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Title: The English Constitution
Author: Bagehot, Walter, 1826-1877
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION


By

Walter Bagehot



CONTENTS

      I.  INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND EDITION.
     II.  THE CABINET.
    III.  THE MONARCHY.
     IV.  THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
      V.  THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
     VI.  ON CHANGES OF MINISTRY.
    VII.  ITS SUPPOSED CHECKS AND BALANCES.
   VIII.  THE PREREQUISITES OF CABINET GOVERNMENT, AND THE PECULIAR
          FORM WHICH THEY HAVE ASSUMED IN ENGLAND.
     IX.  ITS HISTORY, AND THE EFFECTS OF THAT HISTORY.--CONCLUSION.



NO. I.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND EDITION.


There is a great difficulty in the way of a writer who attempts to
sketch a living Constitution--a Constitution that is in actual work and
power. The difficulty is that the object is in constant change. An
historical writer does not feel this difficulty: he deals only with the
past; he can say definitely, the Constitution worked in such and such a
manner in the year at which he begins, and in a manner in such and such
respects different in the year at which he ends; he begins with a
definite point of time and ends with one also. But a contemporary
writer who tries to paint what is before him is puzzled and a
perplexed: what he sees is changing daily. He must paint it as it stood
at some one time, or else he will be putting side by side in his
representations things which never were contemporaneous in reality. The
difficulty is the greater because a writer who deals with a living
Government naturally compares it with the most important other living
Governments, and these are changing too; what he illustrates are
altered in one way, and his sources of illustration are altered
probably in a different way. This difficulty has been constantly in my
way in preparing a second edition of this book. It describes the
English Constitution as it stood in the years 1865 and 1866. Roughly
speaking, it describes its working as it was in the time of Lord
Palmerston; and since that time there have been many changes, some of
spirit and some of detail. In so short a period there have rarely been
more changes. If I had given a sketch of the Palmerston time as a
sketch of the present time, it would have been in many points untrue;
and if I had tried to change the sketch of seven years since into a
sketch of the present time, I should probably have blurred the picture
and have given something equally unlike both.

The best plan in such a case is, I think, to keep the original sketch
in all essentials as it was at first written, and to describe shortly
such changes either in the Constitution itself, or in the Constitutions
compared with it, as seem material. There are in this book various
expressions which allude to persons who were living and to events which
were happening when it first appeared; and I have carefully preserved
these. They will serve to warn the reader what time he is reading
about, and to prevent his mistaking the date at which the likeness was
attempted to be taken. I proceed to speak of the changes which have
taken place either in the Constitution itself or in the competing
institutions which illustrate it.

It is too soon as yet to attempt to estimate the effect of the Reform
Act of 1867. The people enfranchised under it do not yet know. their
own power; a single election, so far from teaching us how they will use
that power, has not been even enough to explain to them that they have
such power. The Reform Act of 1832 did not for many years disclose its
real consequences; a writer in 1836, whether he approved or disapproved
of them, whether he thought too little of or whether he exaggerated
them, would have been sure to be mistaken in them. A new Constitution
does not produce its full effect as long as all its subjects were
reared under an old Constitution, as long as its statesmen were trained
by that old Constitution. It is not really tested till it comes to be
worked by statesmen and among a people neither of whom are guided by a
different experience.

In one respect we are indeed particularly likely to be mistaken as to
the effect of the last Reform Bill. Undeniably there has lately been a
great change in our politics. It is commonly said that "there is not a
brick of the Palmerston House standing". The change since 1865 is a
change not in one point but in a thousand points; it is a change not of
particular details but of pervading spirit. We are now quarrelling as
to the minor details of an Education Act; in Lord Palmerston's time no
such Act could have passed. In Lord Palmerston's time Sir George Grey
said that the disestablishment of the Irish Church would be an "act of
Revolution"; it has now been disestablished by great majorities, with
Sir George Grey himself assenting. A new world has arisen which is not
as the old world; and we naturally ascribe the change to the Reform
Act. But this is a complete mistake. If there had been no Reform Act at
all there would, nevertheless, have been a great change in English
politics. There has been a change of the sort which, above all,
generates other changes--a change of generation. Generally one
generation in politics succeeds another almost silently; at every
moment men of all ages between thirty and seventy have considerable
influence; each year removes many old men, makes all others older,
brings in many new. The transition is so gradual that we hardly
perceive it. The board of directors of the political company has a few
slight changes every year, and therefore the shareholders are conscious
of no abrupt change. But sometimes there IS an abrupt change. It
occasionally happens that several ruling directors who are about the
same age live on for many years, manage the company all through those
years, and then go off the scene almost together. In that case the
affairs of the company are apt to alter much, for good or for evil;
sometimes it becomes more successful, sometimes it is ruined, but it
hardly ever stays as it was. Something like this happened before 1865.
All through the period between 1832 and 1865, the pre-'32 statesmen--if
I may so call them--Lord Derby, Lord Russell, Lord Palmerston, retained
great power. Lord Palmerston to the last retained great prohibitive
power. Though in some ways always young, he had not a particle of
sympathy with the younger generation; he brought forward no young men;
he obstructed all that young men wished. In consequence, at his death a
new generation all at once started into life; the pre-'32 all at once
died out. Most of the new politicians were men who might well have been
Lord Palmerston's grandchildren. He came into Parliament in 1806, they
entered it after 1856. Such an enormous change in the age of the
workers necessarily caused a great change in the kind of work attempted
and the way in which it was done. What we call the "spirit" of politics
is more surely changed by a change of generation in the men than by any
other change whatever. Even if there had been no Reform Act, this
single cause would have effected grave alterations.

The mere settlement of the Reform question made a great change too. If
it could have been settled by any other change, or even without any
change, the instant effect of the settlement would still have been
immense. New questions would have appeared at once. A political country
is like an American forest; you have only to cut down the old trees,
and immediately new trees come up to replace them; the seeds were
waiting in the ground, and they began to grow as soon as the withdrawal
of the old ones brought in light and air. These new questions of
themselves would have made a new atmosphere, new parties, new debates.

Of course I am not arguing that so important an innovation as the
Reform Act of 1867 will not have very great effects. It must, in all
likelihood, have many great ones. I am only saying that as yet we do
not know what those effects are; that the great evident change since
1865 is certainly not strictly due to it; probably is not even in a
principal measure due to it; that we have still to conjecture what it
will cause and what it will not cause.

The principal question arises most naturally from a main doctrine of
these essays. I have said that Cabinet government is possible in
England because England was a deferential country. I meant that the
nominal constituency was not the real constituency; that the mass of
the "ten-pound" house-holders did not really form their own opinions,
and did not exact of their representatives an obedience to those
opinions; that they were in fact guided in their judgment by the better
educated classes; that they preferred representatives from those
classes, and gave those representatives much licence. If a hundred
small shopkeepers had by miracle been added to any of the '32
Parliaments, they would have felt outcasts there. Nothing could be more
unlike those Parliaments than the average mass of the constituency from
which they were chosen.

I do not of course mean that the ten-pound householders were great
admirers of intellect or good judges of refinement. We all know that,
for the most part, they were not so at all; very few Englishmen are.
They were not influenced by ideas, but by facts; not by things
impalpable, but by things palpable. Not to put too fine a point upon
it, they were influenced by rank and wealth. No doubt the better sort
of them believed that those who were superior to them in these
indisputable respects were superior also in the more intangible
qualities of sense and knowledge. But the mass of the old electors did
not analyse very much: they liked to have one of their "betters" to
represent them; if he was rich they respected him much; and if he was a
lord, they liked him the better. The issue put before these electors
was, Which of two rich people will you choose? And each of those rich
people was put forward by great parties whose notions were the notions
of the rich--whose plans were their plans. The electors only selected
one or two wealthy men to carry out the schemes of one or two wealthy
associations.

So fully was this so, that the class to whom the great body of the
ten-pound householders belonged--the lower middle class--was above all
classes the one most hardly treated in the imposition of the taxes. A
small shopkeeper, or a clerk who just, and only just, was rich enough
to pay income tax, was perhaps the only severely taxed man in the
country. He paid the rates, the tea, sugar, tobacco, malt, and spirit
taxes, as well as the income tax, but his means were exceedingly small.
Curiously enough the class which in theory was omnipotent, was the only
class financially ill-treated. Throughout the history of our former
Parliaments the constituency could no more have originated the policy
which those Parliaments selected than they could have made the solar
system.

As I have endeavoured to show in this volume, the deference of the old
electors to their betters was the only way in which our old system
could be maintained. No doubt countries can be imagined in which the
mass of the electors would be thoroughly competent to form good
opinions; approximations to that state happily exist. But such was not
the state of the minor English shopkeepers. They were just competent to
make a selection between two sets of superior ideas; or rather--for the
conceptions of such people are more personal than abstract--between two
opposing parties, each professing a creed of such ideas. But they could
do no more. Their own notions, if they had been cross-examined upon
them, would have been found always most confused and often most
foolish. They were competent to decide an issue selected by the higher
classes, but they were incompetent to do more.

The grave question now is, How far will this peculiar old system
continue and how far will it be altered? I am afraid I must put aside
at once the idea that it will be altered entirely and altered for the
better. I cannot expect that the new class of voters will be at all
more able to form sound opinions on complex questions than the old
voters. There was indeed an idea--a very prevalent idea when the first
edition of this book was published--that there then was an
unrepresented class of skilled artisans who could form superior
opinions on national matters, and ought to have the means of expressing
them. We used to frame elaborate schemes to give them such means. But
the Reform Act of 1867 did not stop at skilled labour; it enfranchised
unskilled labour too. And no one will contend that the ordinary working
man who has no special skill, and who is only rated because he has a
house, can judge much of intellectual matters. The messenger in an
office is not more intelligent than the clerks, not better educated,
but worse; and yet the messenger is probably a very superior specimen
of the newly enfranchised classes. The average can only earn very
scanty wages by coarse labour. They have no time to improve themselves,
for they are labouring the whole day through; and their early education
was so small that in most cases it is dubious whether even if they had
much time, they could use it to good purpose. We have not enfranchised
a class less needing to be guided by their betters than the old class;
on the contrary, the new class need it more than the old. The real
question is, Will they submit to it, will they defer in the same way to
wealth and rank, and to the higher qualities of which these are the
rough symbols and the common accompaniments?

There is a peculiar difficulty in answering this question. Generally,
the debates upon the passing of an Act contain much valuable
instruction as to what may be expected of it. But the debates on the
Reform Act of 1867 hardly tell anything. They are taken up with
technicalities as to the ratepayers and the compound householder.
Nobody in the country knew what was being done. I happened at the time
to visit a purely agricultural and Conservative county, and I asked the
local Tories, "Do you understand this Reform Bill? Do you know that
your Conservative Government has brought in a Bill far more Radical
than any former Bill, and that it is very likely to be passed?" The
answer I got was, "What stuff you talk! How can it be a Radical Reform
Bill? Why, BRIGHT opposes it!" There was no answering that in a way
which a "common jury" could understand. The Bill was supported by the
Times and opposed by Mr. Bright; and therefore the mass of the
Conservatives and of common moderate people, without distinction of
party, had no conception of the effect. They said it was "London
nonsense" if you tried to explain it to them. The nation indeed
generally looks to the discussions in Parliament to enlighten it as to
the effect of Bills. But in this case neither party, as a party, could
speak out. Many, perhaps most of the intelligent Conservatives, were
fearful of the consequences of the proposal; but as it was made by the
heads of their own party, they did not like to oppose it, and the
discipline of party carried them with it. On the other side, many,
probably most of the intelligent Liberals, were in consternation at the
Bill; they had been in the habit for years of proposing Reform Bills;
they knew the points of difference between each Bill, and perceived
that this was by far the most sweeping which had ever been proposed by
any Ministry. But they were almost all unwilling to say so. They would
have offended a large section in their constituencies if they had
resisted a Tory Bill because it was too democratic; the extreme
partisans of democracy would have said, "The enemies of the people have
confidence enough in the people to entrust them with this power, but
you, a 'Liberal,' and a professed friend of the people, have not that
confidence; if that is so, we will never vote for you again". Many
Radical members who had been asking for years for household suffrage
were much more surprised than pleased at the near chance of obtaining
it; they had asked for it as bargainers ask for the highest possible
price, but they never expected to get it. Altogether the Liberals, or
at least the extreme Liberals, were much like a man who has been
pushing hard against an opposing door, till, on a sudden, the door
opens, the resistance ceases, and he is thrown violently forward.
Persons in such an unpleasant predicament can scarcely criticise
effectually, and certainly the Liberals did not so criticise. We have
had no such previous discussions as should guide our expectations from
the Reform Bill, nor such as under ordinary circumstances we should
have had.

Nor does the experience of the last election much help us. The
circumstances were too exceptional. In the first place, Mr. Gladstone's
personal popularity was such as has not been seen since the time of Mr.
Pitt, and such as may never be seen again. Certainly it will very
rarely be seen. A bad speaker is said to have been asked how he got on
as a candidate. "Oh," he answered, "when I do not know what to say, I
say 'Gladstone,' and then they are sure to cheer, and I have time to
think." In fact, that popularity acted as a guide both to
constituencies and to members. The candidates only said they would vote
with Mr. Gladstone, and the constituencies only chose those who said
so. Even the minority could only be described as anti-Gladstone, just
as the majority could only be described as pro-Gladstone. The remains,
too, of the old electoral organisation were exceedingly powerful; the
old voters voted as they had been told, and the new voters mostly voted
with them. In extremely few cases was there any new and contrary
organisation. At the last election, the trial of the new system hardly
began, and, as far as it did begin, it was favoured by a peculiar
guidance.

In the meantime our statesmen have the greatest opportunities they have
had for many years, and likewise the greatest duty. They have to guide
the new voters in the exercise of the franchise; to guide them quietly,
and without saying what they are doing, but still to guide them. The
leading statesmen in a free country have great momentary power. They
settle the conversation of mankind. It is they who, by a great speech
or two, determine what shall be said and what shall be written for long
after. They, in conjunction with their counsellors, settle the
programme of their party--the "platform," as the Americans call it, on
which they and those associated with them are to take their stand for
the political campaign. It is by that programme, by a comparison of the
programmes of different statesmen, that the world forms its judgment.
The common ordinary mind is quite unfit to fix for itself what
political question it shall attend to; it is as much as it can do to
judge decently of the questions which drift down to it, and are brought
before it; it almost never settles its topics; it can only decide upon
the issues of those topics. And in settling what these questions shall
be, statesmen have now especially a great responsibility if they raise
questions which will excite the lower orders of mankind; if they raise
questions on which those orders are likely to be wrong; if they raise
questions on which the interest of those orders is not identical with,
or is antagonistic to, the whole interest of the State, they will have
done the greatest harm they can do. The future of this country depends
on the happy working of a delicate experiment, and they will have done
all they could to vitiate that experiment. Just when it is desirable
that ignorant men, new to politics, should have good issues, and only
good issues, put before them, these statesmen will have suggested bad
issues. They will have suggested topics which will bind the poor as a
class together; topics which will excite them against the rich; topics
the discussion of which in the only form in which that discussion
reaches their ear will be to make them think that some new law can make
them comfortable--that it is the present law which makes them
uncomfortable--that Government has at its disposal an inexhaustible
fund out of which it can give to those who now want without also
creating elsewhere other and greater wants. If the first work of the
poor voters is to try to create a "poor man's paradise," as poor men
are apt to fancy that Paradise, and as they are apt to think they can
create it, the great political trial now beginning will simply fail.
The wide gift of the elective franchise will be a great calamity to the
whole nation, and to those who gain it as great a calamity as to any.

I do not of course mean that statesmen can choose with absolute freedom
what topics they will deal with and what they will not. I am of course
aware that they choose under stringent conditions. In excited states of
the public mind they have scarcely a discretion at all; the tendency of
the public perturbation determines what shall and what shall not be
dealt with. But, upon the other hand, in quiet times statesmen have
great power; when there is no fire lighted, they can settle what fire
shall be lit. And as the new suffrage is happily to be tried in a quiet
time, the responsibility of our statesmen is great because their power
is great too.

And the mode in which the questions dealt with are discussed is almost
as important as the selection of these questions. It is for our
principal statesmen to lead the public, and not to let the public lead
them. No doubt when statesmen live by public favour, as ours do, this
is a hard saying, and it requires to be carefully limited. I do not
mean that our statesmen should assume a pedantic and doctrinaire tone
with the English people; if there is anything which English people
thoroughly detest, it is that tone exactly. And they are right in
detesting it; if a man cannot give guidance and communicate instruction
formally without telling his audience "I am better than you; I have
studied this as you have not," then he is not fit for a guide or an
instructor. A statesman who should show that gaucherie would exhibit a
defect of imagination, and expose an incapacity for dealing with men
which would be a great hindrance to him in his calling. But much
argument is not required to guide the public, still less a formal
exposition of that argument. What is mostly needed is the manly
utterance of clear conclusions; if a statesman gives these in a
felicitous way (and if with a few light and humorous illustrations, so
much the better), he has done his part. He will have given the text,
the scribes in the newspapers will write the sermon. A statesman ought
to show his own nature, and talk in a palpable way what is to him
important truth. And so he will both guide and benefit the nation. But
if, especially at a time when great ignorance has an unusual power in
public affairs, he chooses to accept and reiterate the decisions of
that ignorance, he is only the hireling of the nation, and does little
save hurt it.

I shall be told that this is very obvious, and that everybody knows
that 2 and 2 make 4, and that there is no use in inculcating it. But I
answer that the lesson is not observed in fact; people do not so do
their political sums. Of all our political dangers, the greatest I
conceive is that they will neglect the lesson. In plain English, what I
fear is that both our political parties will bid for the support of the
working man; that both of them will promise to do as he likes if he
will only tell them what it is; that, as he now holds the casting vote
in our affairs, both parties will beg and pray him to give that vote to
them. I can conceive of nothing more corrupting or worse for a set of
poor ignorant people than that two combinations of well-taught and rich
men should constantly offer to defer to their decision, and compete for
the office of executing it. Vox populi will be Vox diaboli if it is
worked in that manner.

And, on the other hand, my imagination conjures up a contrary danger. I
can conceive that questions BEING raised which, if continually
agitated, would combine the working men as a class together, the higher
orders might have to consider whether they would concede the measure
that would settle such questions, or whether they would risk the effect
of the working men's combination.

No doubt the question cannot be easily discussed in the abstract; much
must depend on the nature of the measures in each particular case; on
the evil they would cause if conceded; on the attractiveness of their
idea to the working classes if refused. But in all cases it must be
remembered that a political combination of the lower classes, as such
and for their own objects, is an evil of the first magnitude; that a
permanent combination of them would make them (now that so many of them
have the suffrage) supreme in the country; and that their supremacy, in
the state they now are, means the supremacy of ignorance over
instruction and of numbers over knowledge. So long as they are not
taught to act together, there is a chance of this being averted, and it
can only be averted by the greatest wisdom and the greatest foresight
in the higher classes. They must avoid, not only every evil, but every
appearance of evil; while they have still the power they must remove,
not only every actual grievance, but, where it is possible, every
seeming grievance too; they must willingly concede every claim which
they can safely concede, in order that they may not have to concede
unwillingly some claim which would impair the safety of the country.

This advice, too, will be said to be obvious; but I have the greatest
fear that, when the time comes, it will be cast aside as timid and
cowardly. So strong are the combative propensities of man that he would
rather fight a losing battle than not fight at all. It is most
difficult to persuade people that by fighting they may strengthen the
enemy, yet that would be so here; since a losing battle--especially a
long and well-fought one--would have thoroughly taught the lower orders
to combine, and would have left the higher orders face to face with an
irritated, organised, and superior voting power. The courage which
strengthens an enemy and which so loses, not only the present battle,
but many after battles, is a heavy curse to men and nations.

In one minor respect, indeed, I think we may see with distinctness the
effect of the Reform Bill of 1867. I think it has completed one change
which the Act of 1832 began; it has completed the change which that Act
made in the relation of the House of Lords to the House of Commons. As
I have endeavoured in this book to explain, the literary theory of the
English Constitution is on this point quite wrong as usual. According
to that theory, the two Houses are two branches of the legislature,
perfectly equal and perfectly distinct. But before the Act of 1832 they
were not so distinct; there was a very large and a very strong common
element. By their commanding influence in many boroughs and counties
the Lords nominated a considerable part of the Commons; the majority of
the other part were the richer gentry--men in most respects like the
Lords, and sympathising with the Lords. Under the Constitution as it
then was the two Houses were not in their essence distinct; they were
in their essence similar; they were, in the main, not Houses of
contrasted origin, but Houses of like origin. The predominant part of
both was taken from the same class--from the English gentry, titled and
untitled. By the Act of 1832 this was much altered. The aristocracy and
the gentry lost their predominance in the House of Commons; that
predominance passed to the middle class. The two Houses then became
distinct, but then they ceased to be co-equal. The Duke of Wellington,
in a most remarkable paper, has explained what pains he took to induce
the Lords to submit to their new position, and to submit, time after
time, their will to the will of the Commons.

The Reform Act of 1867 has, I think, unmistakably completed the effect
which the Act of 1832 began, but left unfinished. The middle class
element has gained greatly by the second change, and the aristocratic
element has lost greatly. If you examine carefully the lists of
members, especially of the most prominent members, of either side of
the House, you will not find that they are in general aristocratic
names. Considering the power and position of the titled aristocracy,
you will perhaps be astonished at the small degree in which it
contributes to the active part of our governing assembly. The spirit of
our present House of Commons is plutocratic, not aristocratic; its most
prominent statesmen are not men of ancient descent or of great
hereditary estate; they are men mostly of substantial means, but they
are mostly, too, connected more or less closely with the new trading
wealth. The spirit of the two Assemblies has become far more contrasted
than it ever was.

The full effect of the Reform Act of 1832 was indeed postponed by the
cause which I mentioned just now. The statesmen who worked the system
which was put up had themselves been educated under the system which
was pulled down. Strangely enough, their predominant guidance lasted as
long as the system which they created. Lord Palmerston, Lord Russell,
Lord Derby, died or else lost their influence within a year or two of
1867. The complete consequences of the Act of 1832 upon the House of
Lords could not be seen while the Commons were subject to such
aristocratic guidance. Much of the change which might have been
expected from the Act of 1832 was held in suspense, and did not begin
till that measure had been followed by another of similar and greater
power.

The work which the Duke of Wellington in part performed has now,
therefore, to be completed also. He met the half difficulty; we have to
surmount the whole one. We have to frame such tacit rules, to establish
such ruling but unenacted customs, as will make the House of Lords
yield to the Commons when and as often as our new Constitution requires
that it should yield. I shall be asked, How often is that, and what is
the test by which you know it? I answer that the House of Lords must
yield whenever the opinion of the Commons is also the opinion of the
nation, and when it is clear that the nation has made up its mind.
Whether or not the nation has made up its mind is a question to be
decided by all the circumstances of the case, and in the common way in
which all practical questions are decided. There are some people who
lay down a sort of mechanical test; they say the House of Lords should
be at liberty to reject a measure passed by the Commons once or more,
and then if the Commons send it up again and again, infer that the
nation is determined. But no important practical question in real life
can be uniformly settled by a fixed and formal rule in this way. This
rule would prove that the Lords might have rejected the Reform Act of
1832. Whenever the nation was both excited and determined, such a rule
would be an acute and dangerous political poison. It would teach the
House of Lords that it might shut its eyes to all the facts of real
life and decide simply by an abstract formula. If in 1832 the Lords had
so acted, there would have been a revolution. Undoubtedly there is a
general truth in the rule. Whether a bill has come up once only, or
whether it has come up several times, is one important fact in judging
whether the nation is determined to have that measure enacted; it is an
indication, but it is only one of the indications. There are others
equally decisive. The unanimous voice of the people may be so strong,
and may be conveyed through so many organs, that it may be assumed to
be lasting.

Englishmen are so very miscellaneous, that that which has REALLY
convinced a great and varied majority of them for the present may
fairly be assumed to be likely to continue permanently to convince
them. One sort might easily fall into a temporary and erroneous
fanaticism, but all sorts simultaneously are very unlikely to do so.

I should venture so far as to lay down for an approximate rule, that
the House of Lords ought, on a first-class subject, to be slow?--very
slow--in rejecting a Bill passed even once by a large majority of the
House of Commons. I would not of course lay this down as an unvarying
rule; as I have said, I have for practical purposes no belief in
unvarying rules. Majorities may be either genuine or fictitious, and if
they are not genuine, if they do not embody the opinion of the
representative as well as the opinion of the constituency, no one would
wish to have any attention paid to them. But if the opinion of the
nation be strong and be universal, if it be really believed by members
of Parliament, as well as by those who send them to Parliament, in my
judgment the Lords should yield at once, and should not resist it.

My main reason is one which has not been much urged. As a theoretical
writer I can venture to say, what no elected member of Parliament,
Conservative or Liberal, can venture to say, that I am exceedingly
afraid of the ignorant multitude of the new constituencies. I wish to
have as great and as compact a power as possible to resist it. But a
dissension between the Lords and Commons divides that resisting power;
as I have explained, the House of Commons still mainly represents the
plutocracy, the Lords represent the aristocracy. The main interest of
both these classes is now identical, which is to prevent or to mitigate
the rule of uneducated numbers. But to prevent it effectually, they
must not quarrel among themselves; they must not bid one against the
other for the aid of their common opponent. And this is precisely the
effect of a division between Lords and Commons. The two great bodies of
the educated rich go to the constituencies to decide between them, and
the majority of the constituencies now consist of the uneducated poor.
This cannot be for the advantage of any one.

In doing so besides the aristocracy forfeit their natural
position?--that by which they would gain most power, and in which they
would do most good. They ought to be the heads of the plutocracy. In
all countries new wealth is ready to worship old wealth, if old wealth
will only let it, and I need not say that in England new wealth is
eager in its worship. Satirist after satirist has told us how quick,
how willing, how anxious are the newly-made rich to associate with the
ancient rich. Rank probably in no country whatever has so much "market"
value as it has in England just now. Of course there have been many
countries in which certain old families, whether rich or poor, were
worshipped by whole populations with a more intense and poetic homage;
but I doubt if there has ever been any in which all old families and
all titled families received more ready observance from those who were
their equals, perhaps their superiors, in wealth, their equals in
culture, and their inferiors only in descent and rank. The possessors
of the "material" distinctions of life, as a political economist would
class them, rush to worship those who possess the IMmaterial
distinctions. Nothing can be more politically useful than such homage,
if it be skilfully used; no folly can be idler than to repel and reject
it.

The worship is the more politically important because it is the worship
of the political superior for the political inferior. At an election
the non-titled are much more powerful than the titled. Certain
individual peers have, from their great possessions, great
electioneering influence, but, as a whole, the House of Peers is not a
principal electioneering force. It has so many poor men inside it, and
so many rich men outside it, that its electioneering value is impaired.
Besides, it is in the nature of the curious influence of rank to work
much more on men singly than on men collectively; it is an influence
which most men--at least most Englishmen--feel very much, but of which
most Englishmen are somewhat ashamed. Accordingly, when any number of
men are collected together, each of whom worships rank in his heart,
the whole body will patiently hear--in many cases will cheer and
approve--some rather strong speeches against rank. Each man is a little
afraid that his "sneaking kindness for a lord," as Mr. Gladstone put
it, be found out; he is not sure how far that weakness is shared by
those around him. And thus Englishmen easily find themselves committed
to anti-aristocratic sentiments which are the direct opposite of their
real feeling, and their collective action may be bitterly hostile to
rank while the secret sentiment of each separately is especially
favourable to rank. In 1832 the close boroughs, which were largely held
by peers, and were still more largely supposed to be held by them, were
swept away with a tumult of delight; and in another similar time of
great excitement, the Lords themselves, if they deserve it, might pass
away. The democratic passions gain by fomenting a diffused excitement,
and by massing men in concourses; the aristocratic sentiments gain by
calm and quiet, and act most on men by themselves, in their families,
and when female influence is not absent. The overt electioneering power
of the Lords does not at all equal its real social power. The English
plutocracy, as is often said of something yet coarser, must be
"humoured, not drove"; they may easily be impelled against the
aristocracy, though they respect it very much; and as they are much
stronger than the aristocracy, they might, if angered, even destroy it;
though in order to destroy it, they must help to arouse a wild
excitement among the ignorant poor, which, if once roused, may not be
easily calmed, and which may be fatal to far more than its beginners
intend.

This is the explanation of the anomaly which puzzles many clever lords.
They think, if they do not say, "Why are we pinned up here? Why are we
not in the Commons where we could have so much more power? Why is this
nominal rank given us, at the price of substantial influence? If we
prefer real weight to unreal prestige, why may we not have it?" The
reply is, that the whole body of the Lords have an incalculably greater
influence over society while there is still a House of Lords, than they
would have if the House of Lords were abolished; and that though one or
two clever young peers might do better in the Commons, the old order of
peers, young and old, clever and not clever, is much better where it
is. The selfish instinct of the mass of peers on this point is a keener
and more exact judge of the real world than the fine intelligence of
one or two of them.

If the House of Peers ever goes, it will go in a storm, and the storm
will not leave all else as it is. It will not destroy the House of
Peers and leave the rich young peers, with their wealth and their
titles, to sit in the Commons. It would probably sweep all titles
before it--at least all legal titles--and somehow or other it would
break up the curious system by which the estates of great families all
go to the eldest son. That system is a very artificial one; you may
make a fine argument for it, but you cannot make a loud argument, an
argument which would reach and rule the multitude. The thing looks like
injustice, and in a time of popular passion it would not stand. Much
short of the compulsory equal division of the Code Napoleon, stringent
clauses might be provided to obstruct and prevent these great
aggregations of property. Few things certainly are less likely than a
violent tempest like this to destroy large and hereditary estates. But
then, too, few things are less likely than an outbreak to destroy the
House of Lords--my point is, that a catastrophe which levels one will
not spare the other.

I conceive, therefore, that the great power of the House of Lords
should be exercised very timidly and very cautiously. For the sake of
keeping the headship of the plutocracy, and through that of the nation,
they should not offend the plutocracy; the points upon which they have
to yield are mostly very minor ones, and they should yield many great
points rather than risk the bottom of their power. They should give
large donations out of income, if by so doing they keep, as they would
keep, their capital intact. The Duke of Wellington guided the House of
Lords in this manner for years, and nothing could prosper better for
them or for the country, and the Lords have only to go back to the good
path in which he directed them.

The events of 1870 caused much discussion upon life peerages, and we
have gained this great step, that whereas the former leader of the Tory
party in the Lords--Lord Lyndhurst--defeated the last proposal to make
life peers, Lord Derby, when leader of that party, desired to create
them. As I have given in this book what seemed to me good reasons for
making them, I need not repeat those reasons here; I need only say how
the notion stands in my judgment now.

I cannot look on life peerages in the way in which some of their
strongest advocates regard them; I cannot think of them as a mode in
which a permanent opposition or a contrast between the Houses of Lords
and Commons is to be remedied. To be effectual in that way, life
peerages must be very numerous. Now the House of Lords will never
consent to a very numerous life peerage without a storm; they must be
in terror to do it, or they will not do it. And if the storm blows
strongly enough to do so much, in all likelihood it will blow strongly
enough to do much more. If the revolution is powerful enough and eager
enough to make an immense number of life peers, probably it will sweep
away the hereditary principle in the Upper Chamber entirely. Of course
one may fancy it to be otherwise; we may conceive of a political storm
just going to a life-peerage limit, and then stopping suddenly. But in
politics we must not trouble ourselves with exceedingly exceptional
accidents; it is quite difficult enough to count on and provide for the
regular and plain probabilities. To speak mathematically, we may easily
miss the permanent course of the political curve if we engross our
minds with its cusps and conjugate points.

Nor, on the other hand, can I sympathise with the objection to life
peerages which some of the Radical party take and feel. They think it
will strengthen the Lords, and so make them better able to oppose the
Commons; they think, if they do not say: "The House of Lords is our
enemy and that of all Liberals; happily the mass of it is not
intellectual; a few clever men are born there which we cannot help, but
we will not 'vaccinate' it with genius; we will not put in a set of
clever men for their lives who may as likely as not turn against us".
This objection assumes that clever peers are just as likely to oppose
the Commons as stupid peers. But this I deny. Most clever men who are
in such a good place as the House of Lords plainly is, will be very
unwilling to lose it if they can help it; at the clear call of a great
duty they might lose it, but only at such a call. And it does not take
a clever man to see that systematic opposition of the Commons is the
only thing which can endanger the Lords, or which will make an
individual peer cease to be a peer. The greater you make the SENSE of
the Lords, the more they will see that their plain interest is to make
friends of the plutocracy, and to be the chiefs of it, and not to wish
to oppose the Commons where that plutocracy rules.

It is true that a completely new House of Lords, mainly composed of men
of ability, selected because they were able, might very likely attempt
to make ability the predominant power in the State, and to rival, if
not conquer, the House of Commons, where the standard of intelligence
is not much above the common English average. But in the present
English world such a House of Lords would soon lose all influence.
People would say, "it was too clever by half," and in an Englishman's
mouth that means a very severe censure. The English people would think
it grossly anomalous if their elected assembly of rich men were
thwarted by a nominated assembly of talkers and writers. Sensible men
of substantial means are what we wish to be ruled by, and a peerage of
genius would not compare with it in power.

It is true, too, that at present some of the cleverest peers are not so
ready as some others to agree with the Commons. But it is not unnatural
that persons of high rank and of great ability should be unwilling to
bend to persons of lower rank, and of certainly not greater ability. A
few of such peers (for they are very few) might say, "We had rather not
have our peerage if we are to buy it at the price of yielding". But a
life peer who had fought his way up to the peers, would never think so.
Young men who are born to rank may risk it, not middle-aged or old men
who have earned their rank. A moderate number of life peers would
almost always counsel moderation to the Lords, and would almost always
be right in counselling it.

Recent discussions have also brought into curious prominence another
part of the Constitution. I said in this book that it would very much
surprise people if they were only told how many things the Queen could
do without consulting Parliament, and it certainly has so proved, for
when the Queen abolished Purchase in the Army by an act of prerogative
(after the Lords had rejected the bill for doing so), there was a great
and general astonishment.

But this is nothing to what the Queen can by law do without consulting
Parliament. Not to mention other things, she could disband the army (by
law she cannot engage more than a certain number of men, but she is not
obliged to engage any men); she could dismiss all the officers, from
the General Commanding-in-Chief downwards; she could dismiss all the
sailors too; she could sell off all our ships of war and all our naval
stores; she could make a peace by the sacrifice of Cornwall, and begin
a war for the conquest of Brittany. She could make every citizen in the
United Kingdom, male or female, a peer; she could make every parish in
the United Kingdom a "university"; she could dismiss most of the civil
servants; she could pardon all offenders. In a word, the Queen could by
prerogative upset all the action of civil government within the
Government, could disgrace the nation by a bad war or peace, and could,
by disbanding our forces, whether land or sea, leave us defenceless
against foreign nations. Why do we not fear that she would do this, or
any approach to it?

Because there are two checks--one ancient and coarse, the other modern
and delicate. The first is the check of impeachment. Any Minister who
advised the Queen so to use her prerogative as to endanger the safety
of the realm, might be impeached for high treason, and would be so.
Such a Minister would, in our technical law, be said to have levied, or
aided to levy, "war against the Queen". This counsel to her so to use
her prerogative would by the Judge be declared to be an act of violence
against herself, and in that peculiar but effectual way the offender
could be condemned and executed. Against all gross excesses of the
prerogative this is a sufficient protection. But it would be no
protection against minor mistakes; any error of judgment committed bona
fide, and only entailing consequences which one person might say were
good, and another say were bad, could not be so punished. It would be
possible to impeach any Minister who disbanded the Queen's army, and it
would be done for certain. But suppose a Minister were to reduce the
army or the navy much below the contemplated strength--suppose he were
only to spend upon them one-third of the amount which Parliament had
permitted him to spend--suppose a Minister of Lord Palmerston's
principles were suddenly and while in office converted to the
principles of Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden, and were to act on those
principles, he could not be impeached. The law of treason neither could
nor ought to be enforced against an act which was an error of judgment,
not of intention--which was in good faith intended not to impair the
well-being of the State, but to promote and augment it. Against such
misuses of the prerogative our remedy is a change of Ministry. And in
general this works very well. Every Minister looks long before he
incurs that penalty, and no one incurs it wantonly. But, nevertheless,
there are two defects in it. The first is that it may not be a remedy
at all; it may be only a punishment. A Minister may risk his dismissal;
he may do some act difficult to undo, and then all which may be left
will be to remove and censure him. And the second is that it is only
one House of Parliament which has much to say to this remedy, such as
it is; the House of Commons only can remove a Minister by a vote of
censure. Most of the Ministries for thirty years have never possessed
the confidence of the Lords, and in such cases a vote of censure by the
Lords could therefore have but little weight; it would be simply the
particular expression of a general political disapproval. It would be
like a vote of censure on a Liberal Government by the Carlton, or on a
Tory Government by the Reform Club. And in no case has an adverse vote
by the Lords the same decisive effect as a vote of the Commons; the
Lower House is the ruling and the choosing House, and if a Government
really possesses that, it thoroughly possesses nine-tenths of what it
requires. The support of the Lords is an aid and a luxury; that of the
Commons is a strict and indispensable necessary.

These difficulties are particularly raised by questions of foreign
policy. On most domestic subjects, either custom or legislation has
limited the use of the prerogative. The mode of governing the country,
according to the existing laws, is mostly worn into a rut, and most
administrations move in it because it is easier to move there than
anywhere else. Most political crises--the decisive votes, which
determine the fate of Government--are generally either on questions of
foreign policy or of new laws; and the questions of foreign policy come
out generally in this way, that the Government has already done
something, and that it is for the one part of the legislature
alone--for the House of Commons, and not for the House of Lords--to say
whether they have or have not forfeited their place by the treaty they
have made.

I think every one must admit that this is not an arrangement which
seems right on the face of it. Treaties are quite as important as most
laws, and to require the elaborate assent of representative assemblies
to every word of the law, and not to consult them even as to the
essence of the treaty, is prima facie ludicrous. In the older forms of
the English Constitution, this may have been quite right; the power was
then really lodged in the Crown, and because Parliament met very
seldom, and for other reasons, it was then necessary that, on a
multitude of points, the Crown should have much more power than is
amply sufficient for it at present. But now the real power is not in
the Sovereign, it is in the Prime Minister and in the Cabinet--that is,
in the hands of a committee appointed by Parliament, and of the
chairman of that committee. Now, beforehand, no one would have ventured
to suggest that a committee of Parliament on foreign relations should
be able to commit the country to the greatest international obligations
without consulting either Parliament or the country. No other select
committee has any comparable power; and considering how carefully we
have fettered and limited the powers of all other subordinate
authorities, our allowing so much discretionary power on matters
peculiarly dangerous and peculiarly delicate to rest in the sole charge
of one secret committee is exceedingly strange. No doubt it may be
beneficial; many seeming anomalies are so, but at first sight it does
not look right.

I confess that I should see no advantage in it if our two Chambers were
sufficiently homogeneous and sufficiently harmonious. On the contrary,
if those two Chambers were as they ought to be, I should believe it to
be a great defect. If the administration had in both Houses a
majority--not a mechanical majority ready to accept anything, but a
fair and reasonable one, predisposed to think the Government right, but
not ready to find it to be so in the face of facts and in opposition to
whatever might occur; if a good Government were thus placed, I should
think it decidedly better that the agreements of the administration
with foreign powers should be submitted to Parliament. They would then
receive that which is best for all arrangements of business, an
understanding and sympathising criticism, but still a criticism. The
majority of the legislature, being well disposed to the Government,
would not "find" against it except it had really committed some big and
plain mistake. But if the Government had made such a mistake, certainly
the majority of the legislature would find against it. In a country fit
for Parliamentary institutions, the partisanship of members of the
legislature never comes in manifest opposition to the plain interest of
the nation; if it did, the nation being (as are all nations capable of
Parliamentary institutions) constantly attentive to public affairs,
would inflict on them the maximum Parliamentary penalty at the next
election and at many future elections. It would break their career. No
English majority dare vote for an exceedingly bad treaty; it would
rather desert its own leader than ensure its own ruin. And an English
minority, inheriting a long experience of Parliamentary affairs, would
not be exceedingly ready to reject a treaty made with a foreign
Government. The leaders of an English Opposition are very conversant
with the school-boy maxim, "Two can play at that fun". They know that
the next time they are in office the same sort of sharp practice may be
used against them, and therefore they will not use it. So strong is
this predisposition, that not long since a subordinate member of the
Opposition declared that the "front benches" of the two sides of the
House--that is, the leaders of the Government and the leaders of the
Opposition--were in constant tacit league to suppress the objections of
independent members. And what he said is often quite true. There are
often seeming objections which are not real objections; at least, which
are, in the particular cases, outweighed by counter-considerations; and
these "independent members," having no real responsibility, not being
likely to be hurt themselves if they make a mistake, are sure to blurt
out, and to want to act upon. But the responsible heads of the party
who may have to decide similar things, or even the same things
themselves, will not permit it. They refuse, out of interest as well as
out of patriotism, to engage the country in a permanent foreign scrape,
to secure for themselves and their party a momentary home advantage.
Accordingly, a Government which negotiated a treaty would feel that its
treaty would be subject certainly to a scrutiny, but still to a candid
and lenient scrutiny; that it would go before judges, of whom the
majority were favourable, and among whom the most influential part of
the minority were in this case much opposed to excessive antagonism.
And this seems to be the best position in which negotiators can be
placed, namely, that they should be sure to have to account to
considerate and fair persons, but not to have to account to
inconsiderate and unfair ones. At present the Government which
negotiates a treaty can hardly be said to be accountable to any one. It
is sure to be subjected to vague censure. Benjamin Franklin said, "I
have never known a peace made, even the most advantageous, that was not
censured as inadequate, and the makers condemned as injudicious or
corrupt. 'Blessed are the peace-makers' is, I suppose, to be understood
in the other world, for in this they are frequently cursed." And this
is very often the view taken now in England of treaties. There being
nothing practical in the Opposition--nothing likely to hamper them
hereafter--the leaders of Opposition are nearly sure to suggest every
objection. The thing is done and cannot be undone, and the most natural
wish of the Opposition leaders is to prove that if they had been in
office, and it therefore had been theirs to do it, they could have done
it much better. On the other hand, it is quite possible that there may
be no real criticism on a treaty at all; or the treaty has been made by
the Government, and as it cannot be unmade by any one, the Opposition
may not think it worth while to say much about it. The Government,
therefore, is never certain of any criticism; on the contrary, it has a
good chance of escaping criticism; but if there be any criticism the
Government must expect it to be bitter, sharp, and captious--made as an
irresponsible objector would make it, and not as a responsible
statesman, who may have to deal with a difficulty if he make it, and
therefore will be cautious how he says anything which may make it.

This is what happens in common cases; and in the uncommon--the
ninety-ninth case in a hundred--in which the Opposition hoped to turn
out the Government because of the alleged badness of the treaty they
have made, the criticism is sure to be of the most undesirable
character, and to say what is most offensive to foreign nations. All
the practised acumen of anti-Government writers and speakers is sure to
be engaged in proving that England has been imposed upon--that, as was
said in one case, "The moral and the intellectual qualities have been
divided; that our negotiation had the moral, and the negotiation on the
other side the intellectual," and so on. The whole pitch of party
malice is then expended, because there is nothing to check the party in
opposition. The treaty has been made, and though it may be censured,
and the party which made it ousted, yet the difficulty it was meant to
cure is cured, and the opposing party, if it takes office, will not
have that difficulty to deal with.

In abstract theory these defects in our present practice would seem
exceedingly great, but in practice they are not so. English statesmen
and English parties have really a great patriotism; they can rarely be
persuaded even by their passions or their interest to do anything
contrary to the real interest of England, or anything which would lower
England in the eyes of foreign nations. And they would seriously hurt
themselves if they did. But still these are the real tendencies of our
present practice, and these are only prevented by qualities in the
nation and qualities in our statesmen, which will just as much exist if
we change our practice.

It certainly would be in many ways advantageous to change it. If we
require that in some form the assent of Parliament shall be given to
such treaties, we should have a real discussion prior to the making of
such treaties. We should have the reasons for the treaty plainly
stated, and also the reasons against it. At present, as we have seen,
the discussion is unreal. The thing is done and cannot be altered; and
what is said often ought not to be said because it is captious, and
what is not said ought as often to be said because it is material. We
should have a manlier and plainer way of dealing with foreign policy,
if Ministers were obliged to explain clearly their foreign contracts
before they were valid, just as they have to explain their domestic
proposals before they can become laws. The objections to this are, as
far as I know, three, and three only.

