Altered Position of the Ministry—The Elections—First Partition Treaty—Domestic Discontent—Littleton chosen Speaker—King’s Speech; Proceedings relating to the Amount of the Land Force— Unpopularity of Montague—Bill for Disbanding the Army—The King’s Speech—Death of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria.—Renewed Discussion of the Army Question—Naval Administration—Commission on Irish Forfeitures.—Prorogation of Parliament—Changes in the Ministry and Household—Spanish Succession—Darien
The Gazette which informed the public that the King had set out for Holland announced also the names of the first members returned, in obedience to his writ, by the constituent bodies of the Realm. The history of those times has been so little studied that few persons are aware how remarkable an epoch the general election of 1698 is in the history of the English Constitution.
We have seen that the extreme inconvenience which had resulted from the capricious and headstrong conduct of the House of Commons during the years immediately following the Revolution had forced William to resort to a political machinery which had been unknown to his predecessors, and of which the nature and operation were but very imperfectly understood by himself or by his ablest advisers. For the first time the administration was confided to a small body of statesmen, who, on all grave and pressing questions, agreed with each other and with the majority of the representatives of the people. The direction of war and of diplomacy the King reserved to himself; and his servants, conscious that they were less versed than he in military affairs and in foreign affairs, were content to leave to him the command of the army, and to know only what he thought fit to communicate about the instructions which he gave to his own ambassadors and about the conferences which he held with the ambassadors of other princes. But, with these important exceptions, the government was entrusted to what then began to be called the Ministry.
The first English ministry was gradually formed; nor is it possible to say quite precisely when it began to exist. But, on the whole, the date from which the era of ministries may most properly be reckoned is the day of the meeting of the Parliament after the general election of 1695. That election had taken place at a time when peril and distress had called forth all the best qualities of the nation. The hearts of men were in the struggle against France for independence, for liberty, and for the Protestant religion. Everybody knew that such a struggle could not be carried on without large establishments and heavy taxes. The government therefore could hardly ask for more than the country was ready to give. A House of Commons was chosen in which the Whig party had a decided preponderance. The leaders of that party had presently been raised, one by one, to the highest executive offices. The