Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

strategy and defensive tactics. Positions have been taken up which necessitate the retirement of the forces
of reaction, unless they are prepared to make attacks predestined to defeat; and so, nearly every Liberal

advance has been made to appear the result of Tory aggression. The central position has always been

control of the purse by parliament. At first it only embraced certain forms of direct taxation; gradually it

was extended and developed by careful spade-work until it covered every source of revenue. Entrenched

behind these formidable earthworks, parliament proceeded to dictate to the early Stuarts the terms of

national policy. Charles I, provoked by its assumptions, made his attack on the central position, was

foiled, and in his retreat left large portions of the crown's equipment in the hands of parliament. Rasher

attacks by James II resulted in a still more precipitate retreat and in the abandonment of more of the royal

prerogatives. The growth of the empire and of the expenses of government riveted more firmly than ever

the hold of parliament over the crown; the greater the demands which it alone could meet, the higher the

conditions it could impose upon their grant, until parliament determined absolutely the terms upon which

the office of monarchy should be held. In a similar way the Commons used their control of the national

purse to restrict the powers of the House of Lords; provocation has led to attacks on the central position,

and the failure of these attacks has been followed by surrender. Prudent leaders have preferred to retire

without courting the preliminary of defeat.

William III and his successors adopted this course when confronted with the impregnable position of
parliament after the Revolution; and hence later constitutional gains, while no apparent part of the

parliamentary position, were its inevitable consequences. William, absorbed in a life-and-death struggle

with Louis XIV, required a constant stream of supplies from parliament; and to secure its regularity he

had to rely on the good offices and advice of those who commanded most votes in the House of

Commons. In the Lords, who then numbered less than two hundred, he could secure the balance of power

through the appointment of bishops. In the Commons his situation was more difficult. The partial demise

of personal monarchy in 1688 led to a scramble for its effects, and the scramble to the organization of the

two principal competitors, the Whig and Tory parties. The Whigs formed a "junto," or caucus, and the

Tories followed their example. William preferred the Whigs, because they sympathized with his wars;

but the country sometimes preferred the Tories, because it hated William's Dutchmen and taxation. On

William's death in 1702 the danger from Louis XIV was considered so acute that a ministry was formed

from all parties in order to secure the united support of parliament; but gradually, in Anne's reign, the

Tories who wanted to make peace left the ministry, until in 1708 it became purely Whig. In 1710 it fell,

and the Tories took its place. They wanted a Stuart restoration, even at the price of undoing the

Revolution, if only the Pretender would abandon his popery; while the Whigs were determined to

maintain the Revolution even at the price of a Hanoverian dynasty. They returned to power in 1714 with

the accession of George I, and monopolized office for more than half a century. As time went on, many

Whigs became hardly distinguishable from Tories who had relinquished Jacobitism; and from Lord

North's accession to office in 1770 down to 1830 the Tories enjoyed in their turn a half-century of nearly

unbroken power.

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

 

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