First, that it would not be always desirable for Ministers to state
clearly the motives which induced them to agree to foreign compacts.
"Treaties," it is said, "are in one great respect different from laws,
they concern not only the Government which binds, the nation so bound,
but a third party too--a foreign country--and the feelings of that
country are to be considered as well as our own. And that foreign
country will, probably, in the present state of the world be a despotic
one, where discussion is not practised, where it is not understood,
where the expressions of different speakers are not accurately weighed,
where undue offence may easily be given." This objection might be
easily avoided by requiring that the discussion upon treaties in
Parliament like that discussion in the American Senate should be "in
secret session," and that no report should be published of it. But I
should, for my own part, be rather disposed to risk a public debate.
Despotic nations now cannot understand England; it is to them an
anomaly "chartered by Providence"; they have been time out of mind
puzzled by its institutions, vexed at its statesmen, and angry at its
newspapers. A little more of such perplexity and such vexation does not
seem to me a great evil. And if it be meant, as it often is meant, that
the whole truth as to treaties cannot be spoken out, I answer, that
neither can the whole truth as to laws. All important laws affect large
"vested interests"; they touch great sources of political strength; and
these great interests require to be treated as delicately, and with as
nice a manipulation of language, as the feelings of any foreign
country. A Parliamentary Minister is a man trained by elaborate
practice not to blurt out crude things, and an English Parliament is an
assembly which particularly dislikes anything gauche or anything
imprudent. They would still more dislike it if it hurt themselves and
the country as well as the speaker.

I am, too, disposed to deny entirely that there can be any treaty for
which adequate reasons cannot be given to the English people, which the
English people ought to make. A great deal of the reticence of
diplomacy had, I think history shows, much better be spoken out. The
worst families are those in which the members never really speak their
minds to one another; they maintain an atmosphere of unreality, and
every one always lives in an atmosphere of suppressed ill-feeling. It
is the same with nations. The parties concerned would almost always be
better for hearing the substantial reasons which induced the
negotiators to make the treaty, and the negotiators would do their work
much better, for half the ambiguities in treaties are caused by the
negotiators not liking the fact or not taking the pains to put their
own meaning distinctly before their own minds. And they would be
obliged to make it plain if they had to defend it and argue on it
before a great assembly.

Secondly, it may be objected to the change suggested that Parliament is
not always sitting, and that if treaties required its assent, it might
have to be sometimes summoned out of season, or the treaties would have
to be delayed. And this is as far as it goes a just objection, but I do
not imagine that it goes far. The great bulk of treaties could wait a
little without harm, and in the very few cases when urgent haste is
necessary, an autumn session of Parliament could well be justified, for
the occasion must be of grave and critical importance.

Thirdly, it may be said that if we required the consent of both Houses
of Parliament to foreign treaties before they were valid we should much
augment the power of the House of Lords. And this is also, I think, a
just objection as far as it goes. The House of Lords, as it cannot turn
out the Ministry for making treaties, has in no case a decisive weight
in foreign policy, though its debates on them are often excellent; and
there is a real danger at present in giving it such weight. They are
not under the same guidance as the House of Commons. In the House of
Commons, of necessity, the Ministry has a majority, and the majority
will agree to the treaties the leaders have made if they fairly can.
They will not be anxious to disagree with them. But the majority of the
House of Lords may always be, and has lately been generally an
opposition majority, and therefore the treaty may be submitted to
critics exactly pledged to opposite views. It might be like submitting
the design of an architect known to hold "mediaeval principles" to a
committee wedded to "classical principles".

Still, upon the whole, I think the augmentation of the power of the
peers might be risked without real fear of serious harm. Our present
practice, as has been explained, only works because of the good sense
of those by whom it is worked, and the new practice would have to rely
on a similar good sense and practicality too. The House of Lords must
deal with the assent to treaties as they do with the assent to laws;
they must defer to the voice of the country and the authority of the
Commons even in cases where their own judgment might guide them
otherwise. In very vital treaties probably, being Englishmen, they
would be of the same mind as the rest of Englishmen. If in such cases
they showed a reluctance to act as the people wished, they would have
the same lesson taught them as on vital and exciting questions of
domestic legislation, and the case is not so likely to happen, for on
these internal and organic questions the interest and the feeling of
the peers is often presumably opposed to that of other classes--they
may be anxious not to relinquish the very power which other classes are
anxious to acquire; but in foreign policy there is no similar
antagonism of interest--a peer and a non-peer have presumably in that
matter the same interest and the same wishes.

Probably, if it were considered to be desirable to give to Parliament a
more direct control over questions of foreign policy than it possesses
now, the better way would be not to require a formal vote to the treaty
clause by clause. This would entail too much time, and would lead to
unnecessary changes in minor details. It would be enough to let the
treaty be laid upon the table of both Houses, say for fourteen days,
and to acquire validity unless objected to by one House or other before
that interval had expired.


II.

This is all which I think I need say on the domestic events which have
changed, or suggested changes, in the English Constitution since this
book was written. But there are also some foreign events which have
illustrated it, and of these I should like to say a few words.

Naturally, the most striking of these illustrative changes comes from
France. Since 1789 France has always been trying political experiments,
from which others may profit much, though as yet she herself has
profited little. She is now trying one singularly illustrative of the
English Constitution. When the first edition of this book was published
I had great difficulty in persuading many people that it was possible
in a non-monarchical State, for the real chief of the practical
executive--the Premier as we should call him--to be nominated and to be
removable by the vote of the National Assembly. The United States and
its copies were the only present and familiar Republics, and in these
the system was exactly opposite. The executive was there appointed by
the people as the legislature was too. No conspicuous example of any
other sort of Republic then existed. But now France has given an
example--M. Thiers is (with one exception) just the chef du pouvoir
executif that I endeavoured more than once in this book to describe. He
is appointed by and is removable by the Assembly. He comes down and
speaks in it just as our Premier does; he is responsible for managing
it just as our Premier is. No one can any longer doubt the possibility
of a republic in which the executive and the legislative authorities
were united and fixed; no one can assert such union to be the
incommunicable attribute of a Constitutional Monarchy. But,
unfortunately, we can as yet only infer from this experiment that such
a Constitution is possible; we cannot as yet say whether it will be bad
or good. The circumstances are very peculiar, and that in three ways.
First, the trial of a specially Parliamentary Republic, of a Republic
where Parliament appoints the Minister, is made in a nation which has,
to say the least of it, no peculiar aptitude for Parliamentary
Government; which has possibly a peculiar inaptitude for it. In the
last but one of these essays I have tried to describe one of the mental
conditions of Parliamentary Government, which I call "rationality," by
which I do not mean reasoning power, but rather the power of hearing
the reasons of others, of comparing them quietly with one's own
reasons, and then being guided by the result. But a French Assembly is
not easy to reason with. Every assembly is divided into parties and
into sections of parties, and in France each party, almost every
section of a party, begins not to clamour but to scream, and to scream
as only Frenchmen can, as soon as it hears anything which it
particularly dislikes. With an Assembly in this temper, real discussion
is impossible, and Parliamentary government is impossible too, because
the Parliament can neither choose men nor measures. The French
assemblies under the Restored Monarchy seem to have been quieter,
probably because being elected from a limited constituency they did not
contain so many sections of opinion; they had fewer irritants and fewer
species of irritability. But the assemblies of the '48 Republic were
disorderly in the extreme. I saw the last myself, and can certify that
steady discussion upon a critical point was not possible in it. There
was not an audience willing to hear. The Assembly now sitting at
Versailles is undoubtedly also, at times, most tumultuous, and a
Parliamentary government in which it governs must be under a peculiar
difficulty, because as a sovereign it is unstable, capricious, and
unruly.

The difficulty is the greater because there is no check, or little,
from the French nation upon the Assembly. The French, as a nation, do
not care for or appreciate Parliamentary government. I have endeavoured
to explain how difficult it is for inexperienced mankind to take to
such a government; how much more natural, that is, how much more easy
to uneducated men is loyalty to a monarch. A nation which does not
expect good from a Parliament, cannot check or punish a Parliament.
France expects, I fear, too little from her Parliaments ever to get
what she ought. Now that the suffrage is universal, the average
intellect and the average culture of the constituent bodies are
excessively low; and even such mind and culture as there is has long
been enslaved to authority; the French peasant cares more for standing
well with his present prefet than for anything else whatever; he is far
too ignorant to check and watch his Parliament, and far too timid to
think of doing either if the executive authority nearest to him does
not like it. The experiment of a strictly Parliamentary Republic--of a
Republic where the Parliament appoints the executive--is being tried in
France at an extreme disadvantage, because in France a Parliament is
unusually likely to be bad, and unusually likely also to be free enough
to show its badness. Secondly, the present polity of France is not a
copy of the whole effective part of the British Constitution, but only
a part of it. By our Constitution nominally the Queen, but really the
Prime Minister, has the power of dissolving the Assembly. But M. Thiers
has no such power; and therefore, under ordinary circumstances, I
believe, the policy would soon become unmanageable. The result would
be, as I have tried to explain, that the Assembly would be always
changing its Ministry, that having no reason to fear the penalty which
that change so often brings in England, they would be ready to make it
once a month. Caprice is the characteristic vice of miscellaneous
assemblies, and without some check their selection would be unceasingly
mutable. This peculiar danger of the present Constitution of France has
however been prevented by its peculiar circumstances. The Assembly have
not been inclined to remove M. Thiers, because in their lamentable
present position they could not replace M. Thiers. He has a monopoly of
the necessary reputation. It is the Empire--the Empire which he always
opposed--that has done him this kindness. For twenty years no great
political reputation could arise in France. The Emperor governed and no
one member could show a capacity for government. M. Rouher, though of
vast real ability, was in the popular idea only the Emperor's agent;
and even had it been otherwise, M. Rouher, the one great man of
Imperialism, could not have been selected as a head of the Government,
at a moment of the greatest reaction against the Empire. Of the chiefs
before the twenty years' silence, of the eminent men known to be able
to handle Parliaments and to govern Parliaments, M. Thiers was the only
one still physically able to begin again to do so. The miracle is, that
at seventy-four even he should still be able. As no other great chief
of the Parliament regime existed, M. Thiers is not only the best
choice, but the only choice. If he were taken away, it would be most
difficult to make any other choice, and that difficulty keeps him where
he is. At every crisis the Assembly feels that after M. Thiers "the
deluge," and he lives upon that feeling. A change of the President,
though legally simple, is in practice all but impossible; because all
know that such a change might be a change, not only of the President,
but of much more too: that very probably it might be a change of the
polity--that it might bring in a Monarchy or an Empire.

Lastly, by a natural consequence of the position, M. Thiers does not
govern as a Parliamentary Premier governs. He is not, he boasts that he
is not, the head of a party. On the contrary, being the one person
essential to all parties, he selects Ministers from all parties, he
constructs a Cabinet in which no one Minister agrees with any other in
anything, and with all the members of which he himself frequently
disagrees. The selection is quite in his hand. Ordinarily a
Parliamentary Premier cannot choose; he is brought in by a party; he is
maintained in office by a party; and that party requires that as they
aid him, he shall aid them; that as they give him the very best thing
in the State, he shall give them the next best things. But M. Thiers is
under no such restriction. He can choose as he likes, and does choose.
Neither in the selection of his Cabinet nor in the management of the
Chamber, is M. Thiers guided as a similar person in common
circumstances would have to be guided. He is the exception of a moment;
he is not the example of a lasting condition.

For these reasons, though we may use the present Constitution of France
as a useful aid to our imaginations, in conceiving of a purely
Parliamentary Republic, of a monarchy minus the monarch, we must not
think of it as much more. It is too singular in its nature and too
peculiar in its accidents to be a guide to anything except itself.

In this essay I made many remarks on the American Constitution, in
comparison with the English; and as to the American Constitution we
have had a whole world of experience since I first wrote. My great
object was to contrast the office of President as an executive officer
and to compare it with that of a Prime Minister; and I devoted much
space to showing that in one principal respect the English system is by
far the best. The English Premier being appointed by the selection, and
being removable at the pleasure, of the preponderant Legislative
Assembly, is sure to be able to rely on that Assembly. If he wants
legislation to aid his policy he can obtain that legislation; he can
carry out that policy. But the American President has no similar
security. He is elected in one way, at one time, and Congress (no
matter which House) is elected in another way, at another time. The two
have nothing to bind them together, and in matter of fact, they
continually disagree.

This was written in the time of Mr. Lincoln, when Congress, the
President, and all the North were united as one man in the war against
the South. There was then no patent instance of mere disunion. But
between the time when the essays were first written in the Fortnightly,
and their subsequent junction into a book, Mr. Lincoln was
assassinated, and Mr. Johnson, the Vice-President, became President,
and so continued for nearly four years. At such a time the
characteristic evils of the Presidential system were shown most
conspicuously. The President and the Assembly, so far from being (as it
is essential to good government that they should be) on terms of close
union, were not on terms of common courtesy. So far from being capable
of a continuous and concerted co-operation they were all the while
trying to thwart one another. He had one plan for the pacification of
the South and they another; they would have nothing to say to his
plans, and he vetoed their plans as long as the Constitution permitted,
and when they were, in spite of him, carried, he, as far as he could
(and this was very much), embarrassed them in action. The quarrel in
most countries would have gone beyond the law, and come to blows; even
in America, the most law-loving of countries, it went as far as
possible within the law. Mr. Johnson described the most popular branch
of the legislature--the House of Representatives--as a body "hanging on
the verge of government"; and that House impeached him criminally, in
the hope that in that way they might get rid of him civilly. Nothing
could be so conclusive against the American Constitution, as a
Constitution, as that incident. A hostile legislature and a hostile
executive were so tied together, that the legislature tried, and tried
in vain, to rid itself of the executive by accusing it of illegal
practices. The legislature was so afraid of the President's legal power
that it unfairly accused him of acting beyond the law. And the blame
thus cast on the American Constitution is so much praise to be given to
the American political character.

Few nations, perhaps scarcely any nation, could have borne such a trial
so easily and so perfectly. This was the most striking instance of
disunion between the President and the Congress that has ever yet
occurred, and which probably will ever occur. Probably for very many
years the United States will have great and painful reason to remember
that at the moment of all their history, when it was most important to
them to collect and concentrate all the strength and wisdom of their
policy on the pacification of the South, that policy was divided by a
strife in the last degree unseemly and degrading. But it will be for a
competent historian hereafter to trace out this accurately and in
detail; the time is yet too recent, and I cannot pretend that I know
enough to do so. I cannot venture myself to draw the full lessons from
these events; I can only predict that when they are drawn, those
lessons will be most important, and most interesting. There is,
however, one series of events which have happened in America since the
beginning of the Civil War, and since the first publication of these
essays, on which I should wish to say something in detail--I mean the
financial events. These lie within the scope of my peculiar studies,
and it is comparatively easy to judge of them, since whatever may be
the case with refined statistical reasoning, the great results of money
matters speak to and interest all mankind. And every incident in this
part of American financial history exemplifies the contrast between a
Parliamentary and Presidential government.

The distinguishing quality of Parliamentary government is, that in each
stage of a public transaction there is a discussion; that the public
assist at this discussion; that it can, through Parliament, turn out an
administration which is not doing as it likes, and can put in an
administration which will do as it likes. But the characteristic of a
Presidential government is, in a multitude of cases, that there is no
such discussion; that when there is a discussion the fate of Government
does not turn upon it, and, therefore, the people do not attend to it;
that upon the whole the administration itself is pretty much doing as
it likes, and neglecting as it likes, subject always to the check that
it must not too much offend the mass of the nation. The nation commonly
does not attend, but if by gigantic blunders you make it attend, it
will remember it and turn you out when its time comes; it will show you
that your power is short, and so on the instant weaken that power; it
will make your present life in office unbearable and uncomfortable by
the hundred modes in which a free people can, without ceasing, act upon
the rulers which it elected yesterday, and will have to reject or
re-elect to-morrow.  In finance the most striking effect in America
has, on the first view of it, certainly been good. It has enabled the
Government to obtain and to keep a vast surplus of revenue over
expenditure. Even before the Civil War it did this--from 1837 to 1857.
Mr. Wells tells us that, strange as it may seem, "there was not a
single year in which the unexpended balance in the National
Treasury--derived from various sources--at the end of the year, was not
in excess of the total expenditure of the preceding year; while in not
a few years the unexpended balance was absolutely greater than the sum
of the entire expenditure of the twelve months preceding". But this
history before the war is nothing to what has happened since. The
following are the surpluses of revenue over expenditure since the end
of the Civil War:--

  Year ending June 30.           Surplus. (pounds)

  1866 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    5,593,000
  1867 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   21,586,000
  1868 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    4,242,000
  1869 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    7,418,000
  1870 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   18,627,000
  1871 .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   16,712,000

No one who knows anything of the working of Parliamentary government,
will for a moment imagine that any Parliament would have allowed any
executive to keep a surplus of this magnitude. In England, after the
French war, the Government of that day, which had brought it to a happy
end, which had the glory of Waterloo, which was in consequence
exceedingly strong, which had besides elements of strength from close
boroughs and Treasury influence such as certainly no Government has
ever had since, and such perhaps as no Government ever had before--that
Government proposed to keep a moderate surplus and to apply it to the
reduction of the debt, but even this the English Parliament would not
endure. The administration with all its power derived both from good
and evil had to yield; the income tax was abolished, with it went the
surplus, and with the surplus all chance of any considerable reduction
of the debt for that time. In truth taxation is so painful that in a
sensitive community which has strong organs of expression and action,
the maintenance of a great surplus is excessively difficult. The
Opposition will always say that it is unnecessary, is uncalled for, is
injudicious; the cry will be echoed in every constituency; there will
be a series of large meetings in the great cities; even in the smaller
constituencies there will mostly be smaller meetings; every member of
Parliament will be pressed upon by those who elect him; upon this point
there will be no distinction between town and country, the country
gentleman and the farmer disliking high taxes as much as any in the
towns. To maintain a great surplus by heavy taxes to pay off debt has
never yet in this country been possible, and to maintain a surplus of
the American magnitude would be plainly impossible.

Some part of the difference between England and America arises
undoubtedly not from political causes but from economical. America is
not a country sensitive to taxes; no great country has perhaps ever
been so unsensitive in this respect; certainly she is far less
sensitive than England. In reality America is too rich; daily industry
there is too common, too skilful, and too productive, for her to care
much for fiscal burdens. She is applying all the resources of science
and skill and trained labour, which have been in long ages painfully
acquired in old countries, to develop with great speed the richest soil
and the richest mines of new countries; and the result is untold
wealth. Even under a Parliamentary government such a community could
and would bear taxation much more easily than Englishmen ever would.

But difference of physical character in this respect is of little
moment in comparison with difference of political constitution. If
America was under a Parliamentary government, she would soon be
convinced that in maintaining this great surplus and in paying this
high taxation she would be doing herself great harm. She is not
performing a great duty, but perpetrating a great injustice. She is
injuring posterity by crippling and displacing industry, far more than
she is aiding it by reducing the taxes it will have to pay. In the
first place, the maintenance of the present high taxation compels the
retention of many taxes which are contrary to the maxims of free-trade.
Enormous customs duties are necessary, and it would be all but
impossible to impose equal excise duties even if the Americans desired
it. In consequence, besides what the Americans pay to the Government,
they are paying a great deal to some of their own citizens, and so are
rearing a set of industries which never ought to have existed, which
are bad speculations at present because other industries would have
paid better, and which may cause a great loss out of pocket hereafter
when the debt is paid off and the fostering tax withdrawn. Then
probably industry will return to its natural channel, the artificial
trade will be first depressed, then discontinued, and the fixed capital
employed in the trade will all be depreciated and much of it be
worthless. Secondly, all taxes on trade and manufacture are injurious
in various ways to them. You cannot put on a great series of such
duties without cramping trade in a hundred ways and without diminishing
their productiveness exceedingly. America is now working in heavy
fetters, and it would probably be better for her to lighten those
fetters even though a generation or two should have to pay rather
higher taxes. Those generations would really benefit, because they
would be so much richer that the slightly increased cost of government
would never be perceived. At any rate, under a Parliamentary government
this doctrine would have been incessantly inculcated; a whole party
would have made it their business to preach it, would have made
incessant small motions in Parliament about it, which is the way to
popularise their view. And in the end I do not doubt that they would
have prevailed. They would have had to teach a lesson both pleasant and
true, and such lessons are soon learned. On the whole, therefore, the
result of the comparison is that a Presidential government makes it
much easier than the Parliamentary to maintain a great surplus of
income over expenditure, but that it does not give the same facility
for examining whether it be good or not good to maintain a surplus,
and, therefore, that it works blindly, maintaining surpluses when they
do extreme harm just as much as when they are very beneficial.

In this point the contrast of Presidential with Parliamentary
government is mixed; one of the defects of Parliamentary government
probably is the difficulty under it of maintaining a surplus revenue to
discharge debt, and this defect Presidential government escapes, though
at the cost of being likely to maintain that surplus upon inexpedient
occasions as well as upon expedient. But in all other respects a
Parliamentary government has in finance an unmixed advantage over the
Presidential in the incessant discussion. Though in one single case it
produces evil as well as good, in most cases it produces good only. And
three of these cases are illustrated by recent American experience.
First, as Mr. Goldwin Smith--no unfavourable judge of anything
American--justly said some years since, the capital error made by the
United States Government was the "Legal Tender Act," as it is called,
by which it made inconvertible paper notes issued by the Treasury the
sole circulating medium of the country. The temptation to do this was
very great, because it gave at once a great war fund when it was
needed, and with no pain to any one. If the notes of a Government
supersede the metallic currency medium of a country to the extent of
$80,000,000, this is equivalent to a recent loan of $80,000,000 to the
Government for all purposes within the country. Whenever the precious
metals are not required, and for domestic purposes in such a case they
are not required, notes will buy what the Government want, and it can
buy to the extent of its issue. But, like all easy expedients out of a
great difficulty, it is accompanied by the greatest evils; if it had
not been so, it would have been the regular device in such cases, and
the difficulty would have been no difficulty at all; there would have
been a known easy way out of it. As is well known, inconvertible paper
issued by Government is sure to be issued in great quantities, as the
American currency soon was; it is sure to be depreciated as against
coin; it is sure to disturb values and to derange markets; it is
certain to defraud the lender; it is certain to give the borrower more
than he ought to have. In the case of America there was a further evil.
Being a new country, she ought in her times of financial want to borrow
of old countries; but the old countries were frightened by the probable
issue of unlimited inconvertible paper, and they would not lend a
shilling. Much more than the mercantile credit of America was thus
lost. The great commercial houses in England are the most natural and
most effectual conveyers of intelligence from other countries to
Europe. If they had been financially interested in giving in a sound
report as to the progress of the war, a sound report we should have
had. But as the Northern States raised no loans in Lombard Street (and
could raise none because of their vicious paper money), Lombard Street
did not care about them, and England was very imperfectly informed of
the progress of the civil struggle, and on the whole matter, which was
then new and very complex, England had to judge without having her
usual materials for judgment, and (since the guidance of the "City" on
political matter is very quietly and imperceptibly given) without
knowing she had not those materials. Of course, this error might have
been committed, and perhaps would have been committed under a
Parliamentary government. But if it had, its effects would ere long
have been thoroughly searched into and effectually frustrated. The
whole force of the greatest inquiring machine and the greatest
discussing machine which the world has ever known would have been
directed to this subject. In a year or two the American public would
have had it forced upon them in every form till they must have
comprehended it. But under the Presidential form of government, and
owing to the inferior power of generating discussion, the information
given to the American people has been imperfect in the extreme. And in
consequence, after nearly ten years of painful experience, they do not
now understand how much they have suffered from their inconvertible
currency.

But the mode in which the Presidential government of America managed
its taxation during the Civil War, is even a more striking example of
its defects. Mr. Wells tells us:--

"In the outset all direct or internal taxation was avoided, there
having been apparently an apprehension on the part of Congress, that
inasmuch as the people had never been accustomed to it, and as all
machinery for assessment and collection was wholly wanting, its
adoption would create discontent, and thereby interfere with a vigorous
prosecution of hostilities. Congress, therefore, confined itself at
first to the enactment of measures looking to an increase of revenue
from the increase of indirect taxes upon imports; and it was not until
four months after the actual outbreak of hostilities that a direct tax
of $20,000,000 per annum was apportioned among the States, and an
income tax of 3 per cent. on the excess of all incomes over $800 was
provided for; the first being made to take effect practically eight,
and the second ten months after date of enactment. Such laws of course
took effect, and became immediately operative in the loyal States only,
and produced but comparatively little revenue; and although the range
of taxation was soon extended, the whole receipts from all sources by
the Government for the second year of the war, from excise, income,
stamp, and all other internal taxes, were less than $42,000,000; and
that, too, at a time when the expenditures were in excess $60,000,000
per month, or at the rate of over $700,000,000 per annum. And as
showing how novel was this whole subject of direct and internal
taxation to the people, and how completely the Government officials
were lacking in all experience in respect to it, the following incident
may be noted. The Secretary of the Treasury, in his report for 1863,
stated that, with a view of determining his resources, he employed a
very competent person, with the aid of practical men, to estimate the
probable amount of revenue to be derived from each department of
internal taxation for the previous year. The estimate arrived at was
$85,000,000, but the actual receipts were only $37,000,000."

Now, no doubt, this might have happened under a Parliamentary
government. But, then, many members of Parliament, the entire
Opposition in Parliament, would have been active to unravel the matter.
All the principles of finance would have been worked and propounded.
The light would have come from above, not from below--it would have
come from Parliament to the nation instead of from the nation to
Parliament But exactly the reverse happened in America. Mr. Wells goes
on to say:--

"The people of the loyal States were, however, more determined and in
earnest in respect to this matter of taxation than were their rulers;
and before long the popular discontent at the existing state of things
was openly manifest. Every where the opinion was expressed that
taxation in all possible forms should immediately, and to the largest
extent, be made effective and imperative; and Congress spurred up, and
right fully relying on public sentiment to sustain their action, at
last took up the matter resolutely and in earnest, and devised and
inaugurated a system of internal and direct taxation, which for its
universality and peculiarities has probably no parallel in anything
which has heretofore been recorded in civil history, or is likely to be
experienced hereafter. The one necessity of the situation was revenue,
and to obtain it speedily and in large amounts through taxation the
only principle recognised--if it can be called a principle--was akin to
that recommended to the traditionary Irishman on his visit to
Donnybrook Fair, 'Wherever you see a head hit it'. Wherever you find an
article, a product, a trade, a profession, or a source of income, tax
it! And so an edict went forth to this effect, and the people
cheerfully submitted. Incomes under $5,000 were taxed 5 per cent., with
an exemption of $600 and house rent actually paid; these exemptions
being allowed on this ground, that they represented an amount
sufficient at the time to enable a small family to procure the bare
necessaries of life, and thus take out from the operation of the law
all those who were dependent upon each day's earnings to supply each
day's needs. Incomes in excess of $5,000 and not in excess of $10,000
were taxed 2 1/2 per cent. in addition; and incomes over $10,000 5 per
cent. additional, without any abeyance or exemptions whatever."

Now this is all contrary to and worse than what would have happened
under a Parliamentary government. The delay to tax would not have
occurred under it: the movement by the country to get taxation would
never have been necessary under it. The excessive taxation accordingly
imposed would not have been permitted under it. The last point I think
I need not labour at length. The evils of a bad tax are quite sure to
be pressed upon the ears of Parliament in season and out of season; the
few persons who have to pay it are thoroughly certain to make
themselves heard. The sort of taxation tried in America, that of taxing
everything, and seeing what every thing would yield, could not have
been tried under a Government delicately and quickly sensitive to
public opinion.

I do not apologise for dwelling at length upon these points, for the
subject is one of transcendent importance. The practical choice of
first-rate nations is between the Presidential government and the
Parliamentary; no State can be first-rate which has not a government by
discussion, and those are the only two existing species of that
government. It is between them that a nation which has to choose its
government must choose. And nothing therefore can be more important
than to compare the two, and to decide upon the testimony of
experience, and by facts, which of them is the better.

THE POPLARS, WIMBLEDON:

June 20, 1872.



NO. II.

THE CABINET.


"On all great subjects," says Mr. Mill, "much remains to be said," and
of none is this more true than of the English Constitution. The
literature which has accumulated upon it is huge. But an observer who
looks at the living reality will wonder at the contrast to the paper
description. He will see in the life much which is not in the books;
and he will not find in the rough practice many refinements of the
literary theory.

It was natural--perhaps inevitable--that such an under growth of
irrelevant ideas should gather round the British Constitution. Language
is the tradition of nations; each generation describes what it sees,
but it uses words transmitted from the past. When a great entity like
the British Constitution has continued in connected outward sameness,
but hidden inner change, for many ages, every generation inherits a
series of inapt words--of maxims once true, but of which the truth is
ceasing or has ceased. As a man's family go on muttering in his
maturity incorrect phrases derived from a just observation of his early
youth, so, in the full activity of an historical constitution, its
subjects repeat phrases true in the time of their fathers, and
inculcated by those fathers, but now true no longer. Or, if I may say
so, an ancient and ever-altering constitution is like an old man who
still wears with attached fondness clothes in the fashion of his youth:
what you see of him is the same; what you do not see is wholly altered.

There are two descriptions of the English Constitution which have
exercised immense influence, but which are erroneous. First, it is laid
down as a principle of the English polity, that in it the legislative,
the executive, and the judicial powers are quite divided--that each is
entrusted to a separate person or set of persons--that no one of these
can at all interfere with the work of the other. There has been much
eloquence expended in explaining how the rough genius of the English
people, even in the middle ages, when it was especially rude, carried
into life and practice that elaborate division of functions which
philosophers had suggested on paper, but which they had hardly hoped to
see except on paper.

Secondly, it is insisted that the peculiar excellence of the British
Constitution lies in a balanced union of three powers. It is said that
the monarchical element, the aristocratic element, and the democratic
element, have each a share in the supreme sovereignty, and that the
assent of all three is necessary to the action of that sovereignty.
Kings, lords, and commons, by this theory, are alleged to be not only
the outward form, but the inner moving essence, the vitality of the
Constitution. A great theory, called the theory of "Checks and
Balances," pervades an immense part of political literature, and much
of it is collected from or supported by English experience. Monarchy,
it is said, has some faults, some bad tendencies, aristocracy others,
democracy, again, others; but England has shown that a Government can
be constructed in which these evil tendencies exactly check, balance,
and destroy one another--in which a good whole is constructed not
simply in spite of, but by means of, the counteracting defects of the
constituent parts.

Accordingly, it is believed that the principal characteristics of the
English Constitution are inapplicable in countries where the materials
for a monarchy or an aristocracy do not exist. That Constitution is
conceived to be the best imaginable use of the political elements which
the great majority of States in modern Europe inherited from the
mediaeval period. It is believed that out of these materials nothing
better can be made than the English Constitution; but it is also
believed that the essential parts of the English Constitution cannot be
made except from these materials. Now these elements are the accidents
of a period and a region; they belong only to one or two centuries in
human history, and to a few countries. The United States could not have
become monarchical, even if the Constitutional Convention had decreed
it, even if the component States had ratified it. The mystic reverence,
the religious allegiance, which are essential to a true monarchy, are
imaginative sentiments that no legislature can manufacture in any
people. These semi-filial feelings in Government are inherited just as
the true filial feelings in common life. You might as well adopt a
father as make a monarchy: the special sentiment be longing to the one
is as incapable of voluntary creation as the peculiar affection
belonging to the other. If the practical part of the English
Constitution could only be made out of a curious accumulation of
mediaeval materials, its interest would be half historical, and its
imitability very confined.

No one can approach to an understanding of the English institutions, or
of others, which, being the growth of many centuries, exercise a wide
sway over mixed populations, unless he divide them into two classes. In
such constitutions there are two parts (not indeed separable with
microscopic accuracy, for the genius of great affairs abhors nicety of
division): first, those which excite and preserve the reverence of the
population--the DIGNIFIED parts, if I may so call them; and next, the
EFFICIENT parts--those by which it, in fact, works and rules. There are
two great objects which every constitution must attain to be
successful, which every old and celebrated one must have wonderfully
achieved: every constitution must first GAIN authority, and then USE
authority; it must first win the loyalty and confidence of mankind, and
then employ that homage in the work of government.

There are indeed practical men who reject the dignified parts of
Government. They say, we want only to attain results, to do business: a
constitution is a collection of political means for political ends, and
if you admit that any part of a constitution does no business, or that
a simpler machine would do equally well what it does, you admit that
this part of the constitution, however dignified or awful it may be, is
nevertheless in truth useless. And other reasoners, who distrust this
bare philosophy, have propounded subtle arguments to prove that these
dignified parts of old Governments are cardinal components of the
essential apparatus, great pivots of substantial utility; and so they
manufactured fallacies which the plainer school have well exposed. But
both schools are in error. The dignified parts of Government are those
which bring it force--which attract its motive power. The efficient
parts only employ that power. The comely parts of a Government HAVE
need, for they are those upon which its vital strength depends. They
may not do anything definite that a simpler polity would not do better;
but they are the preliminaries, the needful prerequisites of ALL work.
They raise the army, though they do not win the battle.

Doubtless, if all subjects of the same Government only thought of what
was useful to them, and if they all thought the same thing useful, and
all thought that same thing could be attained in the same way, the
efficient members of a constitution would suffice, and no impressive
adjuncts would be needed. But the world in which we live is organised
far otherwise.

The most strange fact, though the most certain in nature, is the
unequal development of the human race. If we look back to the early
ages of mankind, such as we seem in the faint distance to see them--if
we call up the image of those dismal tribes in lake villages, or on
wretched beaches--scarcely equal to the commonest material needs,
cutting down trees slowly and painfully with stone tools, hardly
resisting the attacks of huge, fierce animals--without culture, without
leisure, without poetry, almost without thought--destitute of morality,
with only a sort of magic for religion; and if we compare that imagined
life with the actual life of Europe now, we are overwhelmed at the wide
contrast--we can scarcely conceive ourselves to be of the same race as
those in the far distance. There used to be a notion--not so much
widely asserted as deeply implanted, rather pervadingly latent than
commonly apparent in political philosophy--that in a little while,
perhaps ten years or so, all human beings might, without extraordinary
appliances, be brought to the same level. But now, when we see by the
painful history of mankind at what point we began, by what slow toil,
what favourable circumstances, what accumulated achievements, civilised
man has become at all worthy in any degree so to call himself--when we
realise the tedium of history and the painfulness of results--our
perceptions are sharpened as to the relative steps of our long and
gradual progress. We have in a great community like England crowds of
people scarcely more civilised than the majority of two thousand years
ago; we have others, even more numerous, such as the best people were a
thousand years since. The lower orders, the middle orders, are still,
when tried by what is the standard of the educated "ten thousand,"
narrow-minded, unintelligent, incurious. It is useless to pile up
abstract words. Those who doubt should go out into their kitchens. Let
an accomplished man try what seems to him most obvious, most certain,
most palpable in intellectual matters, upon the housemaid and the
footman, and he will find that what he says seems unintelligible,
confused, and erroneous--that his audience think him mad and wild when
he is speaking what is in his own sphere of thought the dullest
platitude of cautious soberness. Great communities are like great
mountains--they have in them the primary, secondary, and tertiary
strata of human progress; the characteristics of the lower regions
resemble the life of old times rather than the present life of the
higher regions. And a philosophy which does not ceaselessly remember,
which does not continually obtrude, the palpable differences of the
various parts, will be a theory radically false, because it has omitted
a capital reality--will be a theory essentially misleading, because it
will lead men to expect what does not exist, and not to anticipate that
which they will find.

Every one knows these plain facts, but by no means every one has traced
their political importance. When a State is constituted thus, it is not
true that the lower classes will be wholly absorbed in the useful; on
the contrary, they do not like anything so poor. No orator ever made an
impression by appealing to men as to their plainest physical wants,
except when he could allege that those wants were caused by some one's
tyranny. But thousands have made the greatest impression by appealing
to some vague dream of glory, or empire, or nationality. The ruder sort
of men--that is, men at ONE stage of rudeness--will sacrifice all they
hope for, all they have, THEMSELVES, for what is called an idea--for
some attraction which seems to transcend reality, which aspires to
elevate men by an interest higher, deeper, wider than that of ordinary
life. But this order of men are uninterested in the plain, palpable
ends of government; they do not prize them; they do not in the least
comprehend how they should be attained. It is very natural, therefore,
that the most useful parts of the structure of government should by no
means be those which excite the most reverence. The elements which
excite the most easy reverence will be the THEATRICAL elements--those
which appeal to the senses, which claim to be embodiments of the
greatest human ideas, which boast in some cases of far more than human
origin. That which is mystic in its claims; that which is occult in its
mode of action; that which is brilliant to the eye; that which is seen
vividly for a moment, and then is seen no more; that which is hidden
and unhidden; that which is specious, and yet interesting, palpable in
its seeming, and yet professing to be more than palpable in its
results; this, howsoever its form may change, or however we may define
it or describe it, is the sort of thing--the only sort--which yet comes
home to the mass of men. So far from the dignified parts of a
constitution being necessarily the most useful, they are likely,
according to outside presumption, to be the least so; for they are
likely to be adjusted to the lowest orders--those likely to care least
and judge worst about what IS useful.

There is another reason which, in an old constitution like that of
England, is hardly less important. The most intellectual of men are
moved quite as much by the circumstances which they are used to as by
their own will. The active voluntary part of a man is very small, and
if it were not economised by a sleepy kind of habit, its results would
be null. We could not do every day out of our own heads all we have to
do. We should accomplish nothing, for all our energies would be
frittered away in minor attempts at petty improvement. One man, too,
would go off from the known track in one direction, and one in another;
so that when a crisis came requiring massed combination, no two men
would be near enough to act together. It is the dull traditional habit
of mankind that guides most men's actions, and is the steady frame in
which each new artist must set the picture that he paints. And all this
traditional part of human nature is, ex vi termini, most easily
impressed and acted on by that which is handed down. Other things being
equal, yesterday's institutions are by far the best for to-day; they
are the most ready, the most influential, the most easy to get obeyed,
the most likely to retain the reverence which they alone inherit, and
which every other must win. The most imposing institutions of mankind
are the oldest; and yet so changing is the world, so fluctuating are
its needs, so apt to lose inward force, though retaining out ward
strength, are its best instruments, that we must not expect the oldest
institutions to be now the most efficient. We must expect what is
venerable to acquire influence because of its inherent dignity; but we
must not expect it to use that influence so well as new creations apt
for the modern world, instinct with its spirit, and fitting closely to
its life.

The brief description of the characteristic merit of the English
Constitution is, that its dignified parts are very complicated and
somewhat imposing, very old and rather venerable; while its efficient
part, at least when in great and critical action, is decidedly simple
and rather modern. We have made, or rather stumbled on, a constitution
which--though full of every species of incidental defect, though of the
worst workmanship in all out-of-the-way matters of any constitution in
the world--yet has two capital merits: it contains a simple efficient
part which, on occasion, and when wanted, can work more simply and
easily, and better, than any instrument of government that has yet been
tried; and it contains likewise historical, complex, august, theatrical
parts, which it has inherited from a long past--which take the
multitude--which guide by an insensible but an omnipotent influence the
associations of its subjects. Its essence is strong with the strength
of modern simplicity; its exterior is august with the Gothic grandeur
of a more imposing age. Its simple essence may, mutatis mutandis, be
transplanted to many very various countries, but its august
outside--what most men think it is--is narrowly confined to nations
with an analogous history and similar political materials.

The efficient secret of the English Constitution may be described as
the close union, the nearly complete fusion, of the executive and
legislative powers. No doubt by the traditional theory, as it exists in
all the books, the goodness of our constitution consists in the entire
separation of the legislative and executive authorities, but in truth
its merit consists in their singular approximation. The connecting link
is the Cabinet. By that new word we mean a committee of the legislative
body selected to be the executive body. The legislature has many
committees, but this is its greatest. It chooses for this, its main
committee, the men in whom it has most confidence. It does not, it is
true, choose them directly; but it is nearly omnipotent in choosing
them indirectly. A century ago the Crown had a real choice of
Ministers, though it had no longer a choice in policy. During the long
reign of Sir R. Walpole he was obliged not only to manage Parliament
but to manage the palace. He was obliged to take care that some court
intrigue did not expel him from his place. The nation then selected the
English policy, but the Crown chose the English Ministers. They were
not only in name, as now, but in fact, the Queen's servants. Remnants,
important remnants, of this great prerogative still remain. The
discriminating favour of William IV. made Lord Melbourne head of the
Whig party when he was only one of several rivals. At the death of Lord
Palmerston it is very likely that the Queen may have the opportunity of
fairly choosing between two, if not three statesmen. But, as a rule,
the nominal Prime Minister is chosen by the legislature, and the real
Prime Minister for most purposes--the leader of the House of
Commons--almost without exception is so. There is nearly always some
one man plainly selected by the voice of the predominant party in the
predominant house of the legislature to head that party, and
consequently to rule the nation. We have in England an elective first
magistrate as truly as the Americans have an elective first magistrate.
The Queen is only at the head of the dignified part of the
Constitution. The Prime Minister is at the head of the efficient part.
The Crown is, according to the saying, the "fountain of honour"; but
the Treasury is the spring of business. Nevertheless, our first
magistrate differs from the American. He is not elected directly by the
people; he is elected by the representatives of the people. He is an
example of "double election". The legislature chosen, in name, to make
laws, in fact finds its principal business in making and in keeping an
executive.

The leading Minister so selected has to choose his associates, but he
only chooses among a charmed circle. The position of most men in
Parliament forbids their being invited to the Cabinet; the position of
a few men ensures their being invited. Between the compulsory list whom
he must take, and the impossible list whom he cannot take, a Prime
Minister's independent choice in the formation of a Cabinet is not very
large; it extends rather to the division of the Cabinet offices than to
the choice of Cabinet Ministers. Parliament and the nation have pretty
well settled who shall have the first places; but they have not
discriminated with the same accuracy which man shall have which place.
The highest patronage of a Prime Minister is, of course, a considerable
power, though it is exercised under close and imperative
restrictions--though it is far less than it seems to be when stated in
theory, or looked at from a distance.

The Cabinet, in a word, is a board of control chosen by the
legislature, out of persons whom it trusts and knows, to rule the
nation. The particular mode in which the English Ministers are
selected; the fiction that they are, in any political sense, the
Queen's servants; the rule which limits the choice of the Cabinet to
the members of the legislature--are accidents unessential to its
definition--historical incidents separable from its nature. Its
characteristic is that it should be chosen by the legislature out of
persons agreeable to and trusted by the legislature. Naturally these
are principally its own members--but they need not be exclusively so. A
Cabinet which included persons not members of the legislative assembly
might still perform all useful duties. Indeed the peers, who constitute
a large element in modern Cabinets, are members, now-a-days, only of a
subordinate assembly. The House of Lords still exercises several useful
functions; but the ruling influence--the deciding faculty--has passed
to what, using the language of old times, we still call the lower
house--to an assembly which, though inferior as a dignified
institution, is superior as an efficient institution. A principal
advantage of the House of Lords in the present age indeed consists in
its thus acting as a reservoir of Cabinet Ministers. Unless the
composition of the House of Commons were improved, or unless the rules
requiring Cabinet Ministers to be members of the legislature were
relaxed, it would undoubtedly be difficult to find, without the lords,
a sufficient supply of chief Ministers. But the detail of the
composition of a Cabinet, and the precise method of its choice, are not
to the purpose now. The first and cardinal consideration is the
definition of a Cabinet. We must not bewilder ourselves with the
inseparable accidents until we know the necessary essence. A Cabinet is
a combining committee--a hyphen which joins, a buckle which fastens,
the legislative part of the State to the executive part of the State.
In its origin it belongs to the one, in its functions it belongs to the
other.

The most curious point about the Cabinet is that so very little is
known about it. The meetings are not only secret in theory, but secret
in reality. By the present practice, no official minute in all ordinary
cases is kept of them. Even a private note is discouraged and disliked.
The House of Commons, even in its most inquisitive and turbulent
moments, would scarcely permit a note of a Cabinet meeting to be read.
No Minister who respected the fundamental usages of political practice
would attempt to read such a note. The committee which unites the
law-making power to the law-executing power--which, by virtue of that
combination, is, while it lasts and holds together, the most powerful
body in the State--is a committee wholly secret. No description of it,
at once graphic and authentic, has ever been given. It is said to be
sometimes like a rather disorderly board of directors, where many speak
and few listen--though no one knows.[1] But a Cabinet, though it is a
committee of the legislative assembly, is a committee with a power
which no assembly would--unless for historical accidents, and after
happy experience--have been persuaded to entrust to any committee. It
is a committee which can dissolve the assembly which appointed it; it
is a committee with a suspensive veto--a committee with a power of
appeal. Though appointed by one Parliament, it can appeal if it chooses
to the next. Theoretically, indeed, the power to dissolve Parliament is
entrusted to the sovereign only; and there are vestiges of doubt
whether in ALL cases a sovereign is bound to dissolve Parliament when
the Cabinet asks him to do so. But neglecting such small and dubious
exceptions, the Cabinet which was chosen by one House of Commons has an
appeal to the next House of Commons. The chief committee of the
legislature has the power of dissolving the predominant part of that
legislature--that which at a crisis is the supreme legislature. The
English system, therefore, is not an absorption of the executive power
by the legislative power; it is a fusion of the two. Either the Cabinet
legislates and acts, or else it can dissolve. It is a creature, but it
has the power of destroying its creators. It is an executive which can
annihilate the legislature, as well as an executive which is the
nominee of the legislature. It was made, but it can unmake; it was
derivative in its origin, but it is destructive in its action. This
fusion of the legislative and executive functions may, to those who
have not much considered it, seem but a dry and small matter to be the
latent essence and effectual secret of the English Constitution; but we
can only judge of its real importance by looking at a few of its
principal effects, and contrasting it very shortly with its great
competitor, which seems likely, unless care be taken, to outstrip it in
the progress of the world. That competitor is the Presidential system.
The characteristic of it is that the President is elected from the
people by one process, and the House of Representatives by another. The
independence of the legislative and executive powers is the specific
quality of Presidential government, just as their fusion and
combination is the precise principle of Cabinet government.


