CHAPTER V. THE STRUGGLE FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT
During this period the party system and cabinet government were elaborated. Party supplanted the crown as the determining factor in British government, and the cabinet became the executive committee of the party possessing a majority in the House of Commons. Queen Anne had not the intellect nor vigour to assert her independence of ministers, and George I, who understood no English, ceased to attend cabinet meetings. The royal veto disappeared, and even the king's choice of ministers was severely limited, not by law but by practical necessities. Ministers, instead of giving individual advice which the sovereign might reject, met together without the king and tendered collective advice, the rejection of which by the sovereign meant their resignation, and if parliament agreed with them, its dissolution or surrender on the part of the crown. For the purpose of tendering this advice and maintaining order in the cabinet, a chief was needed; Walpole, by eliminating all competitors during his long administration (1721-1742), developed the office of prime minister, which, without any law to establish it, became one of the most important of British institutions. Similarly the cabinet itself grew and was not created by any Act; indeed, while the cabinet and the prime minister were growing, it would have been impossible to induce any parliament to create them, for parliament was still jealous of royal influence, and even wanted to exclude from its ranks all servants of the crown. But, fortunately, the absence of a written constitution enabled the British constitution to grow and adapt itself to circumstances without legal enactment.
The circumstance that the cabinet was the executive committee of the majority in the House of Commons gave it the command of the Lower House, and by means of the Commons' financial powers, of the crown. This party system was deplored by many; Bolingbroke, a Tory leader out of office, called for a national party, and urged the crown to emancipate itself from Whig domination by choosing ministers from all sections. Chatham thought that in the interests of national efficiency, the ablest ministers should be selected, whatever their political predilections. George III adapted these ideas to the purpose of making himself a king in deed. But his success in breaking down the party and cabinet system was partial and temporary; he only succeeded in humbling the Whig houses by giving himself a master in the person of the younger Pitt (1784), who was supported by the majority of the nation.
With the House of Lords the cabinet has had more prolonged and complicated troubles. Ostensibly and constitutionally the disputes have been between the two Houses of Parliament; and this was really the case before the development of the close connexion between the cabinet and the Commons. Both Houses had profited by the overthrow of the crown in the seventeenth century, and the extremes to which they sometimes pushed their claims suggest that they were as anxious as the crown had been to place themselves above the law. The House of Lords did succeed in making its judicial decisions law in spite of the crown and Commons, although the Commons were part of the "High Court of Parliament," and no law had granted the Lords supreme appellate jurisdiction; hence the constitutional position of the House of Lords was made by its own decisions and not by Act of Parliament or of the crown. This claim to appellate jurisdiction, which was much disputed by the Commons during the reign of Charles II, was only conceded in return for a similar concession to the Commons in financial matters. Here the Commons practically made their resolutions law, though the Lords insisted that the privilege should not be abused by "tacking" extraneous provisions on to financial measures.
There were some further disputes in the reigns of William III and Anne, but the only occasion upon which peers were actually made in order to carry a measure, was when the Tories created a dozen to pass the Peace of Utrecht in 1712. It is, indeed, a singular fact that no serious conflict between the two Houses occurred during the whole of the Georgian period from 1714 to 1830. The explanation seems to be that both Houses were simply the political agents of the same organized aristocracy. The humble townsfolk who figured in the parliaments of Edward I (see p. 65) disappeared when a seat in the House of Commons became a position of power and privilege; and to the first parliament (1547) for which journals of the Commons proved worth preserving, the eldest son of a peer thought it worth while seeking election. Many successors followed; towns were bribed or constrained to choose the nominees of peers and country magnates; burgage tenements were bought up by noble families to secure votes; and the Restoration parliament had material reasons for treating Cromwell's reforms as void, and restoring rotten boroughs and fancy franchises. By the time that parliament had emancipated itself from the control of the crown, it had also emancipated itself to a considerable extent from the control of the constituencies.