1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prime Minister

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37186261911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 22 — Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER, or Premier, in England, the first minister of the Crown. Until 1905 the office of prime minister was unknown to the law,[1] but by a royal warrant of the 2nd of December of that year the holder of the office, as such, was given precedence next after the archbishop of York. The prime minister is the medium of intercourse between the cabinet and the sovereign; he has to be cognizant of all matters of real importance that take place in the different departments so as to exercise a controlling influence in the cabinet; he is virtually responsible for the disposal of the entire patronage of the Crown; he selects his colleagues, and by his resignation of office dissolves the ministry. Yet he was until 1905, in theory at least, but the equal of the colleagues he appointed. The prime minister is nominated by the sovereign. “I offered,” said Sir Robert Peel on his resignation of office, “no opinion as to the choice of a successor. That is almost the only act which is the personal act of the sovereign; it is for the sovereign to determine in whom her confidence shall be placed.” Yet this selection by the Crown is practically limited. No prime minister could carry on the government of the country for any length of time who did not possess the confidence of the House of Commons. The prime minister has no salary as prime minister, but he usually holds the premiership in connexion with the first lordship of the treasury, the chancellorship of the exchequer, a secretaryship of state or the privy seal. Sir Robert Walpole must be regarded as the first prime minister—that is, a minister who imposed harmonious action upon his colleagues in the cabinet. This was brought about partly by the capacity of the man himself, partly by the lack of interest of George I. and II. in English home affairs. This creation, as it were, of a superior minister was so gradually and silently effected that it is difficult to realize its full importance. In previous ministries there was no prime minister except so far as one member of the administration dominated over his colleagues by the force of character and intelligence. In the reign of George III. even North and Addington were universally acknowledged by the title of prime minister, though they had little claim to the independence of action of a Walpole or a Pitt.

British Prime Ministers.
Sir R. Walpole 1721–1742   Earl of Shelburne (afterwards 
 Marquess of Lansdowne)
John, Lord Carteret (afterwards
 Earl Granville)
1742–1744 Lord North (afterwards
Henry Pelham 1744–1754  Earl of Guilford) 1783
Duke of Newcastle 1754–1756 W. Pitt 1783–1801
William Pitt and Duke of Newcastle 1756–1762 H. Addington (afterwards
Earl of Bute 1762–1763  Viscount Sidmouth) 1801–1804
George Grenville 1763–1765 W. Pitt 1804–1806
Marquess of Rockingham 1765–1766 Lord Grenville 1806–1807
W. Pitt, Earl of Chatham 1766–1767 Duke of Portland 1807–1809
Duke of Grafton 1767–1770 Spencer Perceval 1809–1812
Lord North 1770–1782 Earl of Liverpool 1812–1827
Marquess Of Rockingham 1782 G. Canning 1827
Viscount Goderich (after-
 wards Earl of Ripon)
1827–1828   B. Disraeli (afterwards
 Earl of Beaconsfield)
Duke of Wellington 1828–1830 W. E. Gladstone 1868–1874
Earl Grey 1830–1834 B. Disraeli (Beaconsfield) 1874–1880
Viscount Melbourne 1834 W. E. Gladstone. 1880–1885
Sir R. Peel 1834–1835 Marquess of Salisbury 1885–1886
Viscount Melbourne 1835–1841 W. E. Gladstone. 1886
Sir R. Peel 1841–1846 Marquess of Salisbury 1886–1892
Lord John Russell
(afterwards Earl Russell)
1846–1852 W. E. Gladstone 1892–1894
Earl of Derby 1852 Earl of Rosebery 1894–1895
Earl of Aberdeen 1852–1855 Marquess of Salisbury 1895–1902
Viscount Palmerston 1855–1858 A. J. Balfour 1902–1905
Earl of Derby 1858–1859 Sir H. Campbell
Viscount Palmerston 1859–1865  -Bannerman 1905–1908
Earl Russell 1865–1866 H. H. Asquith 1908–
Earl of Derby 1866–1868

  1. The first formal mention in a public document appears to be in 1878, where, in the opening clause of the treaty of Berlin, the earl of Beaconsfield is referred to as “First Lord of Her Majesty's Treasury, Prime Minister of England.”