[1] It is said that at the end of the Cabinet which agreed to propose a
fixed duty on corn, Lord Melbourne put his back to the door and said,
"Now is it to lower the price of corn or isn't it? It is not much
matter which we say, but mind, we must all say THE SAME." This is the
most graphic story of a Cabinet I ever heard, but I cannot vouch for
its truth Lord Melbourne's is a character about which men make stories.


First, compare the two in quiet times. The essence of a civilised age
is, that administration requires the continued aid of legislation. One
principal and necessary kind of legislation is taxation. The expense of
civilised government is continually varying. It must vary if the
Government does its duty. The miscellaneous estimates of the English
Government contain an inevitable medley of changing items. Education,
prison discipline, art, science, civil contingencies of a hundred
kinds, require more money one year and less another. The expense of
defence--the naval and military estimates--vary still more as the
danger of attack seems more or less imminent, as the means of retarding
such danger become more or less costly. If the persons who have to do
the work are not the same as those who have to make the laws, there
will be a controversy between the two sets of persons. The tax-imposers
are sure to quarrel with the tax-requirers. The executive is crippled
by not getting the laws it needs, and the legislature is spoiled by
having to act without responsibility: the executive becomes unfit for
its name, since it cannot execute what it decides on; the legislature
is demoralised by liberty, by taking decisions of which others (and not
itself) will suffer the effects.

In America so much has this difficulty been felt that a semi-connection
has grown up between the legislature and the executive. When the
Secretary of the Treasury of the Federal Government wants a tax he
consults upon it with the chairman of the Financial Committee of
Congress. He cannot go down to Congress himself and propose what he
wants; he can only write a letter and send it. But he tries to get a
chairman of the Finance Committee who likes his tax;--through that
chairman he tries to persuade the committee to recommend such tax; by
that committee he tries to induce the house to adopt that tax. But such
a chain of communications is liable to continual interruptions; it may
suffice for a single tax on a fortunate occasion, but will scarcely
pass a complicated budget--we do not say in a war or a rebellion--we
are now comparing the Cabinet system and the Presidential system in
quiet times--but in times of financial difficulty. Two clever men never
exactly agreed about a budget. We have by present practice an Indian
Chancellor of the Exchequer talking English finance at Calcutta, and an
English one talking Indian finance in England. But the figures are
never the same, and the views of policy are rarely the same. One most
angry controversy has amused the world, and probably others scarcely
less interesting are hidden in the copious stores of our Anglo-Indian
correspondence.

But relations something like these must subsist between the head of a
finance committee in the legislature, and a finance Minister in the
executive.[2] They are sure to quarrel, and the result is sure to
satisfy neither. And when the taxes do not yield as they were expected
to yield, who is responsible? Very likely the Secretary of the Treasury
could not persuade the chairman--very likely the chairman could not
persuade his committee--very likely the committee could not persuade
the assembly. Whom, then, can you punish--whom can you abolish--when
your taxes run short? There is nobody save the legislature, a vast
miscellaneous body difficult to punish, and the very persons to inflict
the punishment. Nor is the financial part of administration the only
one which requires in a civilised age the constant support and
accompaniment of facilitating legislation. All administration does so.
In England, on a vital occasion, the Cabinet can compel legislation by
the threat of resignation, and the threat of dissolution; but neither
of these can be used in a Presidential State. There the legislature
cannot be dissolved by the executive Government; and it does not heed a
resignation, for it has not to find the successor. Accordingly, when a
difference of opinion arises, the legislature is forced to fight the
executive, and the executive is forced to fight the legislative; and so
very likely they contend to the conclusion of their respective
terms.[3] There is, indeed, one condition of things in which this
description, though still approximately true, is, nevertheless, not
exactly true; and that is, when there is nothing to fight about. Before
the rebellion in America, owing to the vast distance of other States,
and the favourable economic condition of the country, there were very
few considerable objects of contention; but if that government had been
tried by English legislation of the last thirty years, the discordant
action of the two powers, whose constant cooperation is essential to
the best government, would have shown itself much more distinctly. Nor
is this the worst. Cabinet government educates the nation; the
Presidential does not educate it, and may corrupt it. It has been said
that England invented the phrase, "Her Majesty's Opposition"; that it
was the first Government which made a criticism of administration as
much a part of the polity as administration itself. This critical
opposition is the consequence of Cabinet government. The great scene of
debate, the great engine of popular instruction and political
controversy, is the legislative assembly. A speech there by an eminent
statesman, a party movement by a great political combination, are the
best means yet known for arousing, enlivening, and teaching a people.
The Cabinet system ensures such debates, for it makes them the means by
which statesmen advertise themselves for future and confirm themselves
in present Governments. It brings forward men eager to speak, and gives
them occasions to speak. The deciding catastrophes of Cabinet
governments are critical divisions preceded by fine discussions.
Everything which is worth saying, everything which ought to be said,
most certainly WILL be said. Conscientious men think they ought to
persuade others; selfish men think they would like to obtrude
themselves. The nation is forced to hear two sides--all the sides,
perhaps, of that which most concerns it. And it likes to hear--it is
eager to know. Human nature despises long arguments which come to
nothing--heavy speeches which precede no motion--abstract disquisitions
which leave visible things where they were. But all men heed great
results, and a change of Government is a great result. It has a hundred
ramifications; it runs through society; it gives hope to many, and it
takes away hope from many. It is one of those marked events which, by
its magnitude and its melodrama, impress men even too much. And debates
which have this catastrophe at the end of them--or may so have it--are
sure to be listened to, and sure to sink deep into the national mind.
Travellers even in the Northern States of America, the greatest and
best of Presidential countries, have noticed that the nation was "not
specially addicted to politics"; that they have not a public opinion
finished and chastened as that of the English has been finished and
chastened. A great many hasty writers have charged this defect on the
"Yankee race," on the Anglo-American character; but English people, if
they had no motive to attend to politics, certainly would not attend to
politics. At present there is BUSINESS in their attention. They assist
at the determining crisis; they arrest or help it. Whether the
Government will go out or remain is determined by the debate, and by
the division in Parliament. And the opinion out of doors, the secret
pervading disposition of society, has a great influence on that
division. The nation feels that its judgment is important, and it
strives to judge. It succeeds in deciding because the debates and the
discussions give it the facts and the arguments. But under a
Presidential government, a nation has, except at the electing moment,
no influence; it has not the ballot-box before it; its virtue is gone,
and it must wait till its instant of despotism again returns. It is not
incited to form an opinion like a nation under a Cabinet government;
nor is it instructed like such a nation. There are doubtless debates in
the legislature, but they are prologues without a play. There is
nothing of a catastrophe about them; you can not turn out the
Government. The prize of power is not in the gift of the legislature,
and no one cares for the legislature. The executive, the great centre
of power and place, sticks irremovable; you cannot change it in any
event. The teaching apparatus which has educated our public mind, which
prepares our resolutions, which shapes our opinions, does not exist. No
Presidential country needs to form daily delicate opinions, or is
helped in forming them. It might be thought that the discussions in the
press would supply the deficiencies in the Constitution; that by a
reading people especially, the conduct of their Government would be as
carefully watched, that their opinions about it would be as consistent,
as accurate, as well considered, under a Presidential as under a
Cabinet polity. But the same difficulty oppresses the press which
oppresses the legislature. It can DO NOTHING. It cannot change the
administration; the executive was elected for such and such years, and
for such and such years it must last. People wonder that so literary a
people as the Americans--a people who read more than any people who
ever lived, who read so many newspapers--should have such bad
newspapers. The papers are not so good as the English, because they
have not the same motive to be good as the English papers. At a
political "crisis," as we say--that is, when the fate of an
administration is unfixed, when it depends on a few votes yet
unsettled, upon a wavering and veering opinion--effective articles in
great journals become of essential moment. The Times has made many
ministries. When, as of late, there has been a long continuance of
divided Parliaments, of Governments which were without "brute voting
power," and which depended on intellectual strength, the support of the
most influential organ of English opinion has been of critical moment.
If a Washington newspaper could have turned out Mr. Lincoln, there
would have been good writing and fine argument in the Washington
newspapers. But the Washington newspapers can no more remove a
President during his term of place than the Times can remove a lord
mayor during his year of office. Nobody cares for a debate in Congress
which "comes to nothing," and no one reads long articles which have no
influence on events. The Americans glance at the heads of news, and
through the paper. They do not enter upon a discussion. They do not
think of entering upon a discussion which would be useless.


[2] It is worth observing that even during the short existence of the
Confederate Government these evils distinctly showed themselves. Almost
the last incident at the Richmond Congress was an angry financial
correspondence with Jefferson Davis.

[3] I leave this passage to stand as it was written, just after the
assassination of Mr. Lincoln, and when every one said Mr. Johnson would
be very hostile to the South.


After saying that the division of the legislature and the executive in
Presidential governments weakens the legislative power, it may seem a
contradiction to say that it also weakens the executive power. But it
is not a contradiction. The division weakens the whole aggregate force
of Government--the entire imperial power; and therefore it weakens both
its halves. The executive is weakened in a very plain way. In England a
strong Cabinet can obtain the concurrence of the legislature in all
acts which facilitate its administration; it is itself, so to say, the
legislature. But a President may be hampered by the Parliament, and is
likely to be hampered. The natural tendency of the members of every
legislature is to make themselves conspicuous. They wish to gratify an
ambition laudable or blamable; they wish to promote the measures they
think best for the public welfare; they wish to make their WILL felt in
great affairs. All these mixed motives urge them to oppose the
executive. They are embodying the purposes of others if they aid; they
are advancing their own opinions if they defeat: they are first if they
vanquish; they are auxiliaries if they support. The weakness of the
American executive used to be the great theme of all critics before the
Confederate rebellion. Congress and committees of Congress of course
impeded the executive when there was no coercive public sentiment to
check and rule them.

But the Presidential system not only gives the executive power an
antagonist in the legislative power, and so makes it weaker; it also
enfeebles it by impairing its intrinsic quality. A Cabinet is elected
by a legislature; and when that legislature is composed of fit persons,
that mode of electing the executive is the very best. It is a case of
secondary election, under the only conditions in which secondary
election is preferable to primary. Generally speaking, in an
electioneering country (I mean in a country full of political life, and
used to the manipulation of popular institutions), the election of
candidates to elect candidates is a farce. The Electoral College of
America is so. It was intended that the deputies when assembled should
exercise a real discretion, and by independent choice select the
President. But the primary electors take too much interest. They only
elect a deputy to vote for Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Breckenridge, and the
deputy only takes a ticket, and drops that ticket in an urn. He never
chooses or thinks of choosing. He is but a messenger--a transmitter;
the real decision is in those who choose him--who chose him because
they knew what he would do. It is true that the British House of
Commons is subject to the same influences. Members are mostly, perhaps,
elected because they will vote for a particular Ministry, rather than
for purely legislative reasons. But--and here is the capital
distinction--the functions of the House of Commons are important and
CONTINUOUS. It does not, like the Electoral College in the United
States, separate when it has elected its ruler; it watches, legislates,
seats and unseats ministries, from day to day. Accordingly it is a REAL
electoral body. The Parliament of 1857, which, more than any other
Parliament of late years, was a Parliament elected to support a
particular premier--which was chosen, as Americans might say, upon the
"Palmerston ticket"--before it had been in existence two years,
dethroned Lord Palmerston. Though selected in the interest of a
particular Ministry, it in fact destroyed that Ministry. A good
Parliament, too, is a capital choosing body. If it is fit to make laws
for a country, its majority ought to represent the general average
intelligence of that country; its various members ought to represent
the various special interests, special opinions, special prejudices, to
be found in that community. There ought to be an advocate for every
particular sect, and a vast neutral body of no sect--homogeneous and
judicial, like the nation itself. Such a body, when possible, is the
best selector of executives that can be imagined. It is full of
political activity; it is close to political life; it feels the
responsibility of affairs which are brought as it were to its
threshold; it has as much intelligence as the society in question
chances to contain. It is, what Washington and Hamilton strove to
create, an electoral college of the picked men of the nation. The best
mode of appreciating its advantages is to look at the alternative. The
competing constituency is the nation itself, and this is, according to
theory and experience, in all but the rarest cases, a bad constituency.
Mr. Lincoln, at his second election, being elected when all the Federal
States had set their united hearts on one single object, was
voluntarily reelected by an actually choosing nation. He embodied the
object in which every one was absorbed. But this is almost the only
Presidential election of which so much can be said. In almost all cases
the President is chosen by a machinery of caucuses and combinations too
complicated to be perfectly known, and too familiar to require
description. He is not the choice of the nation, he is the choice of
the wire-pullers. A very large constituency in quiet times is the
necessary, almost the legitimate, subject of electioneering management:
a man cannot know that he does not throw his vote away except he votes
as part of some great organisation; and if he votes as a part, he
abdicates his electoral function in favour of the managers of that
association. The nation, even if it chose for itself, would, in some
degree, be an unskilled body; but when it does not choose for itself,
but only as latent agitators wish, it is like a large, lazy man, with a
small vicious mind,--it moves slowly and heavily, but it moves at the
bidding of a bad intention; it "means LITTLE, but it means that little
ILL."

And, as the nation is less able to choose than a Parliament, so it has
worse people to choose out of. The American legislators of the last
century have been much blamed for not permitting the Ministers of the
President to be members of the assembly; but, with reference to the
specific end which they had in view, they saw clearly and decided
wisely. They wished to keep "the legislative branch absolutely distinct
from the executive branch"; they believed such a separation to be
essential to a good constitution; they believed such a separation to
exist in the English, which the wisest of them thought the best
Constitution. And, to the effectual maintenance of such a separation,
the exclusion of the President's Ministers from the legislature is
essential. If they are not excluded they become the executive, they
eclipse the President himself. A legislative chamber is greedy and
covetous; it acquires as much, it concedes as little as possible. The
passions of its members are its rulers; the law-making faculty, the
most comprehensive of the imperial faculties, is its instrument; it
will take the administration if it can take it. Tried by their own
aims, the founders of the United States were wise in excluding the
Ministers from Congress.

But though this exclusion is essential to the Presidential system of
government, it is not for that reason a small evil. It causes the
degradation of public life. Unless a member of the legislature be sure
of something more than speech, unless he is incited by the hope of
action, and chastened by the chance of responsibility, a first-rate man
will not care to take the place, and will not do much if he does take
it. To belong to a debating society adhering to an executive (and this
is no inapt description of a congress under a Presidential
Constitution) is not an object to stir a noble ambition, and is a
position to encourage idleness. The members of a Parliament excluded
from office can never be comparable, much less equal, to those of a
Parliament not excluded from office. The Presidential Government, by
its nature, divides political life into two halves, an executive half
and a legislative half; and, by so dividing it, makes neither half
worth a man's having--worth his making it a continuous career--worthy
to absorb, as Cabinet government absorbs, his whole soul. The statesmen
from whom a nation chooses under a Presidential system are much
inferior to those from whom it chooses under a Cabinet system, while
the selecting apparatus is also far less discerning.

All these differences are more important at critical periods, because
government itself is more important. A formed public opinion, a
respectable, able, and disciplined legislature, a well-chosen
executive, a Parliament and an administration not thwarting each other,
but co-operating with each other, are of greater consequence when great
affairs are in progress than when small affairs are in progress-when
there is much to do than when there is little to do. But in addition to
this, a Parliamentary or Cabinet Constitution possesses an additional
and special advantage in very dangerous times. It has what we may call
a reserve of power fit for and needed by extreme exigencies.

The principle of popular government is that the supreme power, the
determining efficacy in matters political, resides in the people--not
necessarily or commonly in the whole people, in the numerical majority,
but in a CHOSEN people, a picked and selected people. It is so in
England; it is so in all free countries. Under a Cabinet Constitution
at a sudden emergency this people can choose a ruler for the occasion.
It is quite possible and even likely that he would not be ruler before
the occasion. The great qualities, the imperious will, the rapid
energy, the eager nature fit for a great crisis are not required--are
impediments--in common times; A Lord Liverpool is better in everyday
politics than a Chatham--a Louis Philippe far better than a Napoleon.
By the structure of the world we often want, at the sudden occurrence
of a grave tempest, to change the helmsman--to replace the pilot of the
calm by the pilot of the storm. In England we have had so few
catastrophes since our Constitution attained maturity, that we hardly
appreciate this latent excellence. We have not needed a Cavour to rule
a revolution--a representative man above all men fit for a great
occasion, and by a natural legal mode brought in to rule. But even in
England, at what was the nearest to a great sudden crisis which we have
had of late years--at the Crimean difficulty--we used this inherent
power. We abolished the Aberdeen Cabinet, the ablest we have had,
perhaps, since the Reform Act--a Cabinet not only adapted, but
eminently adapted, for every sort of difficulty save the one it had to
meet--which abounded in pacific discretion, and was wanting only in the
"daemonic element"; we chose a statesman, who had the sort of merit
then wanted, who, when he feels the steady power of England behind him,
will advance without reluctance, and will strike without restraint. As
was said at the time, "We turned out the Quaker, and put in the
pugilist".

But under a Presidential government you can do nothing of the kind. The
American Government calls itself a Government of the supreme people;
but at a quick crisis, the time when a sovereign power is most needed,
you cannot FIND the supreme people. You have got a Congress elected for
one fixed period, going out perhaps by fixed instalments, which cannot
be accelerated or retarded--you have a President chosen for a fixed
period, and immovable during that period: all the arrangements are for
STATED times. There is no ELASTIC element, everything is rigid,
specified, dated. Come what may, you can quicken nothing, and can
retard nothing. You have bespoken your Government in advance, and
whether it suits you or not, whether it works well or works ill,
whether it is what you want or not, by law you must keep it. In a
country of complex foreign relations it would mostly happen that the
first and most critical year of every war would be managed by a peace
Premier, and the first and most critical years of peace by a war
Premier. In each case the period of transition would be irrevocably
governed by a man selected not for what he was to introduce, but what
he was to change--for the policy he was to abandon, not for the policy
he was to administer.

The whole history of the American Civil War--a history which has thrown
an intense light on the working of a Presidential government at the
time when government is most important--is but a vast continuous
commentary on these reflections. It would, indeed, be absurd to press
against Presidential government AS SUCH the singular defect by which
Vice-President Johnson has become President--by which a man elected to
a sinecure is fixed in what is for the moment the most important
administrative part in the political world. This defect, though most
characteristic of the expectations[4] of the framers of the
Constitution and of its working, is but an accident of this particular
case of Presidential government, and no necessary ingredient in that
government itself. But the first election of Mr. Lincoln is liable to
no such objection. It was a characteristic instance of the natural
working of such a government upon a great occasion. And what was that
working? It may be summed up--it was government by an UNKNOWN QUANTITY.
Hardly any one in America had any living idea what Mr. Lincoln was
like, or any definite notion what he would do. The leading statesmen
under the system of Cabinet government are not only household words,
but household IDEAS. A conception, not, perhaps, in all respects a true
but a most vivid conception of what Mr. Gladstone is like, or what Lord
Palmerston is like, runs through society. We have simply no notion what
it would be to be left with the visible sovereignty in the hands of an
unknown man. The notion of employing a man of unknown smallness at a
crisis of unknown greatness is to our minds simply ludicrous. Mr.
Lincoln, it is true, happened to be a man, if not of eminent ability,
yet of eminent justness. There was an inner depth of Puritan nature
which came out under suffering, and was very attractive. But success in
a lottery is no argument for lotteries. What were the chances against a
person of Lincoln's antecedents, elected as he was, proving to be what
he was? Such an incident is, however, natural to a Presidential
government. The President is elected by processes which forbid the
election of known men, except at peculiar conjunctures, and in moments
when public opinion is excited and despotic; and consequently if a
crisis comes upon us soon after he is elected, inevitably we have
government by an unknown quantity--the superintendence of that crisis
by what our great satirist would have called "Statesman X". Even in
quiet times, government by a President, is, for the several various
reasons which have been stated, inferior to government by a Cabinet;
but the difficulty of quiet times is nothing as compared with the
difficulty of unquiet times. The comparative deficiencies of the
regular, common operation of a Presidential government are far less
than the comparative deficiencies in time of sudden trouble--the want
of elasticity, the impossibility of a dictatorship, the total absence
of a REVOLUTIONARY RESERVE. This contrast explains why the
characteristic quality of Cabinet Governments--the fusion of the
executive power with the legislative power--is of such cardinal
importance. I shall proceed to show under what form and with what
adjuncts it exists in England.


[4] The framers of the Constitution expected that the vice-president
would be elected by the Electoral College as the second wisest man in
the country. The vice-presidentship being a sinecure, a second-rate man
agreeable to the wire-pullers is always smuggled in. The chance of
succession to the presidentship is too distant to be thought of.



NO. III.

THE MONARCHY.


I.

The use of the Queen, in a dignified capacity, is incalculable. Without
her in England, the present English Government would fail and pass
away. Most people when they read that the Queen walked on the slopes at
Windsor--that the Prince of Wales went to the Derby--have imagined that
too much thought and prominence were given to little things. But they
have been in error; and it is nice to trace how the actions of a
retired widow and an unemployed youth become of such importance.

The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an
intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they
hardly anywhere in the world understand any other. It is often said
that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say
they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations. The nature of
a constitution, the action of an assembly, the play of parties, the
unseen formation of a guiding opinion, are complex facts, difficult to
know and easy to mistake. But the action of a single will, the fiat of
a single mind, are easy ideas: anybody can make them out, and no one
can ever forget them. When you put before the mass of mankind the
question, "Will you be governed by a king, or will you be governed by a
constitution?" the inquiry comes out thus--"Will you be governed in a
way you understand, or will you be governed in a way you do not
understand?" The issue was put to the French people; they were asked,
"Will you be governed by Louis Napoleon, or will you be governed by an
assembly?" The French people said, "We will be governed by the one man
we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine".

The best mode of comprehending the nature of the two Governments, is to
look at a country in which the two have within a comparatively short
space of years succeeded each other.

"The political condition," says Mr. Grote, "which Grecian legend
everywhere presents to us, is in its principal features strikingly
different from that which had become universally prevalent among the
Greeks in the time of the Peloponnesian War. Historical oligarchy, as
well as democracy, agreed in requiring a certain established system of
government, comprising the three elements of specialised functions,
temporary functionaries, and ultimate responsibility (under some forms
or other) to the mass of qualified citizens--either a Senate or an
Ecclesia, or both. There were, of course, many and capital distinctions
between one Government and another, in respect to the qualification of
the citizen, the attributes and efficiency of the general assembly, the
admissibility to power, etc.; and men might often be dissatisfied with
the way in which these questions were determined in their own city. But
in the mind of every man, some determining rule or system--something
like what in modern times is called a CONSTITUTION--was indispensable
to any Government entitled to be called legitimate, or capable of
creating in the mind of a Greek a feeling of moral obligation to obey
it. The functionaries who exercise authority under it might be more or
less competent or popular; but his personal feelings towards them were
commonly lost in his attachment or aversion to the general system. If
any energetic man could by audacity or craft break down the
Constitution, and render himself permanent ruler according to his own
will and pleasure, even though he might govern well, he could never
inspire the people with any sentiment of duty towards him: his sceptre
was illegitimate from the beginning, and even the taking of his life,
far from being interdicted by that moral feeling which condemned the
shedding of blood in other cases, was considered meritorious: he could
not even be mentioned in the language except by a name (_tyrannos_,
despot) which branded him as an object of mingled fear and dislike.

"If we carry our eyes back from historical to legendary Greece, we find
a picture the reverse of what has been here sketched. We discern a
government in which there is little or no scheme or system, still less
any idea of responsibility to the governed, but in which the mainspring
of obedience on the part of the people consists in their personal
feeling and reverence towards the chief. We remark, first and foremost,
the King; next, a limited number of subordinate kings or chiefs;
afterwards, the mass of armed freemen, husbandmen, artisans,
freebooters, &c.; lowest of all, the free labourers for hire and the
bought slaves. The King is not distinguished by any broad, or
impassable boundary from the other chiefs, to each of whom the title
Basileus is applicable as well as to himself: his supremacy has been
inherited from his ancestors, and passes by inheritance, as a general
rule, to his eldest son, having been conferred upon the family as a
privilege by the favour of Zeus. In war, he is the leader, foremost in
personal prowess, and directing all military movements; in peace, he is
the general protector of the injured and oppressed; he offers up
moreover those public prayers and sacrifices which are intended to
obtain for the whole people the favour of the gods. An ample domain is
assigned to him as an appurtenance of his lofty position, and the
produce of his fields and his cattle is consecrated in part to an
abundant, though rude hospitality. Moreover he receives frequent
presents, to avert his enmity, to conciliate his favour, or to buy off
his exactions; and when plunder is taken from the enemy, a large
previous share, comprising probably the most alluring female captive,
is reserved for him apart from the general distribution.

"Such is the position of the King in the heroic times of Greece--the
only person (if we except the herald, and priests, each both special
and subordinate) who is then presented to us as clothed with any
individual authority--the person by whom all the executive functions,
then few in number, which the society requires, are either performed or
directed. His personal ascendancy--derived from Divine countenance
bestowed both upon himself individually and upon his race, and probably
from accredited Divine descent--is the salient feature in the picture:
the people hearken to his voice, embrace his propositions, and obey his
orders: not merely resistance, but even criticism upon his acts, is
generally exhibited in an odious point of view, and is indeed never
heard of except from some one or more of the subordinate princes."

The characteristic of the English Monarchy is that it retains the
feelings by which the heroic kings governed their rude age, and has
added the feelings by which the Constitutions of later Greece ruled in
more refined ages. We are a more mixed people than the Athenians, or
probably than any political Greeks. We have progressed more unequally.
The slaves in ancient times were a separate order; not ruled by the
same laws, or thoughts, as other men. It was not necessary to think of
them in making a constitution: it was not necessary to improve them in
order to make a constitution possible. The Greek legislator had not to
combine in his polity men like the labourers of Somersetshire, and men
like Mr. Grote. He had not to deal with a community in which primitive
barbarism lay as a recognised basis to acquired civilisation. WE HAVE.
We have no slaves to keep down by special terrors and independent
legislation. But we have whole classes unable to comprehend the idea of
a constitution--unable to feel the least attachment to impersonal laws.
Most do indeed vaguely know that there are some other institutions
besides the Queen, and some rules by which she governs. But a vast
number like their minds to dwell more upon her than upon anything else,
and therefore she is inestimable. A republic has only difficult ideas
in government; a Constitutional Monarchy has an easy idea too; it has a
comprehensible element for the vacant many, as well as complex laws and
notions for the inquiring few.

A FAMILY on the throne is an interesting idea also. It brings down the
pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life. No feeling could seem
more childish than the enthusiasm of the English at the marriage of the
Prince of Wales. They treated as a great political event, what, looked
at as a matter of pure business, was very small indeed. But no feeling
could be more like common human nature as it is, and as it is likely to
be. The women--one half the human race at least--care fifty times more
for a marriage than a ministry. All but a few cynics like to see a
pretty novel touching for a moment the dry scenes of the grave world. A
princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as
such, it rivets mankind. We smile at the Court Circular; but remember
how many people read the Court Circular! Its use is not in what it
says, but in those to whom it speaks. They say that the Americans were
more pleased at the Queen's letter to Mrs. Lincoln, than at any act of
the English Government. It was a spontaneous act of intelligible
feeling in the midst of confused and tiresome business. Just so a royal
family sweetens politics by the seasonable addition of nice and pretty
events. It introduces irrelevant facts into the business of government,
but they are facts which speak to "men's bosoms" and employ their
thoughts.

To state the matter shortly, royalty is a government in which the
attention of the nation is concentrated on one person doing interesting
actions. A Republic is a government in which that attention is divided
between many, who are all doing uninteresting actions. Accordingly, so
long as the human heart is strong and the human reason weak, royalty
will be strong because it appeals to diffused feeling, and Republics
weak because they appeal to the understanding.

Secondly. The English Monarchy strengthens our Government with the
strength of religion. It is not easy to say why it should be so. Every
instructed theologian would say that it was the duty of a person born
under a Republic as much to obey that Republic as it is the duty of one
born under a Monarchy to obey the monarch. But the mass of the English
people do not think so; they agree with the oath of allegiance; they
say it is their duty to obey the "Queen," and they have but hazy
notions as to obeying laws without a queen. In former times, when our
Constitution was incomplete, this notion of local holiness in one part
was mischievous. All parts were struggling, and it was necessary each
should have its full growth. But superstition said one should grow
where it would, and no other part should grow without its leave. The
whole cavalier party said it was their duty to obey the king, whatever
the king did. There was to be "passive obedience" to him, and there was
no religious obedience due to any one else. He was the "Lord's
anointed," and no one else had been anointed at all. The Parliament,
the laws, the press were human institutions; but the Monarchy was a
Divine institution. An undue advantage was given to a part of the
Constitution, and therefore the progress of the whole was stayed.

After the Revolution this mischievous sentiment was much weaker. The
change of the line of sovereigns was at first conclusive, If there was
a mystic right in any one, that right was plainly in James II.; if it
was an English duty to obey any one whatever he did, he was the person
to be so obeyed; if there was an inherent inherited claim in any king,
it was in the Stuart king to whom the crown had come by descent, and
not in the Revolution king to whom it had come by vote of Parliament.
All through the reign of William III. there was (in common speech) one
king whom man had made, and another king whom God had made. The king
who ruled had no consecrated loyalty to build upon; although he ruled
in fact, according to sacred theory there was a king in France who
ought to rule. But it was very hard for the English people, with their
plain sense and slow imagination, to keep up a strong sentiment of
veneration for a foreign adventurer. He lived under the protection of a
French king; what he did was commonly stupid, and what he left undone
was very often wise. As soon as Queen Anne began to reign there was a
change of feeling; the old sacred sentiment began to cohere about her.
There were indeed difficulties which would have baffled most people;
but an Englishman whose heart is in a matter is not easily baffled.
Queen Anne had a brother living and a father living, and by every rule
of descent, their right was better than hers. But many people evaded
both claims. They said James II. had "run away," and so abdicated,
though he only ran away because he was in duresse and was frightened,
and though he claimed the allegiance of his subjects day by day. The
Pretender, it was said, was not legitimate, though the birth was proved
by evidence which any Court of Justice would have accepted. The English
people were "out of" a sacred monarch, and so they tried very hard to
make a new one. Events, however, were too strong for them. They were
ready and eager to take Queen Anne as the stock of a new dynasty; they
were ready to ignore the claims of her father and the claims of her
brother, but they could not ignore the fact that at the critical period
she had no children. She had once had thirteen, but they all died in
her lifetime, and it was necessary either to revert to the Stuarts or
to make a new king by Act of Parliament.

According to the Act of Settlement passed by the Whigs, the crown was
settled on the descendants of the "Princess Sophia" of Hanover, a
younger daughter of a daughter of James I. There were before her James
II., his son, the descendants of a daughter of Charles I., and elder
children of her own mother. But the Whigs passed these over because
they were Catholics, and selected the Princess Sophia, who, if she was
anything, was a Protestant. Certainly this selection was statesmanlike,
but it could not be very popular. It was quite impossible to say that
it was the duty of the English people to obey the House of Hanover upon
any principles which do not concede the right of the people to choose
their rulers, and which do not degrade monarchy from its solitary
pinnacle of majestic reverence, and make it one only among many
expedient institutions. If a king is a useful public functionary who
may be changed, and in whose place you may make another, you cannot
regard him with mystic awe and wonder; and if you are bound to worship
him, of course you cannot change him. Accordingly, during the whole
reigns of George I. and George II. the sentiment of religious loyalty
altogether ceased to support the Crown. The prerogative of the king had
no strong party to support it; the Tories, who naturally would support
it, disliked the actual king; and the Whigs, according to their creed,
disliked the king's office. Until the accession of George III. the most
vigorous opponents of the Crown were the country gentlemen, its natural
friends, and the representatives of quiet rural districts, where
loyalty is mostly to be found, if anywhere. But after the accession of
George III. the common feeling came back to the same point as in Queen
Anne's time. The English were ready to take the new young prince as the
beginning of a sacred line of sovereigns, just as they had been willing
to take an old lady, who was the second cousin of his
great-great-grandmother. So it is now. If you ask the immense majority
of the Queen's subjects by what right she rules, they would never tell
you that she rules by Parliamentary right, by virtue of 6 Anne, c. 7.
They will say she rules by "God's grace"; they believe that they have a
mystic obligation to obey her. When her family came to the Crown it was
a sort of treason to maintain the inalienable right of lineal
sovereignty, for it was equivalent to saying that the claim of another
family was better than hers: but now, in the strange course of human
events, that very sentiment has become her surest and best support.

But it would be a great mistake to believe that at the accession of
George III. the instinctive sentiment of hereditary loyalty at once
became as useful as now. It began to be powerful, but it hardly began
to be useful. There was so much harm done by it as well as so much
good, that it is quite capable of being argued whether on the whole it
was beneficial or hurtful. Throughout the greater part of his life
George III. was a kind of "consecrated obstruction". Whatever he did
had a sanctity different from what any one else did, and it perversely
happened that he was commonly wrong. He had as good intentions as any
one need have, and he attended to the business of his country, as a
clerk with his bread to get attends to the business of his office. But
his mind was small, his education limited, and he lived in a changing
time. Accordingly, he was always resisting what ought to be, and
prolonging what ought not to be. He was the sinister but sacred
assailant of half his ministries; and when the French Revolution
excited the horror of the world, and proved democracy to be "impious,"
the piety of England concentrated upon him, and gave him tenfold
strength. The Monarchy by its religious sanction now confirms all our
political order; in George III.'s time it confirmed little except
itself. It gives now a vast strength to the entire Constitution, by
enlisting on its behalf the credulous obedience of enormous masses;
then it lived aloof, absorbed all the holiness into itself, and turned
over all the rest of the polity to the coarse justification of bare
expediency.

A principal reason why the Monarchy so well consecrates our whole state
is to be sought in the peculiarity many Americans and many utilitarians
smile at. They laugh at this "extra," as the Yankee called it, at the
solitary transcendent element. They quote Napoleon's saying, "that he
did not wish to be fatted in idleness," when he refused to be grand
elector in Sieyes' Constitution, which was an office copied, and M.
Thiers says, well copied, from constitutional monarchy. But such
objections are wholly wrong. No doubt it was absurd enough in the Abbe
Sieyes to propose that a new institution, inheriting no reverence, and
made holy by no religion, should be created to fill the sort of post
occupied by a constitutional king in nations of monarchical history.
Such an institution, far from being so august as to spread reverence
around it, is too novel and artificial to get reverence for itself; if,
too, the absurdity could anyhow be augmented, it was so by offering an
office of inactive uselessness and pretended sanctity to Napoleon, the
most active man in France, with the greatest genius for business, only
not sacred, and exclusively fit for action. But the blunder of Sieyes
brings the excellence of real monarchy to the best light. When a
monarch can bless, it is best that he should not be touched. It should
be evident that he does no wrong. He should not be brought too closely
to real measurement. He should be aloof and solitary. As the functions
of English royalty are for the most part latent, it fulfils this
condition. It seems to order, but it never seems to struggle. It is
commonly hidden like a mystery, and sometimes paraded like a pageant,
but in neither case is it contentious. The nation is divided into
parties, but the crown is of no party. Its apparent separation from
business is that which removes it both from enmities and from
desecration, which preserves its mystery, which enables it to combine
the affection of conflicting parties--to be a visible symbol of unity
to those still so imperfectly educated as to need a symbol.

Thirdly. The Queen is the head of our society. If she did not exist the
Prime Minister would be the first person in the country. He and his
wife would have to receive foreign ministers, and occasionally foreign
princes, to give the first parties in the country; he and she would be
at the head of the pageant of life; they would represent England in the
eyes of foreign nations; they would represent the Government of England
in the eyes of the English.

It is very easy to imagine a world in which this change would not be a
great evil. In a country where people did not care for the outward show
of life, where the genius of the people was untheatrical, and they
exclusively regarded the substance of things, this matter would be
trifling. Whether Lord and Lady Derby received the foreign ministers,
or Lord and Lady Palmerston, would be a matter of indifference; whether
they gave the nicest parties would be important only to the persons at
those parties. A nation of unimpressible philosophers would not care at
all how the externals of life were managed. Who is the showman is not
material unless you care about the show.

But of all nations in the world the English are perhaps the least a
nation of pure philosophers. It would be a very serious matter to us to
change every four or five years the visible head of our world. We are
not now remarkable for the highest sort of ambition; but we are
remarkable for having a great deal of the lower sort of ambition and
envy. The House of Commons is thronged with people who get there merely
for "social purposes," as the phrase goes; that is, that they and their
families may go to parties else impossible. Members of Parliament are
envied by thousands merely for this frivolous glory, as a thinker calls
it. If the highest post in conspicuous life were thrown open to public
competition, this low sort of ambition and envy would be fearfully
increased. Politics would offer a prize too dazzling for mankind;
clever base people would strive for it, and stupid base people would
envy it. Even now a dangerous distinction is given by what is
exclusively called public life. The newspapers describe daily and
incessantly a certain conspicuous existence; they comment on its
characters, recount its details, investigate its motives, anticipate
its course. They give a precedent and a dignity to that world which
they do not give to any other. The literary world, the scientific
world, the philosophic world, not only are not comparable in dignity to
the political world, but in comparison are hardly worlds at all. The
newspaper makes no mention of them, and could not mention them. As are
the papers, so are the readers; they, by irresistible sequence and
association, believe that those people who constantly figure in the
papers are cleverer, abler, or at any rate, somehow higher, than other
people. "I wrote books," we heard of a man saying, "for twenty years,
and I was nobody; I got into Parliament, and before I had taken my seat
I had become somebody." English politicians are the men who fill the
thoughts of the English public: they are the actors on the scene, and
it is hard for the admiring spectators not to believe that the admired
actor is greater than themselves. In this present age and country it
would be very dangerous to give the slightest addition to a force
already perilously great. If the highest social rank was to be
scrambled for in the House of Commons, the number of social adventurers
there would be incalculably more numerous, and indefinitely more eager.

A very peculiar combination of causes has made this characteristic one
of the most prominent in English society. The middle ages left all
Europe with a social system headed by Courts. The Government was made
the head of all society, all intercourse, and all life; everything paid
allegiance to the sovereign, and everything ranged itself round the
sovereign--what was next to be greatest, and what was farthest least.
The idea that the head of the Government is the head of society is so
fixed in the ideas of mankind that only a few philosophers regard it as
historical and accidental, though when the matter is examined, that
conclusion is certain and even obvious.

In the first place, society as society does not naturally need a head
at all. Its constitution, if left to itself, is not monarchical, but
aristocratical. Society, in the sense we are now talking of, is the
union of people for amusement and conversation. The making of marriages
goes on in it, as it were, incidentally, but its common and main
concern is talking and pleasure. There is nothing in this which needs a
single supreme head; it is a pursuit in which a single person does not
of necessity dominate. By nature it creates an "upper ten thousand"; a
certain number of persons and families possessed of equal culture, and
equal faculties, and equal spirit, get to be on a level--and that level
a high level. By boldness, by cultivation, by "social science" they
raise themselves above others; they become the "first families," and
all the rest come to be below them. But they tend to be much about a
level among one another; no one is recognised by all or by many others
as superior to them all. This is society as it grew up in Greece or
Italy, as it grows up now in any American or colonial town. So far from
the notion of a "head of society" being a necessary notion, in many
ages it would scarcely have been an intelligible notion. You could not
have made Socrates understand it. He would have said, "If you tell me
that one of my fellows is chief magistrate, and that I am bound to obey
him, I understand you, and you speak well; or that another is a priest,
and that he ought to offer sacrifices to the gods which I or any one
not a priest ought not to offer, again I understand and agree with you.
But if you tell me that there is in some citizen a hidden charm by
which his words become better than my words, and his house better than
my house, I do not follow you, and should be pleased if you will
explain yourself."

And even if a head of society were a natural idea, it certainly would
not follow that the head of the civil Government should be that head.
Society as such has no more to do with civil polity than with
ecclesiastical. The organisation of men and women for the purpose of
amusement is not necessarily identical with their organisation for
political purposes, any more than with their organisation for religious
purposes; it has of itself no more to do with the State than it has
with the Church. The faculties which fit a man to be a great ruler are
not those of society; some great rulers have been unintelligible like
Cromwell, or brusque like Napoleon, or coarse and barbarous like Sir
Robert Walpole. The light nothings of the drawing-room and the grave
things of office are as different from one another as two human
occupations can be. There is no naturalness in uniting the two; the end
of it always is, that you put a man at the head of society who very
likely is remarkable for social defects, and is not eminent for social
merits.

The best possible commentary on these remarks is the history of English
history. It has not been sufficiently remarked that a change has taken
place in the structure of our society exactly analogous to the change
in our polity. A Republic has insinuated itself beneath the folds of a
Monarchy. Charles II. was really the head of society; Whitehall, in his
time, was the centre of the best talk, the best fashion, and the most
curious love affairs of the age. He did not contribute good morality to
society, but he set an example of infinite agreeableness. He
concentrated around him all the light part of the high world of London,
and London concentrated around it all the light part of the high world
of England. The Court was the focus where everything fascinating
gathered, and where everything exciting centred. Whitehall was an
unequalled club, with female society of a very clever and sharp sort
superadded. All this, as we know, is now altered. Buckingham Palace is
as unlike a club as any place is likely to be. The Court is a separate
part, which stands aloof from the rest of the London world, and which
has but slender relations with the more amusing part of it. The first
two Georges were men ignorant of English, and wholly unfit to guide and
lead English society. They both preferred one or two German ladies of
bad character to all else in London. George III. had no social vices,
but he had no social pleasures. He was a family man, and a man of
business, and sincerely preferred a leg of mutton and turnips after a
good day's work, to the best fashion and the most exciting talk. In
consequence, society in London, though still in form under the
domination of a Court, assumed in fact its natural and oligarchical
structure. It, too, has become an "upper ten thousand"; it is no more
monarchical in fact than the society of New York. Great ladies give the
tone to it with little reference to the particular Court world. The
peculiarly masculine world of the clubs and their neighbourhood has no
more to do in daily life with Buckingham Palace than with the
Tuileries. Formal ceremonies of presentation and attendance are
retained. The names of levee and drawing-room still sustain the memory
of the time when the king's bed-chamber and the queen's "withdrawing
room" were the centres of London life, but they no longer make a part
of social enjoyment: they are a sort of ritual in which nowadays almost
every decent person can if he likes take part. Even Court balls, where
pleasure is at least supposed to be possible, are lost in a London
July. Careful observers have long perceived this, but it was made
palpable to every one by the death of the Prince Consort. Since then
the Court has been always in a state of suspended animation, and for a
time it was quite annihilated. But everything went on as usual. A few
people who had no daughters and little money made it an excuse to give
fewer parties, and if very poor, stayed in the country, but upon the
whole the difference was not perceptible. The queen bee was taken away,
but the hive went on.

Refined and original observers have of late objected to English royalty
that it is not splendid enough. They have compared it with the French
Court, which is better in show, which comes to the surface everywhere
so that you cannot help seeing it, which is infinitely and beyond
question the most splendid thing in France. They have said, "that in
old times the English Court took too much of the nation's money, and
spent it ill; but now, when it could be trusted to spend well, it does
not take enough of the nation's money. There are arguments for not
having a Court, and there are arguments for having a splendid Court;
but there are no arguments for having a mean Court. It is better to
spend a million in dazzling when you wish to dazzle, than
three-quarters of a million in trying to dazzle and yet not dazzling."
There may be something in this theory; it may be that the Court of
England is not quite as gorgeous as we might wish to see it. But no
comparison must ever be made between it and the French Court. The
Emperor represents a different idea from the Queen. He is not the head
of the State; he IS the State. The theory of his Government is that
every one in France is equal, and that the Emperor embodies the
principle of equality. The greater you make him, the less, and
therefore the more equal, you make all others. He is magnified that
others may be dwarfed. The very contrary is the principle of English
royalty. As in politics it would lose its principal use if it came
forward into the public arena, so in society if it advertised itself it
would be pernicious. We have voluntary show enough already in London;
we do not wish to have it encouraged and intensified, but quieted and
mitigated. Our Court is but the head of an unequal, competing,
aristocratic society; its splendour would not keep others down, but
incite others to come on. It is of use so long as it keeps others out
of the first place, and is guarded and retired in that place. But it
would do evil if it added a new example to our many examples of showy
wealth--if it gave the sanction of its dignity to the race of
expenditure.

