A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
Growth of the Cabinet System: ends and means

THE BALANCE OF POWER

THE aftermath of the Revolution of 1688 began a new chapter in the constitutional and legal history of England. At last the long struggle between absolute and limited monarchy was settled. The old disputes between the prerogative courts and the courts of common law had been answered by events. Circumstances alter cases and they alter ideas too. The circumstances resulting from the seventeenth century simply made many ideas obsolete and many interpretations of the constitution untenable. The Stuart theories of the nature of the constitution were never seriously considered or soberly uttered again except by lonely Jacobites or by scholars intent upon understanding the minds and hearts of the protagonists in the struggles of the Stuart age. The main problem of the new world after 1688, as suggested at the end of the previous chapter, was that of finding ways and means to make the settlement of the Revolution effective in the operations of legislation, administration and law.

If we look carefully at the British structure of government after the Revolution settlement we see that there had been a significant change from the days of the strong executive in the Tudor period. After 1688, no single differentiated part of the government was superior to any other. The powers of the government were divided among the parts and those parts were in delicate equipoise. The executive authority, as limited by law, remained in the Crown. The House of Lords had coequal legislative power with the Commons, except in financial matters. It still held its supreme appellate jurisdiction in civil cases. The House of Commons had full control over finance. It had freedom of speech, freedom from arrest, and the like. The great courts of common law

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