Monday, 12 February 2018

The Very Short Government of 1746

February 10th-12th is the anniversary of the shortest-lived government in British history, in 1746. What happened was that the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham, was so annoyed at the complete lack of confidence in him shown by King George II that the entire cabinet resigned in protest on February 10th. The King then asked William Pulteney the Earl of Bath, and Lord Granville to form a government; but the pair were unable to attract any men of substance to join them, and had no chance of securing a majority in Parliament; so that after just two days they gave up, and the King had no option but to ask Pelham back. 
   Horace Walpole's comment on the episode was that "Men dared not walk the streets of London for fear of being press-ganged as a cabinet minister", and the satirists of the time had fun arguing that the Pulteney-Granville government would have to be rated the best in our history, since during its time in office it had not stolen a penny from the public purse, had not enacted a single oppressive law, had never engaged the country in a disastrous war, etc etc.
  Henry Pelham then remained as Prime Minister until his death eight years later. Although farcical, this incident was of considerable constitutional significance, since it showed that the King's right to choose his ministers was not absolute, but constrained by party political realities. 

Henry Pelham remains one of our least-remembered Prime Ministers. Consider this: very many people have heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but how many could name the Prime Minister who defeated his 1745-6 Jacobite Rising? Henry Pelham, of course!

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