Fourthly. We have come to regard the Crown as the head of our morality.
The virtues of Queen Victoria and the virtues of George III. have sunk
deep into the popular heart. We have come to believe that it is natural
to have a virtuous sovereign, and that the domestic virtues are as
likely to be found on thrones as they are eminent when there. But a
little experience and less thought show that royalty cannot take credit
for domestic excellence. Neither George I., nor George II., nor William
IV. were patterns of family merit; George IV. was a model of family
demerit. The plain fact is, that to the disposition of all others most
likely to go wrong, to an excitable disposition, the place of a
constitutional king has greater temptations than almost any other, and
fewer suitable occupations than almost any other. All the world and all
the glory of it, whatever is most attractive, whatever is most
seductive, has always been offered to the Prince of Wales of the day,
and always will be. It is not rational to expect the best virtue where
temptation is applied in the most trying form at the frailest time of
human life. The occupations of a constitutional monarch are grave,
formal, important, but never exciting; they have nothing to stir eager
blood, awaken high imagination, work off wild thoughts. On men like
George III., with a predominant taste for business occupations, the
routine duties of constitutional royalty have doubtless a calm and
chastening effect. The insanity with which he struggled, and in many
cases struggled very successfully, during many years, would probably
have burst out much oftener but for the sedative effect of sedulous
employment. But how few princes have ever felt the anomalous impulse
for real work; how uncommon is that impulse anywhere; how little are
the circumstances of princes calculated to foster it; how little can it
be relied on as an ordinary breakwater to their habitual temptations!
Grave and careful men may have domestic virtues on a constitutional
throne, but even these fail sometimes, and to imagine that men of more
eager temperaments will commonly produce them, is to expect grapes from
thorns and figs from thistles.

Lastly, constitutional royalty has the function which I insisted on at
length in my last essay, and which, though it is by far the greatest, I
need not now enlarge upon again. It acts as a DISGUISE. It enables our
real rulers to change without heedless people knowing it. The masses of
Englishmen are not fit for an elective government; if they knew how
near they were to it, they would be surprised, and almost tremble.

Of a like nature is the value of constitutional royalty in times of
transition. The greatest of all helps to the substitution of a Cabinet
government for a preceding absolute monarchy is the accession of a king
favourable to such a government, and pledged to it. Cabinet government,
when new, is weak in time of trouble. The Prime Minister--the chief on
whom everything depends, who must take responsibility if any one is to
take it, who must use force if any one is to use it--is not fixed in
power. He holds his place, by the essence of the Government, with some
uncertainty. Among a people well-accustomed to such a Government, such
a functionary may be bold: he may rely, if not on the Parliament, on
the nation which understands and values him. But when that Government
has only recently been introduced, it is difficult for such a Minister
to be as bold as he ought to be. His power rests too much on human
reason, and too little on human instinct. The traditional strength of
the hereditary monarch is at these times of incalculable use. It would
have been impossible for England to get through the first years after
1688 but for the singular ability of William III. It would have been
impossible for Italy to have attained and kept her freedom without the
help of Victor Emmanuel: neither the work of Cavour nor the work of
Garibaldi were more necessary than his. But the failure of Louis
Philippe to use his reserve power as constitutional monarch is the most
instructive proof how great that reserve power is. In February, 1848,
Guizot was weak because his tenure of office was insecure. Louis
Philippe should have made that tenure certain. Parliamentary reform
might afterwards have been conceded to instructed opinion, but nothing
ought to have been conceded to the mob. The Parisian populace ought to
have been put down, as Guizot wished. If Louis Philippe had been a fit
king to introduce free government, he would have strengthened his
Ministers when they were the instruments of order, even if he
afterwards discarded them when order was safe, and policy could be
discussed. But he was one of the cautious men who are "noted" to fail
in old age: though of the largest experience and of great ability, he
failed and lost his crown for want of petty and momentary energy, which
at such a crisis a plain man would have at once put forth.

Such are the principal modes in which the institution of royalty by its
august aspect influences mankind, and in the English state of
civilisation they are invaluable. Of the actual business of the
sovereign--the real work the Queen does--I shall speak in my next paper.


II.

The House of Commons has inquired into most things, but has never had a
committee on "the Queen". There is no authentic blue-book to say what
she does. Such an investigation cannot take place; but if it could, it
would probably save her much vexatious routine, and many toilsome and
unnecessary hours.

The popular theory of the English Constitution involves two errors as
to the sovereign. First, in its oldest form at least, it considers him
as an "Estate of the Realm," a separate co-ordinate authority with the
House of Lords and the House of Commons. This and much else the
sovereign once was, but this he is no longer. That authority could only
be exercised by a monarch with a legislative veto. He should be able to
reject bills, if not as the House of Commons rejects them, at least as
the House of Peers rejects them. But the Queen has no such veto. She
must sign her own death-warrant if the two Houses unanimously send it
up to her. It is a fiction of the past to ascribe to her legislative
power. She has long ceased to have any. Secondly, the ancient theory
holds that the Queen is the executive. The American Constitution was
made upon a most careful argument, and most of that argument assumes
the king to be the administrator of the English Constitution, and an
unhereditary substitute for him--viz., a president--to be peremptorily
necessary. Living across the Atlantic, and misled by accepted
doctrines, the acute framers of the Federal Constitution, even after
the keenest attention, did not perceive the Prime Minister to be the
principal executive of the British Constitution, and the sovereign a
cog in the mechanism. There is, indeed, much excuse for the American
legislators in the history of that time. They took their idea of our
Constitution from the time when they encountered it. But in the
so-called Government of Lord North, George III. was the Government.
Lord North was not only his appointee, but his agent. The Minister
carried on a war which he disapproved and hated, because it was a war
which his sovereign approved and liked. Inevitably, therefore, the
American Convention believed the King, from whom they had suffered, to
be the real executive, and not the Minister, from whom they had not
suffered.

If we leave literary theory, and look to our actual old law, it is
wonderful how much the sovereign can do. A few years ago the Queen very
wisely attempted to make life peers, and the House of Lords very
unwisely, and contrary to its own best interests, refused to admit her
claim. They said her power had decayed into non-existence; she once had
it, they allowed, but it had ceased by long disuse. If any one will run
over the pages of Comyn's Digest or any other such book, title
"Prerogative," he will find the Queen has a hundred such powers which
waver between reality and desuetude, and which would cause a protracted
and very interesting legal argument if she tried to exercise them. Some
good lawyer ought to write a careful book to say which of these powers
are really usable, and which are obsolete. There is no authentic
explicit information as to what the Queen can do, any more than of what
she does.

In the bare superficial theory of free institutions this is undoubtedly
a defect. Every power in a popular Government ought to be known. The
whole notion of such a Government is that the political people--the
governing people--rules as it thinks fit. All the acts of every
administration are to be canvassed by it; it is to watch if such acts
seem good, and in some manner or other to interpose if they seem not
good. But it cannot judge if it is to be kept in ignorance; it cannot
interpose if it does not know. A secret prerogative is an
anomaly--perhaps the greatest of anomalies. That secrecy is, however,
essential to the utility of English royalty as it now is. Above all
things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about
it you cannot reverence it. When there is a select committee on the
Queen, the charm of royalty will be gone. Its mystery is its life. We
must not let in daylight upon magic. We must not bring the Queen into
the combat of politics, or she will cease to be reverenced by all
combatants; she will become one combatant among many. The existence of
this secret power is, according to abstract theory, a defect in our
constitutional polity, but it is a defect incident to a civilisation
such as ours, where august and therefore unknown powers are needed, as
well as known and serviceable powers.

If we attempt to estimate the working of this inner power by the
evidence of those, whether dead or living, who have been brought in
contact with it, we shall find a singular difference. Both the
courtiers of George III. and the courtiers of Queen Victoria are agreed
as to the magnitude of the royal influence. It is with both an accepted
secret doctrine that the Crown does more than it seems. But there is a
wide discrepancy in opinion as to the quality of that action. Mr. Fox
did not scruple to describe the hidden influence of George III. as the
undetected agency of "an infernal spirit". The action of the Crown at
that period was the dread and terror of Liberal politicians. But now
the best Liberal politicians say, "WE shall never know, but when
history is written our children may know, what we owe to the Queen and
Prince Albert". The mystery of the Constitution, which used to be hated
by our calmest, most thoughtful, and instructed statesmen, is now loved
and reverenced by them.

Before we try to account for this change, there is one part of the
duties of the Queen which should be struck out of the discussion. I
mean the formal part. The Queen has to assent to and sign countless
formal documents, which contain no matter of policy, of which the
purport is insignificant, which any clerk could sign as well. One great
class of documents George III. used to read before he signed them, till
Lord Thurlow told him, "It was nonsense his looking at them, for he
could not understand them". But the worst case is that of commissions
in the army. Till an Act passed only three years since the Queen used
to sign ALL military commissions, and she still signs all fresh
commissions. The inevitable and natural consequence is that such
commissions were, and to some extent still are, in arrears by
thousands. Men have often been known to receive their commissions for
the first time years after they have left the service. If the Queen had
been an ordinary officer she would long since have complained, and long
since have been relieved of this slavish labour. A cynical statesman is
said to have defended it on the ground "that you MAY have a fool for a
sovereign, and then it would be desirable he should have plenty of
occupation in which he can do no harm". But it is in truth childish to
heap formal duties of business upon a person who has of necessity so
many formal duties of society. It is a remnant of the old days when
George III. would know everything, however trivial, and assent to
everything, however insignificant. These labours of routine may be
dismissed from the discussions. It is not by them that the sovereign
acquires his authority either for evil or for good.

The best mode of testing what we owe to the Queen is to make a vigorous
effort of the imagination, and see how we should get on without her.
Let us strip Cabinet government of all its accessories, let us reduce
it to its two necessary constituents--a representative assembly (a
House of Commons) and a Cabinet appointed by that assembly--and examine
how we should manage with them only. We are so little accustomed to
analyse the Constitution; we are so used to ascribe the whole effect of
the Constitution to the whole Constitution, that a great many people
will imagine it to be impossible that a nation should thrive or even
live with only these two simple elements. But it is upon that
possibility that the general imitability of the English Government
depends. A monarch that can be truly reverenced, a House of Peers that
can be really respected, are historical accidents nearly peculiar to
this one island, and entirely peculiar to Europe. A new country, if it
is to be capable of a Cabinet government, if it is not to degrade
itself to Presidential government, must create that Cabinet out of its
native resources--must not rely on these Old World debris.

Many modes might be suggested by which a Parliament might do in
appearance what our Parliament does in reality, viz., appoint a
Premier. But I prefer to select the simplest of all modes. We shall
then see the bare skeleton of this polity, perceive in what it differs
from the royal form, and be quite free from the imputation of having
selected an unduly charming and attractive substitute.

Let us suppose the House of Commons--existing alone and by itself--to
appoint the Premier quite simply, just as the shareholders of a railway
choose a director. At each vacancy, whether caused by death or
resignation, let any member or members have the right of nominating a
successor; after a proper interval, such as the time now commonly
occupied by a Ministerial crisis, ten days or a fortnight, let the
members present vote for the candidate they prefer; then let the
Speaker count the votes, and the candidate with the greatest number be
Premier. This mode of election would throw the whole choice into the
hands of party organisation, just as our present mode does, except in
so far as the Crown interferes with it; no outsider would ever be
appointed, because the immense number of votes which every great party
brings into the field would far outnumber every casual and petty
minority. The Premier should not be appointed for a fixed time, but
during good behaviour or the pleasure of Parliament. Mutatis mutandis,
subject to the differences now to be investigated, what goes on now
would go on then. The Premier then, as now, must resign upon a vote of
want of confidence, but the volition of Parliament would then be the
overt and single force in the selection of a successor, whereas it is
now the predominant though latent force.

It will help the discussion very much if we divide it into three parts.
The whole course of a representative Government has three
stages--first, when a Ministry is appointed; next, during its
continuance; last, when it ends. Let us consider what is the exact use
of the Queen at each of these stages, and how our present form of
government differs in each, whether for good or for evil from that
simpler form of Cabinet government which might exist without her.

At the beginning of an administration there would not be much
difference between the royal and unroyal species of Cabinet governments
when there were only two great parties in the State, and when the
greater of those parties was thoroughly agreed within itself who should
be its Parliamentary leader, and who therefore should be its Premier.
The sovereign must now accept that recognised leader; and if the choice
were directly made by the House of Commons, the House must also choose
him; its supreme section, acting compactly and harmoniously, would sway
its decisions without substantial resistance, and perhaps without even
apparent competition. A predominant party, rent by no intestine
demarcation, would be despotic. In such a case Cabinet government would
go on without friction whether there was a Queen or whether there was
no Queen. The best sovereign could then achieve no good, and the worst
effect no harm.

But the difficulties are far greater when the predominant party is not
agreed who should be its leader. In the royal form of Cabinet
government the sovereign then has sometimes a substantial selection; in
the unroyal, who would choose? There must be a meeting at "Willis's
Rooms"; there must be that sort of interior despotism of the majority
over the minority within the party, by which Lord John Russell in 1859
was made to resign his pretensions to the supreme government, and to be
content to serve as a subordinate to Lord Palmerston. The tacit
compression which a party anxious for office would exercise over
leaders who divided its strength, would be used and must be used.
Whether such a party would always choose precisely the best man may
well be doubted. In a party once divided it is very difficult to secure
unanimity in favour of the very person whom a disinterested bystander
would recommend. All manner of jealousies and enmities are immediately
awakened, and it is always difficult, often impossible, to get them to
sleep again. But though such a party might not select the very best
leader, they have the strongest motives to select a very good leader.
The maintenance of their rule depends on it Under a Presidential
Constitution the preliminary caucuses which choose the President need
not care as to the ultimate fitness of the man they choose. They are
solely concerned with his attractiveness as a candidate; they need not
regard his efficiency as a ruler. If they elect a man of weak judgment,
he will reign his stated term; even though he show the best judgment,
at the end of that term there will be by constitutional destiny another
election. But under a Ministerial government there is no such fixed
destiny. The Government is a removable Government, its tenure depends
upon its conduct. If a party in power were so foolish as to choose a
weak man for its head, it would cease to be in power. Its judgment is
its life. Suppose in 1859 that the Whig party had determined to set
aside both Earl Russell and Lord Palmerston and to choose for its head
an incapable nonentity, the Whig party would probably have been exiled
from office at the Schleswig-Holstein difficulty. The nation would have
deserted them, and Parliament would have deserted them, too; neither
would have endured to see a secret negotiation, on which depended the
portentous alternative of war or peace, in the hands of a person who
was thought to be weak--who had been promoted because of his
mediocrity--whom his own friends did not respect. A Ministerial
government, too, is carried on in the face of day. Its life is in
debate. A President may be a weak man; yet if he keep good Ministers to
the end of his administration, he may not be found out--it may still be
a dubious controversy whether he is wise or foolish. But a Prime
Minister must show what he is. He must meet the House of Commons in
debate; he must be able to guide that assembly in the management of its
business, to gain its ear in every emergency, to rule it in its hours
of excitement. He is conspicuously submitted to a searching test, and
if he fails he must resign.

Nor would any party like to trust to a weak man the great power which a
Cabinet government commits to its Premier. The Premier, though elected
by Parliament can dissolve Parliament. Members would be naturally
anxious that the power which might destroy their coveted dignity should
be lodged in fit hands. They dare not place in unfit hands a power
which, besides hurting the nation, might altogether ruin them. We may
be sure, therefore, that whenever the predominant party is divided, the
UN-royal form of Cabinet government would secure for us a fair and able
Parliamentary leader--that it would give us a good Premier, if not the
very best. Can it be said that the royal form does more?

In one case I think it may. If the constitutional monarch be a man of
singular discernment, of unprejudiced disposition, and great political
knowledge, he may pick out from the ranks of the divided party its very
best leader, even at a time when the party, if left to itself, would
not nominate him. If the sovereign be able to play the part of that
thoroughly intelligent but perfectly disinterested spectator who is so
prominent in the works of certain moralists, he may be able to choose
better for his subjects than they would choose for themselves. But if
the monarch be not so exempt from prejudice, and have not this nearly
miraculous discernment, it is not likely that he will be able to make a
wiser choice than the choice of the party itself. He certainly is not
under the same motive to choose wisely. His place is fixed whatever
happens, but the failure of an appointing party depends on the capacity
of their appointee.

There is great danger, too, that the judgment of the sovereign may be
prejudiced. For more than forty years the personal antipathies of
George III. materially impaired successive administrations. Almost at
the beginning of his career he discarded Lord Chatham: almost at the
end he would not permit Mr. Pitt to coalesce with Mr. Fox. He always
preferred mediocrity; he generally disliked high ability; he always
disliked great ideas. If constitutional monarchs be ordinary men of
restricted experience and common capacity (and we have no right to
suppose that BY MIRACLE they will be more), the judgment of the
sovereign will often be worse than the judgment of the party, and he
will be very subject to the chronic danger of preferring a respectful
common-place man, such as Addington, to an independent first-rate man,
such as Pitt.

We shall arrive at the same sort of mixed conclusion if we examine the
choice of a Premier under both systems in the critical case of Cabinet
government--the case of three parties. This is the case in which that
species of government is most sure to exhibit its defects, and least
likely to exhibit its merits. The defining characteristic of that
government is the choice of the executive ruler by the legislative
assembly; but when there are three parties a satisfactory choice is
impossible. A really good selection is a selection by a large majority
which trusts those it chooses, but when there are three parties there
is no such trust. The numerically weakest has the casting vote--it can
determine which candidate shall be chosen. But it does so under a
penalty. It forfeits the right of voting for its own candidate. It
settles which of other people's favourites shall be chosen, on
condition of abandoning its own favourite. A choice based on such
self-denial can never be a firm choice--it is a choice at any moment
liable to be revoked. The events of 1858, though not a perfect
illustration of what I mean, are a sufficient illustration. The Radical
party, acting apart from the moderate Liberal party, kept Lord Derby in
power. The ultra-movement party thought it expedient to combine with
the non-movement party. As one of them coarsely but clearly put it, "WE
get more of our way under these men than under the other men"; he meant
that, in his judgment, the Tories would be more obedient to the
Radicals than the Whigs. But it is obvious that a union of opposites so
marked could not be durable. The Radicals bought it by choosing the men
whose principles were most adverse to them; the Conservatives bought it
by agreeing to measures whose scope was most adverse to them. After a
short interval the Radicals returned to their natural alliance and
their natural discontent with the moderate Whigs. They used their
determining vote first for a Government of one opinion and then for a
Government of the contrary opinion.

I am not blaming this policy. I am using it merely as an illustration.
I say that if we imagine this sort of action greatly exaggerated and
greatly prolonged Parliamentary government becomes impossible. If there
are three parties, no two of which will steadily combine for mutual
action, but of which the weakest gives a rapidly oscillating preference
to the two others, the primary condition of a Cabinet polity is not
satisfied. We have not a Parliament fit to choose; we cannot rely on
the selection of a sufficiently permanent executive, because there is
no fixity in the thoughts and feelings of the choosers.

Under every species of Cabinet government, whether the royal or the
unroyal, this defect can be cured in one way only. The moderate people
of every party must combine to support the Government which, on the
whole, suits every party best. This is the mode in which Lord
Palmerston's administration has been lately maintained; a Ministry in
many ways defective, but more beneficially vigorous abroad, and more
beneficially active at home, than the vast majority of English
Ministries. The moderate Conservatives and the moderate Radicals have
maintained a steady Government by a sufficiently coherent union with
the moderate Whigs. Whether there is a king or no king, this
perservative self-denial is the main force on which we must rely for
the satisfactory continuance of a Parliamentary Government at this its
period of greatest trial. Will that moderation be aided or impaired by
the addition of a sovereign? Will it be more effectual under the royal
sort of Ministerial Government, or will it be less effectual?

If the sovereign has a genius for discernment, the aid which he can
give at such a crisis will be great. He will select for his Minister,
and if possible maintain as his Minister, the statesman upon whom the
moderate party will ultimately fix their choice, but for whom at the
outset it is blindly searching; being a man of sense, experience, and
tact, he will discern which is the combination of equilibrium, which is
the section with whom the milder members of the other sections will at
last ally themselves. Amid the shifting transitions of confused
parties, it is probable that he will have many opportunities of
exercising a selection. It will rest with him to call either on A B to
form an administration, or upon X Y, and either may have a chance of
trial. A disturbed state of parties is inconsistent with fixity, but it
abounds in momentary tolerance. Wanting something, but not knowing with
precision what, parties will accept for a brief period anything, to see
whether it may be that unknown something--to see what it will do.
During the long succession of weak Governments which begins with the
resignation of the Duke of Newcastle in 1762 and ends with the
accession of Mr. Pitt in 1784, the vigorous will of George III. was an
agency of the first magnitude. If at a period of complex and protracted
division of parties, such as are sure to occur often and last long in
every enduring Parliamentary government, the extrinsic force of royal
selection were always exercised discreetly, it would be a political
benefit of incalculable value.

But will it be so exercised? A constitutional sovereign must in the
common course of government be a man of but common ability. I am
afraid, looking to the early acquired feebleness of hereditary
dynasties, that we must expect him to be a man of inferior ability.
Theory and experience both teach that the education of a prince can be
but a poor education, and that a royal family will generally have less
ability than other families. What right have we then to expect the
perpetual entail on any family of an exquisite discretion, which if it
be not a sort of genius, is at least as rare as genius?

Probably in most cases the greatest wisdom of a constitutional king
would show itself in well-considered inaction. In the confused interval
between 1857 and 1859 the Queen and Prince Albert were far too wise to
obtrude any selection of their own. If they had chosen, perhaps they
would not have chosen Lord Palmerston. But they saw, or may be believed
to have seen, that the world was settling down without them, and that
by interposing an extrinsic agency, they would but delay the beneficial
crystallisation of intrinsic forces. There is, indeed, a permanent
reason which would make the wisest king, and the king who feels most
sure of his wisdom, very slow to use that wisdom. The responsibility of
Parliament should be felt by Parliament. So long as Parliament thinks
it is the sovereign's business to find a Government it will be sure not
to find a Government itself. The royal form of Ministerial government
is the worst of all forms if it erect the subsidiary apparatus into the
principal force, if it induce the assembly which ought to perform
paramount duties to expect some one else to perform them.

It should be observed, too, in fairness to the unroyal species of
Cabinet government, that it is exempt from one of the greatest and most
characteristic defects of the royal species. Where there is no Court
there can be no evil influence from a Court. What these influences are
every one knows; though no one, hardly the best and closest observer,
can say with confidence and precision how great their effect is. Sir
Robert Walpole, in language too coarse for our modern manners, declared
after the death of Queen Caroline, that he would pay no attention to
the king's daughters ("those girls," as he called them), but would rely
exclusively on Madame de Walmoden, the king's mistress. "The king,"
says a writer in George IV.'s time, "is in our favour, and what is more
to the purpose, the Marchioness of Conyngham is so too." Everybody
knows to what sort of influences several Italian changes of Government
since the unity of Italy have been attributed. These sinister agencies
are likely to be most effective just when everything else is troubled,
and when, therefore, they are particularly dangerous. The wildest and
wickedest king's mistress would not plot against an invulnerable
administration. But very many will intrigue when Parliament is
perplexed, when parties are divided, when alternatives are many, when
many evil things are possible, when Cabinet government must be
difficult.

It is very important to see that a good administration can be started
without a sovereign, because some colonial statesmen have doubted it.
"I can conceive," it has been said, "that a Ministry would go on well
enough without a governor when it was launched, but I do not see how to
launch it." It has even been suggested that a colony which broke away
from England, and had to form its own Government, might not unwisely
choose a governor for life, and solely trusted with selecting
Ministers, something like the Abbe Sieyes's grand elector. But the
introduction of such an officer into such a colony would in fact be the
voluntary erection of an artificial encumbrance to it. He would
inevitably be a party man. The most dignified post in the State must be
an object of contest to the great sections into which every active
political community is divided. These parties mix in everything and
meddle in everything; and they neither would nor could permit the most
honoured and conspicuous of all stations to be filled, except at their
pleasure. They know, too, that the grand elector, the great chooser of
Ministries, might be, at a sharp crisis, either a good friend or a bad
enemy. The strongest party would select some one who would be on their
side when he had to take a side, who would incline to them when he did
incline, who should be a constant auxiliary to them and a constant
impediment to their adversaries. It is absurd to choose by contested
party election an impartial chooser of Ministers.

But it is during the continuance of a Ministry, rather than at its
creation, that the functions of the sovereign will mainly interest most
persons, and that most people will think them to be of the gravest
importance. I own I am myself of that opinion. I think it may be shown
that the post of sovereign over an intelligent and political people
under a constitutional monarchy is the post which a wise man would
choose above any other--where he would find the intellectual impulses
best stimulated and the worst intellectual impulses best controlled.

On the duties of the Queen during an administration we have an
invaluable fragment from her own hand. In 1851 Louis Napoleon had his
coup d'etat: in 1852 Lord John Russell had his--he expelled Lord
Palmerston. By a most instructive breach of etiquette he read in the
House a royal memorandum on the duties of his rival. It is as follows:
"The Queen requires, first, that Lord Palmerston will distinctly state
what he proposes in a given case, in order that the Queen may know as
distinctly to what she is giving her royal sanction. Secondly, having
once given her sanction to such a measure that it be not arbitrarily
altered or modified by the Minister. Such an act she must consider as
failing in sincerity towards the Crown, and justly to be visited by the
exercise of her constitutional right of dismissing that Minister. She
expects to be kept informed of what passes between him and Foreign
Ministers before important decisions are taken based upon that
intercourse; to receive the foreign despatches in good time; and to
have the drafts for her approval sent to her in sufficient time to make
herself acquainted with their contents before they must be sent off."

In addition to the control over particular Ministers, and especially
over the Foreign Minister, the Queen has a certain control over the
Cabinet. The first Minister, it is understood, transmits to her
authentic information of all the most important decisions, together
with, what the newspapers would do equally well, the more important
votes in Parliament. He is bound to take care that she knows everything
which there is to know as to the passing politics of the nation. She
has by rigid usage a right to complain if she does not know of every
great act of her Ministry, not only before it is done, but while there
is yet time to consider it--while it is still possible that it may not
be done.

To state the matter shortly, the sovereign has, under a constitutional
monarchy such as ours, three rights--the right to be consulted, the
right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense and
sagacity would want no others. He would find that his having no others
would enable him to use these with singular effect. He would say to his
Minister: "The responsibility of these measures is upon you. Whatever
you think best must be done. Whatever you think best shall have my full
and effectual support. BUT you will observe that for this reason and
that reason what you propose to do is bad; for this reason and that
reason what you do not propose is better. I do not oppose, it is my
duty not to oppose; but observe that I WARN." Supposing the king to be
right, and to have what kings often have, the gift of effectual
expression, he could not help moving his Minister. He might not always
turn his course, but he would always trouble his mind.

In the course of a long reign a sagacious king would acquire an
experience with which few Ministers could contend. The king could say:
"Have you referred to the transactions which happened during such and
such an administration, I think about fourteen years ago? They afford
an instructive example of the bad results which are sure to attend the
policy which you propose. You did not at that time take so prominent a
part in public life as you now do, and it is possible you do not fully
remember all the events. I should recommend you to recur to them, and
to discuss them with your older colleagues who took part in them. It is
unwise to recommence a policy which so lately worked so ill." The king
would indeed have the advantage which a permanent under-secretary has
over his superior the Parliamentary secretary--that of having shared in
the proceedings of the previous Parliamentary secretaries. These
proceedings were part of his own life; occupied the best of his
thoughts, gave him perhaps anxiety, perhaps pleasure, were commenced in
spite of his dissuasion, or were sanctioned by his approval. The
Parliamentary secretary vaguely remembers that something was done in
the time of some of his predecessors, when he very likely did not know
the least or care the least about that sort of public business. He has
to begin by learning painfully and imperfectly what the permanent
secretary knows by clear and instant memory. No doubt a Parliamentary
secretary always can, and sometimes does, silence his subordinate by
the tacit might of his superior dignity. He says: "I do not think there
is much in all that. Many errors were committed at the time you refer
to which we need not now discuss." A pompous man easily sweeps away the
suggestions of those beneath him. But though a minister may so deal
with his subordinate, he cannot so deal with his king. The social force
of admitted superiority by which he overturned his under-secretary is
now not with him but against him. He has no longer to regard the
deferential hints of an acknowledged inferior, but to answer the
arguments of a superior to whom he has himself to be respectful. George
III. in fact knew the forms of public business as well or better than
any statesman of his time. If, in addition to his capacity as a man of
business and to his industry, he had possessed the higher faculties of
a discerning states man, his influence would have been despotic. The
old Constitution of England undoubtedly gave a sort of power to the
Crown which our present Constitution does not give. While a majority in
Parliament was principally purchased by royal patronage, the king was a
party to the bargain either with his Minister or without his Minister.
But even under our present Constitution a monarch like George III.,
with high abilities, would possess the greatest influence. It is known
to all Europe that in Belgium King Leopold has exercised immense power
by the use of such means as I have described.

It is known, too, to every one conversant with the real course of the
recent history of England, that Prince Albert really did gain great
power in precisely the same way. He had the rare gifts of a
constitutional monarch. If his life had been prolonged twenty years,
his name would have been known to Europe as that of King Leopold is
known. While he lived he was at a disadvantage. The statesmen who had
most power in England were men of far greater experience than himself.
He might, and no doubt did, exercise a great, if not a commanding
influence over Lord Malmesbury, but he could not rule Lord Palmerston.
The old statesman who governed England, at an age when most men are
unfit to govern their own families, remembered a whole generation of
states men who were dead before Prince Albert was born. The two were of
different ages and different natures. The elaborateness of the German
prince--an elaborateness which has been justly and happily compared
with that of Goethe--was wholly alien to the half-Irish, half-English,
statesman. The somewhat boisterous courage in minor dangers, and the
obtrusive use of an always effectual but not always refined,
commonplace, which are Lord Palmerston's defects, doubtless grated on
Prince Albert, who had a scholar's caution and a scholar's courage. The
facts will be known to our children's children, though not to us.
Prince Albert did much, but he died ere he could have made his
influence felt on a generation of statesmen less experienced than he
was, and anxious to learn from him.

It would be childish to suppose that a conference between a Minister
and his sovereign can ever be a conference of pure argument. "The
divinity which doth hedge a king" may have less sanctity than it had,
but it still has much sanctity. No one, or scarcely any one, can argue
with a Cabinet Minister in his own room as well as he would argue with
another man in another room. He cannot make his own points as well; he
cannot unmake as well the points presented to him. A monarch's room is
worse. The best instance is Lord Chatham, the most dictatorial and
imperious of English statesmen, and almost the first English statesman
who was borne into power against the wishes of the king and against the
wishes of the nobility--the first popular Minister. We might have
expected a proud tribune of the people to be dictatorial to his
sovereign--to be to the king what he was to all others. On the
contrary, he was the slave of his own imagination; there was a kind of
mystic enchantment in vicinity to the monarch which divested him of his
ordinary nature. "The least peep into the king's closet," said Mr.
Burke, "intoxicates him, and will to the end of his life." A wit said
that, even at the levee, he bowed so low that you could see the tip of
his hooked nose between his legs. He was in the habit of kneeling at
the bedside of George III. while transacting business. Now no man can
ARGUE on his knees. The same superstitious feeling which keeps him in
that physical attitude will keep him in a corresponding mental
attitude. He will not refute the bad arguments of the king as he will
refute another man's bad arguments. He will not state his own best
arguments effectively and incisively when he knows that the king would
not like to hear them. In a nearly balanced argument the king must
always have the better, and in politics many most important arguments
are nearly balanced. Whenever there was much to be said for the king's
opinion it would have its full weight; whatever was said for the
Minister's opinion would only have a lessened and enfeebled weight.

The king, too, possesses a power, according to theory, for extreme use
on a critical occasion, but which he can in law use on any occasion. He
can dissolve; he can say to his Minister, in fact, if not in words,
"This Parliament sent you here, but I will see if I cannot get another
Parliament to send some one else here." George III. well understood
that it was best to take his stand at times and on points when it was
perhaps likely, or at any rate not unlikely, the nation would support
him. He always made a Minister that he did not like tremble at the
shadow of a possible successor. He had a cunning in such matters like
the cunning of insanity. He had conflicts with the ablest men of his
time, and he was hardly ever baffled. He understood how to help a
feeble argument by a tacit threat, and how best to address it to an
habitual deference.

Perhaps such powers as these are what a wise man would most seek to
exercise and least fear to possess. To wish to be a despot, "to hunger
after tyranny," as the Greek phrase had it, marks in our day an
uncultivated mind. A person who so wishes cannot have weighed what
Butler calls the "doubtfulness things are involved in". To be sure you
are right to impose your will, or to wish to impose it, with violence
upon others; to see your own ideas vividly and fixedly, and to be
tormented till you can apply them in life and practice, not to like to
hear the opinions of others, to be unable to sit down and weigh the
truth they have, are but crude states of intellect in our present
civilisation. We know, at least, that facts are many; that progress is
complicated; that burning ideas (such as young men have) are mostly
false and always incomplete. The notion of a far-seeing and despotic
statesman, who can lay down plans for ages yet unborn, is a fancy
generated by the pride of the human intellect to which facts give no
support. The plans of Charlemagne died with him; those of Richelieu
were mistaken; those of Napoleon gigantesque and frantic. But a wise
and great constitutional monarch attempts no such vanities. His career
is not in the air; he labours in the world of sober fact; he deals with
schemes which can be effected--schemes which are desirable--schemes
which are worth the cost. He says to the Ministry his people send to
him, to Ministry after Ministry, "I think so and so; do you see if
there is anything in it. I have put down my reasons in a certain
memorandum, which I will give you. Probably it does not exhaust the
subject, but it will suggest materials for your consideration." By
years of discussion with Ministry after Ministry, the best plans of the
wisest king would certainly be adopted, and the inferior plans, the
impracticable plans, rooted out and rejected. He could not be uselessly
beyond his time, for he would have been obliged to convince the
representatives, the characteristic men of his time. He would have the
best means of proving that he was right on all new and strange matters,
for he would have won to his side probably, after years of discussion,
the chosen agents of the commonplace world--men who were where they
were, because they had pleased the men of the existing age, who will
never be much disposed to new conceptions or profound thoughts. A
sagacious and original constitutional monarch might go to his grave in
peace if any man could. He would know that his best laws were in
harmony with his age; that they suited the people who were to work
them, the people who were to be benefited by them. And he would have
passed a happy life. He would have passed a life in which he could
always get his arguments heard, in which he could always make those who
have the responsibility of action think of them before they acted--in
which he could know that the schemes which he had set at work in the
world were not the casual accidents of an individual idiosyncrasy,
which are mostly much wrong, but the likeliest of all things to be
right--the ideas of one very intelligent man at last accepted and acted
on by the ordinary intelligent many.

But can we expect such a king, or, for that is the material point, can
we expect a lineal series of such kings? Every one has heard the reply
of the Emperor Alexander to Madame de Stael, who favoured him with a
declamation in praise of beneficent despotism. "Yes, Madame, but it is
only a happy accident." He well knew that the great abilities and the
good intentions necessary to make an efficient and good despot never
were continuously combined in any line of rulers. He knew that they
were far out of reach of hereditary human nature. Can it be said that
the characteristic qualities of a constitutional monarch are more
within its reach? I am afraid it cannot. We found just now that the
characteristic use of an hereditary constitutional monarch, at the
outset of an administration, greatly surpassed the ordinary competence
of hereditary faculties. I fear that an impartial investigation will
establish the same conclusion as to his uses during the continuance of
an administration.

If we look at history, we shall find that it is only during the period
of the present reign that in England the duties of a constitutional
sovereign have ever been well performed. The first two Georges were
ignorant of English affairs, and wholly unable to guide them, whether
well or ill; for many years in their time the Prime Minister had, over
and above the labour of managing Parliament, to manage the
woman--sometimes the queen, sometimes the mistress--who managed the
sovereign; George III. interfered unceasingly, but he did harm
unceasingly; George IV. and William IV. gave no steady continuing
guidance, and were unfit to give it. On the Continent, in first-class
countries, constitutional royalty has never lasted out of one
generation. Louis Philippe, Victor Emmanuel, and Leopold are the
founders of their dynasties; we must not reckon in constitutional
monarchy any more than in despotic monarchy on the permanence in the
descendants of the peculiar genius which founded the race. As far as
experience goes, there is no reason to expect an hereditary series of
useful limited monarchs.

If we look to theory, there is even less reason to expect it. A monarch
is useful when he gives an effectual and beneficial guidance to his
Ministers. But these Ministers are sure to be among the ablest men of
their time. They will have had to conduct the business of Parliament so
as to satisfy it; they will have to speak so as to satisfy it. The two
together cannot be done save by a man of very great and varied ability.
The exercise of the two gifts is sure to teach a man much of the world;
and if it did not, a Parliamentary leader has to pass through a
magnificent training before he becomes a leader. He has to gain a seat
in Parliament; to gain the ear of Parliament; to gain the confidence of
Parliament; to gain the confidence of his colleagues. No one can
achieve these--no one, still more, can both achieve them and retain
them--without a singular ability, nicely trained in the varied detail
of life. What chance has an hereditary monarch such as nature forces
him to be, such as history shows he is, against men so educated and so
born? He can but be an average man to begin with; sometimes he will be
clever, but sometimes he will be stupid; in the long run he will be
neither clever nor stupid; he will be the simple, common man who plods
the plain routine of life from the cradle to the grave. His education
will be that of one who has never had to struggle; who has always felt
that he has nothing to gain; who has had the first dignity given him;
who has never seen common life as in truth it is. It is idle to expect
an ordinary man born in the purple to have greater genius than an
extraordinary man born out of the purple; to expect a man whose place
has always been fixed to have a better judgment than one who has lived
by his judgment; to expect a man whose career will be the same whether
he is discreet or whether he is indiscreet to have the nice discretion
of one who has risen by his wisdom, who will fall if he ceases to be
wise.

The characteristic advantage of a constitutional king is the permanence
of his place. This gives him the opportunity of acquiring a consecutive
knowledge of complex transactions, but it gives only an opportunity.
The king must use it. There is no royal road to political affairs:
their detail is vast, disagreeable, complicated, and miscellaneous. A
king, to be the equal of his Ministers in discussion, must work as they
work; he must be a man of business as they are men of business. Yet a
constitutional prince is the man who is most tempted to pleasure, and
the least forced to business. A despot must feel that he is the pivot
of the State. The stress of his kingdom is upon him. As he is, so are
his affairs. He may be seduced into pleasure; he may neglect all else;
but the risk is evident. He will hurt himself; he may cause a
revolution. If he becomes unfit to govern, some one else who is fit may
conspire against him. But a constitutional king need fear nothing. He
may neglect his duties, but he will not be injured. His place will be
as fixed, his income as permanent, his opportunities of selfish
enjoyment as full as ever. Why should he work? It is true he will lose
the quiet and secret influence which in the course of years industry
would gain for him; but an eager young man, on whom the world is
squandering its luxuries and its temptations, will not be much
attracted by the distant prospect of a moderate influence over dull
matters. He may form good intentions; he may say, "Next year I WILL
read these papers; I will try and ask more questions; I will not let
these women talk to me so". But they will talk to him. The most
hopeless idleness is that most smoothed with excellent plans. "The Lord
Treasurer," says Swift, "promised he will settle it to-night, and so he
will say a hundred nights." We may depend upon it the ministry whose
power will be lessened by the prince's attention will not be too eager
to get him to attend.

So it is if the prince come young to the throne; but the case is worse
when he comes to it old or middle-aged. He is then unfit to work. He
will then have spent the whole of youth and the first part of manhood
in idleness, and it is unnatural to expect him to labour. A
pleasure-loving lounger in middle life will not begin to work as George
III. worked, or as Prince Albert worked. The only fit material for a
constitutional king is a prince who begins early to reign--who in his
youth is superior to pleasure--who in his youth is willing to
labour--who has by nature a genius for discretion. Such kings are among
God's greatest gifts, but they are also among His rarest.

An ordinary idle king on a constitutional throne will leave no mark on
his time: he will do little good and as little harm; the royal form of
Cabinet government will work in his time pretty much as the unroyal.
The addition of a cypher will not matter though it take precedence of
the significant figures. But corruptio optimi pessima. The most evil
case of the royal form is far worse than the most evil case of the
unroyal. It is easy to imagine, upon a constitutional throne, an active
and meddling fool who always acts when he should not, who never acts
when he should, who warns his Ministers against their judicious
measures, who encourages them in their injudicious measures. It is easy
to imagine that such a king should be the tool of others; that
favourites should guide him; that mistresses should corrupt him; that
the atmosphere of a bad Court should be used to degrade free government.

We have had an awful instance of the dangers of constitutional royalty.
We have had the case of a meddling maniac. During great part of his
life George III.'s reason was half upset by every crisis. Throughout
his life he had an obstinacy akin to that of insanity. He was an
obstinate and an evil influence; he could not be turned from what was
inexpedient; by the aid of his station he turned truer but weaker men
from what was expedient. He gave an excellent moral example to his
contemporaries, but he is an instance of those whose good dies with
them, while their evil lives after them. He prolonged the American War,
perhaps he caused the American War, so we inherit the vestiges of an
American hatred; he forbade Mr. Pitt's wise plans, so we inherit an
Irish difficulty. He would not let us do right in time, so now our
attempts at right are out of time and fruitless. Constitutional royalty
under an active and half-insane king is one of the worst of
Governments. There is in it a secret power which is always eager, which
is generally obstinate, which is often wrong, which rules Ministers
more than they know themselves, which overpowers them much more than
the public believe, which is irresponsible because it is inscrutable,
which cannot be prevented because it cannot be seen. The benefits of a
good monarch are almost invaluable, but the evils of a bad monarch are
almost irreparable.

We shall find these conclusions confirmed if we examine the powers and
duties of an English monarch at the break-up of an administration. But
the power of dissolution and the prerogative of creating peers, the
cardinal powers of that moment are too important and involve too many
complex matters to be sufficiently treated at the very end of a paper
as long as this.



NO. IV.

THE HOUSE OF LORDS.


In my last essay I showed that it was possible for a constitutional
monarch to be, when occasion served, of first-rate use both at the
outset and during the continuance of an administration; but that in
matter of fact it was not likely that he would be useful. The requisite
ideas, habits, and faculties, far surpass the usual competence of an
average man, educated in the common manner of sovereigns. The same
arguments are entirely applicable at the close of an administration.
But at that conjuncture the two most singular prerogatives of an
English king--the power of creating new peers and the power of
dissolving the Commons--come into play; and we cannot duly criticise
the use or misuse of these powers till we know what the peers are and
what the House of Commons is.

The use of the House of Lords or, rather, of the Lords, in its
dignified capacity--is very great. It does not attract so much
reverence as the Queen, but it attracts very much. The office of an
order of nobility is to impose on the common people--not necessarily to
impose on them what is untrue, yet less what is hurtful; but still to
impose on their quiescent imaginations what would not otherwise be
there. The fancy of the mass of men is incredibly weak; it can see
nothing without a visible symbol, and there is much that it can
scarcely make out with a symbol. Nobility is the symbol of mind. It has
the marks from which the mass of men always used to infer mind, and
often still infer it. A common clever man who goes into a country place
will get no reverence; but the "old squire" will get reverence. Even
after he is insolvent, when every one knows that his ruin is but a
question of time, he will get five times as much respect from the
common peasantry as the newly-made rich man who sits beside him. The
common peasantry will listen to his nonsense more submissively than to
the new man's sense. An old lord will get infinite respect. His very
existence is so far useful that it awakens the sensation of obedience
to a sort of mind in the coarse, dull, contracted multitude, who could
neither appreciate nor perceive any other.

The order of nobility is of great use, too, not only in what it
creates, but in what it prevents. It prevents the rule of wealth--the
religion of gold. This is the obvious and natural idol of the
Anglo-Saxon. He is always trying to make money; he reckons everything
in coin; he bows down before a great heap and sneers as he passes a
little heap. He has a "natural instinctive admiration of wealth for its
own sake". And within good limits the feeling is quite right. So long
as we play the game of industry vigorously and eagerly (and I hope we
shall long play it, for we must be very different from what we are if
we do anything better), we shall of necessity respect and admire those
who play successfully, and a little despise those who play
unsuccessfully. Whether this feeling be right or wrong, it is useless
to discuss; to a certain degree, it is involuntary; it is not for
mortals to settle whether we will have it or not; nature settles for us
that, within moderate limits, we must have it. But the admiration of
wealth in many countries goes far beyond this; it ceases to regard in
any degree the skill of acquisition; it respects wealth in the hands of
the inheritor just as much as in the hands of the maker; it is a simple
envy and love of a heap of gold as a heap of gold. From this our
aristocracy preserves us. There is no country where a "poor devil of a
millionaire is so ill off as in England". The experiment is tried every
day, and every day it is proved that money alone--money pur et
simple--will not buy "London Society". Money is kept down, and, so to
say, cowed by the predominant authority of a different power.

