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CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD CAMDEN TILL THE BREAKING
OUT OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
A. D. 1788.
den conducts the
When the Sovereign, supposed by the law to be upon the CXLVII. throne, with the sceptre in his hand, ruling his people, was
actually in a straight waistcoat, under the control of keepers, Lord Cam- — the royal authority being in complete abeyance, steps were
necessarily to be taken for the purpose of reviving it. proceedings Mr. Pitt, aware of Lord Thurlow's intrigue with Carlton in the
House to retain the Great Seal, in case of a Regency, placed House of Lords on all his confidence in Lord Camden for carrying through his the King's illness.
plan,—whereby the two Houses were to assert their right to provide as they should think fit for the exercise of the prerogatives of the Crown, and a Bill was to be passed, according to the usual forms of the constitution, appointing the Prince of Wales Regent, under severe restrictions, to disable him, as much as possible, from conferring favours on the political party to which his Royal Highness was attached.
On the 20th of November, the day on which parliament met after the prorogation, the Chancellor having announced the royal indisposition, Lord Camden moved an adjournment for a fortnight, and that a letter of summons should be written to every Peer requiring his attendance. In the meanwhile he presided at a meeting of Privy Council, attended by all Privy Councillors of whatever party,—at which the King's physicians, being examined, all agreed that he was wholly incapable of meeting parliament or attending to public business, but differed as to the probability of his recovery. On the appointed day, Lord Camden laid the examinations before the House. When they had been read, he observed “that the melancholy state of his Majesty's health was sufficiently evinced ; and as the physicians could not give their Lordships any assurance as to the time when he would recover, it was incumbent on the two Houses of
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Parliament to proceed to make some provision to supply the deficiency in the legislature, and to restore energy to the executive government. Yet, previously to such a necessary He moves and important step, he should take the liberty of moving for for a coma committee to search for precedents in similar cases. cording to rumour, it had been laid down in another place precedents. that the course of proceeding under such circumstances was prescribed by the common law and the spirit of the constitution, viz. that the heir apparent, being of age, was entitled to assume the legal authority as a matter of right, and to exercise it as long as his Majesty's disability shall continue, as upon a demise of the Crown.'— If this be the common law, it is an entire secret to me. I never read or heard of such a doctrine. Those that broached it should have been ready to cite their authorities. They may raise expectations not easily laid, and may involve the country in confusion. The assertion of this doctrine, however, is a strong argument in favour of my motion, for we shall thus have an ample opportunity of considering the precedents on which it rests.
Lord Loughborough mentioned the extraordinary assertion hazarded elsewhere, “that the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to the throne, has no more right to take upon himself the government during the continuance of the unhappy malady which incapacitates his Majesty than any other individual subject,”-contending that an elective regency was inconsistent with an hereditary monarchy. Thurlow at this moment thought it convenient to deny the Prince's right, and after a short reply from Lord Camden his motion was carried. *
On the 23d of December, after the report of the com- Resolution mittee, Lord Camden moved the resolution that it is the as to right right and duty of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Houses of Commons of Great Britain now assembled, and lawfully, to provide fully, and freely representing all the estates of the people of for the ex
ercise of the this nation, to provide the means of supplying the defect royal au. of the personal exercise of the royal authority, arising from thority. his Majesty's indisposition, in such manner as the exigency
of the two
of the case may appear to them to require.” After a long debate, it was carried by a majority of 99 to 66, and was followed by another resolution moved by Lord Camden, that “it is necessary for the two Houses to determine in what manner the royal assent shall be given to a bill for settling the regency.
" Jan. 22.
On a subsequent day, he moved “ that for the purpose of
providing for the exercise of the King's royal authority Prince of Wales to be during the continuance of his Majesty's illness, in such appointed
manner, and to such extent as the circumstances of the Regent under re
nation may appear to require, it is expedient that his Royal strictions,
Highness the Prince of Wales, being resident within the realm, be empowered to exercise and administer the royal authority in the name and on the behalf of his Majesty, subject to such limitations and exceptions as shall be provided.” He thus began:-“It is with deep concern that I find a task of such unprecedented weight has devolved upon me. I stand up most reluctantly to address your Lordships on this occasion, feeling every day stronger and stronger reasons to wish to retire from the hurry of business, to repose and contemplation. I trust, my Lords, that this is the last act of my political life. I must not shrink from my duty, for the safety of the monarchy and the public tranquillity are at stake.” Having recapitulated the proceedings that had been taken since his Majesty's illness began, and the resolutions of the two Houses respecting their right to appoint a regent with such powers as they might confer upon him, he detailed the plan of regency which the ministers proposed, explaining and defending the regulations for the custody of the King's person, for preserving the household appointments as they then stood, and for preventing the Regent from creating Peers. He allowed that the heir apparent was the fittest person for the two Houses, in their discretion, to select for Regent; but insisted on the propriety of putting him under restrictions while there was any probability of his Majesty being restored to the throne. The objection, that inconvenience might
* 27 Parl. Hist 853.
