When the new parliament assembled at Westminster on 19 August 1841, Lord Melbourne and the Whigs were still in office despite their recent general election defeat. In the eyes of the British Constitution, the Prime Minister was not appointed directly by the electorate, but was chosen by the monarch. Of course, it was necessary in practice for the monarch to give his or her confidence to someone capable of commanding majority support in the House of Commons, and the development of more highly organised political parties during the 1830s had effectively restricted the monarch’s freedom of choice. Nevertheless, the result of the 1841 general election was unique in the way that it had converted a Commons’ majority (on paper at least) for the governing party into a majority for the opposition party. This had never happened before, and it would not happen again until 1874. In these unprecedented circumstances, therefore, the Conservatives were obliged to carry an amendment to the Address, expressing a want of confidence in ministers, before the Whigs could properly tender their resignations. Melbourne advised the dismayed Queen Victoria that he and his colleagues were no longer able to conduct the government of the country with efficiency, and on 30 August Peel was duly invited to form a new administration.
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- Prime Minister, 1841–6
T. A. Jenkins
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