But it may be said that this is no gain; that worship for worship, the
worship of money is as good as the worship of rank. Even granting that
it were so, it is a great gain to society to have two idols: in the
competition of idolatries the true worship gets a chance. But it is not
true that the reverence for rank--at least, for hereditary rank--is as
base as the reverence for money. As the world has gone, manner has been
half-hereditary in certain castes, and manner is one of the fine arts.
It is the STYLE of society; it is in the daily-spoken intercourse of
human beings what the art of literary expression is in their occasional
written intercourse. In reverencing wealth we reverence not a man, but
an appendix to a man; in reverencing inherited nobility, we reverence
the probable possession of a great faculty--the faculty of bringing out
what is in one. The unconscious grace of life MAY be in the middle
classes: finely-mannered persons are born everywhere; but it OUGHT to
be in the aristocracy: and a man must be born with a hitch in his
nerves if he has not some of it. It is a physiological possession of
the race, though it is sometimes wanting in the individual.

There is a third idolatry from which that of rank preserves us, and
perhaps it is the worst of any--that of office. The basest deity is a
subordinate employee, and yet just now in civilised Governments it is
the commonest. In France and all the best of the Continent it rules
like a superstition. It is to no purpose that you prove that the pay of
petty officials is smaller than mercantile pay; that their work is more
monotonous than mercantile work; that their mind is less useful and
their life more tame. They are still thought to be greater and better.
They are decords; they have a little red on the left breast of their
coat, and no argument will answer that. In England, by the odd course
of our society, what a theorist would desire has in fact turned up. The
great offices, whether permanent or Parliamentary, which require mind
now give social prestige, and almost only those. An Under-Secretary of
State with 2000 pounds a year is a much stronger man than the director
of a finance company with 5000 pounds, and the country saves the
difference. But except in a few offices like the Treasury, which were
once filled with aristocratic people, and have an odour of nobility at
second-hand, minor place is of no social use. A big grocer despises the
exciseman; and what in many countries would be thought impossible, the
exciseman envies the grocer. Solid wealth tells where there is no
artificial dignity given to petty public functions. A clerk in the
public service is "nobody"; and you could not make a common Englishman
see why he should be anybody. But it must be owned that this turning of
society into a political expedient has half spoiled it. A great part of
the "best" English people keep their mind in a state of decorous
dulness. They maintain their dignity; they get obeyed; they are good
and charitable to their dependants. But they have no notion of PLAY of
mind: no conception that the charm of society depends upon it. They
think cleverness an antic, and have a constant though needless horror
of being thought to have any of it. So much does this stiff dignity
give the tone, that the few Englishmen capable of social brilliancy
mostly secrete it. They reserve it for persons whom they can trust, and
whom they know to be capable of appreciating its nuances. But a good
Government is well worth a great deal of social dulness. The dignified
torpor of English society is inevitable if we give precedence, not to
the cleverest classes, but to the oldest classes, and we have seen how
useful that is.

The social prestige of the aristocracy is, as every one knows,
immensely less than it was a hundred years or even fifty years since.
Two great movements--the two greatest of modern society--have been
unfavourable to it. The rise of industrial wealth in countless forms
has brought in a competitor which has generally more mind, and which
would be supreme were it not for awkwardness and intellectual gene.
Every day our companies, our railways, our debentures, and our shares,
tend more and more to multiply these SURROUNDINGS of the aristocracy,
and in time they will hide it. And while this undergrowth has come up,
the aristocracy have come down. They have less means of standing out
than they used to have. Their power is in their theatrical exhibition,
in their state. But society is every day becoming less stately. As our
great satirist has observed, "The last Duke of St. David's used to
cover the north road with his carriages; landladies and waiters bowed
before him. The present Duke sneaks away from a railway station,
smoking a cigar, in a brougham." The aristocracy cannot lead the old
life if they would; they are ruled by a stronger power. They suffer
from the tendency of all modern society to raise the average, and to
lower--comparatively, and perhaps absolutely, to lower--the summit. As
the picturesqueness, the featureliness, of society diminishes,
aristocracy loses the single instrument of its peculiar power.

If we remember the great reverence which used to be paid to nobility as
such, we shall be surprised that the House of Lords as an assembly, has
always been inferior; that it was always just as now, not the first,
but the second of our assemblies. I am not, of course, now speaking of
the middle ages: I am not dealing with the embryo or the infant form of
our Constitution; I am only speaking of its adult form. Take the times
of Sir R. Walpole. He was Prime Minister because he managed the House
of Commons; he was turned out because he was beaten on an election
petition in that House; he ruled England because he ruled that House.
Yet the nobility were then the governing power in England. In many
districts the word of some lord was law. The "wicked Lord Lowther," as
he was called, left a name of terror in Westmoreland during the memory
of men now living. A great part of the borough members and a great part
of the county members were their nominees; an obedient, unquestioning
deference was paid them. As individuals the peers were the greatest
people; as a House the collected peers were but the second House.

Several causes contributed to create this anomaly, but the main cause
was a natural one. The House of Peers has never been a House where the
most important peers were most important. It could not be so. The
qualities which fit a man for marked eminence, in a deliberative
assembly, are not hereditary, and are not coupled with great estates.
In the nation, in the provinces, in his own province, a Duke of
Devonshire, or a Duke of Bedford, was a much greater man than Lord
Thurlow. They had great estates, many boroughs, innumerable retainers,
followings like a Court. Lord Thurlow had no boroughs, no retainers; he
lived on his salary. Till the House of Lords met, the dukes were not
only the greatest, but immeasurably the greatest. But as soon as the
House met, Lord Thurlow became the greatest. He could speak, and the
others could not speak. He could transact business in half an hour
which they could not have transacted in a day, or could not have
transacted at all. When some foolish peer, who disliked his domination,
sneered at his birth, he had words to meet the case: he said it was
better for any one to owe his place to his own exertions than to owe it
to descent, to being the "accident of an accident". But such a House as
this could not be pleasant to great noblemen. They could not like to be
second in their own assembly (and yet that was their position from age
to age) to a lawyer who was of yesterday,--whom everybody could
remember without briefs, who had talked for "hire," who had "hungered
after six-and-eightpence". Great peers did not gain glory from the
House; on the contrary, they lost glory when they were in the House.
They devised two expedients to get out of this difficulty: they
invented proxies which enabled them to vote without being present,
without being offended by vigour and invective, without being vexed by
ridicule, without leaving the rural mansion or the town palace where
they were demigods. And what was more effectual still, they used their
influence in the House of Commons instead of the House of Lords. In
that indirect manner a rural potentate, who half returned two county
members, and wholly returned two borough members, who perhaps gave
seats to members of the Government, who possibly seated the leader of
the Opposition, became a much greater man than by sitting on his own
bench, in his own House, hearing a Chancellor talk. The House of Lords
was a second-rate force, even when the peers were a first-rate force,
because the greatest peers, those who had the greatest social
importance, did not care for their own House, or like it, but gained
great part of their political power by a hidden but potent influence in
the competing House.

When we cease to look at the House of Lords under its dignified aspect,
and come to regard it under its strictly useful aspect, we find the
literary theory of the English Constitution wholly wrong, as usual.
This theory says that the House of Lords is a co-ordinate estate of the
realm, of equal rank with the House of Commons; that it is the
aristocratic branch, just as the Commons is the popular branch; and
that by the principle of our Constitution the aristocratic branch has
equal authority with the popular branch. So utterly false is this
doctrine that it is a remarkable peculiarity, a capital excellence of
the British Constitution, that it contains a sort of Upper House, which
is not of equal authority to the Lower House, yet still has some
authority. The evil of two co-equal Houses of distinct natures is
obvious. Each House can stop all legislation, and yet some legislation
may be necessary. At this moment we have the best instance of this
which could be conceived. The Upper House of our Victorian
Constitution, representing the rich wool-growers, has disagreed with
the Lower Assembly, and most business is suspended. But for a most
curious stratagem, the machine of Government would stand still. Most
Constitutions have committed this blunder. The two most remarkable
Republican institutions in the world commit it. In both the American
and the Swiss Constitutions the Upper House has as much authority as
the second: it could produce the maximum of impediment--the dead-lock,
if it liked; if it does not do so, it is owing not to the goodness of
the legal constitution, but to the discreetness of the members of the
Chamber. In both these Constitutions, this dangerous division is
defended by a peculiar doctrine with which I have nothing to do now. It
is said that there must be in a Federal Government some institution,
some authority, some body possessing a veto in which the separate
States composing the Confederation are all equal. I confess this
doctrine has to me no self-evidence, and it is assumed, but not proved.
The State of Delaware is NOT equal in power or influence to the State
of New York, and you cannot make it so by giving it an equal veto in an
Upper Chamber. The history of such an institution is indeed most
natural. A little State will like, and must like, to see some token,
some memorial mark of its old independence preserved in the
Constitution by which that independence is extinguished. But it is one
thing for an institution to be natural, and another for it to be
expedient. If indeed it be that a Federal Government compels the
erection of an Upper Chamber of conclusive and co-ordinate authority,
it is one more in addition to the many other inherent defects of that
kind of Government. It may be necessary to have the blemish, but it is
a blemish just as much.

There ought to be in every Constitution an available authority
somewhere. The sovereign power must be come-at-able. And the English
have made it so. The House of Lords, at the passing of the Reform Act
of 1832, was as unwilling to concur with the House of Commons as the
Upper Chamber at Victoria to concur with the Lower Chamber. But it did
concur. The Crown has the authority to create new peers; and the king
of the day had promised the Ministry of the day to create them. The
House of Lords did not like the precedent, and they passed the bill.
The power was not used, but its existence was as useful as its energy.
Just as the knowledge that his men CAN strike makes a master yield in
order that they may not strike, so the knowledge that their House could
be swamped at the will of the king--at the will of the people--made the
Lords yield to the people.

From the Reform Act the function of the House of Lords has been altered
in English history. Before that Act it was, if not a directing Chamber,
at least a Chamber of Directors. The leading nobles, who had most
influence in the Commons, and swayed the Commons, sat there.
Aristocratic influence was so powerful in the House of Commons, that
there never was any serious breach of unity. When the Houses
quarrelled, it was as in the great Aylesbury case, about their
respective privileges, and not about the national policy. The influence
of the nobility was then so potent, that it was not necessary to exert
it. The English Constitution, though then on this point very different
from what it now is, did not even then contain the blunder of the
Victorian or of the Swiss Constitution. It had not two Houses of
distinct origin; it had two Houses of common origin--two Houses in
which the predominant element was the same. The danger of discordance
was obviated by a latent unity.

Since the Reform Act the House of Lords has become a revising and
suspending House. It can alter bills; it can reject bills on which the
House of Commons is not yet thoroughly in earnest--upon which the
nation is not yet determined. Their veto is a sort of hypothetical
veto. They say, We reject your Bill for this once or these twice, or
even these thrice: but if you keep on sending it up, at last we won't
reject it. The House has ceased to be one of latent directors, and has
become one of temporary rejectors and palpable alterers.

It is the sole claim of the Duke of Wellington to the name of a
statesman, that he presided over this change. He wished to guide the
Lords to their true position, and he did guide them. In 1846, in the
crisis of the Corn-Law struggle, and when it was a question whether the
House of Lords should resist or yield, he wrote a very curious letter
to the late Lord Derby:--

"For many years, indeed from the year 1830, when I retired from office,
I have endeavoured to manage the House of Lords upon the principle on
which I conceive that the institution exists in the Constitution of the
country, that of Conservatism. I have invariably objected to all
violent and extreme measures, which is not exactly the mode of
acquiring influence in a political party in England, particularly one
in opposition to Government. I have invariably supported Government in
Parliament upon important occasions, and have always exercised my
personal influence to prevent the mischief of anything like a
difference or division between the two Houses,--of which there are some
remarkable instances, to which I will advert here, as they will tend to
show you the nature of my management, and possibly, in some degree,
account for the extraordinary power which I have for so many years
exercised, without any apparent claim to it." Upon finding the
difficulties in which the late King William was involved by a promise
made to create peers, the number, I believe, indefinite, I determined
myself, and I prevailed upon others, the number very large, to be
absent from the House in the discussion of the last stages of the
Reform Bill, after the negotiations had failed for the formation of a
new administration. This course gave at the time great dissatisfaction
to the party; notwithstanding that I believe it saved the existence of
the House of Lords at the time, and the Constitution of the country.

"Subsequently, throughout the period from 1835 to 1841, I prevailed
upon the House of Lords to depart from many principles and systems
which they as well as I had adopted and voted on Irish tithes, Irish
corporations, and other measures, much to the vexation and annoyance of
many. But I recollect one particular measure, the union of the
provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, in the early stages of which I had
spoken in opposition to the measure, and had protested against it; and
in the last stages of it I prevailed upon the House to agree to, and
pass it, in order to avoid the injury to the public interests of a
dispute between the Houses upon a question of such importance. Then I
supported the measures of the Government, and protected the servant of
the Government, Captain Elliot, in China. All of which tended to weaken
my influence with some of the party; others, possibly a majority, might
have approved of the course which I took. It was at the same time well
known that from the commencement at least of Lord Melbourne's
Government, I was in constant communication with it, upon all military
matters, whether occurring at home or abroad, at all events. But
likewise upon many others." All this tended of course to diminish my
influence in the Conservative party, while it tended essentially to the
ease and satisfaction of the sovereign, and to the maintenance of good
order. At length came the resignation of the Government by Sir Robert
Peel, in the month of December last, and the Queen desiring Lord John
Russell to form an administration. On the 12th of December the Queen
wrote to me the letter of which I enclose the copy, and the copy of my
answer of the same date; of which it appears that you have never seen
copies, although I communicated them immediately to Sir Robert Peel. It
was impossible for me to act otherwise than is indicated in my letter
to the Queen. I am the servant of the Crown and people. I have been
paid and rewarded, and I consider myself retained; and that I can't do
otherwise than serve as required, when I can do so without dishonour,
that is to say, as long as I have health and strength to enable me to
serve. But it is obvious that there is, and there must be, an end of
all connection and counsel between party and me. I might with
consistency, and some may think that I ought to have declined to belong
to Sir Robert Peel's Cabinet on the night of the 20th of December. But
my opinion is, that if I had, Sir Robert Peel's Government would not
have been framed; that we should have had ---- and ---- in office next
morning.

"But, at all events, it is quite obvious that when that arrangement
comes, which sooner or later must come, there will be an end to all
influence on my part over the Conservative party, if I should be so
indiscreet as to attempt to exercise any. You will see, therefore, that
the stage is quite clear for you, and that you need not apprehend the
consequences of differing in opinion from me when you will enter upon
it; as in truth I have, by my letter to the Queen of the 12th of
December, put an end to the connection between the party and me, when
the party will be in opposition to her Majesty's Government." My
opinion is, that the great object of all is that you should assume the
station, and exercise the influence, which I have so long exercised in
the House of Lords. The question is, how is that object to be attained?
By guiding their opinion and decision, or by following it? You will see
that I have endeavoured to guide their opinion, and have succeeded upon
some most remarkable occasions. But it has been by a good deal of
management.

"Upon the important occasion and question now before the House, I
propose to endeavour to induce them to avoid to involve the country in
the additional difficulties of a difference of opinion, possibly a
dispute between the Houses, on a question in the decision of which it
has been frequently asserted that their lordships had a personal
interest; which assertion, however false as affecting each of them
personally, could not be denied as affecting the proprietors of land in
general. I am aware of the difficulty, but I don't despair of carrying
the bill through. You must be the best judge of the course which you
ought to take, and of the course most likely to conciliate the
confidence of the House of Lords. My opinion is, that you should advise
the House to vote that which would tend most to public order, and would
be most beneficial to the immediate interests of the country."

This is the mode in which the House of Lords came to be what it now is,
a chamber with (in most cases) a veto of delay with (in most cases) a
power of revision, but with no other rights or powers. The question we
have to answer is, "The House of Lords being such, what is the use of
the Lords?"

The common notion evidently fails, that it is a bulwark against
imminent revolution. As the duke's letter in every line evinces, the
wisest members, the guiding members of the House, know that the House
must yield to the people if the people is determined. The two
cases--that of the Reform Act and the Corn Laws--were decisive cases.
The great majority of the Lords thought Reform revolution, Free-trade
confiscation, and the two together ruin. If they could ever have been
trusted to resist the people, they would then have resisted it. But in
truth it is idle to expect a second chamber--a chamber of
notables--ever to resist a popular chamber, a nation's chamber, when
that chamber is vehement and the nation vehement too. There is no
strength in it for that purpose. Every class chamber, every minority
chamber, so to speak, feels weak and helpless when the nation is
excited. In a time of revolution there are but two powers, the sword
and the people. The executive commands the sword; the great lesson
which the First Napoleon taught the Parisian populace--the contribution
he made to the theory of revolutions at the 18th Brumaire--is now well
known. Any strong soldier at the head of the army can use the army. But
a second chamber cannot use it. It is a pacific assembly composed of
timid peers, aged lawyers, or, as abroad, clever litterateurs. Such a
body has no force to put down the nation, and if the nation will have
it do something it must do it.

The very nature, too, as has been seen, of the Lords in the English
Constitution, shows that it cannot stop revolution. The Constitution
contains an exceptional provision to prevent it stopping it. The
executive, the appointee of the popular chamber and the nation, can
make new peers, and so create a majority in the peers; it can say to
the Lords, "Use the powers of your House as we like, or you shall not
use them at all. We will find others to use them; your virtue shall go
out of you if it is not used as we like, and stopped when we please."
An assembly under such a threat cannot arrest, and could not be
intended to arrest, a determined and insisting executive.

In fact the House of Lords, as a House, is not a bulwark that will keep
out revolution, but an index that revolution is unlikely. Resting as it
does upon old deference, and inveterate homage, it shows that the spasm
of new forces, the outbreak of new agencies, which we call revolution,
is for the time simply impossible. So long as many old leaves linger on
the November trees, you know that there has been little frost and no
wind; just so while the House of Lords retains much power, you may know
that there is no desperate discontent in the country, no wild agency
likely to cause a great demolition.

There used to be a singular idea that two chambers--a revising chamber
and a suggesting chamber--were essential to a free Government. The
first person who threw a hard stone--an effectually hitting
stone--against the theory was one very little likely to be favourable
to democratic influence, or to be blind to the use of aristocracy; it
was the present Lord Grey. He had to look at the matter practically. He
was the first great Colonial Minister of England who ever set himself
to introduce representative institutions into ALL her capable colonies,
and the difficulty stared him in the face that in those colonies there
were hardly enough good people for one assembly, and not near enough
good people for two assemblies. It happened--and most naturally
happened--that a second assembly was mischievous. The second assembly
was either the nominee of the Crown, which in such places naturally
allied itself with better instructed minds, or was elected by people
with a higher property qualification--some peculiarly well-judging
people. Both these choosers choose the best men in the colony, and put
them into the second assembly. But thus the popular assembly was left
without those best men. The popular assembly was denuded of those
guides and those leaders who would have led and guided it best. Those
superior men were put aside to talk to one another, and perhaps dispute
with one another; they were a concentrated instance of high but
neutralised forces. They wished to do good, but they could do nothing.
The Lower House, with all the best people in the colony extracted, did
what it liked. The democracy was strengthened rather than weakened by
the isolation of its best opponents in a weak position. As soon as
experience had shown this, or seemed to show it, the theory that two
chambers were essential to a good and free Government vanished away.

With a perfect Lower House it is certain that an Upper House would be
scarcely of any value. If we had an ideal House of Commons perfectly
representing the nation, always moderate, never passionate, abounding
in men of leisure, never omitting the slow and steady forms necessary
for good consideration, it is certain that we should not need a higher
chamber. The work would be done so well that we should not want any one
to look over or revise it. And whatever is unnecessary in Government is
pernicious. Human life makes so much complexity necessary that an
artificial addition is sure to do harm: you cannot tell where the
needless bit of machinery will catch and clog the hundred needful
wheels; but the chances are conclusive that it will impede them some
where, so nice are they and so delicate. But though beside an ideal
House of Commons the Lords would be unnecessary, and therefore
pernicious, beside the actual House a revising and leisured legislature
is extremely useful, if not quite necessary.

At present the chance majorities on minor questions in the House of
Commons are subject to no effectual control. The nation never attends
to any but the principal matters of policy and State. Upon these it
forms that rude, rough, ruling judgment which we call public opinion;
but upon other things it does not think at all, and it would be useless
for it to think. It has not the materials for forming a judgment: the
detail of bills, the instrumental part of policy, the latent part of
legislation, are wholly out of its way. It knows nothing about them,
and could not find time or labour for the careful investigation by
which alone they can be apprehended. A casual majority of the House of
Commons has therefore dominant power: it can legislate as it wishes.
And though the whole House of Commons upon great subjects very fairly
represents public opinion, and though its judgment upon minor questions
is, from some secret excellencies in its composition, remarkably sound
and good; yet, like all similar assemblies, it is subject to the sudden
action of selfish combinations. There are said to be 200 "members for
the railways" in the present Parliament. If these 200 choose to combine
on a point which the public does not care for, and which they care for
because it affects their purse, they are absolute. A formidable
sinister interest may always obtain the complete command of a dominant
assembly by some chance and for a moment, and it is therefore of great
use to have a second chamber of an opposite sort, differently composed,
in which that interest in all likelihood will not rule.

The most dangerous of all sinister interests is that of the executive
Government, because it is the most powerful. It is perfectly
possible--it has happened and will happen again--that the Cabinet,
being very powerful in the Commons, may inflict minor measures on the
nation which the nation did not like, but which it did not understand
enough to forbid. If, therefore, a tribunal of revision can be found in
which the executive, though powerful, is less powerful, the Government
will be the better; the retarding chamber will impede minor instances
of Parliamentary tyranny, though it will not prevent or much impede
revolution.

Every large assembly is, moreover, a fluctuating body; it is not one
house, so to say, but a set of houses; it is one set of men to-night
and another to-morrow night. A certain unity is doubtless preserved by
the duty which the executive is supposed to undertake, and does
undertake, of keeping a house; a constant element is so provided about
which all sorts of variables accumulate and pass away. But even after
due allowance for the full weight of this protective machinery, our
House of Commons is, as all such chambers must be, subject to sudden
turns and bursts of feeling, because the members who compose it change
from time to time. The pernicious result is perpetual in our
legislation; many Acts of Parliament are medleys of different motives,
because the majority which passed one set of its clauses is different
from that which passed another set.

But the greatest defect of the House of Commons is that it has no
leisure. The life of the House is the worst of all lives--a life of
distracting routine. It has an amount of business brought before it
such as no similar assembly ever has had. The British Empire is a
miscellaneous aggregate, and each bit of the aggregate brings its bit
of business to the House of Commons. It is India one day and Jamaica
the next; then again China, and then Schleswig-Holstein. Our
legislation touches on all subjects, because our country contains all
ingredients. The mere questions which are asked of the Ministers run
over half human affairs; the Private Bill Acts, the mere privilegia of
our Government--subordinate as they ought to be--probably give the
House of Commons more absolute work than the whole business, both
national and private, of any other assembly which has ever sat. The
whole scene is so encumbered with changing business, that it is hard to
keep your head in it.

Whatever, too, may be the case hereafter, when a better system has been
struck out, at present the House does all the work of legislation, all
the detail, and all the clauses itself. One of the most helpless
exhibitions of helpless ingenuity and wasted mind is a committee of the
whole House on a bill of many clauses which eager enemies are trying to
spoil, and various friends are trying to mend. An Act of Parliament is
at least as complex as a marriage settlement; and it is made much as a
settlement would be if it were left to the vote and settled by the
major part of persons concerned, including the unborn children. There
is an advocate for every interest, and every interest clamours for
every advantage. The executive Government by means of its disciplined
forces, and the few invaluable members who sit and think, preserves
some sort of unity. But the result is very imperfect. The best test of
a machine is the work it turns out. Let any one who knows what legal
documents ought to be, read first a will he has just been making and
then an Act of Parliament; he will certainly say, "I would have
dismissed my attorney if he had done my business as the legislature has
done the nation's business". While the House of Commons is what it is,
a good revising, regulating and retarding House would be a benefit of
great magnitude.

But is the House of Lords such a chamber? Does it do this work? This is
almost an undiscussed question. The House of Lords, for thirty years at
least, has been in popular discussion an accepted matter. Popular
passion has not crossed the path, and no vivid imagination has been
excited to clear the matter up.

The House of Lords has the greatest merit which such a chamber can
have; it is POSSIBLE. It is incredibly difficult to get a revising
assembly, because it is difficult to find a class of respected
revisers. A federal senate, a second House, which represents State
unity, has this advantage; it embodies a feeling at the root of
society--a feeling which is older than complicated politics, which is
stronger a thousand times over than common political feelings--the
local feeling. "My shirt," said the Swiss state-right patriot, "is
dearer to me than my coat." Every State in the American Union would
feel that disrespect to the Senate was disrespect to itself.
Accordingly, the Senate is respected; whatever may be the merits or
demerits of its action, it can act; it is real, independent, and
efficient. But in common Governments it is fatally difficult to make an
UNpopular entity powerful in a popular Government.

It is almost the same thing to say that the House of Lords is
independent. It would not be powerful, it would not be possible, unless
it were known to be independent. The Lords are in several respects more
independent than the Commons; their judgment may not be so good a
judgment, but it is emphatically their own judgment. The House of
Lords, as a body, is accessible to no social bribe. And this, in our
day, is no light matter. Many members of the House of Commons, who are
to be influenced by no other manner of corruption, are much influenced
by this its most insidious sort. The conductors of the press and the
writers for it are worse--at least the more influential who come near
the temptation; for "position," as they call it, for a certain intimacy
with the aristocracy, some of them would do almost anything and say
almost anything. But the Lords are those who give social bribes, and
not those who take them. They are above corruption because they are the
corruptors. They have no constituency to fear or wheedle; they have the
best means of forming a disinterested and cool judgment of any class in
the country. They have, too, leisure to form it. They have no
occupations to distract them which are worth the name. Field sports are
but playthings, though some lords put an Englishman's seriousness into
them. Few Englishmen can bury themselves in science or literature; and
the aristocracy have less, perhaps, of that impetus than the middle
classes. Society is too correct and dull to be an occupation, as in
other times and ages it has been. The aristocracy live in the fear of
the middle classes--of the grocer and the merchant. They dare not frame
a society of enjoyment as the French aristocracy once formed it.
Politics are the only occupation a peer has worth the name. He may
pursue them undistractedly. The House of Lords, besides independence to
revise judicially and position to revise effectually, has leisure to
revise intellectually.

These are great merits: and, considering how difficult it is to get a
good second chamber, and how much with our present first chamber we
need a second, we may well be thankful for them. But we must not permit
them to blind our eyes. Those merits of the Lords have faults close
beside them which go far to make them useless. With its wealth, its
place, and its leisure, the House of Lords would, on the very surface
of the matter, rule us far more than it does if it had not secret
defects which hamper and weaken it.

The first of these defects is hardly to be called secret, though, on
the other hand, it is not well known. A severe though not unfriendly
critic of our institutions said that "the cure for admiring the House
of Lords was to go and look at it"--to look at it not on a great party
field-day, or at a time of parade, but in the ordinary transaction of
business. There are perhaps ten peers in the House, possibly only six;
three is the quorum for transacting business. A few more may dawdle in
or not dawdle in: those are the principal speakers, the lawyers (a few
years ago when Lyndhurst, Brougham, and Campbell were in vigour, they
were by far the predominant talkers) and a few statesmen whom every one
knows. But the mass of the House is nothing. This is why orators
trained in the Commons detest to speak in the Lords. Lord Chatham used
to call it the "Tapestry". The House of Commons is a scene of life if
ever there was a scene of life. Every member in the throng, every atom
in the medley, has his own objects (good or bad), his own purposes
(great or petty); his own notions, such as they are, of what is; his
own notions, such as they are, of what ought to be. There is a motley
confluence of vigorous elements, but the result is one and good. There
is a "feeling of the House," a "sense" of the House, and no one who
knows anything of it can despise it. A very shrewd man of the world
went so far as to say that "the House of Commons has more sense than
any one in it". But there is no such "sense" in the House of Lords,
because there is no life. The Lower Chamber is a chamber of eager
politicians; the Upper (to say the least) of not eager ones.

This apathy is not, indeed, as great as the outside show would
indicate. The committees of the Lords (as is well known) do a great
deal of work and do it very well. And such as it is, the apathy is very
natural. A House composed of rich men who can vote by proxy without
coming will not come very much.[5] But after every abatement the real
indifference to their duties of most peers is a great defect, and the
apparent indifference is a dangerous defect. As far as politics go
there is profound truth in Lord Chesterfield's axiom, that "the world
must judge of you by what you seem, not by what you are". The world
knows what you seem; it does not know what you are. An assembly--a
revising assembly especially--which does not assemble, which looks as
if it does not care how it revises, is defective in a main political
ingredient. It may be of use, but it will hardly convince mankind that
it is so.


[5] In accordance with a recent resolution of the House of Lords
proxies are now disused.--Note to second edition.


The next defect is even more serious: it affects not simply the
apparent work of the House of Lords but the real work. For a revising
legislature, it is too uniformly made up. Errors are of various kinds;
but the constitution of the House of Lords only guards against a single
error--that of too quick change. The Lords--leaving out a few lawyers
and a few outcasts--are all landowners of more or less wealth. They all
have more or less the opinions, the merits, the faults of that one
class. They revise legislation, as far as they do revise it,
exclusively according to the supposed interests, the predominant
feelings, the inherited opinions, of that class. Since the Reform Act,
this uniformity of tendency has been very evident. The Lords have
felt--it would be harsh to say hostile, but still dubious, as to the
new legislation. There was a spirit in it alien to their spirit, and
which when they could they have tried to cast out. That spirit is what
has been termed the "modern spirit". It is not easy to concentrate its
essence in a phrase; it lives in our life, animates our actions,
suggests our thoughts. We all know what it means, though it would take
an essay to limit it and define it. To this the Lords object; wherever
it is concerned, they are not impartial revisers, but biassed revisers.

This singleness of composition would be no fault; it would be, or might
be, even a merit, if the criticism of the House of Lords, though a
suspicious criticism, were yet a criticism of great understanding. The
characteristic legislation of every age must have characteristic
defects; it is the outcome of a character, of necessity faulty and
limited. It must mistake some kind of things; it must overlook some
other. If we could get hold of a complemental critic, a critic who saw
what the age did not see, and who saw rightly what the age mistook, we
should have a critic of inestimable value. But is the House of Lords
that critic? Can it be said that its unfriendliness to the legislation
of the age is founded on a perception of what the age does not see, and
a rectified perception of what the age does see? The most extreme
partisan, the most warm admirer of the Lords, if of fair and tempered
mind, cannot say so. The evidence is too strong. On free trade, for
example, no one can doubt that the Lords--in opinion, in what they
wished to do, and would have done, if they had acted on their own
minds--were utterly wrong. This is the clearest test of the "modern
spirit". It is easier here to be sure it is right than elsewhere.
Commerce is like war; its result is patent. Do you make money or do you
not make it? There is as little appeal from figures as from battle. Now
no one can doubt that England is a great deal better off because of
free trade; that it has more money, and that its money is diffused more
as we should wish it diffused. In the one case in which we can
unanswerably test the modern spirit, it was right, and the dubious
Upper House--the House which would have rejected it, if possible--was
wrong.

There is another reason. The House of Lords, being an hereditary
chamber, cannot be of more than common ability. It may contain--it
almost always has contained, it almost always will
contain--extraordinary men. But its average born law-makers cannot be
extraordinary. Being a set of eldest sons picked out by chance and
history, it cannot be very wise. It would be a standing miracle if such
a chamber possessed a knowledge of its age superior to the other men of
the age; if it possessed a superior and supplemental knowledge; if it
descried what they did not discern, and saw truly that which they saw,
indeed, but saw untruly.

The difficulty goes deeper. The task of revising, of adequately
revising the legislation of this age, is not only that which an
aristocracy has no facility in doing, but one which it has a difficulty
in doing. Look at the statute book for 1865--the statutes at large for
the year. You will find, not pieces of literature, not nice and subtle
matters, but coarse matters, crude heaps of heavy business. They deal
with trade, with finance, with statute-law reform, with common-law
reform; they deal with various sorts of business, but with business
always. And there is no educated human being less likely to know
business, worse placed for knowing business than a young lord. Business
is really more agreeable than pleasure; it interests the whole mind,
the aggregate nature of man more continuously, and more deeply. But it
does not look as if it did. It is difficult to convince a young man,
who can have the best of pleasure, that it will. A young lord just come
into 30,000 pounds a year will not, as a rule, care much for the law of
patents, for the law of "passing tolls," or the law of prisons. Like
Hercules, he may choose virtue, but hardly Hercules could choose
business. He has everything to allure him from it, and nothing to
allure him to it. And even if he wish to give himself to business, he
has indifferent means. Pleasure is near him, but business is far from
him. Few things are more amusing than the ideas of a well-intentioned
young man, who is born out of the business world, but who wishes to
take to business, about business. He has hardly a notion in what it
consists. It really is the adjustment of certain particular means to
equally certain particular ends. But hardly any young man destitute of
experience is able to separate end and means. It seems to him a kind of
mystery; and it is lucky if he do not think that the forms are the main
part, and that the end is but secondary. There are plenty of business
men falsely so called, who will advise him so. The subject seems a kind
of maze. "What would you recommend me to READ?" the nice youth asks;
and it is impossible to explain to him that reading has nothing to do
with it, that he has not yet the original ideas in his mind to read
about; that administration is an art as painting is an art; and that no
book can teach the practice of either.

Formerly this defect in the aristocracy was hidden by their own
advantages. Being the only class at ease for money and cultivated in
mind they were without competition; and though they might not be, as a
rule, and extraordinary ability excepted, excellent in State business,
they were the best that could be had. Even in old times, however, they
sheltered themselves from the greater pressure of coarse work. They
appointed a manager--a Peel or a Walpole, anything but an aristocrat in
manner or in nature--to act for them or manage for them. But now a
class is coming up trained to thought, full of money, and yet trained
to business. As I write, two members of this class have been appointed
to stations considerable in themselves, and sure to lead (if anything
is sure in politics) to the Cabinet and power. This is the class of
highly-cultivated men of business who, after a few years, are able to
leave business and begin ambition. As yet these men are few in public
life, because they do not know their own strength. It is like Columbus
and the egg once again; a few original men will show it can be done,
and then a crowd of common men will follow. These men know business
partly from tradition, and this is much. There are University
families--families who talk of fellowships, and who invest their
children's ability in Latin verses, as soon as they discover it; there
used to be Indian families of the same sort, and probably will be again
when the competitive system has had time to foster a new breed. Just so
there are business families to whom all that concerns money, all that
concerns administration, is as familiar as the air they breathe. All
Americans, it has been said, know business; it is in the air of their
country. Just so certain classes know business here; and a lord can
hardly know it. It is as great a difficulty to learn business in a
palace as it is to learn agriculture in a park.

To one kind of business, indeed, this doctrine does not apply. There is
one kind of business in which our aristocracy have still, and are
likely to retain long, a certain advantage. This is the business of
diplomacy. Napoleon, who knew men well, would never, if he could help
it, employ men of the Revolution in missions to the old courts; he
said, "They spoke to no one and no one spoke to them"; and so they sent
home no information. The reason is obvious. The old-world diplomacy of
Europe was largely carried on in drawing-rooms, and, to a great extent,
of necessity still is so. Nations touch at their summits. It is always
the highest class which travels most, knows most of foreign nations,
has the least of the territorial sectarianism which calls itself
patriotism, and is often thought to be so. Even here, indeed, in
England the new trade-class is in real merit equal to the aristocracy.
Their knowledge of foreign things is as great, and their contact with
them often more. But, notwithstanding, the new race is not as
serviceable for diplomacy as the old race. An ambassador is not simply
an agent; he is also a spectacle. He is sent abroad for show as well as
for substance; he is to represent the Queen among foreign courts and
foreign sovereigns. An aristocracy is in its nature better suited to
such work; it is trained to the theatrical part of life;  it is fit for
that if it is fit for anything. But, with this exception, an
aristocracy is necessarily inferior in business to the classes nearer
business; and it is not, therefore, a suitable class, if we had our
choice of classes, out of which to frame a chamber for revising matters
of business. It is indeed a singular example how natural business is to
the English race, that the House of Lords works as well as it does. The
common appearance of the "whole House" is a jest--a dangerous anomaly,
which Mr. Bright will sometimes use; but a great deal of substantial
work is done in "Committees," and often very well done. The great
majority of the peers do none of their appointed work, and could do
none of it; but a minority--a minority never so large and never so
earnest as in this age--do it, and do it well. Still no one, who
examines the matter without prejudice, can say that the work is done
perfectly. In a country so rich in mind as England, far more
intellectual power can be, and ought to be, applied to the revision of
our laws.

And not only does the House of Lords do its work imperfectly, but
often, at least, it does it timidly. Being only a section of the
nation, it is afraid of the nation. Having been used for years and
years, on the greatest matters to act contrary to its own judgment, it
hardly knows when to act on that judgment. The depressing languor with
which it damps an earnest young peer is at times ridiculous. "When the
Corn Laws are gone, and the rotten boroughs, why tease about Clause IX.
in the Bill to regulate Cotton Factories?" is the latent thought of
many peers. A word from the leaders, from "the Duke," or Lord Derby, or
Lord Lyndhurst, will rouse on any matters the sleeping energies; but
most Lords are feeble and forlorn.

These grave defects would have been at once lessened, and in the course
of years nearly effaced, if the House of Lords had not resisted the
proposal of Lord Palmerston's first Government to create peers for
life. The expedient was almost perfect. The difficulty of reforming an
old institution like the House of Lords is necessarily great; its
possibility rests on continuous caste and ancient deference. And if you
begin to agitate about it, to bawl at meetings about it, that deference
is gone, its particular charm lost, its reserved sanctity gone. But, by
an odd fatality, there was in the recesses of the Constitution an old
prerogative which would have rendered agitation needless--which would
have effected, without agitation, all that agitation could have
effected. Lord Palmerston was--now that he is dead, and his memory can
be calmly viewed--as firm a friend to an aristocracy, as thorough an
aristocrat, as any in England; yet he proposed to use that power. If
the House of Lords had still been under the rule of the Duke of
Wellington, perhaps they would have acquiesced. The Duke would not
indeed have reflected on all the considerations which a philosophic
statesman would have set out before him; but he would have been brought
right by one of his peculiarities. He disliked, above all things, to
oppose the Crown. At a great crisis, at the crisis of the Corn Laws,
what he considered was not what other people were thinking of, the
economical issue under discussion, the welfare of the country hanging
in the balance, but the Queen's ease. He thought the Crown so superior
a part in the Constitution, that, even on vital occasions, he looked
solely--or said he looked solely--to the momentary comfort of the
present sovereign. He never was comfortable in opposing a conspicuous
act of the Crown. It is very likely that, if the Duke had still been
the president of the House of Lords, they would have permitted the
Crown to prevail in its well-chosen scheme. But the Duke was dead, and
his authority--or some of it--had fallen to a very different person.
Lord Lyndhurst had many great qualities: he had a splendid
intellect--as great a faculty of finding truth as any one in his
generation; but he had no love of truth. With this great faculty of
finding truth, he was a believer in error--in what his own party now
admit to be error--all his life through. He could have found the truth
as a statesman just as he found it when a judge; but he never did find
it. He never looked for it. He was a great partisan, and he applied a
capacity of argument, and a faculty of intellectual argument rarely
equalled, to support the tenets of his party. The proposal to create
life peers was proposed by the antagonistic party--was at the moment
likely to injure his own party. To him this was a great opportunity.
The speech he delivered on that occasion lives in the memory of those
who heard it. His eyes did not at that time let him read, so he
repeated by memory, and quite accurately, all the black-letter
authorities, bearing on the question. So great an intellectual effort
has rarely been seen in an English assembly. But the result was
deplorable. Not by means of his black-letter authorities, but by means
of his recognised authority and his vivid impression, he induced the
House of Lords to reject the proposition of the Government. Lord
Lyndhurst said the Crown could not now create life peers, and so there
are no life peers. The House of Lords rejected the inestimable, the
unprecedented opportunity of being tacitly reformed. Such a chance does
not come twice. The life peers who would have been then introduced
would have been among the first men in the country. Lord Macaulay was
to have been among the first; Lord Wensleydale--the most learned and
not the least logical of our lawyers--to be the very first. Thirty or
forty such men, added judiciously and sparingly as years went on, would
have given to the House of Lords the very element which, as a
criticising chamber, it needs so much. It would have given it critics.
The most accomplished men in each department might then, without
irrelevant considerations of family and of fortune, have been added to
the Chamber of Review. The very element which was wanted to the House
of Lords was, as it were, by a constitutional providence, offered to
the House of Lords, and they refused it. By what species of effort that
error can be repaired I cannot tell; but, unless it is repaired, the
intellectual capacity can never be what it would have been, will never
be what it ought to be, will never be sufficient for its work.

Another reform ought to have accompanied the creation of life peers.
Proxies ought to have been abolished. Some time or other the slack
attendance of the House of Lords will destroy the House of Lords. There
are occasions in which appearances are realities, and this is one of
them. The House of Lords on most days looks so unlike what it ought to
be, that most people will not believe it is what it ought to be. The
attendance of considerate peers will, for obvious reasons, be larger
when it can no longer be overpowered by the NON-attendance, by the
commissioned votes of inconsiderate peers. The abolition of proxies
would have made the House of Lords a real House; the addition of life
peers would have made it a good House.

The greater of these changes would have most materially aided the House
of Lords in the performance of its subsidiary functions. It always
perhaps happens in a great nation, that certain bodies of sensible men
posted prominently in its Constitution, acquire functions, and usefully
exercise functions, which at the outset, no one expected from them, and
which do not identify themselves with their original design. This has
happened to the House of Lords especially. The most obvious instance is
the judicial function. This is a function which no theorist would
assign to a second chamber in a new Constitution, and which is matter
of accident in ours. Gradually, indeed, the unfitness of the second
chamber for judicial functions has made itself felt. Under our present
arrangements this function is not entrusted to the House of Lords, but
to a Committee of the House of Lords. On one occasion only, the trial
of O'Connell, the whole House, or some few in the whole House, wished
to vote, and they were told they could not, or they would destroy the
judicial prerogative. No one, indeed, would venture REALLY to place the
judicial function in the chance majorities of a fluctuating assembly:
it is so by a sleepy theory; it is not so in living fact. As a legal
question, too, it is a matter of grave doubt whether there ought to be
two supreme courts in this country--the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council, and (what is in fact though not in name) the Judicial
Committee of the House of Lords. Up to a very recent time, one
committee might decide that a man was sane as to money, and the other
committee might decide that he was insane as to land. This absurdity
has been cured; but the error from which it arose has not been
cured--the error of having two supreme courts, to both of which as time
goes on, the same question is sure often enough to be submitted, and
each of which is sure every now and then to decide it differently. I do
not reckon the judicial function of the House of Lords as one of its
true subsidiary functions, first because it does not in fact exercise
it, next because I wish to see it in appearance deprived of it. The
supreme court of the English people ought to be a great conspicuous
tribunal, ought to rule all other courts, ought to have no competitor,
ought to bring our law into unity, ought not to be hidden beneath the
robes of a legislative assembly.

The real subsidiary functions of the House of Lords are, unlike its
judicial functions, very analogous to its substantial nature. The first
is the faculty of criticising the executive. An assembly in which the
mass of the members have nothing to lose, where most have nothing to
gain, where every one has a social position firmly fixed, where no one
has a constituency, where hardly any one cares for the minister of the
day, is the very assembly in which to look for, from which to expect,
independent criticism. And in matter of fact we find it. The criticism
of the Acts of late administrations by Lord Grey has been admirable.
But such criticism, to have its full value, should be many-sided. Every
man of great ability puts his own mark on his own criticism; it will be
full of thought and feeling, but then it is of idiosyncratic thought
and feeling. We want many critics of ability and knowledge in the Upper
House--not equal to Lord Grey, for they would be hard to find--but like
Lord Grey. They should resemble him in impartiality; they should
resemble him in clearness; they should most of all resemble him in
taking a supplemental view of a subject. There is an actor's view of a
subject, which (I speak of mature and discussed action--of Cabinet
action) is nearly sure to include everything old and new--everything
ascertained and determinate. But there is also a bystander's view which
is likely to omit some one or more of these old and certain elements,
but also to contain some new or distant matter, which the absorbed and
occupied actor could not see. There ought to be many life peers in our
secondary chamber capable of giving us this higher criticism. I am
afraid we shall not soon see them, but as a first step we should learn
to wish for them.

