The Ministers who had charge of them were not its servants, but the servants of the Crown; it was from the King that they looked for direction, and to the King that they held themselves responsible. By impeachment or more indirect means the Commons could force a King to remove a Minister who contradicted their will; but they had no constitutional power to replace the fallen statesman by a Minister who would carry out their will. The result was the growth of a temper in the Lower House which drove William and his Ministers to despair. It became as corrupt, as jealous of power, as fickle in its resolves and factious in spirit, as bodies always become whose consciousness of the possession of power is untempered by a corresponding consciousness of the practical difficulties or the moral responsibilities of the power which they possess. It grumbled at the ill-success of the war, at the suffering of the merchants, at the discontent of the Churchmen; and it blamed the Crown and its Ministers for all at which it grumbled. But it was hard to find out what policy or measures it would have preferred. Its mood changed, as William bitterly complained, with every hour.
It was, in fact, without the guidance of recognized leaders, without adequate information, and destitute of that organization out of which alone a definite policy can come. Nothing better proves the inborn political capacity of the English mind than that it should at once have found a simple and effective solution of such a difficulty as this. The credit of the solution belongs to a man whose political character was of the lowest type. Robert, Earl of Sunderland, had been a Minister in the later days of Charles the Second; and he had remained Minister through almost all the reign of James. He had held office at last only by compliance with the worst tyranny of his master, and by a feigned conversion to the Roman Catholic faith; but the ruin of James was no sooner certain than he had secured pardon and protection from William by the betrayal of the master to whom he had sacrificed his conscience and his honour. Since the Revolution Sunderland had striven only to escape public observation in a country retirement, but at this crisis he came secretly forward to bring his unequalled sagacity to the aid of the King. His counsel was to recognize practically the new power of the Commons by choosing the Ministers of the Crown exclusively from among the members of the party which was strongest in the Lower House. As yet no Ministry in the modern sense of the term had existed.
Each great officer of state, Treasurer or Secretary or Lord Privy Seal, had in theory been independent of his fellow-officers; each was the "King's servant" and responsible for the dis:harge of his special duties to the King alone. From time to time one Minister, like Clarendon, might tower above the rest and give a general direction to the whole course of government, but the predominance was merely personal and never permanent; and even in such a case there were colleagues who were ready to oppose or even impeach the statesman who overshadowed them. It was common for a King to choose or dis:niss a single Minister without any communication with the rest; and so far was even William from aiming at ministerial unity, that he had striven to reproduce in the Cabinet itself the balance of parties which prevailed outside it. Sunderland's plan aimed at replacing these independent Ministers by a homogeneous Ministry, chosen from the same party, representing the same sentiments, and bound together for common action by a sense of responsibility and loyalty to the party to which it belonged. Not only would such a plan secure a unity of administration which had been unknown till then, but it gave an organization to the House of Commons which it had never had before.
The Ministers who were representatives of the majority of its members became the natural leaders of the House. Small factions were drawn together into the two great parties which supported or opposed the Ministry of the Crown. Above all it brought about in the simplest possible way the solution of the problem which had so long vexed both King and Commons. The new Ministers ceased in all but name to be the King's servants. They became simply an executive Committee representing the will of the majority of the House of Commons, and capable of being easily set aside by it and replaced by a similar Committee whenever the balance of power shifted from one side of the House to the other.
Such was the origin of that system of representative government which has gone on from Sunderland's day to our own. But though William showed his own political genius in understanding and adopting Sunderland's plan, it was only slowly and tentatively that he ventured to carry it out in practice. In spite of the temporary reaction Sunderland believed that the balance of political power was really on the side of the Whigs. Not only were they the natural representatives of the principles of the Revolution, and the supporters of the war, but they stood far above their opponents in parliamentary and administrative talent. At their head stood a group of statesmen, whose close union in thought and action gained them the name of the Junto. Russell, as yet the most prominent of these, was the victor of La Hogue; John Somers was an advocate who had sprung into fame by his defence of the Seven Bishops; Lord Wharton was known as the most dexterous and unscrupulous of party managers; and Montague was fast making a reputation as the ablest of English financiers. In spite of such considerations, however, it is doubtful whether William would have thrown himself into the hands of a purely Whig Ministry but for the attitude which the Tories took towards the war.
Exhausted as France was the war still languished, and the allies failed to win a single victory. Meanwhile English trade was all but ruined by the French privateers, and the nation stood aghast at the growth of taxation. The Tories, always cold in their support of the Grand Alliance, now became eager for peace The Whigs, on the other hand, remained resolute in their support of the war. William, in whose mind the contest with France was the first object, was thus driven slowly to follow Sunderland's advice. Montague had already met the strain of the war by bringing forward a plan which had been previously suggested by a Scotchman, William Paterson, for the creation of a National Bank. While serving as an ordinary bank for the supply of capital, the Bank of England, as the new institution was called, was in reality an instrument for procuring loans from the people at large by the formal pledge of the State to repay the money advanced on the demand of the lender. A loan of,£1,200,000 was thrown open to public subscription; and the subscribers to it were formed into a chartered company in whose hands the negotiations of all after loans was placed. In ten days the list of subscribers was full.