Monday, March 16, 2009

An Unholy Alliance

In 1783, Pitt the Younger, then only 23, declined the king's offer to become Prime Minister, on the grounds that he could not possibly muster enough support in Parliament. The king expressed himself movingly, if not gramatically, in the one-sentance missive: "I am much hurt to find you determined to decline at an hour when those who have any regard for the Constitution as established by law ought to stand forth against the most daring and most unprincipled faction to stand forth that the annals of this Kingdom ever produced!"

This threat to the constitution was the "marriage" of Charles James Fox and Lord North, two politicians who had next to nothing in common except a desire to be on the Cabinet. The alliance of these two politicians gained the necessary majority in Parliament and thus would force the king, who had the consitutional right to ask any member of Parliament he thought likely to gain a majority to be Prime Minister, or, as it was then called, First Lord of the Treasury, to put them in power.

Pitt had once been one of Fox's disciples, but was disgusted at what we would term "selling out" and from then on considered himself an independant Whig. Quoth Pitt, "If this ill-omened marriage is not already solennized, I know a just and lawful impediment, and, in the name of public safety, I here forbid the bans."

However, Pitt, as the representative of the rotten borough of Appleby, had little clout with Parliament and the Duke of Portland was appointed as a do-nothing Prime Minister, with Fox and North as Secretaries of State. The king reportedly could not be cheered and attempted to abdicate but, struck with horror at the prospect of the Prince of Wales becoming king, contented himself to writing increasingy desperate letters to Pitt.

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