The second subsidiary action of the House of Lords is even more
important. Taking the House of Commons, not after possible but most
unlikely improvements, but in matter of fact and as it stands, it is
overwhelmed with work. The task of managing it falls upon the Cabinet,
and that task is very hard. Every member of the Cabinet in the Commons
has to "attend the House"; to contribute by his votes, if not by his
voice, to the management of the House. Even in so small a matter as the
Education Department, Mr. Lowe, a consummate observer, spoke of the
desirability of finding a chief "not exposed to the prodigious labour
of attending the House of Commons". It is all but necessary that
certain members of the Cabinet should be exempt from its toil, and
untouched by its excitement. But it is also necessary that they should
have the power of explaining their views to the nation; of being heard
as other people are heard. There are various plans for so doing, which
I may discuss a little in speaking of the House of Commons. But so much
is evident: the House of Lords, for its own members, attains this
object; it gives them a voice, it gives them what no competing plan
does give them--POSITION. The leisured members of the Cabinet speak in
the Lords with authority and power. They are not administrators with a
right to speech--clerks (as is sometimes suggested) brought down to
lecture a House, but not to vote in it; but they are the equals of
those they speak to; they speak as they like, and reply as they choose;
they address the House, not with the "bated breath" of subordinates,
but with the force and dignity of sure rank. Life peers would enable us
to use this faculty of our Constitution more freely and more variously.
It would give us a larger command of able leisure; it would improve the
Lords as a political pulpit, for it would enlarge the list of its
select preachers.

The danger of the House of Commons is, perhaps, that it will be
reformed too rashly; the danger of the House of Lords certainly is,
that it may never be reformed. Nobody asks that it should be so; it is
quite safe against rough destruction, but it is not safe against inward
decay. It may lose its veto as the Crown has lost its veto. If most of
its members neglect their duties, if all its members continue to be of
one class, and that not quite the best; if its doors are shut against
genius that cannot found a family, and ability which has not 5000
pounds a year, its power will be less year by year, and at last be
gone, as so much kingly power is gone--no one knows how. Its danger is
not in assassination, but atrophy; not abolition, but decline.



NO. V.

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.

[Footnote: I reprint this chapter substantially as it was first
written. It is too soon, as I have explained in the introduction, to
say what changes the late Reform Act will make in the House of Commons.]

The dignified aspect of the House of Commons is altogether secondary to
its efficient use. It IS dignified: in a Government in which the most
prominent parts are good because they are very stately, any prominent
part, to be good at all, must be somewhat stately. The human
imagination exacts keeping in government as much as in art; it will not
be at all influenced by institutions which do not match with those by
which it is principally influenced. The House of Commons needs to be
impressive, and impressive it is: but its use resides not in its
appearance, but in its reality. Its office is not to win power by awing
mankind, but to use power in governing mankind.

The main function of the House of Commons is one which we know quite
well, though our common constitutional speech does not recognise it.
The House of Commons is an electoral chamber; it is the assembly which
chooses our president. Washington and his fellow-politicians contrived
an electoral college, to be composed (as was hoped) of the wisest
people in the nation, which, after due deliberation, was to choose for
president the wisest man in the nation. But that college is a sham; it
has no independence and no life. No one knows, or cares to know, who
its members are. They never discuss, and never deliberate. They were
chosen to vote that Mr. Lincoln be President, or that Mr. Breckenridge
be President; they do so vote, and they go home. But our House of
Commons is a real choosing body; it elects the people it likes. And it
dismisses whom it likes too. No matter that a few months since it was
chosen to support Lord Aberdeen or Lord Palmerston; upon a sudden
occasion it ousts the statesman to whom it at first adhered, and
selects an opposite statesman whom it at first rejected. Doubtless in
such cases there is a tacit reference to probable public opinion; but
certainly also there is much free will in the judgment of the Commons.
The House only goes where it thinks in the end the nation will follow;
but it takes its chance of the nation following or not following; it
assumes the initiative, and acts upon its discretion or its caprice.

When the American nation has chosen its President, its virtue goes out
of it, and out of the Transmissive College through which it chooses.
But because the House of Commons has the power of dismissal in addition
to the power of election, its relations to the Premier are incessant.
They guide him and he leads them. He is to them what they are to the
nation. He only goes where he believes they will go after him. But he
has to take the lead; he must choose his direction, and begin the
journey. Nor must he flinch. A good horse likes to feel the rider's
bit; and a great deliberative assembly likes to feel that it is under
worthy guidance. A Minister who succumbs to the House,--who
ostentatiously seeks its pleasure,--who does not try to regulate
it,--who will not boldly point out plain errors to it, seldom thrives.
The great leaders of Parliament have varied much, but they have all had
a certain firmness. A great assembly is as soon spoiled by
over-indulgence as a little child. The whole life of English politics
is the action and reaction between the Ministry and the Parliament. The
appointees strive to guide, and the appointers surge under the
guidance. The elective is now the most important function of the House
of Commons. It is most desirable to insist, and be tedious, on this,
because our tradition ignores it. At the end of half the sessions of
Parliament, you will read in the newspapers, and you will hear even
from those who have looked close at the matter and should know better,
"Parliament has done nothing this session. Some things were promised in
the Queen's speech, but they were only little things; and most of them
have not passed." Lord Lyndhurst used for years to recount the small
outcomings of legislative achievement; and yet those were the days of
the first Whig Governments, who had more to do in legislation, and did
more, than any Government. The true answer to such harangues as Lord
Lyndhurst's by a Minister should have been in the first person. He
should have said firmly, "Parliament has maintained ME, and that was
its greatest duty; Parliament has carried on what, in the language of
traditional respect, we call the Queen's Government; it has maintained
what wisely or unwisely it deemed the best executive of the English
nation". The second function of the House of Commons is what I may call
an expressive function. It is its office to express the mind of the
English people on all matters which come before it. Whether it does so
well or ill I shall discuss presently. The third function of Parliament
is what I may call--preserving a sort of technicality even in familiar
matters for the sake of distinctness--the teaching function. A great
and open council of considerable men cannot be placed in the middle of
a society without altering that society. It ought to alter it for the
better. It ought to teach the nation what it does not know. How far the
House of Commons can so teach, and how far it does so teach, are
matters for subsequent discussion.

Fourthly, the House of Commons has what may be called an informing
function--a function which though in its present form quite modern is
singularly analogous to a mediaeval function. In old times one office
of the House of Commons was to inform the sovereign what was wrong. It
laid before the Crown the grievances and complaints of particular
interests. Since the publication of the Parliamentary debates a
corresponding office of Parliament is to lay these same grievances,
these same complaints, before the nation, which is the present
sovereign. The nation needs it quite as much as the king ever needed
it. A free people is indeed mostly fair, liberty practises men in a
give-and-take, which is the rough essence of justice. The English
people, possibly even above other free nations, is fair. But a free
nation rarely can be--and the English nation is not--quick of
apprehension. It only comprehends what is familiar to it--what comes
into its own experience, what squares with its own thoughts. "I never
heard of such a thing in my life," the middle-class Englishman says,
and he thinks he so refutes an argument. The common disputant cannot
say in reply that his experience is but limited, and that the assertion
may be true, though he had never met with anything at all like it. But
a great debate in Parliament does bring home something of this feeling.
Any notion, any creed, any feeling, any grievance which can get a
decent number of English members to stand up for it, is felt by almost
all Englishmen to be perhaps a false and pernicious opinion, but at any
rate possible--an opinion within the intellectual sphere, an opinion to
be reckoned with. And it is an immense achievement. Practical
diplomatists say that a free Government is harder to deal with than a
despotic Government; you may be able to get the despot to hear the
other side; his Ministers, men of trained intelligence, will be sure to
know what makes against them; and they MAY tell him. But a free nation
never hears any side save its own. The newspapers only repeat the side
their purchasers like: the favourable arguments are set out,
elaborated, illustrated; the adverse arguments maimed, misstated,
confused. The worst judge, they say, is a deaf judge; the most dull
Government is a free Government on matters its ruling classes will not
hear. I am disposed to reckon it as the second function of Parliament
in point of importance, that to some extent it makes us hear what
otherwise we should not.

Lastly, there is the function of legislation, of which of course it
would be preposterous to deny the great importance, and which I only
deny to be AS important as the executive management of the whole State,
or the political education given by Parliament to the whole nation.
There are, I allow, seasons when legislation is more important than
either of these. The nation may be misfitted with its laws, and need to
change them: some particular corn law may hurt all industry, and it may
be worth a thousand administrative blunders to get rid of it. But
generally the laws of a nation suit its life; special adaptations of
them are but subordinate; the administration and conduct of that life
is the matter which presses most. Nevertheless, the statute-book of
every great nation yearly contains many important new laws, and the
English statute-book does so above any. An immense mass, indeed, of the
legislation is not, in the proper language of jurisprudence,
legislation at all. A law is a general command applicable to many
cases. The "special acts" which crowd the statute-book and weary
Parliamentary committees are applicable to one case only. They do not
lay down rules according to which railways shall be made, they enact
that such a railway shall be made from this place to that place, and
they have no bearing upon any other transaction. But after every
deduction and abatement, the annual legislation of Parliament is a
result of singular importance; were it not so, it could not be, as it
often is considered, the sole result of its annual assembling.

Some persons will perhaps think that I ought to enumerate a sixth
function of the House of Commons--a financial function. But I do not
consider that, upon broad principle, and omitting legal technicalities,
the House of Commons has any special function with regard to financial
different from its functions with respect to other legislation. It is
to rule in both, and to rule in both through the Cabinet. Financial
legislation is of necessity a yearly recurring legislation; but
frequency of occurrence does not indicate a diversity of nature or
compel an antagonism of treatment.

In truth, the principal peculiarity of the House of Commons in
financial affairs is nowadays not a special privilege, but an
exceptional disability. On common subjects any member can propose
anything, but not on money--the Minister only can propose to tax the
people. This principle is commonly involved in mediaeval metaphysics as
to the prerogative of the Crown, but it is as useful in the nineteenth
century as in the fourteenth, and rests on as sure a principle. The
House of Commons--now that it is the true sovereign, and appoints the
real executive--has long ceased to be the checking, sparing, economical
body it once was. It now is more apt to spend money than the Minister
of the day. I have heard a very experienced financier say, "If you want
to raise a certain cheer in the House of Commons make a general
panegyric on economy; if you want to invite a sure defeat, propose a
particular saving". The process is simple. Every expenditure of public
money has some apparent public object; those who wish to spend the
money expatiate on that object; they say, "What is 50,000 pounds to
this great country? Is this a time for cheese-paring objection? Our
industry was never so productive; our resources never so immense. What
is 50,000 pounds in comparison with this great national interest?" The
members who are for the expenditure always come down; perhaps a
constituent or a friend who will profit by the outlay, or is keen on
the object, has asked them to attend; at any rate, there is a popular
vote to be given, on which the newspapers--always philanthropic, and
sometimes talked over--will be sure to make enconiums. The members
against the expenditure rarely come down of themselves; why should they
become unpopular without reason? The object seems decent; many of its
advocates are certainly sincere: a hostile vote will make enemies, and
be censured by the journals. If there were not some check, the
"people's house" would soon outrun the people's money. That check is
the responsibility of the Cabinet for the national finance. If any one
could propose a tax, they might let the House spend it as it would, and
wash their hands of the matter; but now, for whatever expenditure is
sanctioned--even when it is sanctioned against the Ministry's wish--the
Ministry must find the money. Accordingly, they have the strongest
motive to oppose extra outlay. They will have to pay the bill for it;
they will have to impose taxation, which is always disagreeable, or
suggest loans, which, under ordinary circumstances, are shameful. The
Ministry is (so to speak) the bread-winner of the political family, and
has to meet the cost of philanthropy and glory, just as the head of a
family has to pay for the charities of his wife and the toilette of his
daughters.

In truth, when a Cabinet is made the sole executive, it follows it must
have the sole financial charge, for all action costs money, all policy
depends on money, and it is in adjusting the relative goodness of
action and policies that the executive is employed.

From a consideration of these functions, it follows that we are ruled
by the House of Commons; we are, indeed, so used to be so ruled, that
it does not seem to be at all strange. But of all odd forms of
government, the oddest really is government by a PUBLIC MEETING. Here
are 658 persons, collected from all parts of England, different in
nature, different in interests, different in look, and language. If we
think what an empire the English is, how various are its components,
how incessant its concerns, how immersed in history its policy; if we
think what a vast information, what a nice discretion, what a
consistent will ought to mark the rulers of that empire, we shall be
surprised when we see them. We see a changing body of miscellaneous
persons, sometimes few, sometimes many, never the same for an hour;
sometimes excited, but mostly dull and half weary--impatient of
eloquence, catching at any joke as an alleviation. These are the
persons who rule the British Empire--who rule England, who rule
Scotland, who rule Ireland, who rule a great deal of Asia, who rule a
great deal of Polynesia, who rule a great deal of America, and
scattered fragments everywhere.

Paley said many shrewd things, but he never said a better thing than
that it was much harder to make men see a difficulty than comprehend
the explanation of it. The key to the difficulties of most discussed
and unsettled questions is commonly in their undiscussed parts: they
are like the background of a picture, which looks obvious, easy, just
what any one might have painted, but which, in fact, sets the figures
in their right position, chastens them, and makes them what they are.
Nobody will understand Parliament government who fancies it an easy
thing, a natural thing, a thing not needing explanation. You have not a
perception of the first elements in this matter till you know that
government by a CLUB is a standing wonder.

There has been a capital illustration lately how helpless many English
gentlemen are when called together on a sudden. The Government, rightly
or wrongly, thought fit to entrust the quarter-sessions of each county
with the duty of combating its cattle-plague; but the scene in most
"shire halls" was unsatisfactory. There was the greatest difficulty in
getting, not only a right decision, but ANY decision, I saw one myself
which went thus. The chairman proposed a very complex resolution, in
which there was much which every one liked, and much which every one
disliked, though, of course, the favourite parts of some were the
objectionable parts to others. This resolution got, so to say, wedged
in the meeting; everybody suggested amendments; one amendment was
carried which none were satisfied with, and so the matter stood over.
It is a saying in England, "a big meeting never does anything"; and yet
we are governed by the House of Commons--by "a big meeting".

It may be said that the House of Commons does not rule, it only elects
the rulers. But there must be something special about it to enable it
to do that. Suppose the Cabinet were elected by a London club, what
confusion there would be, what writing and answering! "Will you speak
to So-and-So, and ask him to vote for my man?" would be heard on every
side. How the wife of A. and the wife of B. would plot to confound the
wife of C. Whether the club elected under the dignified shadow of a
queen, or without the shadow, would hardly matter at all; if the
substantial choice was in them, the confusion and intrigue would be
there too. I propose to begin this paper by asking, not why the House
of Commons governs well? but the fundamental--almost unasked
question--how the House of Commons comes to be able to govern at all?

The House of Commons can do work which the quarter-sessions or clubs
cannot do, because it is an organised body, while quarter-sessions and
clubs are unorganised. Two of the greatest orators in England--Lord
Brougham and Lord Bolingbroke--spent much eloquence in attacking party
government. Bolingbroke probably knew what he was doing; he was a
consistent opponent of the power of the Commons; he wished to attack
them in a vital part. But Lord Brougham does not know; he proposes to
amend Parliamentary government by striking out the very elements which
make Parliamentary government possible. At present the majority of
Parliament obey certain leaders; what those leaders propose they
support, what those leaders reject they reject. An old Secretary of the
Treasury used to say, "This is a bad case, an indefensible case. We
must apply our majority to this question." That secretary lived fifty
years ago, before the Reform Bill, when majorities were very blind, and
very "applicable". Nowadays, the power of leaders over their followers
is strictly and wisely limited: they can take their followers but a
little way, and that only in certain directions. Yet still there are
leaders and followers. On the Conservative side of the House there are
vestiges of the despotic leadership even now. A cynical politician is
said to have watched the long row of county members, so fresh and
respectable-looking, and muttered,  "By Jove, they are the finest brute
votes in Europe!" But all satire apart, the principle of Parliament is
obedience to leaders. Change your leader if you will, take another if
you will, but obey No. 1 while you serve No. 1, and obey No. 2 when you
have gone over to No. 2. The penalty of not doing so, is the penalty of
impotence. It is not that you will not be able to do any good, but you
will not be able to do anything at all. If everybody does what he
thinks right, there will be 657 amendments to every motion, and none of
them will be carried or the motion either.

The moment, indeed, that we distinctly conceive that the House of
Commons is mainly and above all things an elective assembly, we at once
perceive that party is of its essence. There never was an election
without a party. You cannot get a child into an asylum without a
combination. At such places you may see "Vote for orphan A." upon a
placard, and "Vote for orphan B. (also an idiot!!!)" upon a banner, and
the party of each is busy about its placard and banner. What is true at
such minor and momentary elections must be much more true in a great
and constant election of rulers. The House of Commons lives in a state
of perpetual potential choice; at any moment it can choose a ruler and
dismiss a ruler. And therefore party is inherent in it, is bone of its
bone, and breath of its breath.

Secondly, though the leaders of party no longer have the vast patronage
of the last century with which to bribe, they can coerce by a threat
far more potent than any allurement--they can dissolve. This is the
secret which keeps parties together. Mr. Cobden most justly said: "He
had never been able to discover what was the proper moment, according
to members of Parliament, for a dissolution. He had heard them say they
were ready to vote for everything else, but he had never heard them say
they were ready to vote for that." Efficiency in an assembly requires a
solid mass of steady votes; and these are COLLECTED by a deferential
attachment to particular men, or by a belief in the principles those
men represent, and they are MAINTAINED by fear of those men--by the
fear that if you vote against them, you may yourself soon not have a
vote at all.

Thirdly, it may seem odd to say so, just after inculcating that party
organisation is the vital principle of representative government, but
that organisation is permanently efficient, because it is not composed
of warm partisans. The body is eager, but the atoms are cool. If it
were otherwise, Parliamentary government would become the worst of
governments--a sectarian government. The party in power would go all
the lengths their orators proposed--all that their formulae enjoined,
as far as they had ever said they would go. But the partisans of the
English Parliament are not of such a temper. They are Whigs, or
Radicals, or Tories, but they are much else too. They are common
Englishmen, and, as Father Newman complains, "hard to be worked up to
the dogmatic level". They are not eager to press the tenets of their
party to impossible conclusions. On the contrary, the way to lead
them--the best and acknowledged way--is to affect a studied and
illogical moderation. You may hear men say, "Without committing myself
to the tenet that 3 + 2 make 5, though I am free to admit that the
honourable member for Bradford has advanced very grave arguments in
behalf of it, I think I may, with the permission of the Committee,
assume that 2 + 3 do not make 4, which will be a sufficient basis for
the important propositions which I shall venture to submit on the
present occasion." This language is very suitable to the greater part
of the House of Commons. Most men of business love a sort of twilight.
They have lived all their lives in an atmosphere of probabilities and
of doubt, where nothing is very clear, where there are some chances for
many events, where there is much to be said for several courses, where
nevertheless one course must be determinedly chosen and fixedly adhered
to. They like to hear arguments suited to this intellectual haze. So
far from caution or hesitation in the statement of the argument
striking them as an indication of imbecility, it seems to them a sign
of practicality. They got rich themselves by transactions of which they
could not have stated the argumentative ground--and all they ask for is
a distinct though moderate conclusion, that they can repeat when asked;
something which they feel NOT to be abstract argument, but abstract
argument diluted and dissolved in real life. "There seem to me," an
impatient young man once said, "to be no stay in Peel's arguments." And
that was why Sir Robert Peel was the best leader of the Commons in our
time; we like to have the rigidity taken out of an argument, and the
substance left. Nor indeed, under our system of government, are the
leaders themselves of the House of Commons, for the most part, eager to
carry party conclusions too far. They are in contact with reality. An
Opposition, on coming into power, is often like a speculative merchant
whose bills become due. Ministers have to make good their promises, and
they find a difficulty in so doing. They have said the state of things
is so and so, and if you give us the power we will do thus and thus.
But when they come to handle the official documents, to converse with
the permanent under-secretary--familiar with disagreeable facts, and
though in manner most respectful, yet most imperturbable in
opinion--very soon doubts intervene. Of course, something must be done;
the speculative merchant cannot forget his bills; the late Opposition
cannot, in office, forget those sentences which terrible admirers in
the country still quote. But just as the merchant asks his debtor,
"Could you not take a bill at four months?" so the new Minister says to
the permanent under-secretary, "Could you not suggest a middle course?
I am of course not bound by mere sentences used in debate; I have never
been accused of letting a false ambition of consistency warp my
conduct; but," etc., etc. And the end always is that a middle course is
devised which LOOKS as much as possible like what was suggested in
opposition, but which IS as much as possible what patent facts--facts
which seem to live in the office, so teasing and unceasing are
they--prove ought to be done. Of all modes of enforcing moderation on a
party, the best is to contrive that the members of that party shall be
intrinsically moderate, careful, and almost shrinking men; and the next
best to contrive that the leaders of the party, who have protested most
in its behalf, shall be placed in the closest contact with the actual
world. Our English system contains both contrivances; it makes party
government permanent and possible in the sole way in which it can be
so, by making it mild.

But these expedients, though they sufficiently remove the defects which
make a common club or quarter-sessions impotent, would not enable the
House of Commons to govern England. A representative public meeting is
subject to a defect over and above those of other public meetings. It
may not be independent. The constituencies may not let it alone. But if
they do not, all the checks which have been enumerated upon the evils
of a party organisation would be futile. The feeling of a constituency
is the feeling of a dominant party, and that feeling is elicited,
stimulated, sometimes even manufactured by the local political agent.
Such an opinion could not be moderate; could not be subject to
effectual discussion; could not be in close contact with pressing
facts; could not be framed under a chastening sense of near
responsibility; could not be formed as those form their opinions who
have to act upon them. Constituency government is the precise opposite
of Parliamentary government. It is the government of immoderate persons
far from the scene of action, instead of the government of moderate
persons close to the scene of action; it is the judgment of persons
judging in the last resort and without a penalty, in lieu of persons
judging in fear of a dissolution, and ever conscious that they are
subject to an appeal.

Most persons would admit these conditions of Parliamentary government
when they read them, but two at least of the most prominent ideas in
the public mind are inconsistent with them. The scheme to which the
arguments of our demagogues distinctly tend, and the scheme to which
the predilections of some most eminent philosophers cleave, are both
so. They would not only make Parliamentary government work ill, but
they would prevent its working at all; they would not render it bad,
for they would make it impossible.

The first of these is the ultra-democratic theory. This theory demands
that every man of twenty-one years of age (if not every woman too)
should have an equal vote in electing Parliament. Suppose that last
year there were twelve million adult males in England. Upon this theory
each man is to have one twelve-millionth share in electing a
Parliament; the rich and wise are not to have, by explicit law, more
votes than the poor and stupid; nor are any latent contrivances to give
them an influence equivalent to more votes. The machinery for carrying
out such a plan is very easy. At each census the country ought to be
divided into 658 electoral districts, in each of which the number of
adult males should be the same; and these districts ought to be the
only constituencies, and elect the whole Parliament. But if the above
prerequisites are needful for Parliamentary government, that Parliament
would not work.

Such a Parliament could not be composed of moderate men. The electoral
districts would be, some of them, in purely agricultural places, and in
these the parson and the squire would have almost unlimited power. They
would be able to drive or send to the poll an entire labouring
population. These districts would return an unmixed squirearchy. The
scattered small towns which now send so many members to Parliament,
would be lost in the clownish mass; their votes would send to
Parliament no distinct members. The agricultural part of England would
choose its representatives from quarter-sessions exclusively. On the
other hand a large part of the constituencies would be town districts,
and these would send up persons representing the beliefs or unbeliefs
of the lowest classes in their towns. They would, perhaps, be divided
between the genuine representatives of the artisans--not possibly of
the best of the artisans, who are a select and intellectual class, but
of the common order of workpeople--and the merely pretended members for
that class whom I may call the members for the public-houses. In all
big towns in which there is electioneering these houses are the centres
of illicit corruption and illicit management. There are pretty good
records of what that corruption and management are, but there is no
need to describe them here. Everybody will understand what sort of
things I mean, and the kind of unprincipled members that are returned
by them. Our new Parliament, therefore, would be made up of two sorts
of representatives from the town lowest class, and one sort of
representatives from the agricultural lowest class. The genuine
representatives of the country would be men of one marked sort, and the
genuine representatives for the county men of another marked sort, but
very opposite: one would have the prejudices of town artisans, and the
other the prejudices of county magistrates. Each class would speak a
language of its own; each would be unintelligible to the other; and the
only thriving class would be the immoral representatives, who were
chosen by corrupt machination, and who would probably get a good profit
on the capital they laid out in that corruption. If it be true that a
Parliamentary government is possible only when the overwhelming
majority of the representatives are men essentially moderate, of no
marked varieties, free from class prejudices, this ultra-democratic
Parliament could not maintain that government, for its members would be
remarkable for two sorts of moral violence and one sort of immoral.

I do not for a moment rank the scheme of Mr. Hare with the scheme of
the ultra-democrats. One can hardly help having a feeling of romance
about it. The world seems growing young when grave old lawyers and
mature philosophers propose a scheme promising so much. It is from
these classes that young men suffer commonly the chilling demonstration
that their fine plans are opposed to rooted obstacles, that they are
repetitions of other plans which failed long ago, and that we must be
content with the very moderate results of tried machinery. But Mr. Hare
and Mr. Mill offer as the effect of their new scheme results as large
and improvements as interesting as a young enthusiast ever promised to
himself in his happiest mood.

I do not give any weight to the supposed impracticability of Mr. Hare's
scheme because it is new. Of course it cannot be put in practice till
it is old. A great change of this sort happily cannot be sudden; a free
people cannot be confused by new institutions which they do not
understand, for they will not adopt them till they understand them. But
if Mr. Hare's plan would accomplish what its friends say, or half what
they say, it would be worth working for, if it were not adopted till
the year 1966. We ought incessantly to popularise the principle by
writing; and, what is better than writing, small preliminary bits of
experiment. There is so much that is wearisome and detestable in all
other election machineries, that I well understand, and wish I could
share, the sense of relief with which the believers in this scheme
throw aside all their trammels, and look to an almost ideal future when
this captivating plan is carried.

Mr. Hare's scheme cannot be satisfactorily discussed in the elaborate
form in which he presents it. No common person readily apprehends all
the details in which, with loving care, he has embodied it. He was so
anxious to prove what could be done, that he has confused most people
as to what it is. I have heard a man say, "He never could remember it
two days running". But the difficulty which I feel is fundamental, and
wholly independent of detail.

There are two modes in which constituencies may be made. First, the law
may make them, as in England and almost everywhere: the law may say
such and such qualifications shall give a vote for constituency X;
those who have that qualification shall BE constituency X. These are
what we may call compulsory constituencies, and we know all about them.
Or, secondly, the law may leave the electors themselves to make them.
The law may say all the adult males of a country shall vote, or those
males who can read and write, or those who have 50 pounds a year, or
any persons any way defined, and then leave those voters to group
themselves as they like. Suppose there were 658,000 voters to elect the
House of Commons; it is possible for the legislature to say, "We do not
care how you combine. On a given day let each set of persons give
notice in what group they mean to vote; if every voter gives notice,
and every one looks to make the most of his vote, each group will have
just 1000. But the law shall not make this necessary--it shall take the
658 most numerous groups, no matter whether they have 2000, or 1000, or
900, or 800 votes--the most numerous groups, whatever their number may
be; and these shall be the constituencies of the nation." These are
voluntary constituencies, if I may so call them; the simplest kind of
voluntary constituencies. Mr. Hare proposes a far more complex kind;
but to show the merits and demerits of the voluntary principle the
simplest form is much the best.

The temptation to that principle is very plain. Under the compulsory
form of constituency the votes of the minorities are thrown away. In
the city of London, now, there are many Tories, but all the members are
Whigs; every London Tory, therefore, is by law and principle
misrepresented: his city sends to Parliament not the member whom he
wished to have, but the member he wished not to have. But upon the
voluntary system the London Tories, who are far more than 1000 in
number, may combine; they may make a constituency, and return a member.
In many existing constituencies the disfranchisement of minorities is
hopeless and chronic. I have myself had a vote for an agricultural
county for twenty years, and I am a Liberal; but two Tories have always
been returned, and all my life will be returned. As matters now stand,
my vote is of no use. But if I could combine with 1000 other Liberals
in that and other Conservative counties, we might choose a Liberal
member.

Again, this plan gets rid of all our difficulties as to the size of
constituencies. It is said to be unreasonable that Liverpool should
return only the same number of members as King's Lynn or Lyme Regis;
but upon the voluntary plan, Liverpool could come down to King's Lynn.
The Liberal minority in King's Lynn could communicate with the Liberal
minority in Liverpool, and make up 1000; and so everywhere. The numbers
of popular places would gain what is called their legitimate advantage;
they would, when constituencies are voluntarily made, be able to make,
and be willing to make the greatest number of constituencies.

Again, the admirers of a great man could make a worthy constituency for
him. As it is, Mr. Mill was returned by the electors of Westminster;
and they have never, since they had members, done themselves so great
an honour. But what did the electors of Westminster know of Mr. Mill?
What fraction of his mind could be imagined by any percentage of their
minds? A great deal of his genius most of them would not like. They
meant to do homage to mental ability, but it was the worship of an
unknown God--if ever there was such a thing in this world. But upon the
voluntary plan, one thousand out of the many thousand students of Mr.
Mill's book could have made an appreciating constituency for him.

I could reckon other advantages, but I have to object to the scheme,
not to recommend it. What are the counterweights which overpower these
merits? I reply that the voluntary composition of constituencies
appears to me inconsistent with the necessary prerequisites of
Parliamentary government as they have been just laid down.

Under the voluntary system, the crisis of politics is not the election
of the member, but the making the constituency. President-making is
already a trade in America, and constituency-making would, under the
voluntary plan, be a trade here. Every party would have a numerical
problem to solve. The leaders would say, "We have 350,000 votes, we
must take care to have 350 members"; and the only way to obtain them is
to organise. A man who wanted to compose part of a Liberal constituency
must not himself hunt for 1000 other Liberals; if he did, after writing
10000 letters, he would probably find he was making part of a
constituency of 100, all whose votes would be thrown away, the
constituency being too small to be reckoned. Such a Liberal must write
to the great Registration Association in Parliament Street; he must
communicate with its able managers, and they would soon use his vote
for him. They would say, "Sir, you are late; Mr. Gladstone, sir, is
full. He got his 1000 last year. Most of the gentlemen you read of in
the papers are full. As soon as a gentleman makes a nice speech, we get
a heap of letters to say, 'Make us into that gentleman's constituency'.
But we cannot do that. Here is our list. If you do not want to throw
your vote away, you must be guided by us: here are three very
satisfactory gentlemen (and one is an Honourable): you may vote for
either of these, and we will write your name down; but if you go voting
wildly, you'll be thrown out altogether."

The evident result of this organisation would be the return of party
men mainly. The member-makers would look, not for independence, but for
subservience--and they could hardly be blamed for so doing. They are
agents for the Liberal party; and, as such, they should be guided by
what they take to be the wishes of their principal. The mass of the
Liberal party wishes measure A, measure B, measure C. The managers of
the registration--the skilled manipulators--are busy men. They would
say, "Sir, here is our card; if you want to get into Parliament on our
side, you must go for that card; it was drawn up by Mr. Lloyd; he used
to be engaged on railways, but since they passed this new voting plan,
we get him to attend to us; it is a sound card; stick to that and you
will be right". Upon this (in theory) voluntary plan, you would get
together a set of members bound hard and fast with party bands and
fetters, infinitely tighter than any members now.

Whoever hopes anything from desultory popular action if matched against
systematised popular action, should consider the way in which the
American President is chosen. The plan was that the citizens at large
should vote for the statesman they liked best. But no one does anything
of the sort. They vote for the ticket made by "the caucus," and the
caucus is a sort of representative meeting which sits voting and voting
till they have cut out all the known men against whom much is to be
said, and agreed on some unknown man against whom there is nothing
known, and therefore nothing to be alleged. Caucuses, or their
equivalent, would be far worse here in constituency-making than there
in President-making, because on great occasions the American nation can
fix on some one great man whom it knows, but the English nation could
not fix on 658 great men and choose them. It does not know so many, and
if it did, would go wrong in the difficulties of the manipulation.

But though a common voter could only be ranged in an effectual
constituency, and a common candidate only reach a constituency by
obeying the orders of the political election-contrivers upon his side,
certain voters and certain members would be quite independent of both.
There are organisations in this country which would soon make a set of
constituencies for themselves. Every chapel would be an office for
vote-transferring before the plan had been known three months. The
Church would be much slower in learning it and much less handy in using
it; but would learn. At present the Dissenters are a most energetic and
valuable component of the Liberal party; but under the voluntary plan
they would not be a component--they would be a separate, independent
element. We now propose to group boroughs; but then they would combine
chapels. There would be a member for the Baptist congregation of
Tavistock, cum Totnes, cum, etc., etc.

The full force of this cannot be appreciated except by referring to the
former proof that the mass of a Parliament ought to be men of moderate
sentiments, or they will elect an immoderate Ministry, and enact
violent laws. But upon the plan suggested, the House would be made up
of party politicians selected by a party committee, chained to that
committee and pledged to party violence, and of characteristic, and
therefore immoderate representatives, for every "ism" in all England.
Instead of a deliberate assembly of moderate and judicious men, we
should have a various compound of all sorts of violence.

I may seem to be drawing a caricature, but I have not reached the
worst. Bad as these members would be, if they were left to
themselves--if, in a free Parliament, they were confronted with the
perils of government, close responsibility might improve them and make
them tolerable. But they would not be left to themselves. A voluntary
constituency will nearly always be a despotic constituency. Even in the
best case, where a set of earnest men choose a member to expound their
earnestness, they will look after him to see that he does expound it.
The members will be like the minister of a dissenting congregation.
That congregation is collected by a unity of sentiment in doctrine A,
and the preacher is to preach doctrine A; if he does not, he is
dismissed. At present the member is free because the constituency is
not in earnest; no constituency has an acute, accurate doctrinal creed
in politics. The law made the constituencies by geographical divisions;
and they are not bound together by close unity of belief. They have
vague preferences for particular doctrines; and that is all. But a
voluntary constituency would be a church with tenets; it would make its
representative the messenger of its mandates, and the delegate of its
determinations. As in the case of a dissenting congregation, one great
minister sometimes rules it, while ninety-nine ministers in the hundred
are ruled by it, so here one noted man would rule his electors, but the
electors would rule all the others.

Thus, the members for a good voluntary constituency would be hopelessly
enslaved, because of its goodness; but the members for a bad voluntary
constituency would be yet more enslaved because of its badness. The
makers of these constituencies would keep the despotism in their own
hands. In America there is a division of politicians into wire-pullers
and blowers; under the voluntary system the member of Parliament would
be the only momentary mouth-piece--the impotent blower; while the
constituency-maker would be the latent wire-puller--the constant
autocrat. He would write to gentlemen in Parliament, and say, "You were
elected upon 'the Liberal ticket'; and if you deviate from that ticket
you cannot be chosen again". And there would be no appeal for a
common-minded man. He is no more likely to make a constituency for
himself than a mole is likely to make a planet.

It may indeed be said that against a septennial Parliament such
machinations would be powerless; that a member elected for seven years
might defy the remonstrances of an earnest constituency, or the
imprecations of the latent manipulators. But after the voluntary
composition of constituencies, there would soon be but short-lived
Parliaments. Earnest constituencies would exact frequent elections;
they would not like to part with their virtue for a long period; it
would anger them to see it used contrary to their wishes, amid
circumstances which at the election no one thought of. A seven years'
Parliament is often chosen in one political period, lasts through a
second, and is dissolved in a third. A constituency collected by law
and on compulsion endures this change because it has no collective
earnestness; it does not mind seeing the power it gave used in a manner
that it could not have foreseen. But a self-formed constituency of
eager opinions, a missionary constituency, so to speak, would object;
it would think it its bounden duty to object; and the crafty
manipulators, though they said nothing, in silence would object still
more. The two together would enjoin annual elections, and would rule
their members unflinchingly.

The voluntary plan, therefore, when tried in this easy form is
inconsistent with the extrinsic independence as well as with the
inherent moderation of a Parliament--two of the conditions which, as we
have seen, are essential to the bare possibility of Parliamentary
government. The same objections, as is inevitable, adhere to that
principle under its more complicated forms. It is in vain to pile
detail on detail when the objection is one of first principle. If the
above reasoning be sound, compulsory constituencies are necessary,
voluntary constituencies destructive; the optional transferability of
votes is not a salutary aid, but a ruinous innovation.

I have dwelt upon the proposal of Mr. Hare and upon the
ultra-democratic proposal, not only because of the high intellectual
interest of the former and the possible practical interest of the
latter, but because they tend to bring into relief two at least of the
necessary conditions of Parliamentary government. But besides these
necessary qualities which are needful before a Parliamentary government
can work at all, there are some additional prerequisites before it can
work well. That a House of Commons may work well it must perform, as we
saw, five functions well: it must elect a Ministry well, legislate
well, teach the nation well, express the nation's will well, bring
matters to the nation's attention well.

The discussion has a difficulty of its own. What is meant by "well"?
Who is to judge? Is it to be some panel of philosophers, some fancied
posterity, or some other outside authority? I answer, no philosophy, no
posterity, no external authority, but the English nation here and now.

Free government is self-government--a government of the people by the
people. The best government of this sort is that which the people think
best. An imposed government, a government like that of the English in
India, may very possibly be better; it may represent the views of a
higher race than the governed race; but it is not therefore a free
government. A free government is that which the people subject to it
voluntarily choose. In a casual collection of loose people the only
possible free government is a democratic government. Where no one
knows, or cares for, or respects any one else all must rank equal; no
one's opinion can be more potent than that of another. But, as has been
explained, a deferential nation has a structure of its own. Certain
persons are by common consent agreed to be wiser than others, and their
opinion is, by consent, to rank for much more than its numerical value.
We may in these happy nations weigh votes as well as count them, though
in less favoured countries we can count only. But in free nations, the
votes so weighed or so counted must decide. A perfect free government
is one which decides perfectly according to those votes; an imperfect,
one which so decides imperfectly; a bad, one which does not so decide
at all. Public opinion is the test of this polity; the best opinion
which with its existing habits of deference, the nation will accept: if
the free government goes by that opinion, it is a good government of
its species; if it contravenes that opinion, it is a bad one.

Tried by this rule the House of Commons does its appointing business
well. It chooses rulers as we wish rulers to be chosen. If it did not,
in a speaking and writing age we should soon know. I have heard a great
Liberal statesman say, "The time was coming when we must advertise for
a grievance".[6] What a good grievance it would be were the Ministry
appointed and retained by the Parliament a Ministry detested by the
nation. An anti-present-government league would be instantly created,
and it would be more instantly powerful and more instantly successful
than the Anti-Corn-Law League.


[6] This was said in 1858.


It has, indeed, been objected that the choosing business of Parliament
is done ill, because it does not choose strong Governments. And it is
certain that when public opinion does not definitely decide upon a
marked policy, and when in consequence parties in the Parliament are
nearly even, individual cupidity and changeability may make Parliament
change its appointees too often; may induce them never enough to trust
any of them; may make it keep all of them under a suspended sentence of
coming dismissal. But the experience of Lord Palmerston's second
Government proves, I think, that these fears are exaggerated. When the
choice of a nation is really fixed on a statesman, Parliament will fix
upon him too. The parties in the Parliament of 1859 were as nearly
divided as in any probable Parliament; a great many Liberals did not
much like Lord Palmerston, and they would have gladly co-operated in an
attempt to dethrone him. But the same influence acted on Parliament
within which acted on the nation without. The moderate men of both
parties were satisfied that Lord Palmerston's was the best Government,
and they therefore preserved it though it was hated by the immoderate
on both sides. We have then found by a critical instance that a
government supported by what I may call "the common element"--by the
like-minded men of unlike parties--will be retained in power, though
parties are even, and though, as Treasury counting reckons, the
majority is imperceptible. If happily, by its intelligence and
attractiveness, a Cabinet can gain a hold upon the great middle part of
Parliament, it will continue to exist notwithstanding the hatching of
small plots and the machinations of mean factions.

On the whole, I think it indisputable that the selecting task of
Parliament is performed as well as public opinion wishes it to be
performed; and if we want to improve that standard, we must first
improve the English nation, which imposes that standard. Of the
substantial part of its legislative task, the same, too, may, I think,
be said. The manner of our legislation is indeed detestable, and the
machinery for settling that manner odious. A committee of the whole
House, dealing, or attempting to deal with the elaborate clauses of a
long bill, is a wretched specimen of severe but misplaced labour. It is
sure to wedge some clause into the Act, such as that which the judge
said "seemed to have fallen by itself, PERHAPS, from heaven, into the
mind of the legislature," so little had it to do with anything on
either side or around it. At such times government by a public meeting
displays its inherent defects, and is little restrained by its
necessary checks. But the essence of our legislature may be separated
from its accidents. Subject to two considerable defects I think
Parliament passes laws as the nation wishes to have them passed.

Thirty years ago this was not so. The nation had outgrown its
institutions, and was cramped by them. It was a man in the clothes of a
boy; every limb wanted more room, and every garment to be fresh made.
"D-mn me," said Lord Eldon in the dialect of his age, "if I had to
begin life again I would begin as an agitator." The shrewd old man saw
that the best life was that of a miscellaneous objector to the old
world, though he loved that world, believed in it, could imagine no
other. But he would not say so now. There is no worse trade than
agitation at this time. A man can hardly get an audience if he wishes
to complain of anything. Nowadays, not only does the mind and policy of
Parliament (subject to the exceptions before named) possess the common
sort of moderation essential to the possibility of Parliamentary
government, but also that exact gradation, that precise species of
moderation, most agreeable to the nation at large. Not only does the
nation endure a Parliamentary government, which it would not do if
Parliament were immoderate, but it likes Parliamentary government. A
sense of satisfaction permeates the country because most or the country
feels it has got the precise thing that suits it.

The exceptions are two. First. That Parliament leans too much to the
opinions of the landed interest. The Cattle Plague Act is a conspicuous
instance of this defect. The details of that bill may be good or bad,
and its policy wise or foolish. But the manner in which it was hurried
through the House savoured of despotism. The cotton trade or the wine
trade could not, in their maximum of peril, have obtained such aid in
such a manner. The House of Commons would hear of no pause and would
heed no arguments. The greatest number of them feared for their
incomes. The land of England returns many members annually for the
counties; these members the Constitution gave them. But what is curious
is that the landed interest gives no seats to other classes, but takes
plenty of seats FROM other classes. Half the boroughs in England are
represented by considerable landowners, and when rent is in question,
as in the cattle case, they think more of themselves than of those who
sent them. In number the landed gentry in the House far surpass any
other class. They have, too, a more intimate connection with one
another; they were educated at the same schools; know one another's
family name from boyhood; form a society; are the same kind of men;
marry the same kind of women. The merchants and manufacturers in
Parliament are a motley race--one educated here, another there, a third
not educated at all; some are of the second generation of traders, who
consider self-made men intruders upon an hereditary place; others are
self-made, and regard the men of inherited wealth, which they did not
make and do not augment, as beings of neither mind nor place, inferior
to themselves because they have no brains, and inferior to lords
because they have no rank. Traders have no bond of union, no habits of
intercourse; their wives, if they care for society, want to see not the
wives of other such men, but "better people," as they say--the wives of
men certainly with land, and, if Heaven help, with the titles. Men who
study the structure of Parliament, not in abstract books, but in the
concrete London world, wonder not that the landed interest is very
powerful, but that it is not despotic. I believe it would be despotic
if it were clever, or rather if its representatives were so, but it has
a fixed device to make them stupid. The counties not only elect
landowners, which is natural, and perhaps wise, but also elect only
landowners OF THEIR OWN COUNTY, which is absurd. There is no free trade
in the agricultural mind; each county prohibits the import of able men
from other counties. This is why eloquent sceptics--Bolingbroke and
Disraeli--have been so apt to lead the unsceptical Tories. They WILL
have people with a great piece of land in a particular spot, and of
course these people generally cannot speak, and often cannot think. And
so eloquent men who laugh at the party come to lead the party. The
landed interest has much more influence than it should have; but it
wastes that influence so much that the excess is, except on singular
occurrences (like the cattle plague), of secondary moment.

It is almost another side of the same matter to say that the structure
of Parliament gives too little weight to the growing districts of the
country and too much to the stationary, In old times the south of
England was not only the pleasantest but the greatest part of England.
Devonshire was a great maritime county when the foundations of our
representation were fixed; Somersetshire and Wiltshire great
manufacturing counties. The harsher climate of the northern counties
was associated with a ruder, a stern, and a sparser people. The immense
preponderance which our Parliament gave before 1832, and though pruned
and mitigated, still gives to England south of the Trent, then
corresponded to a real preponderance in wealth and mind. How opposite
the present contrast is we all know. And the case gets worse every day.
The nature of modern trade is to give to those who have much and take
from those who have little. Manufacture goes where manufacture is,
because there and there alone it finds attendant and auxiliary
manufacture. Every railway takes trade from the little town to the big
town because it enables the customer to buy in the big town. Year by
year the North (as we may roughly call the new industrial world) gets
more important, and the South (as we may call the pleasant remnant of
old time) gets less important. It is a grave objection to our existing
Parliamentary constitution that it gives much power to regions of past
greatness, and refuses equal power to regions of present greatness.

