« AnteriorContinuar »
too, is for the most part a sound, careful, and practical body of men. Principle shows that the power of dismissing a Government with which Parliament is satisfied, and of dissolving that Parliament upon an appeal to the people, is not a power which a common hereditary monarch will in the long run be able beneficially to exercise.
Accordingly this power has almost, if not quite, dropped out of the reality of our constitution. Nothing, perhaps, would more surprise the English people than if the Queen by a coup d'état and on a sudden destroyed a ministry firm in the allegiance and secure of a majority in Parlia ment. That power, indisputably, in theory, belongs to her; but it has passed so far away from the minds of men that it would terrify them, if she used it, like a volcanic eruption from Primrose Hill. The last analogy to it is not one to be coveted as a precedent. In 1835 William IV. dismissed an administration which, though disorganised by the loss of its leader in the Commons, was an existing Government, had a premier in the Lords ready to go on, and a leader in the Commons willing to begin. The King fancied that public opinion was leaving the Whigs and going over to the Tories, and he thought he should accelerate the transition by ejecting the former. But the event showed that he misjudged. His perception indeed was right; the English people were wavering in their allegiance to the Whigs, who had no leader that touched the popular heart, none in whom Liberalism could personify itself and become a passion-who besides were a body long used to opposition, and therefore making blunders in office-who were borne to power by a popular
impulse which they only half comprehended, and perhaps less than half shared. But the King's policy was wrong; he impeded the reaction instead of aiding it. He forced on a premature Tory Government, which was as unsuccessful as all wise people perceived that it must be. The popular distaste to the Whigs was as yet but incipient, inefficient; and the intervention of the Crown was advan tageous to them, because it looked inconsistent with the liberties of the people. And in so far as William IV. was right in detecting an incipient change of opinion, he did but detect an erroneous change. What was desirable was the prolongation of Liberal rule. The commencing dissatisfaction did but relate to the personal demerits of the Whig leaders, and other temporary adjuncts of free principles, and not to those principles intrinsically. So that the last precedent for a royal onslaught on a ministry ended thus:-in opposing the right principles, in aiding the wrong principles, in hurting the party it was meant to help. After such a warning, it is likely that our monarchs will pursue the policy which a long course of quiet precedent at present directs-they will leave a Ministry trusted by Parliament to the judgment of Parliament.
Indeed, the dangers arising from a party spirit in Parliament exceeding that of the nation, and of a selfishness in Parliament contradicting the true interest of the nation, are not great dangers in a country where the mind of the nation is steadily political, and where its control over its representatives is constant. A steady opposition to a formed public opinion is hardly possible in our House
of Commons, so incessant is the national attention to politics, and so keen the fear in the mind of' each member that he may lose his valued seat. These dangers belong to early and scattered communities, where there are. no interesting political questions, where the distances are great, where no vigilant opinion passes judgment on parliamentary excesses, where few care to have seats in the chamber, and where many of those few are from their characters and their antecedents better not there than there. The one great vice of parliamentary government in an adult political nation, is the caprice of Parliament in the choice of a ministry. A nation can hardly control it here; and it is not good that, except within wide limits, it should control it. The Parliamentary judgment of the merits or demerits of an administration very generally depends on matters which the Parliament, being close at hand, distinctly sees, and which the distant nation does not see. But where personality enters, capriciousness begins. It is easy to imagine a House of Commons which is discontented with all statesmen, which is contented with none, which is made up of little parties, which votes in small knots, which will adhere steadily to no leader, which gives every leader a chance and a hope. Such Parliaments require the imminent check of possible dissolution; but that check is (as has been shown) better in the premier than in the sovereign; and by the late practice of our constitution, its use is yearly ebbing from the sovereign, and yearly centering in the premier. The Queen can hardly now refuse a defeated minister the chance of a dissolution, any more than she can dissolve
in the time of an undefeated one, and without his consent.
We shall find the case much the same with the safetyvalve, as I have called it, of our constitution. A good, capable, hereditary monarch would exercise it better than a premier, but a premier could manage it well enough; and a monarch capable of doing better will be born only once in a century, whereas monarchs likely to do worse will be born every day.
There are two modes in which the power of our executive to create Peers-to nominate, that is, additional members of our upper and revising chamber-now acts: one constant, habitual, though not adequately noticed by the popular mind as it goes on; and the other possible and terrific, scarcely ever really exercised, but always by its reserved magic maintaining a great and a restraining influence. The Crown creates Peers, a few year by year, and thus modifies continually the characteristic feeling of the House of Lords. I have heard people say, who ought to know, that the English peerage (the only one upon which unhappily the power of new creation now acts) is now more Whig than Tory. Thirty years ago the majority was indisputably the other way. Owing to very curious circumstances English parties have not alternated in power, as a good deal of speculation predicts they would, and a good deal of current language assumes they have. The Whig party were in office some seventy years (with very small breaks) from the Death of Queen Anne to the coalition between Lord North and Mr. Fox; then the Tories (with only such breaks), were in power for nearly
fifty years, till 1832; and since, the Whig party has always, with very trifling intervals, been predominant. Consequently, each continuously-governing party has had the means of modifying the Upper House to suit its views. The profuse Tory creations of half a century had made the House of Lords bigotedly Tory before the first Reform Act, but it is wonderfully mitigated now. The Irish Peers and the Scotch Peers-being nominated by an almost unaltered constituency, and representing the feelings of the majority of that constituency only (no minority having any voice)-present an unchangeable Tory element. But the element in which change is permitted has been changed. Whether the English Peerage be or be not predominantly now Tory, it is certainly not Tory after the fashion of the Toryism of 1832. The Whig additions have indeed sprung from a class commonly rather adjoining upon Toryism, than much inclining to Radicalism. It is not from men of large wealth that a very great impetus to organic change should be expected. The additions to the Peers have matched nicely enough with the old Peers, and therefore they have effected more easily a greater and more permeating modification. The addition of a contrasting mass would have excited the old leaven, but the delicate infusion of ingredients similar in genus, though different in species, has modified the new compound without irritating the old original
This ordinary and common use of the peer-creating power is always in the hands of the premier, and depends for its characteristic use on being there. He, as the head of the predominant party, is the proper person to modify