any human being, and one for the use of which no situation but that of a Throne can find adequate room. Brilliantly attractive as must still remain the arena of active government, it does not, in truth, yield to, or even compete with, the opportunity of public service and benevolent well-doing still preserved to the Sovereign by the occupations of which no political constitution can deprive him.
4. When once the principle of the responsibility of the Ministers of the Crown to Parliament has been firmly established, there is scarcely any opening left for the irresponsible action of the Sovereign in entire independence of the help or agency of persons who may be made accountable to Parliament. In fact, the opportunities of free action left to the Sovereign are limited to oral speech and written correspondence. It has scarcely been attempted as yet to put any shackles on the private conversation or the public utterances of Royalty; but the region of correspondence covers a large part of diplomacy, and, in view of the ignorance prevailing in one country of the constitutional forms and restrictions existing in another, as well as of the peculiar family, or at the least personal, relationships which
Correspondence of the Sovereign. 329 are held to bind together the persons and dynasties
ground of fear either that the conduct of correspondence between this Government and foreign Governments should be at times entirely taken out of the hands of responsible Ministers, or that the correspondence of those Ministers should be conducted with all the dis advantages of the co-existence of a secondary and simultaneous correspondence, which may be out of harmony with the former. It has already been seen that on a memorable occasion the Prince Consort took upon himself to warn the Emperor of the French as to the consequences of making too cordial overtures of friendship towards the Grand Duke Constantine, who was expected on a visit to Paris. In this case, the formality was gone through of submitting the communication to the responsible Ministers before it was despatched; but it was noted that this scrupulous precaution did not rob the act of its character of initiating and formulating a policy in such a way as indirectly to influence Ministers far more powerfully than was probably intended. In the late Russo-Turkish war there were, similarly, constant reports floating about as to autograph letters passing between the Queen and, now the Emperor of Russia, now the Sultan of Turkey. No doubt all these reports were false; but the possibility of their existence points to a real constitutional danger against which it scarcely seems possible to provide any formal and legal security. Should the danger ever become a real and pressing one, the remedy must be sought in a more stringent insistence on the part of Parliament on publicity in the conduct of foreign policy, and in the growth