I think (though it is not a popular notion) that by far the greater
part of the cry for Parliamentary reform is due to this inequality. The
great capitalists, Mr. Bright and his friends, believe they are sincere
in asking for more power for the working man, but, in fact, they very
naturally and very properly want more power for themselves. They cannot
endure--they ought not to endure--that a rich, able manufacturer should
be a less man than a small stupid squire. The notions of political
equality which Mr. Bright puts forward are as old as political
speculation, and have been refuted by the first efforts of that
speculation. But for all that they are likely to last as long as
political society, because they are based upon indelible principles in
human nature. Edmund Burke called the first East Indians, "Jacobins to
a man," because they did not feel their "present importance equal to
their real wealth". So long as there is an uneasy class, a class which
has not its just power, it will rashly clutch and blindly believe the
notion that all men should have the same power.

I do not consider the exclusion of the working classes from effectual
representation a defect in THIS aspect of our Parliamentary
representation. The working classes contribute almost nothing to our
corporate public opinion, and therefore, the fact of their want of
influence in Parliament does not impair the coincidence of Parliament
with public opinion. They are left out in the representation, and also
in the thing represented.

Nor do I think the number of persons of aristocratic descent in
Parliament impairs the accordance of Parliament with public opinion. No
doubt the direct descendants and collateral relatives of noble families
supply members to Parliament in far greater proportion than is
warranted by the number of such families in comparison with the whole
nation. But I do not believe that these families have the least
corporate character, or any common opinions, different from others of
the landed gentry. They have the opinions of the propertied rank in
which they were born. The English aristocracy have never been a caste
apart, and are not a caste apart now. They would keep up nothing that
other landed gentlemen would not. And if any landed gentlemen are to be
sent to the House of Commons, it is desirable that many should be men
of some rank. As long as we keep up a double set of institutions--one
dignified and intended to impress the many, the other efficient and
intended to govern the many--we should take care that the two match
nicely, and hide where the one begins and where the other ends. This is
in part effected by conceding some subordinate power to the august part
of our polity, but it is equally aided by keeping an aristocratic
element in the useful part of our polity. In truth, the deferential
instinct secures both. Aristocracy is a power in the "constituencies".
A man who is an honourable or a baronet, or better yet, perhaps, a real
earl, though Irish, is coveted by half the electing bodies; and
caeteris paribus, a manufacturer's son has no chance with him. The
reality of the deferential feeling in the community is tested by the
actual election of the class deferred to, where there is a large free
choice betwixt it and others.

Subject therefore to the two minor, but still not inconsiderable,
defects I have named, Parliament conforms itself accurately enough,
both as a chooser of executives and as a legislature, to the formed
opinion of the country. Similarly, and subject to the same exceptions,
it expresses the nation's opinion in words well, when it happens that
words, not laws, are wanted. On foreign matters, where we cannot
legislate, whatever the English nation thinks, or thinks it thinks, as
to the critical events of the world, whether in Denmark, in Italy, or
America, and no matter whether it thinks wisely or unwisely, that same
something, wise or unwise, will be thoroughly well said in Parliament.
The lyrical function of Parliament, if I may use such a phrase, is well
done; it pours out in characteristic words the characteristic heart of
the nation. And it can do little more useful. Now that free government
is in Europe so rare and in America so distant, the opinion, even the
incomplete, erroneous, rapid opinion of the free English people is
invaluable. It may be very wrong, but it is sure to be unique; and if
it is right it is sure to contain matter of great magnitude, for it is
only a first-class matter in distant things which a free people ever
sees or learns. The English people must miss a thousand minutiae that
continental bureaucracies know even too well; but if they see a
cardinal truth which those bureaucracies miss, that cardinal truth may
greatly help the world.

But if in these ways, and subject to these exceptions, Parliament by
its policy and its speech well embodies and expresses public opinion, I
own I think it must be conceded that it is not equally successful in
elevating public opinion. The teaching task of Parliament is the task
it does worst. Probably at this moment, it is natural to exaggerate
this defect. The greatest teacher of all in Parliament, the head-master
of the nation, the great elevator of the country--so far as Parliament
elevates it--must be the Prime Minister: he has an influence, an
authority, a facility in giving a great tone to discussion, or a mean
tone, which no other man has. Now Lord Palmerston for many years
steadily applied his mind to giving, not indeed a mean tone, but a
light tone, to the proceedings of Parliament. One of his greatest
admirers has since his death told a story of which he scarcely sees, or
seems to see, the full effect. When Lord Palmerston was first made
leader of the House, his jaunty manner was not at all popular, and some
predicted failure. "No," said an old member, "he will soon educate us
DOWN to his level; the House will soon prefer this Ha! Ha! style to the
wit of Canning and the gravity of Peel." I am afraid that we must own
that the prophecy was accomplished. No Prime Minister, so popular and
so influential, has ever left in the public memory so little noble
teaching. Twenty years hence, when men inquire as to the then fading
memory of Palmerston, we shall be able to point to no great truth which
he taught, no great distinct policy which he embodied, no noble words
which once fascinated his age, and which, in after years, men would not
willingly let die. But we shall be able to say "he had a genial manner,
a firm, sound sense; he had a kind of cant of insincerity, but we
always knew what he meant; he had the brain of a ruler in the clothes
of a man of fashion". Posterity will hardly understand the words of the
aged reminiscent, but we now feel their effect. The House of Commons,
since it caught its tone from such a statesman, has taught the nation
worse, and elevated it less, than usual.

I think, however, that a correct observer would decide that in general,
and on principle, the House of Commons does not teach the public as
much as it might teach it, or as the public would wish to learn. I do
not wish very abstract, very philosophical, very hard matters to be
stated in Parliament. The teaching there given must be popular, and to
be popular it must be concrete, embodied, short. The problem is to know
the highest truth which the people will bear, and to inculcate and
preach that. Certainly Lord Palmerston did not preach it. He a little
degraded us by preaching a doctrine just below our own standard--a
doctrine not enough below us to repel us much, but yet enough below to
harm us by augmenting a worldliness which needed no addition, and by
diminishing a love of principle and philosophy which did not want
deduction.

In comparison with the debates of any other assembly, it is true the
debates by the English Parliament are most instructive. The debates in
the American Congress have little teaching efficacy; it is the
characteristic vice of Presidential government to deprive them of that
efficacy; in that government a debate in the legislature has little
effect, for it cannot turn out the executive, and the executive can
veto all it decides. The French Chambers[7] are suitable appendages to
an Empire which desires the power of despotism without its shame; they
prevent the enemies of the Empire being quite correct when they say
there is no free speech; a few permitted objectors fill the air with
eloquence, which every one knows to be often true, and always vain. The
debates in an English Parliament fill a space in the world which, in
these auxiliary chambers, is not possible. But I think any one who
compares the discussions on great questions in the higher part of the
press, with the discussions in Parliament, will feel that there is (of
course amid much exaggeration and vague ness) a greater vigour and a
higher meaning in the writing than in the speech: a vigour which the
public appreciate--a meaning that they like to hear.


[7] This of course relates to the assemblies of the Empire.


The Saturday Review said, some years since, that the ability of
Parliament was a "protected ability": that there was at the door a
differential duty of at least 2000 pounds a year. Accordingly the House
of Commons, representing only mind coupled with property, is not equal
in mind to a legislature chosen for mind only, and whether accompanied
by wealth or not. But I do not for a moment wish to see a
representation of pure mind; it would be contrary to the main thesis of
this essay. I maintain that Parliament ought to embody the public
opinion of the English nation; and, certainly, that opinion is much
more fixed by its property than by its mind. The "too clever by half"
people who live in "Bohemia," ought to have no more influence in
Parliament than they have in England, and they can scarcely have less.
Only, after every great abatement and deduction, I think the country
would bear a little more mind; and that there is a profusion of opulent
dulness in Parliament which might a little--though only a little--be
pruned away.

The only function of Parliament which remains to be considered is the
informing function, as I just now called it; the function which belongs
to it, or to members of it, to bring before the nation the ideas,
grievances, and wishes of special classes. This must not be confounded
with what I have called its teaching function. In life, no doubt, the
two run one into another. But so do many things which it is very
important in definition to separate. The facts of two things being
often found together is rather a reason for, than an objection to,
separating them, in idea. Sometimes they are NOT found together, and
then we may be puzzled if we have not trained ourselves to separate
them. The teaching function brings true ideas before the nation, and is
the function of its highest minds. The expressive function brings only
special ideas, and is the function of but special minds. Each class has
its ideas, wants, and notions; and certain brains are ingrained with
them. Such sectarian conceptions are not those by which a determining
nation should regulate its action, nor are orators, mainly animated by
such conceptions, safe guides in policy. But those orators should be
heard; those conceptions should be kept in sight. The great maxim of
modern thought is not only the toleration of everything, but the
examination of everything. It is by examining very bare, very dull,
very unpromising things, that modern science has come to be what it is.
There is a story of a great chemist who said he owed half his fame to
his habit of examining after his experiments, what was going to be
thrown away: everybody knew the result of the experiment itself, but in
the refuse matter there were many little facts and unknown changes,
which suggested the discoveries of a famous life to a person capable of
looking for them. So with the special notions of neglected classes.
They may contain elements of truth which, though small, are the very
elements which we now require, because we already know all the rest.

This doctrine was well known to our ancestors. They laboured to give a
CHARACTER to the various constituencies, or to many of them. They
wished that the shipping trade, the wool trade, the linen trade, should
each have their spokesman; that the unsectional Parliament should know
what each section in the nation thought before it gave the national
decision. This is the true reason for admitting the working classes to
a share in the representation, at least as far as the composition of
Parliament is to be improved by that admission. A great many ideas, a
great many feelings have gathered among the town artisans--a peculiar
intellectual life has sprung up among them. They believe that they have
interests which are misconceived or neglected; that they know something
which others do not know; that the thoughts of Parliament are not as
their thoughts. They ought to be allowed to try to convince Parliament;
their notions ought to be stated as those of other classes are stated;
their advocates should be heard as other people's advocates are heard.
Before the Reform Bill, there was a recognised machinery for that
purpose. The member for Westminster, and other members, were elected by
universal suffrage (or what was in substance such); those members did,
in their day, state what were the grievances and ideas--or were thought
to be the grievances and ideas--of the working classes. It was the
single, unbending franchise introduced in 1832 that has caused this
difficulty, as it has others.

Until such a change is made the House of Commons will be defective,
just as the House of Lords was defective. It will not LOOK right. As
long as the Lords do not come to their own House, we may prove on paper
that it is a good revising chamber, but it will be difficult to make
the literary argument felt. Just so, as long as a great class,
congregated in political localities, and known to have political
thoughts and wishes, is without notorious and palpable advocates in
Parliament, we may prove on paper that our representation is adequate,
but the world will not believe it. There is a saying in the eighteenth
century, that in politics, "gross appearances are great realities". It
is in vain to demonstrate that the working classes have no grievances;
that the middle classes have done all that is possible for them, and so
on with a crowd of arguments which I need not repeat, for the
newspapers keep them in type, and we can say them by heart. But so long
as the "gross appearance" is that there are no evident, incessant
representatives to speak the wants of artisans, the "great reality"
will be a diffused dissatisfaction. Thirty years ago it was vain to
prove that Gatton and Old Sarum were valuable seats, and sent good
members. Everybody said, "Why, there are no people there". Just so
everybody must say now, "Our representative system must be imperfect,
for an immense class has no members to speak for it". The only answer
to the cry against constituencies WITHOUT inhabitants was to transfer
their power to constituencies WITH inhabitants. Just so, the way to
stop the complaint that artisans have no members is to give them
members--to create a body of representatives, chosen by artisans,
believing, as Mr. Carlyle would say, "that artisanism is the one thing
needful".



NO. VI.

ON CHANGES OF MINISTRY.


There is one error as to the English Constitution which crops up
periodically. Circumstances which often, though irregularly, occur
naturally suggests that error, and as surely as they happen it revives.
The relation of Parliament, and especially of the House of Commons, to
the executive Government is the specific peculiarity of our
Constitution, and an event which frequently happens much puzzles some
people as to it.

That event is a change of Ministry. All our administrators go out
together. The whole executive Government changes--at least, all the
heads of it change in a body, and at every such change some speculators
are sure to exclaim that such a habit is foolish. They say: "No doubt
Mr. Gladstone and Lord Russell may have been wrong about Reform; no
doubt Mr. Gladstone may have been cross in the House of Commons; but
why should either or both of these events change all the heads of all
our practical departments? What could be more absurd than what happened
in 1858? Lord Palmerston was for once in his life over-buoyant; he gave
rude answers to stupid inquiries; he brought into the Cabinet a
nobleman concerned in an ugly trial about a woman; he, or his Foreign
Secretary, did not answer a French despatch by a despatch, but told our
ambassador to reply orally. And because of these trifles, or at any
rate these isolated UNadministrative mistakes, all our administration
had fresh heads. The Poor Law Board had a new chief, the Home
Department a new chief, the Public Works a new chief. Surely this was
absurd." Now, is this objection good or bad? Speaking generally, is it
wise so to change all our rulers?

The practice produces three great evils. First, it brings in on a
sudden new persons and untried persons to preside over our policy. A
little while ago Lord Cranborne[8] had no more idea that he would now
be Indian Secretary than that he would be a bill broker. He had never
given any attention to Indian affairs; he can get them up, because he
is an able educated man who can get up anything. But they are not "part
and parcel" of his mind; not his subjects of familiar reflection, nor
things of which he thinks by predilection, of which he cannot help
thinking. But because Lord Russell and Mr. Gladstone did not please the
House of Commons about Reform, there he is. A perfectly inexperienced
man, so far as Indian affairs go, rules all our Indian Empire. And if
all our heads of offices change together, so very frequently it must
be. If twenty offices are vacant at once, there are almost never twenty
tried, competent, clever men ready to take them. The difficulty of
making up a Government is very much like the difficulty of putting
together a Chinese puzzle: the spaces do not suit what you have to put
into them. And the difficulty of matching a Ministry is more than that
of fitting a puzzle, because the Ministers to be put in can object,
though the bits of a puzzle cannot. One objector can throw out the
combination. In 1847 Lord Grey would not join Lord John Russell's
projected Government if Lord Palmerston was to be Foreign Secretary;
Lord Palmerston WOULD be Foreign Secretary, and so the Government was
not formed. The cases in which a single refusal prevents a Government
are rare, and there must be many concurrent circumstances to make it
effectual. But the cases in which refusals impair or spoil a Government
are very common. It almost never happens that the Ministry-maker can
put into his offices exactly whom he would like; a number of placemen
are always too proud, too eager, or too obstinate to go just where they
should.


[8] Now Lord Salisbury, who, when this was written, was Indian
Secretary.--Note to second edition.


Again, this system not only makes new Ministers ignorant, but keeps
present Ministers indifferent. A man cannot feel the same interest that
he might in his work if he knows that by events over which he has no
control, by errors in which he had no share, by metamorphoses of
opinion which belong to a different sequence of phenomena, he may have
to leave that work in the middle, and may very likely never return to
it. The new man put into a fresh office ought to have the best motive
to learn his task thoroughly, but, in fact, in England, he has not at
all the best motive. The last wave of party and politics brought him
there, the next may take him away. Young and eager men take, even at
this disadvantage, a keen interest in office work, but most men,
especially old men, hardly do so. Many a battered Minister may be seen
to think much more of the vicissitudes which make him and unmake him,
than of any office matter.

Lastly, a sudden change of Ministers may easily cause a mischievous
change of policy. In many matters of business, perhaps in most, a
continuity of mediocrity is better than a hotch-potch of excellences.
For example, now that progress in the scientific arts is
revolutionising the instruments of war, rapid changes in our
head-preparers for land and sea war are most costly and most hurtful. A
single competent selector of new inventions would probably in the
course of years, after some experience, arrive at something tolerable;
it is in the nature of steady, regular, experimenting ability to
diminish, if not vanquish, such difficulties. But a quick succession of
chiefs has no similar facility. They do not learn from each other's
experience;--you might as well expect the new head boy at a public
school to learn from the experience of the last head boy. The most
valuable result of many years is a nicely balanced mind instinctively
heedful of various errors; but such a mind is the incommunicable gift
of individual experience, and an outgoing Minister can no more leave it
to his successor, than an elder brother can pass it on to a younger.
Thus a desultory and incalculable policy may follow from a rapid change
of Ministers.

These are formidable arguments, but four things may, I think, be said
in reply to, or mitigation of them. A little examination will show that
this change of Ministers is essential to a Parliamentary government;
that something like it will happen in all elective Governments, and
that worse happens under Presidential government; that it is not
necessarily prejudicial to a good administration, but that, on the
contrary, something like it is a prerequisite of good administration;
that the evident evils of English administration are not the results of
Parliamentary government, but of grave deficiencies in other parts of
our political and social state; that, in a word, they result not from
what we have, but from what we have NOT.

As to the first point, those who wish to remove the choice of Ministers
from Parliament have not adequately considered what a Parliament is. A
Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle
people. In proportion as you give it power it will inquire into
everything, settle everything, meddle in everything. In an ordinary
despotism, the powers of a despot are limited by his bodily capacity,
and by the calls of pleasure; he is but one man; there are but twelve
hours in his day, and he is not disposed to employ more than a small
part in dull business; he keeps the rest for the court, or the harem,
or for society. He is at the top of the world, and all the pleasures of
the world are set before him. Mostly there is only a very small part of
political business which he cares to understand, and much of it (with
the shrewd sensual sense belonging to the race) he knows that he will
never understand. But a Parliament is composed of a great number of men
by no means at the top of the world. When you establish a predominant
Parliament, you give over the rule of the country to a despot who has
unlimited time--who has unlimited vanity--who has, or believes he has,
unlimited comprehension, whose pleasure is in action, whose life is
work. There is no limit to the curiosity of Parliament. Sir Robert Peel
once suggested that a list should be taken down of the questions asked
of him in a single evening; they touched more or less on fifty
subjects, and there were a thousand other subjects which by parity of
reason might have been added too. As soon as bore A ends, bore B
begins. Some inquire from genuine love of knowledge, or from a real
wish to improve what they ask about; others to see their name in the
papers; others to show a watchful constituency that they are alert;
others to get on and to get a place in the Government; others from an
accumulation of little motives they could not themselves analyse, or
because it is their habit to ask things. And a proper reply must be
given. It was said that "Darby Griffith destroyed Lord Palmerston's
first Government," and undoubtedly the cheerful impertinence with which
in the conceit of victory that Minister answered grave men much hurt
his Parliamentary power. There is one thing which no one will permit to
be treated lightly--himself. And so there is one too which a sovereign
assembly will never permit to be lessened or ridiculed--its own power.
The Minister of the day will have to give an account in Parliament of
all branches of administration, to say why they act when they do, and
why they do not when they don't.

Nor is chance inquiry all a public department has most to fear. Fifty
members of Parliament may be zealous for a particular policy affecting
the department, and fifty others for another policy, and between them
they may divide its action, spoil its favourite aims, and prevent its
consistently working out either of their own aims. The process is very
simple. Every department at times looks as if it was in a scrape; some
apparent blunder, perhaps some real blunder, catches the public eye. At
once the antagonist Parliamentary sections, which want to act on the
department, seize the opportunity. They make speeches, they move for
documents, they amass statistics. They declare "that in no other
country is such a policy possible as that which the department is
pursuing; that it is mediaeval; that it costs money; that it wastes
life; that America does the contrary; that Prussia does the contrary".
The newspapers follow according to their nature. These bits of
administrative scandal amuse the public. Articles on them are very easy
to write, easy to read, easy to talk about. They please the vanity of
mankind. We think as we read, "Thank God, _I_ am not as that man; _I_
did not send green coffee to the Crimea; _I_ did not send patent
cartridge to the common guns, and common cartridge to the breech
loaders. _I_ make money; that miserable public functionary only wastes
money". As for the defence of the department, no one cares for it or
reads it. Naturally at first hearing it does not sound true. The
Opposition have the unrestricted selection of the point of attack, and
they seldom choose a case in which the department, upon the surface of
the matter, seems to be right. The case of first impression will always
be that something shameful has happened; that such and such men did
die; that this and that gun would not go off; that this or that ship
will not sail. All the pretty reading is unfavourable, and all the
praise is very dull.

Nothing is more helpless than such a department in Parliament if it has
no authorised official defender. The wasps of the House fasten on it;
here they perceive is something easy to sting, and safe, for it cannot
sting in return. The small grain of foundation for complaint
germinates, till it becomes a whole crop. At once the Minister of the
day is appealed to; he is at the head of the administration, and he
must put the errors right, if such they are. The Opposition leader
says: "I put it to the right honourable gentleman, the First Lord of
the Treasury. He is a man of business. I do not agree with him in his
choice of ends, but he is an almost perfect master of methods and
means. What he wishes to do he does do. Now I appeal to him whether
such gratuitous errors, such fatuous incapacity, are to be permitted in
the public service. Perhaps the right honourable gentleman will grant
me his attention while I show from the very documents of the
departments," etc., etc. What is the Minister to do? He never heard of
this matter; he does not care about the matter. Several of the
supporters of the Government are interested in the opposition to the
department; a grave man, supposed to be wise, mutters, "This is TOO
bad". The Secretary of the Treasury tells him, "The House is uneasy. A
good many men are shaky. A. B. said yesterday he had been dragged
through the dirt four nights following. Indeed I am disposed to think
myself that the department has been somewhat lax. Perhaps an inquiry,"
etc., etc. And upon that the Prime Minister rises and says: "That Her
Majesty's Government having given very serious and grave consideration
to this most important subject, are not prepared to say that in so
complicated a matter the department has been perfectly exempt from
error. He does not indeed concur in all the statements which have been
made; it is obvious that several of the charges advanced are
inconsistent with one another. If A. had really died from eating green
coffee on the Tuesday, it is plain he could not have suffered from
insufficient medical attendance on the following Thursday. However, on
so complex a subject, and one so foreign to common experience, he will
not give a judgment. And if the honourable member would be satisfied
with having the matter inquired into by a committee of that House, he
will be prepared to accede to the suggestion."

Possibly the outlying department, distrusting the Ministry, crams a
friend. But it is happy indeed if it chances on a judicious friend. The
persons most ready to take up that sort of business are benevolent
amateurs, very well intentioned, very grave, very respectable, but also
rather dull. Their words are good, but about the joints their arguments
are weak. They speak very well, but while they are speaking, the
decorum is so great that everybody goes away. Such a man is no match
for a couple of House of Commons gladiators. They pull what he says to
shreds. They show or say that he is wrong about his facts. Then he
rises in a fuss and must explain: but in his hurry he mistakes, and
cannot find the right paper, and becomes first hot, then confused, next
inaudible, and so sits down. Probably he leaves the House with the
notion that the defence of the department has broken down, and so the
Times announces to all the world as soon as it awakes.

Some thinkers have naturally suggested that the heads of departments
should as such have the right of speech in the House. But the system
when it has been tried has not answered. M. Guizot tells us from his
own experience that such a system is not effectual. A great popular
assembly has a corporate character; it has its own privileges,
prejudices, and notions. And one of these notions is that its own
members--the persons it sees every day--whose qualities it knows, whose
minds it can test, are those whom it can most trust. A clerk speaking
from without would be an unfamiliar object. He would be an outsider. He
would speak under suspicion; he would speak without dignity. Very often
he would speak as a victim. All the bores of the House would be upon
him. He would be put upon examination. He would have to answer
interrogatories. He would be put through the figures and
cross-questioned in detail. The whole effect of what he said would be
lost in quaestiunculae and hidden in a controversial detritus.

Again, such a person would rarely speak with great ability. He would
speak as a scribe. His habits must have been formed in the quiet of an
office: he is used to red tape, placidity, and the respect of
subordinates. Such a person will hardly ever be able to stand the
hurly-burly of a public assembly. He will lose his head--he will say
what he should not. He will get hot and red; he will feel he is a sort
of culprit. After being used to the flattering deference of deferential
subordinates, he will be pestered by fuss and confounded by invective.
He will hate the House as naturally as the House does not like him. He
will be an incompetent speaker addressing a hostile audience.

And what is more, an outside administrator addressing Parliament can
move Parliament only by the goodness of his arguments. He has no votes
to back them up with. He is sure to be at chronic war with some active
minority of assailants or others. The natural mode in which a
department is improved on great points and new points is by external
suggestion; the worse foes of a department are the plausible errors
which the most visible facts suggest, and which only half visible facts
confute. Both the good ideas and the bad ideas are sure to find
advocates first in the press and then in Parliament. Against these a
permanent clerk would have to contend by argument alone. The Minister,
the head of the Parliamentary government, will not care for him. The
Minister will say in some undress soliloquy, "These permanent 'fellows'
must look after themselves. I cannot be bothered. I have only a
majority of nine, and a very shaky majority, too. I cannot afford to
make enemies for those whom I did not appoint. They did nothing for me,
and I can do nothing for them." And if the permanent clerk come to ask
his help, he will say in decorous language, "I am sure that if the
department can evince to the satisfaction of Parliament that its past
management has been such as the public interests require, no one will
be more gratified than myself. I am not aware if it will be in my power
to attend in my place on Monday; but if I can be so fortunate, I shall
listen to your official statement with my very best attention." And so
the permanent public servant will be teased by the wits, oppressed by
the bores, and massacred by the innovators of Parliament.

The incessant tyranny of Parliament over the public offices is
prevented and can only be prevented by the appointment of a
Parliamentary head, connected by close ties with the present Ministry
and the ruling party in Parliament The Parliamentary head is a
protecting machine. He and the friends he brings stand between the
department and the busybodies and crotchet-makers of the House and the
country. So long as at any moment the policy of an office could be
altered by chance votes in either House of Parliament, there is no
security for any consistency. Our guns and our ships are not, perhaps,
very good now. But they would be much worse if any thirty or forty
advocates for this gun or that gun could make a motion in Parliament,
beat the department, and get their ships or their guns adopted. The
"Black Breech Ordnance Company" and the "Adamantine Ship Company" would
soon find representatives in Parliament, if forty or fifty members
would get the national custom for their rubbish. But this result is now
prevented by the Parliamentary head of the department. As soon as the
Opposition begins the attack, he looks up his means of defence. He
studies the subject, compiles his arguments, and builds little piles of
statistics, which he hopes will have some effect. He has his reputation
at stake, and he wishes to show that he is worth his present place, and
fit for future promotion. He is well known, perhaps liked, by the
House--at any rate the House attends to him; he is one of the regular
speakers whom they hear and heed. He is sure to be able to get himself
heard, and he is sure to make the best defence he can. And after he has
settled his speech he loiters up to the Secretary of the Treasury, and
says quietly, "They have got a motion against me on Tuesday, you know.
I hope you will have your men here. A lot of fellows have crotchets,
and though they do not agree a bit with one another, they are all
against the department; they will all vote for the inquiry." And the
Secretary answers, "Tuesday, you say; no (looking at a paper), I do not
think it will come on Tuesday. There is Higgins on Education. He is
good for a long time. But anyhow it shall be all right." And then he
glides about and speaks a word here and a word there, in consequence of
which, when the anti-official motion is made, a considerable array of
steady, grave faces sits behind the Treasury Bench--nay, possibly a
rising man who sits in outlying independence below the gangway rises to
defend the transaction; the department wins by thirty-three, and the
management of that business pursues its steady way.

This contrast is no fancy picture. The experiment of conducting the
administration of a public department by an independent unsheltered
authority has often been tried, and always failed. Parliament always
poked at it, till it made it impossible. The most remarkable is that of
the Poor Law. The administration of that law is not now very good, but
it is not too much to say that almost the whole of its goodness has
been preserved by its having an official and party protector in the
House of Commons. Without that contrivance we should have drifted back
into the errors of the old Poor Law, and superadded to them the present
meanness and incompetence in our large towns. All would have been given
up to local management. Parliament would have interfered with the
central board till it made it impotent, and the local authorities would
have been despotic. The first administration of the new Poor Law was by
"Commissioners"--the three kings of Somerset House, as they were
called. The system was certainly not tried in untrustworthy hands. At
the crisis Mr. Chadwick, one of the most active and best administrators
in England, was the secretary and the motive power: the principal
Commissioner was Sir George Lewis, perhaps the best selective
administrator of our time. But the House of Commons would not let the
Commission alone. For a long time it was defended because the Whigs had
made the Commission, and felt bound as a party to protect it. The new
law started upon a certain intellectual impetus, and till that was
spent its administration was supported in a rickety existence by an
abnormal strength. But afterwards the Commissioners were left to their
intrinsic weakness. There were members for all the localities, but
there were none for them. There were members for every crotchet and
corrupt interest, but there were none for them. The rural guardians
would have liked to eke out wages by rates; the city guardians hated
control, and hated to spend money. The Commission had to be dissolved,
and a Parliamentary head was added; the result is not perfect, but it
is an amazing improvement on what would have happened in the old
system. The new system has not worked well because the central
authority has too little power; but under the previous system the
central authority was getting to have, and by this time would have had,
no power at all. And if Sir George Lewis and Mr. Chadwick could not
maintain an outlying department in the face of Parliament, how unlikely
that an inferior compound of discretion and activity will ever maintain
it!

These reasonings show why a changing Parliamentary head, a head
changing as the Ministry changes, is a necessity of good Parliamentary
government, and there is happily a natural provision that there will be
such heads. Party organisation ensures it. In America, where on account
of the fixedly recurring presidential election, and the perpetual minor
elections, party organisation is much more effectually organised than
anywhere else, the effect on the offices is tremendous. Every office is
filled anew at every presidential change, at least every change which
brings in a new party. Not only the greatest posts, as in England, but
the minor posts change their occupants. The scale of the financial
operations of the Federal government is now so increased that most
likely in that department, at least, there must in future remain a
permanent element of great efficiency; a revenue of 90,000,000 pounds
sterling cannot be collected and expended with a trifling and changing
staff. But till now the Americans have tried to get on not only with
changing heads to a bureaucracy, as the English, but without any stable
bureaucracy at all. They have facilities for trying it which no one
else has. All Americans can administer, and the number of them really
fit to be in succession lawyers, financiers, or military managers is
wonderful; they need not be as afraid of a change of all their
officials as European countries must, for the incoming substitutes are
sure to be much better there than here; and they do not fear, as we
English fear, that the outgoing officials will be left destitute in
middle life, with no hope for the future and no recompense for the
past, for in America (whatever may be the cause of it) opportunities
are numberless, and a man who is ruined by being "off the rails" in
England soon there gets on another line. The Americans will probably to
some extent modify their past system of total administrative
cataclysms, but their very existence in the only competing form of free
government should prepare us for and make us patient with the mild
transitions of Parliamentary government.

These arguments will, I think, seem conclusive to almost every one;
but, at this moment, many people will meet them thus: they will say,
"You prove what we do not deny, that this system of periodical change
is a necessary ingredient in Parliamentary government, but you have not
proved what we do deny, that this change is a good thing. Parliamentary
government may have that effect, among others, for anything we care: we
maintain merely that it is a defect." In answer, I think it may be
shown not, indeed, that this precise change is necessary to a
permanently perfect administration, but that some analogous change,
some change of the same species, is so.

At this moment, in England, there is a sort of leaning towards
bureaucracy--at least, among writers and talkers. There is a seizure of
partiality to it. The English people do not easily change their rooted
notions, but they have many unrooted notions. Any great European event
is sure for a moment to excite a sort of twinge of conversion to
something or other. Just now, the triumph of the Prussians--the
bureaucratic people, as is believed, par excellence--has excited a kind
of admiration for bureaucracy, which a few years since we should have
thought impossible. I do not presume to criticise the Prussian
bureaucracy of my own knowledge; it certainly is not a pleasant
institution for foreigners to come across, though agreeableness to
travellers is but of very second-rate importance. But it is quite
certain that the Prussian bureaucracy, though we, for a moment, half
admire it at a distance, does not permanently please the most
intelligent and liberal Prussians at home. What are two among the
principal aims of the Fortschritt Partei--the party of progress--as Mr.
Grant Duff, the most accurate and philosophical of our describers,
delineates them?

First, "a liberal system, conscientiously carried out in all the
details of the administration, with a view to avoiding the scandals now
of frequent occurrence, when an obstinate or bigoted official sets at
defiance the liberal initiations of the Government, trusting to
backstairs influence".

Second, "an easy method of bringing to justice guilty officials, who
are at present, as in France, in all conflicts with simple citizens,
like men armed cap-a-pie fighting with defenceless". A system against
which the most intelligent native liberals bring even with colour of
reason such grave objections, is a dangerous model for foreign
imitation.

The defects of bureaucracy are, indeed, well known. It is a form of
Government which has been tried often enough in the world, and it is
easy to show what, human nature being what it in the long run is, the
defects of a bureaucracy must in the long run be.

It is an inevitable defect, that bureaucrats will care more for routine
than for results; or, as Burke put it, "that they will think the
substance of business not to be much more important than the forms of
it". Their whole education and all the habit of their lives make them
do so. They are brought young into the particular part of the public
service to which they are attached; they are occupied for years in
learning its forms--afterwards, for years too, in applying these forms
to trifling matters. They are, to use the phrase of an old writer, "but
the tailors of business; they cut the clothes, but they do not find the
body". Men so trained must come to think the routine of business not a
means, but an end--to imagine the elaborate machinery of which they
form a part, and from which they derive their dignity, to be a grand
and achieved result, not a working and changeable instrument. But in a
miscellaneous world, there is now one evil and now another. The very
means which best helped you yesterday, may very likely be those which
most impede you to-morrow--you may want to do a different thing
to-morrow, and all your accumulation of means for yesterday's work is
but an obstacle to the new work. The Prussian military system is the
theme of popular wonder now, yet it sixty years pointed the moral
against form. We have all heard the saying that "Frederic the Great
lost the battle of Jena". It was the system which he had established--a
good system for his wants and his times--which, blindly adhered to, and
continued into a different age, put to strive with new competitors,
brought his country to ruin. The "dead and formal" Prussian system was
then contrasted with the "living" French system--the sudden outcome of
the new explosive democracy. The system which now exists is the product
of the reaction; and the history of its predecessor is a warning what
its future history may be too. It is not more celebrated for its day
than Frederic's for his, and principle teaches that a bureaucracy,
elated by sudden success, and marvelling at its own merit, is the most
unimproving and shallow of Governments.

Not only does a bureaucracy thus tend to under-government, in point of
quality; it tends to over-government, in point of quantity. The trained
official hates the rude, untrained public. He thinks that they are
stupid, ignorant, reckless--that they cannot tell their own
interest--that they should have the leave of the office before they do
anything. Protection is the natural inborn creed of every official
body; free trade is an extrinsic idea alien to its notions, and hardly
to be assimilated with life; and it is easy to see how an accomplished
critic, used to a free and active life, could thus describe the
official.

"Every imaginable and real social interest," says Mr. Laing, "religion,
education, law, police, every branch of public or private business,
personal liberty to move from place to place, even from parish to
parish within the same jurisdiction; liberty to engage in any branch of
trade or industry, on a small or large scale, all the objects, in
short, in which body, mind, and capital can be employed in civilised
society, were gradually laid hold of for the employment and support of
functionaries, were centralised in bureaux, were superintended,
licensed, inspected, reported upon, and interfered with by a host of
officials scattered over the land, and maintained at the public
expense, yet with no conceivable utility in their duties. They are not,
however, gentlemen at large, enjoying salary without service. They are
under a semi-military discipline. In Bavaria, for instance, the
superior civil functionary can place his inferior functionary under
house-arrest, for neglect of duty, or other offence against civil
functionary discipline. In Wurtemberg, the functionary cannot marry
without leave from his superior. Voltaire says, somewhere, that, 'the
art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly
can pay for the benefit of the other third'. This is realised in
Germany by the functionary system. The functionaries are not there for
the benefit of the people, but the people for the benefit of the
functionaries. All this machinery of functionarism, with its numerous
ranks and gradations in every district, filled with a staff of clerks
and expectants in every department looking for employment,
appointments, or promotions, was intended to be a new support of the
throne in the new social state of the Continent; a third class, in
connection with the people by their various official duties of
interference in all public or private affairs, yet attached by their
interests to the kingly power. The Beamptenstand, or functionary class,
was to be the equivalent to the class of nobility, gentry, capitalists,
and men of larger landed property than the peasant-proprietors, and was
to make up in numbers for the want of individual weight and influence.
In France, at the expulsion of Louis Philippe, the civil functionaries
were stated to amount to 807,030 individuals. This civil army was more
than double of the military. In Germany, this class is necessarily more
numerous in proportion to the population, the landwehr system imposing
many more restrictions than the conscription on the free action of the
people, and requiring more officials to manage it, and the semi-feudal
jurisdictions and forms of law requiring much more writing and
intricate forms of procedure before the courts than the Code Napoleon."

A bureaucracy is sure to think that its duty is to augment official
power, official business, or official members, rather than to leave
free the energies of mankind; it overdoes the quantity of government,
as well as impairs its quality.

The truth is, that a skilled bureaucracy--a bureaucracy trained from
early life to its special avocation--is, though it boasts of an
appearance of science, quite inconsistent with the true principles of
the art of business. That art has not yet been condensed into precepts,
but a great many experiments have been made, and a vast floating vapour
of knowledge floats through society. One of the most sure principles
is, that success depends on a due mixture of special and non-special
minds--of minds which attend to the means, and of minds which attend to
the end. The success of the great joint-stock banks of London--the most
remarkable achievement of recent business--has been an example of the
use of this mixture. These banks are managed by a board of persons
mostly NOT trained to the business, supplemented by, and annexed to, a
body of specially trained officers, who have been bred to banking all
their lives. These mixed banks have quite beaten the old banks,
composed exclusively of pure bankers; it is found that the board of
directors has greater and more flexible knowledge--more insight into
the wants of a commercial community--knows when to lend and when not to
lend, better than the old bankers, who had never looked at life, except
out of the bank windows. Just so the most successful railways in Europe
have been conducted--not by engineers or traffic managers--but by
capitalists; by men of a certain business culture, if of no other.
These capitalists buy and use the services of skilled managers, as the
unlearned attorney buys and uses the services of the skilled barrister,
and manage far better than any of the different sorts of special men
under them. They combine these different specialities--make it clear
where the realm of one ends and that of the other begins, and add to it
a wide knowledge of large affairs, which no special man can have, and
which is only gained by diversified action. But this utility of leading
minds used to generalise, and acting upon various materials, is
entirely dependent upon their position. They must not be at the
bottom--they must not even be half way up--they must be at the top. A
merchant's clerk would be a child at a bank counter; but the merchant
himself could, very likely, give good, clear, and useful advice in a
bank court. The merchant's clerk would be equally at sea in a railway
office, but the merchant himself could give good advice, very likely,
at a board of directors. The summits (if I may so say) of the various
kinds of business are, like the tops of mountains, much more alike than
the parts below--the bare principles are much the same; it is only the
rich variegated details of the lower strata that so contrast with one
another. But it needs travelling to know that the summits ARE the same.
Those who live on one mountain believe that THEIR mountain is wholly
unlike all others.

The application of this principle to Parliamentary government is very
plain; it shows at once that the intrusion from without upon an office
of an exterior head of the office, is not an evil, but that, on the
contrary, it is essential to the perfection of that office. If it is
left to itself, the office will become technical, self-absorbed,
self-multiplying. It will be likely to overlook the end in the means;
it will fail from narrowness of mind; it will be eager in seeming to
do; it will be idle in real doing. An extrinsic chief is the fit
corrector of such errors. He can say to the permanent chief, skilled in
the forms and pompous with the memories of his office, "Will you, Sir,
explain to me how this regulation conduces to the end in view?
According to the natural view of things, the applicant should state the
whole of his wishes to one clerk on one paper; you make him say it to
five clerks on five papers." Or, again, "Does it not appear to you,
Sir, that the reason of this formality is extinct? When we were
building wood ships, it was quite right to have such precautions
against fire; but now that we are building iron ships," etc., etc. If a
junior clerk asked these questions, he would be "pooh-poohed!" It is
only the head of an office that can get them answered. It is he, and he
only, that brings the rubbish of office to the burning-glass of sense.

The immense importance of such a fresh mind is greatest in a country
where business changes most. A dead, inactive, agricultural country may
be governed by an unalterable bureau for years and years, and no harm
come of it. If a wise man arranged the bureau rightly in the beginning,
it may run rightly a long time. But if the country be a progressive,
eager, changing one, soon the bureau will either cramp improvement, or
be destroyed itself.

This conception of the use of a Parliamentary head shows how wrong is
the obvious notion which regards him as the principal administrator of
his office. The late Sir George Lewis used to be fond of explaining
this subject. He had every means of knowing. He was bred in the
permanent civil service. He was a very successful Chancellor of the
Exchequer, a very successful Home Secretary, and he died Minister for
War. He used to say, "It is not the business of a Cabinet Minister to
work his department. His business is to see that it is properly worked.
If he does much, he is probably doing harm. The permanent staff of the
office can do what he chooses to do much better, or if they cannot,
they ought to be removed. He is only a bird of passage, and cannot
compete with those who are in the office all their lives round." Sir
George Lewis was a perfect Parliamentary head of an office, so far as
that head is to be a keen critic and rational corrector of it.

But Sir George Lewis was not perfect; he was not even an average good
head in another respect. The use of a fresh mind applied to the
official mind is not only a corrective use, it is also an animating
use. A public department is very apt to be dead to what is wanting for
a great occasion till the occasion is past. The vague public mind will
appreciate some signal duty before the precise, occupied administration
perceives it The Duke of Newcastle was of this use at least in the
Crimean War. He roused up his department, though when roused it could
not act. A perfect Parliamentary Minister would be one who should add
the animating capacity of the Duke of Newcastle to the accumulated
sense, the detective instinct, and the laissez faire habit of Sir
George Lewis.

As soon as we take the true view of Parliamentary office we shall
perceive that, fairly, frequent change in the official is an advantage,
not a mistake. If his function is to bring a representative of outside
sense and outside animation in contact with the inside world, he ought
often to be changed. No man is a perfect representative of outside
sense. "There is some one," says the true French saying, "who is more
able than Talleyrand, more able than Napoleon. Cest tout le monde."
That many-sided sense finds no microcosm in any single individual.
Still less are the critical function and the animating function of a
Parliamentary Minister likely to be perfectly exercised by one and the
same man. Impelling power and restraining wisdom are as opposite as any
two things, and are rarely found together. And even if the natural mind
of the Parliamentary Minister was perfect, long contact with the office
would destroy his use. Inevitably he would accept the ways of office,
think its thoughts, live its life. The "dyer's hand would be subdued to
what it works in". If the function of a Parliamentary Minister is to be
an outsider to his office, we must not choose one who, by habit,
thought, and life, is acclimatised to its ways.

There is every reason to expect that a Parliamentary statesman will be
a man of quite sufficient intelligence, quite enough various knowledge,
quite enough miscellaneous experience, to represent effectually general
sense in opposition to bureaucratic sense. Most Cabinet Ministers in
charge of considerable departments are men of superior ability; I have
heard an eminent living statesman of long experience say that in his
time he only knew one instance to the contrary. And there is the best
protection that it shall be so. A considerable Cabinet Minister has to
defend his department in the face of mankind; and though distant
observers and sharp writers may depreciate it, this is a very difficult
thing. A fool, who has publicly to explain great affairs, who has
publicly to answer detective questions, who has publicly to argue
against able and quick opponents, must soon be shown to be a fool. The
very nature of Parliamentary government answers for the discovery of
substantial incompetence.

At any rate, none of the competing forms of government have nearly so
effectual a procedure for putting a good untechnical Minister to
correct and impel the routine ones. There are but four important forms
of government in the present state of the world--the Parliamentary, the
Presidential, the Hereditary, and the Dictatorial, or Revolutionary. Of
these I have shown that, as now worked in America, the Presidential
form of government is incompatible with a skilled bureaucracy. If the
whole official class change when a new party goes out or comes in, a
good official system is impossible. Even if more officials should be
permanent in America than now, still, vast numbers will always be
changed. The whole issue is based on a single election--on the choice
of President; by that internecine conflict all else is won or lost. The
managers of the contest have that greatest possible facility in using
what I may call patronage--bribery. Everybody knows that, as a fact,
the President can give what places he likes to what persons, and when
his friends tell A. B., "If we win, C. D. shall be turned out of Utica
Post-office, and you, A. B., shall have it," A. B. believes it, and is
justified in doing so. But no individual member of Parliament can
promise place effectually. HE may not be able to give the places. His
party may come in, but he will be powerless. In the United States party
intensity is aggravated by concentrating an overwhelming importance on
a single contest, and the efficiency of promised offices as a means of
corruption is augmented, because the victor can give what he likes to
whom he likes.