arise from so materially curtailing the power and patronage of the Crown, he answered by observing that “if the Regent's administration was conducted on good principles, it would meet with general support, and if its measures were unconstitutional, there should be no facility given to carrying them through.” Notwithstanding powerful arguments to show that our constitution might suffer serious detriment from the election of a Regent by the two Houses, with such powers as they were pleased to bestow upon him, and from tampering with the prerogatives of the Crown, which were not supposed to be greater than were necessary to carry on the government for the public good, Lord Camden carried his motion by a majority of 94 to 68 ; but a strong protest was signed by the Duke of York, and almost all the Peers who voted in the minority.
Lord Camden's next speech was respecting the mode in Feb. 2. which the Regent should be “elected or appointed." He declared that, "amidst a choice of evils, the proposal of his of the Great Majesty's ministers, which he was to explain, appeared to him to be the least objectionable, and most fit to be adopted, because the most reconcileable to the principles [quære, forms ?] of the constitution. He was open to conviction, and was ready to adopt any other which their Lordships might deem preferable ; but something must immediately be done to resuscitate the legislature, and to rescue the people from the condition, of which they were beginning loudly to complain --- of being without a government. He was aware that the plan he was to recommend had already been made the subject of much ridicule. A phantom !' "a fiction ! 6a forgery!' and various other contemptuous appellations, had been bestowed upon it. Let those who objected to it in this House show how, otherwise, the constitution could again be put into a state of vigour and activity. The delay
• 27 Parl. Hist. 1075—1094. In the course of this debate Lord Camden got into a scrape, in obviating the objection to the suspension of the power of making Peers, by saying, that “on any urgent call for a peerage it might be conferred by act of parliament”. - a proceeding which appeared to their Lordships so unconstitutional and republican, that he was obliged to explain and retract.
CHAP. that had already taken place had revolted the public mind, CXLVII.
and the nation loudly called on Parliament to interpose its authority. But, circumstanced as it at present was, Parliament could not take a single step ;-without the King it was a mere headless, inanimate trunk ; -the royal assent was essential to legislation. The King upon his throne in that House, or by Commissioners appointed under the Great Seal, must sanction their proceedings, — which otherwise had no legal operation. The first step to be taken was to open the Parliament by the King's authority. The law declared that, in person or by representative, the King must be there, to enable them to proceed as a legislative body. That his Majesty, from illness, could not attend personally, was a fact too well known to be disputed. When the King could not attend personally, the legal and constitutional process was, to issue letters patent under the Great Seal. In the present dilemma, therefore, he recommended that the two Houses should direct letters patent to be issued, under the Great Seal, authorising Commissioners to open Parliament in the name of his Majesty. He must use the liberty to say, that those who treated this proposal with ridicule were ignorant of the laws of their country. A ‘fiction’ it might be termed, but it was a fiction admirably calculated to preserve the constitution, and, by adopting its forms, to secure its substance. Such a commission being indispensable, by whom was it to be ordered? The King's sign-manual, the usual warrant for it, could not be obtained. Would it be said that the Prince of Wales could command the Lord Chancellor to put the Great Seal to the commission ? Both Houses had recently resolved that the heir apparent has no such right. Would the Lord Chancellor himself venture to do it, of his own accord ? Undoubtedly, he would not. The commission must be ordered by some authority, for, being once issued with the Great Seal annexed to it, it commanded implicit obedience, and the law would admit no subsequent inquiry respecting its validity. He was of opinion that it was in the power of the two Houses to direct the Great Seal to be put to the commission, and in their power only. The Great Seal was the high instrument by which the King's fiat was