Nor is this the only defect of a Presidential government in reference
to the choice of officers. The President has the principal anomaly of a
Parliamentary government without having its corrective. At each change
of party the President distributes (as here) the principal offices to
his principal supporters. But he has an opportunity for singular
favouritism; the Minister lurks in the office; he need do nothing in
public; he need not show for years whether he is a fool or wise. The
nation can tell what a Parliamentary member is by the open test of
Parliament; but no one, save from actual contact, or by rare position,
can tell anything certain of a Presidential Minister.

The case of a Minister under an hereditary form of government is yet
worse. The hereditary king may be weak; may be under the government of
women; may appoint a Minister from childish motives; may remove one
from absurd whims. There is no security that an hereditary king will be
competent to choose a good chief Minister, and thousands of such kings
have chosen millions of bad Ministers.

By the Dictatorial, or Revolutionary, sort of government, I mean that
very important sort in which the sovereign--the absolute sovereign--is
selected by insurrection. In theory, one would certainly have hoped
that by this time such a crude elective machinery would have been
reduced to a secondary part. But, in fact, the greatest nation (or,
perhaps, after the exploits of Bismarck, I should say one of the two
greatest nations of the Continent) vacillates between the Revolutionary
and the Parliamentary, and now is governed under the Revolutionary
form. France elects its ruler in the streets of Paris. Flatterers may
suggest that the democratic empire will become hereditary, but close
observers know that it cannot. The idea of the Government is that the
Emperor represents the people in capacity, in judgment, in instinct.
But no family through generations can have sufficient, or half
sufficient, mind to do so. The representative despot must be chosen by
fighting, as Napoleon I. and Napoleon III. were chosen. And such a
Government is likely, whatever be its other defects, to have a far
better and abler administration than any other Government. The head of
the Government must be a man of the most consummate ability. He cannot
keep his place, he can hardly keep his life, unless he is. He is sure
to be active, because he knows that his power, and perhaps his head,
may be lost if he be negligent. The whole frame of his State is
strained to keep down revolution. The most difficult of all political
problems is to be solved--the people are to be at once thoroughly
restrained and thoroughly pleased. The executive must be like a steel
shirt of the Middle Ages--extremely hard and extremely flexible. It
must give way to attractive novelties which do not hurt; it must resist
such as are dangerous; it must maintain old things which are good and
fitting; it must alter such as cramp and give pain. The dictator dare
not appoint a bad Minister if he would. I admit that such a despot is a
better selector of administrators than a Parliament; that he will know
how to mix fresh minds and used minds better; that he is under a
stronger motive to combine them well; that here is to be seen the best
of all choosers with the keenest motives to choose. But I need not
prove in England that the revolutionary selection of rulers obtains
administrative efficiency at a price altogether transcending its value;
that it shocks credit by its catastrophes; that for intervals it does
not protect property or life; that it maintains an undergrowth of fear
through all prosperity; that it may take years to find the true capable
despot; that the interregna of the incapable are full of all evil; that
the fit despot may die as soon as found; that the good administration
and all else hang by the thread of his life.

But if, with the exception of this terrible Revolutionary government, a
Parliamentary government upon principle surpasses all its competitors
in administrative efficiency, why is it that our English Government,
which is beyond comparison the best of Parliamentary governments, is
not celebrated through the world for administrative efficiency? It is
noted for many things, why is it not noted for that? Why, according to
popular belief is it rather characterised by the very contrary?

One great reason of the diffused impression is, that the English
Government attempts so much. Our military system is that which is most
attacked. Objectors say we spend much more on our army than the great
military monarchies, and yet with an inferior result. But, then, what
we attempt is incalculably more difficult. The continental monarchies
have only to defend compact European territories by the many soldiers
whom they force to fight; the English try to defend without any
compulsion--only by such soldiers as they persuade to
serve--territories far surpassing all Europe in magnitude, and situated
all over the habitable globe. Our Horse Guards and War Office may not
be at all perfect--I believe they are not: but if they had sufficient
recruits selected by force of law--if they had, as in Prussia, the
absolute command of each man's time for a few years, and the right to
call him out afterwards when they liked, we should be much surprised at
the sudden ease and quickness with which they did things. I have no
doubt too that any accomplished soldier of the Continent would reject
as impossible what we after a fashion effect. He would not attempt to
defend a vast scattered empire, with many islands, a long frontier line
in every continent, and a very tempting bit of plunder at the centre,
by mere volunteer recruits, who mostly come from the worst class of the
people--whom the Great Duke called the "scum of the earth"--who come in
uncertain numbers year by year--who by some political accident may not
come in adequate numbers, or at all, in the year we need them most. Our
War Office attempts what foreign War Offices (perhaps rightly) would
not try at; their officers have means of incalculable force denied to
ours, though ours is set to harder tasks.

Again, the English navy undertakes to defend a line of coast and a set
of dependencies far surpassing those of any continental power. And the
extent of our operations is a singular difficulty just now. It requires
us to keep a large stock of ships and arms. But on the other hand,
there are most important reasons why we should not keep much. The naval
art and the military art are both in a state of transition; the last
discovery of to-day is out of date, and superseded by an antagonistic
discovery to-morrow. Any large accumulation of vessels or guns is sure
to contain much that will be useless, unfitting, antediluvian, when it
comes to be tried. There are two cries against the Admiralty which go
on side by side: one says, "We have not ships enough, no 'relief'
ships, no NAVY, to tell the truth"; the other cry says, "We have all
the wrong ships, all the wrong guns, and nothing but the wrong; in
their foolish constructive mania the Admiralty have been building when
they ought to have been waiting; they have heaped a curious museum of
exploded inventions, but they have given us nothing serviceable". The
two cries for opposite policies go on together, and blacken our
executive together, though each is a defence of the executive against
the other.

Again, the Home Department in England struggles with difficulties of
which abroad they have long got rid. We love independent "local
authorities," little centres of outlying authority. When the
metropolitan executive most wishes to act, it cannot act effectually
because these lesser bodies hesitate, deliberate, or even disobey. But
local independence has no necessary connection with Parliamentary
government. The degree of local freedom desirable in a country varies
according to many circumstances, and a Parliamentary government may
consist with any degree of it. We certainly ought not to debit
Parliamentary government as a general and applicable polity with the
particular vices of the guardians of the poor in England, though it is
so debited every day.

Again, as our administration has in England this peculiar difficulty,
so on the other hand foreign competing administrations have a peculiar
advantage. Abroad a man under Government is a superior being: he is
higher than the rest of the world; he is envied by almost all of it.
This gives the Government the easy pick of the elite of the nation. All
clever people are eager to be under Government, and are hardly to be
satisfied elsewhere. But in England there is no such superiority, and
the English have no such feeling. We do not respect a stamp-office
clerk, or an exciseman's assistant. A pursy grocer considers he is much
above either. Our Government cannot buy for minor clerks the best
ability of the nation in the cheap currency of pure honour, and no
Government is rich enough to buy very much of it in money. Our
mercantile opportunities allure away the most ambitious minds. The
foreign bureaux are filled with a selection from the ablest men of the
nation, but only a very few of the best men approach the English
offices.

But these are neither the only nor even the principal reasons why our
public administration is not so good as, according to principle and to
the unimpeded effects of Parliamentary government, it should be. There
are two great causes at work, which in their consequences run out into
many details, but which in their fundamental nature may be briefly
described. The first of these causes is our ignorance. No polity can
get out of a nation more than there is in the nation. A free government
is essentially a government by persuasion; and as are the people to be
persuaded, and as are the persuaders, so will that government be. On
many parts of our administration the effect of our extreme ignorance is
at once plain. The foreign policy of England has for many years been,
according to the judgment now in vogue, inconsequent, fruitless,
casual; aiming at no distinct pre-imagined end, based on no steadily
pre-conceived principle. I have not room to discuss with how much or
how little abatement this decisive censure should be accepted. However,
I entirely concede that our recent foreign policy has been open to very
grave and serious blame. But would it not have been a miracle if the
English people, directing their own policy, and being what they are,
had directed a good policy? Are they not above all nations divided from
the rest of the world, insular both in situation and in mind, both for
good and for evil? Are they not out of the current of common European
causes and affairs? Are they not a race contemptuous of others? Are
they not a race with no special education or culture as to the modern
world, and too often despising such culture? Who could expect such a
people to comprehend the new and strange events of foreign places? So
far from wondering that the English Parliament has been inefficient in
foreign policy, I think it is wonderful, and another sign of the rude,
vague imagination that is at the bottom of our people, that we have
done so well as we have.

Again, the very conception of the English Constitution, as
distinguished from a purely Parliamentary Constitution is, that it
contains "dignified" parts--parts, that is, retained, not for intrinsic
use, but from their imaginative attraction upon an uncultured and rude
population. All such elements tend to diminish simple efficiency. They
are like the additional and solely-ornamental wheels introduced into
the clocks of the Middle Ages, which tell the then age of the moon or
the supreme constellation; which make little men or birds come out and
in theatrically. All such ornamental work is a source of friction and
error; it prevents the time being marked accurately; each new wheel is
a new source of imperfection. So if authority is given to a person, not
on account of his working fitness, but on account of his imaginative
efficiency, he will commonly impair good administration. He may do
something better than good work of detail, but will spoil good work of
detail. The English aristocracy is often of this sort. It has an
influence over the people of vast value still, and of infinite value
formerly. But no man would select the cadets of an aristocratic house
as desirable administrators. They have peculiar disadvantages in the
acquisition of business knowledge, business training, and business
habits, and they have no peculiar advantages.

Our middle class, too, is very unfit to give us the administrators we
ought to have. I cannot now discuss whether all that is said against
our education is well grounded; it is called by an excellent judge
"pretentious, insufficient, and unsound". But I will say that it does
not fit men to be men of business as it ought to fit them. Till lately
the very simple attainments and habits necessary for a banker's clerk
had a scarcity-value. The sort of education which fits a man for the
higher posts of practical life is still very rare; there is not even a
good agreement as to what it is. Our public officers cannot be as good
as the corresponding officers of some foreign nations till our business
education is as good as theirs.[9]


[9] I am happy to state that this evil is much diminishing. The
improvement of school education of the middle class in the last
twenty-five years is marvellous.


But strong as is our ignorance in deteriorating our administration,
another cause is stronger still. There are but two foreign
administrations probably better than ours, and both these have had
something which we have not had. Theirs in both cases were arranged by
a man of genius, after careful forethought, and upon a special design.
Napoleon built upon a clear stage which the French Revolution
bequeathed him. The originality once ascribed to his edifice was indeed
untrue; Tocqueville and Lavergne have shown that he did but run up a
conspicuous structure in imitation of a latent one before concealed by
the mediaeval complexities of the old regime. But what we are concerned
with now is, not Napoleon's originality, but his work. He undoubtedly
settled the administration of France upon an effective, consistent, and
enduring system; the succeeding governments have but worked the
mechanism they inherited from him. Frederick the Great did the same in
the new monarchy of Prussia. Both the French system and the Prussian
are new machines, made in civilised times to do their appropriate work.

The English offices have never, since they were made, been arranged
with any reference to one another; or rather they were never made, but
grew as each could. The sort of free trade which prevailed in public
institutions in the English Middle Ages is very curious. Our three
courts of law--the Queen's Bench, the Common Pleas, and the
Exchequer--for the sake of the fees extended an originally contracted
sphere into the entire sphere of litigation. Boni judicis est ampliare
jursdictionem, went the old saying; or, in English, "It is the mark of
a good judge to augment the fees of his Court," his own income, and the
income of his subordinates. The central administration, the Treasury,
never asked any account of the moneys the courts thus received; so long
as it was not asked to pay anything, it was satisfied. Only last year
one of the many remnants of this system cropped up, to the wonder of
the public. A clerk in the Patent Office stole some fees, and naturally
the men of the nineteenth century thought our principal Finance
Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would be, as in France,
responsible for it. But the English law was different somehow. The
Patent Office was under the Lord Chancellor, and the Court of Chancery
is one of the multitude of our institutions which owe their existence
to free competition, and so it was the Lord Chancellor's business to
look after the fees, which of course, as an occupied judge, he could
not. A certain Act of Parliament did indeed require that the fees of
the Patent Office should be paid into the "Exchequer"; and, again, the
"Chancellor of the Exchequer" was thought to be responsible in the
matter, but only by those who did not know. According to our system the
Chancellor of the Exchequer is the enemy of the Exchequer; a whole
series of enactments try to protect it from him. Until a few months ago
there was a very lucrative sinecure called the "Comptrollership of the
Exchequer," designed to guard the Exchequer against its Chancellor; and
the last holder, Lord Monteagle, used to say he was the pivot of the
English Constitution. I have not room to explain what he meant, and it
is not needful; what is to the purpose is that, by an inherited series
of historical complexities, a defaulting clerk in an office of no
litigation was not under natural authority, the Finance Minister, but
under a far-away judge who had never heard of him.

The whole office of the Lord Chancellor is a heap of anomalies. He is a
judge, and it is contrary to obvious principle that any part of
administration should be entrusted to a judge; it is of very grave
moment that the administration of justice should be kept clear of any
sinister temptations. Yet the Lord Chancellor, our chief judge, sits in
the Cabinet, and makes party speeches in the Lords. Lord Lyndhurst was
a principal Tory politician, and yet he presided in the O'Connell case.
Lord Westbury was in chronic wrangle with the bishops, but he gave
judgment upon "Essays and Reviews". In truth, the Lord Chancellor
became a Cabinet Minister, because, being near the person of the
sovereign, he was high in court precedence, and not upon a political
theory wrong or right.

A friend once told me that an intelligent Italian asked him about the
principal English officers, and that he was very puzzled to explain
their duties, and especially to explain the relation of their duties to
their titles. I do not remember all the cases, but I can recollect that
the Italian could not comprehend why the First "Lord of the Treasury"
had as a rule nothing to do with the Treasury, or why the "Woods and
Forests" looked after the sewerage of towns. This conversation was
years before the cattle plague, but I should like to have heard the
reasons why the Privy Council Office had charge of that malady. Of
course one could give an historical reason, but I mean an
administrative reason a reason which would show, not how it came to
have the duty, but why in future it should keep it.

But the unsystematic and casual arrangement of our public offices is
not more striking than their difference of arrangement for the one
purpose they have in common. They all, being under the ultimate
direction of a Parliamentary official, ought to have the best means of
bringing the whole of the higher concerns of the office before that
official. When the fresh mind rules, the fresh mind requires to be
informed. And most business being rather alike, the machinery for
bringing it before the extrinsic chief ought, for the most part, to be
similar: at any rate, where it is different, it ought to be different
upon reason; and where it is similar, similar upon reason. Yet there
are almost no two offices which are exactly alike in the defined
relations of the permanent official to the Parliamentary chief. Let us
see. The ARMY AND NAVY are the most similar in nature, yet there is in
the army a permanent outside office, called the Horse Guards, to which
there is nothing else like. In the navy, there is a curious anomaly--a
Board of Admiralty, also changing with every Government, which is to
instruct the First Lord in what he does not know. The relations between
the First Lord and the Board have not always been easily intelligible,
and those between the War Office and the Horse Guards are in extreme
confusion. Even now a Parliamentary paper relating to them has just
been presented to the House of Commons, which says the fundamental and
ruling document cannot be traced beyond the possession of Sir George
Lewis, who was Secretary for War three years since; and the confused
details are endless, as they must be in a chronic contention of
offices. At the Board of Trade there is only the hypothesis of a Board;
it has long ceased to exist. Even the President and Vice-President do
not regularly meet for the transaction of affairs. The patent of the
latter is only to transact business in the absence of the President,
and if the two are not intimate, and the President chooses to act
himself, the Vice-President sees no papers, and does nothing. At the
Treasury the shadow of a Board exists, but its members have no power,
and are the very officials whom Canning said existed to make a House,
to keep a House, and to cheer the Ministers. The India Office has a
fixed "Council"; but the Colonial Office which rules over our other
dependencies and colonies, has not, and never had, the vestige of a
council. Any of these varied Constitutions may be right, but all of
them can scarcely be right.

In truth the real constitution of a permanent office to be ruled by a
permanent chief has been discussed only once in England: that case was
a peculiar and anomalous one, and the decision then taken was dubious.
A new India Office, when the East India Company was abolished, had to
be made. The late Mr. James Wilson, a consummate judge of
administrative affairs, then maintained that no council ought to be
appointed eo nomine, but that the true Council of a Cabinet Minister
was a certain number of highly paid, much occupied, responsible
secretaries, whom the Minister could consult either separately or
together, as, and when, he chose. Such secretaries, Mr. Wilson
maintained, must be able, for no Minister will sacrifice his own
convenience, and endanger his own reputation by appointing a fool to a
post so near himself, and where he can do much harm. A member of a
Board may easily be incompetent; if some other members and the chairmen
are able, the addition of one or two stupid men will not be felt; they
will receive their salaries and do nothing. But a permanent
under-secretary, charged with a real control over much important
business, must be able, or his superior will be blamed, and there will
be "a scrape in Parliament".

I cannot here discuss, nor am I competent to discuss, the best mode of
composing public offices, and of adjusting them to a Parliamentary
head. There ought to be on record skilled evidence on the subject
before a person without any specific experience can to any purpose
think about it. But I may observe that the plan which Mr. Wilson
suggested is that followed in the most successful part of our
administration, the "Ways and Means" part. When the Chancellor of the
Exchequer prepares a budget, he requires from the responsible heads of
the revenue department their estimates of the public revenue upon the
preliminary hypothesis that no change is made, but that last year's
taxes will continue; if, afterwards, he thinks of making an alteration,
he requires a report on that too. If he has to renew Exchequer bills,
or operate anyhow in the City, he takes the opinion, oral or written,
of the ablest and most responsible person at the National Debt Office,
and the ablest and most responsible at the Treasury. Mr. Gladstone, by
far the greatest Chancellor of the Exchequer of this generation, one of
the very greatest of any generation, has often gone out of his way to
express his obligation to these responsible skilled advisers. The more
a man knows himself, the more habituated he is to action in general,
the more sure he is to take and to value responsible counsel emanating
from ability and suggested by experience. That this principle brings
good fruit is certain. We have, by unequivocal admission, the best
budget in the world. Why should not the rest of our administration be
as good if we did but apply the same method to it?

I leave this to stand as it was originally written since it does not
profess to rest on my own knowledge, and only offers a suggestion on
good authority. Recent experience seems, however, to show that in all
great administrative departments there ought to be some one permanent
responsible head through whom the changing Parliamentary chief always
acts, from whom he learns everything, and to whom he communicates
everything. The daily work of the Exchequer is a trifle compared with
that of the Admiralty or the Home Office, and therefore a single
principal head is not there so necessary. But the preponderance of
evidence at present is that in all offices of very great work some one
such head is essential.



NO. VII.

ITS SUPPOSED CHECKS AND BALANCES.


In a former essay I devoted an elaborate discussion to the comparison
of the royal and unroyal form of Parliamentary government. I showed
that at the formation of a Ministry, and during the continuance of a
Ministry, a really sagacious monarch might be of rare use. I
ascertained that it was a mistake to fancy that at such times a
constitutional monarch had no rule and no duties. But I proved likewise
that the temper, the disposition, and the faculties then needful to fit
a constitutional monarch for usefulness were very rare, at least as
rare as the faculties of a great absolute monarch, and that a common
man in that place is apt to do at least as much harm as good--perhaps
more harm. But in that essay I could not discuss fully the functions of
a king at the conclusion of an administration, for then the most
peculiar parts of the English Government--the power to dissolve the
House of Commons, and the power to create new peers--come into play,
and until the nature of the House of Lords and the nature of the House
of Commons had been explained, I had no premises for an argument as to
the characteristic action of the king upon them. We have since
considered the functions of the two houses, and also the effects of
changes of Ministry on our administrative system; we are now,
therefore, in a position to discuss the functions of a king at the end
of an administration. I may seem over formal in this matter, but I am
very formal on purpose. It appears to me that the functions of our
executive in dissolving the Commons and augmenting the Peers are among
the most important, and the least appreciated, parts of our whole
government, and that hundreds of errors have been made in copying the
English Constitution from not comprehending them.

Hobbes told us long ago, and everybody now understands, that there must
be a supreme authority, a conclusive power, in every State on every
point somewhere. The idea of government involves it--when that idea is
properly understood. But there are two classes of Governments. In one
the supreme determining power is upon all points the same: in the
other, that ultimate power is different upon different points--now
resides in one part of the Constitution and now in another. The
Americans thought that they were imitating the English in making their
Constitution upon the last principle--in having one ultimate authority
for one sort of matter, and another for another sort. But in truth the
English Constitution is the type of the opposite species; it has only
one authority for all sorts of matters. To gain a living conception of
the difference let us see what the Americans did.

First, they altogether retained what, in part, they could not help, the
sovereignty of the separate States. A fundamental article of the
Federal Constitution says that the powers not "delegated" to the
central Government are "reserved to the States respectively". And the
whole recent history of the Union--perhaps all its history--has been
more determined by that enactment than by any other single cause. The
sovereignty of the principal matters of State has rested not with the
highest Government, but with the subordinate Government. The Federal
Government could not touch slavery--the "domestic institution" which
divided the Union into two halves, unlike one another in morals,
politics, and social condition, and at last set them to fight. This
determining political fact was not in the jurisdiction of the highest
Government in the country, where you might expect its highest wisdom,
nor in the central Government, where you might look for impartiality,
but in local governments, where petty interests were sure to be
considered, and where only inferior abilities were likely to be
employed. The capital fact was reserved for the minor jurisdictions.
Again, there has been only one matter comparable to slavery in the
United States, and that has been vitally affected by the State
Governments also. Their ultra-democracy is not a result of Federal
legislation, but of State legislation. The Federal Constitution deputed
one of the main items of its structure to the subordinate governments.
One of its clauses provides that the suffrages for the Federal House of
Representatives shall be, in each State, the same as for the most
numerous branch of the legislature of that State; and as each State
fixes the suffrage for its own legislatures, the States altogether fix
the suffrage for the Federal Lower Chamber. By another clause of the
Federal Constitution the States fix the electoral qualification for
voting at a Presidential election. The primary element in a free
government--the determination how many people shall have a share in
it--in America depends not on the Government but on certain subordinate
local, and sometimes, as in the South now, hostile bodies.

Doubtless the framers of the Constitution had not much choice in the
matter. The wisest of them were anxious to get as much power for the
central Government, and to leave as little to the local governments as
they could. But a cry was got up that this wisdom would create a
tyranny and impair freedom, and with that help, local jealousy
triumphed easily. All Federal Government is, in truth, a case in which
what I have called the dignified elements of government do not coincide
with the serviceable elements. At the beginning of every league the
separate States are the old Governments which attract and keep the love
and loyalty of the people; the Federal Government is a useful thing,
but new and unattractive. It must concede much to the State
Governments, for it is indebted to them for motive power: they are the
Governments which the people voluntarily obey. When the State
Governments are not thus loved, they vanish as the little Italian and
the little German potentates vanished; no federation is needed; a
single central Government rules all.

But the division of the sovereign authority in the American
Constitution is far more complex than this. The part of that authority
left to the Federal Government is itself divided and subdivided. The
greatest instance is the most obvious. The Congress rules the law, but
the President rules the administration. One means of unity the
Constitution does give: the President can veto laws he does not like.
But when two-thirds of both Houses are unanimous (as has lately
happened), they can overrule the President and make the laws without
him; so here there are three separate repositories of the legislative
power in different cases: first, Congress and the President when they
agree; next, the President when he effectually exerts his power; then
the requisite two-thirds of Congress when they overrule the President.
And the President need not be over-active in carrying out a law he does
not approve of. He may indeed be impeached for gross neglect; but
between criminal non-feasance and zealous activity there are infinite
degrees. Mr. Johnson does not carry out the Freedman's Bureau Bill as
Mr. Lincoln, who approved of it, would have carried it out. The
American Constitution has a special contrivance for varying the supreme
legislative authority in different cases, and dividing the
administrative authority from it in all cases.

But the administrative power itself is not left thus simple and
undivided. One most important part of administration is international
policy, and the supreme authority here is not in the President, still
less in the House of Representatives, but in the Senate. The President
can only make treaties, "provided two-thirds of Senators present"
concur. The sovereignty therefore for the greatest international
questions is in a different part of the State altogether from any
common administrative or legislative question. It is put in a place by
itself.

Again, the Congress declares war, but they would find it very
difficult, according to the recent construction of their laws, to
compel the President to make a peace. The authors of the Constitution
doubtless intended that Congress should be able to control the American
executive as our Parliament controls ours. They placed the granting of
supplies in the House of Representatives exclusively. But they forgot
to look after "paper money"; and now it has been held that the
President has power to emit such money without consulting Congress at
all. The first part of the late war was so carried on by Mr. Lincoln;
he relied not on the grants of Congress, but on the prerogative of
emission. It sounds a joke, but it is true nevertheless, that this
power to issue greenbacks is decided to belong to the President as
commander-in-chief of the army; it is part of what was called the "war
power". In truth money was wanted in the late war, and the
administration got it in the readiest way; and the nation, glad not to
be more taxed, wholly approved of it. But the fact remains that the
President has now, by precedent and decision, a mighty power to
continue a war without the consent of Congress, and perhaps against its
wish. Against the united will of the American PEOPLE a President would
of course be impotent; such is the genius of the place and nation that
he would never think of it. But when the nation was (as of late)
divided into two parties, one cleaving to the President, the other to
the Congress, the now unquestionable power of the President to issue
paper-money may give him the power to continue the war though
Parliament (as we should speak) may enjoin the war to cease.

And lastly, the whole region of the very highest questions is withdrawn
from the ordinary authorities of the State, and reserved for special
authorities. The "Constitution" cannot be altered by any authorities
within the Constitution, but only by authorities without it. Every
alteration of it, however urgent or however trifling, must be
sanctioned by a complicated proportion of States or legislatures. The
consequence is that the most obvious evils cannot be quickly remedied;
that the most absurd fictions must be framed to evade the plain sense
of mischievous clauses; that a clumsy working and curious technicality
mark the politics of a rough-and-ready people. The practical arguments
and the legal disquisitions in America are often like those of trustees
carrying out a misdrawn will--the sense of what they mean is good, but
it can never be worked out fully or defended simply, so hampered is it
by the old words of an old testament.

These instances (and others might be added) prove, as history proves
too, what was the principal thought of the American
Constitution-makers. They shrank from placing sovereign power anywhere.
They feared that it would generate tyranny; George III. had been a
tyrant to them, and come what might, they would not make a George III.
Accredited theories said that the English Constitution divided the
sovereign authority, and in imitation the Americans split up theirs.

The result is seen now. At the critical moment of their history there
is no ready, deciding power. The South, after a great rebellion, lies
at the feet of its conquerors: its conquerors have to settle what to do
with it.[10] They must decide the conditions upon which the
Secessionists shall again become fellow citizens, shall again vote,
again be represented, again perhaps govern. The most difficult of
problems is how to change late foes into free friends. The safety of
their great public debt, and with that debt their future credit and
their whole power in future wars, may depend on their not giving too
much power to those who must see in the debt the cost of their own
subjugation, and who must have an inclination towards the repudiation
of it, now that their own debt--the cost of their defence--has been
repudiated. A race, too, formerly enslaved, is now at the mercy of men
who hate and despise it, and those who set it free are bound to give it
a fair chance for new life. The slave was formerly protected by his
chains; he was an article of value; but now he belongs to himself, no
one but himself has an interest in his life; and he is at the mercy of
the "mean whites," whose labour he depreciates, and who regard him with
a loathing hatred. The greatest moral duty ever set before a
Government, and the most fearful political problem ever set before a
Government, are now set before the American. But there is no decision,
and no possibility of a decision. The President wants one course, and
has power to prevent any other; the Congress wants another course, and
has power to prevent any other. The splitting of sovereignty into many
parts amounts to there being no sovereign.


[10] This was written just after the close of the Civil War, but I do
not know that the great problem stated in it has as yet been adequately
solved.


The Americans of 1787 thought they were copying the English
Constitution, but they were contriving a contrast to it. Just as the
American is the type of composite Governments, in which the supreme
power is divided between many bodies and functionaries, so the English
is the type of SIMPLE Constitutions, in which the ultimate power upon
all questions is in the hands of the same persons.

The ultimate authority in the English Constitution is a newly-elected
House of Commons. No matter whether the question upon which it decides
be administrative or legislative; no matter whether it concerns high
matters of the essential Constitution or small matters of daily detail;
no matter whether it be a question of making a war or continuing a war;
no matter whether it be the imposing a tax or the issuing a paper
currency; no matter whether it be a question relating to India, or
Ireland, or London--a new House of Commons can despotically and finally
resolve.

The House of Commons may, as was explained, assent in minor matters to
the revision of the House of Lords, and submit in matters about which
it cares little to the suspensive veto of the House of Lords; but when
sure of the popular assent, and when freshly elected, it is absolute,
it can rule as it likes and decide as it likes. And it can take the
best security that it does not decide in vain. It can ensure that its
decrees shall be executed, for it, and it alone, appoints the
executive; it can inflict the most severe of all penalties on neglect,
for it can remove the executive. It can choose, to effect its wishes,
those who wish the same; and so its will is sure to be done. A
stipulated majority of both Houses of the American Congress can
overrule by stated enactment their executive; but the popular branch of
our legislature can make and unmake ours.

The English Constitution, in a word, is framed on the principle of
choosing a single sovereign authority, and making it good; the
American, upon the principle of having many sovereign authorities, and
hoping that their multitude may atone for their inferiority. The
Americans now extol their institutions, and so defraud themselves of
their due praise. But if they had not a genius for politics; if they
had not a moderation in action singularly curious where superficial
speech is so violent; if they had not a regard for law, such as no
great people have yet evinced, and infinitely surpassing ours,--the
multiplicity of authorities in the American Constitution would long ago
have brought it to a bad end. Sensible shareholders, I have heard a
shrewd attorney say, can work ANY deed of settlement; and so the men of
Massachusetts could, I believe, work ANY Constitution.[11] But
political philosophy must analyse political history; it must
distinguish what is due to the excellence of the people, and what to
the excellence of the laws; it must carefully calculate the exact
effect of each part of the Constitution, though thus it may destroy
many an idol of the multitude, and detect the secret of utility where
but few imagined it to lie.


[11] Of course I am not speaking here of the South and South-East, as
they now are. How any free government is to exist in societies where so
many bad elements are so much perturbed, I cannot imagine.


How important singleness and unity are in political action no one, I
imagine, can doubt. We may distinguish and define its parts; but policy
is a unit and a whole. It acts by laws--by administrators; it requires
now one, now the other; unless it can easily move both it will be
impeded soon; unless it has an absolute command of both its work will
be imperfect. The interlaced character of human affairs requires a
single determining energy; a distinct force for each artificial
compartment will make but a motley patchwork, if it live long enough to
make anything. The excellence of the British Constitution is that it
has achieved this unity; that in it the sovereign power is single,
possible, and good.

The success is primarily due to the peculiar provision of the English
Constitution, which places the choice of the executive in the "people's
House"; but it could not have been thoroughly achieved except for two
parts, which I venture to call the "safety-valve" of the Constitution,
and the "regulator".

The safety-valve is the peculiar provision of the Constitution, of
which I spoke at great length in my essay on the House of Lords. The
head of the executive can overcome the resistance of the second chamber
by choosing new members of that chamber; if he do not find a majority,
he can make a majority. This is a safety-valve of the truest kind. It
enables the popular will--the will of which the executive is the
exponent, the will of which it is the appointee--to carry out within
the Constitution desires and conceptions which one branch of the
Constitution dislikes and resists. It lets forth a dangerous
accumulation of inhibited power, which might sweep this Constitution
before it, as like accumulations have often swept away like
Constitutions.

The regulator, as I venture to call it, of our single sovereignty is
the power of dissolving the otherwise sovereign chamber confided to the
chief executive. The defects of the popular branch of a legislature as
a sovereign have been expounded at length in a previous essay. Briefly,
they may be summed up in three accusations.

First. Caprice is the commonest and most formidable vice of a choosing
chamber. Wherever in our colonies Parliamentary government is
unsuccessful, or is alleged to be unsuccessful, this is the vice which
first impairs it. The assembly cannot be induced to maintain any
administration; it shifts its selection now from one Minister to
another Minister, and in consequence there is no government at all.

Secondly. The very remedy for such caprice entails another evil. The
only mode by which a cohesive majority and a lasting administration can
be upheld in a Parliamentary government, is party organisation; but
that organisation itself tends to aggravate party violence and party
animosity. It is, in substance, subjecting the whole nation to the rule
of a section of the nation, selected because of its speciality.
Parliamentary government is, in its essence, a sectarian government,
and is possible only when sects are cohesive.

Thirdly. A Parliament, like every other sort of sovereign, has peculiar
feelings, peculiar prejudices, peculiar interests; and it may pursue
these in opposition to the desires, and even in opposition to the
well-being of the nation. It has its selfishness as well as its caprice
and its parties.

The mode in which the regulating wheel of our Constitution produces its
effect is plain. It does not impair the authority of Parliament as a
species, but it impairs the power of the individual Parliament. It
enables a particular person outside Parliament to say, "You Members of
Parliament are not doing your duty. You are gratifying caprice at the
cost of the nation. You are indulging party spirit at the cost of the
nation. You are helping yourself at the cost of the nation. I will see
whether the nation approves what you are doing or not; I will appeal
from Parliament No. 1 to Parliament No. 2."

By far the best way to appreciate this peculiar provision of our
Constitution is to trace it in action--to see, as we saw before of the
other powers of English royalty, how far it is dependent on the
existence of an hereditary king, and how far it can be exercised by a
Premier whom Parliament elects. When we examine the nature of the
particular person required to exercise the power, a vivid idea of that
power is itself brought home to us.

First. As to the caprice of Parliament in the choice of a Premier, who
is the best person to check it? Clearly the Premier himself. He is the
person most interested in maintaining his administration, and therefore
the most likely person to use efficiently and dexterously the power by
which it is to be maintained. The intervention of an extrinsic king
occasions a difficulty. A capricious Parliament may always hope that
his caprice may coincide with theirs. In the days when George III.
assailed his Governments, the Premier was habitually deprived of his
due authority. Intrigues were encouraged because it was always dubious
whether the king-hated Minister would be permitted to appeal from the
intriguers, and always a chance that the conspiring monarch might
appoint one of the conspirators to be Premier in his room. The caprice
of Parliament is better checked when the faculty of dissolution is
entrusted to its appointee, than when it is set apart in an outlying
and an alien authority.

But, on the contrary, the party zeal and the self-seeking of Parliament
are best checked by an authority which has no connection with
Parliament or dependence upon it--supposing that such authority is
morally and intellectually equal to the performance of the entrusted
function. The Prime Minister obviously being the nominee of a party
majority is likely to share its feeling, and is sure to be obliged to
say that he shares it. The actual contact with affairs is indeed likely
to purify him from many prejudices, to tame him of many fanaticisms, to
beat out of him many errors. The present Conservative Government
contains more than one member who regards his party as intellectually
benighted; who either never speaks their peculiar dialect, or who
speaks it condescendingly, and with an "aside"; who respects their
accumulated prejudices as the "potential energies" on which he
subsists, but who despises them while he lives by them. Years ago Mr.
Disraeli called Sir Robert Peel's Ministry--the last Conservative
Ministry that had real power--"an organised hypocrisy," so much did the
ideas of its "head" differ from the sensations of its "tail". Probably
he now comprehends--if he did not always--that the air of Downing
Street brings certain ideas to those who live there, and that the hard,
compact prejudices of opposition are soon melted and mitigated in the
great gulf stream of affairs. Lord Palmerston, too, was a typical
example of a leader lulling, rather than arousing, assuaging rather
than acerbating the minds of his followers. But though the composing
effect of close difficulties will commonly make a Premier cease to be
an immoderate partisan, yet a partisan to some extent he must be, and a
violent one he may be; and in that case he is not a good person to
check the party. When the leading sect (so to speak) in Parliament is
doing what the nation do not like, an instant appeal ought to be
registered and Parliament ought to be dissolved. But a zealot of a
Premier will not appeal; he will follow his formulae; he will believe
he is doing good service when, perhaps, he is but pushing to unpopular
consequences, the narrow maxims of an inchoate theory. At such a minute
a constitutional king--such as Leopold the First was, and as Prince
Albert might have been--is invaluable; he can and will prevent
Parliament from hurting the nation.

Again, too, on the selfishness of Parliament an extrinsic check is
clearly more efficient than an intrinsic. A Premier who is made by
Parliament may share the bad impulses of those who chose him; or, at
any rate, he may have made "capital" out of them--he may have seemed to
share them. The self-interests, the jobbing propensities of the
assembly are sure indeed to be of very secondary interest to him. What
he will care most for is the permanence, is the interest--whether
corrupt or uncorrupt--of his own Ministry. He will be disinclined to
anything coarsely unpopular. In the order of nature, a new assembly
must come before long, and he will be indisposed to shock the feelings
of the electors from whom that assembly must emanate. But though the
interest of the Minister is inconsistent with appalling jobbery, he
will be inclined to mitigated jobbery. He will temporise; he will try
to give a seemly dress to unseemly matters: to do as much harm as will
content the assembly, and yet not so much harm as will offend the
nation. He will not shrink from becoming a particeps criminis; he will
but endeavour to dilute the crime. The intervention of an extrinsic,
impartial, and capable authority--if such can be found--will
undoubtedly restrain the covetousness as well as the factiousness of a
choosing assembly.

But can such a head be found? In one case I think it has been found.
Our colonial governors are precisely Dei ex machina. They are always
intelligent, for they have to live by a different trade; they are
nearly sure to be impartial, for they come from the ends of the earth;
they are sure not to participate in the selfish desires of any colonial
class or body, for long before those desires can have attained fruition
they will have passed to the other side of the world, be busy with
other faces and other minds, be almost out of hearing what happens in a
region they have half forgotten. A colonial governor is a
super-Parliamentary authority, animated by a wisdom which is probably
in quantity considerable, and is different from that of the local
Parliament, even if not above it. But even in this case the advantage
of this extrinsic authority is purchased at a heavy price--a price
which must not be made light of, because it is often worth paying. A
colonial governor is a ruler who has no permanent interest in the
colony he governs; who perhaps had to look for it in the map when he
was sent thither; who takes years before he really understands its
parties and its controversies; who, though without prejudice himself,
is apt to be a slave to the prejudices of local people near him; who
inevitably, and almost laudably, governs not in the interest of the
colony, which he may mistake, but in his own interest, which he sees
and is sure of. The first desire of a colonial governor is not to get
into a "scrape," not to do anything which may give trouble to his
superiors--the Colonial Office--at home, which may cause an untimely
and dubious recall, which may hurt his after career. He is sure to
leave upon the colony the feeling that they have a ruler who only half
knows them, and does not so much as half care for them. We hardly
appreciate this common feeling in our colonies, because WE appoint
THEIR sovereign; but we should understand it in an instant if, by a
political metamorphosis, the choice were turned the other way--if THEY
appointed OUR sovereign. We should then say at once, "How is it
possible a man from New Zealand can understand England? how is it
possible, that a man longing to get back to the antipodes can care for
England? how can we trust one who lives by the fluctuating favour of a
distant authority? how can we heartily obey one who is but a foreigner
with the accident of an identical language?"

I dwell on the evils which impair the advantage of colonial
governorship because that is the most favoured case of
super-Parliamentary royalty, and because from looking at it we can
bring freshly home to our minds what the real difficulties of that
institution are. We are so familiar with it that we do not understand
it. We are like people who have known a man all their lives, and yet
are quite surprised when he displays some obvious characteristic which
casual observers have detected at a glance. I have known a man who did
not know what colour his sister's eyes were, though he had seen her
every day for twenty years; or rather, he did not know because he had
so seen her: so true is the philosophical maxim that we neglect the
constant element in our thoughts, though it is probably the most
important, and attend almost only to the varying elements--the
differentiating elements (as men now speak)--though they are apt to be
less potent. But when we perceive by the roundabout example of a
colonial governor how difficult the task of a constitutional king is in
the exercise of the function of dissolving Parliament, we at once see
how unlikely it is that an hereditary monarch will be possessed of the
requisite faculties.

An hereditary king is but an ordinary person, upon an average, at best;
he is nearly sure to be badly educated for business; he is very little
likely to have a taste for business; he is solicited from youth by
every temptation to pleasure; he probably passed the whole of his youth
in the vicious situation of the heir-apparent, who can do nothing
because he has no appointed work, and who will be considered almost to
outstep his function if he undertake optional work. For the most part,
a constitutional king is a DAMAGED common man; not forced to business
by necessity as a despot often is, but yet spoiled for business by most
of the temptations which spoil a despot. History, too, seems to show
that hereditary royal families gather from the repeated influence of
their corrupting situation some dark taint in the blood, some
transmitted and growing poison which hurts their judgments, darkens all
their sorrow, and is a cloud on half their pleasure. It has been said,
not truly, but with a possible approximation to truth, "That in 1802
every hereditary monarch was insane". Is it likely that this sort of
monarchs will be able to catch the exact moment when, in opposition to
the wishes of a triumphant Ministry, they ought to dissolve Parliament?
To do so with efficiency they must be able to perceive that the
Parliament is wrong, and that the nation knows it is wrong. Now to know
that Parliament is wrong, a man must be, if not a great statesman, yet
a considerable statesman--a statesman of some sort. He must have great
natural vigour, for no less will comprehend the hard principles of
national policy. He must have incessant industry, for no less will keep
him abreast with the involved detail to which those principles relate,
and the miscellaneous occasions to which they must be applied. A man
made common by nature, and made worse by life, is not likely to have
either; he is nearly sure not to be BOTH clever and industrious. And a
monarch in the recesses of a palace, listening to a charmed flattery
unbiassed by the miscellaneous world, who has always been hedged in by
rank, is likely to be but a poor judge of public opinion. He may have
an inborn tact for finding it out; but his life will never teach it
him, and will probably enfeeble it in him.

But there is a still worse case, a case which the life of George
III.--which is a sort of museum of the defects of a constitutional
king--suggests at once. The Parliament may be wiser than the people,
and yet the king may be of the same mind with the people. During the
last years of the American war, the Premier, Lord North, upon whom the
first responsibility rested, was averse to continuing it, and knew it
could not succeed. Parliament was much of the same mind; if Lord North
had been able to come down to Parliament with a peace in his hand,
Parliament would probably have rejoiced, and the nation under the
guidance of Parliament, though saddened by its losses, probably would
have been satisfied. The opinion of that day was more like the American
opinion of the present day than like our present opinion. It was much
slower in its formation than our opinion now, and obeyed much more
easily sudden impulses from the central administration. If Lord North
had been able to throw the undivided energy and the undistracted
authority of the executive Government into the excellent work of making
a peace and carrying a peace, years of bloodshed might have been
spared, and an entail of enmity cut off that has not yet run out. But
there was a power behind the Prime Minister; George III. was madly
eager to continue the war, and the nation--not seeing how hopeless the
strife was, not comprehending the lasting antipathy which their
obstinacy was creating--ignorant, dull and helpless--was ready to go on
too. Even if Lord North had wished to make peace, and had persuaded
Parliament accordingly, all his work would have been useless; a
superior power could and would have appealed from a wise and pacific
Parliament to a sullen and warlike nation. The check which our
Constitution finds for the special vices of our Parliament was misused
to curb its wisdom.

The more we study the nature of Cabinet government, the more we shall
shrink from exposing at a vital instant its delicate machinery to a
blow from a casual, incompetent, and perhaps semi-insane outsider. The
preponderant probability is that on a great occasion the Premier and
Parliament will really be wiser than the king. The Premier is sure to
be able, and is sure to be most anxious to decide well; if he fail to
decide, he loses his place, though through all blunders the king keeps
his; the judgment of the man naturally very discerning is sharpened by
a heavy penalty, from which the judgment of the man by nature much less
intelligent is exempt. Parliament, too, is for the most part a sound,
careful and practical body of men. Principle shows that the power of
dismissing a Government with which Parliament is satisfied, and of
dissolving that Parliament upon an appeal to the people, is not a power
which a common hereditary monarch will in the long run be able
beneficially to exercise.

Accordingly this power has almost, if not quite, dropped out of the
reality of our Constitution. Nothing, perhaps, would more surprise the
English people than if the Queen by a coup d'etat and on a sudden
destroyed a Ministry firm in the allegiance and secure of a majority in
Parliament. That power, indisputably, in theory, belongs to her; but it
has passed so far away from the minds of men that it would terrify
them, if she used it, like a volcanic eruption from Primrose Hill. The
last analogy to it is not one to be coveted as a precedent. In 1835
William IV. dismissed an administration which, though disorganised by
the loss of its leader in the Commons, was an existing Government, had
a Premier in the Lords ready to go on, and a leader in the Commons
willing to begin. The king fancied that public opinion was leaving the
Whigs and going over to the Tories, and he thought he should accelerate
the transition by ejecting the former. But the event showed that he
misjudged. His PERCEPTION indeed was right; the English people were
wavering in their allegiance to the Whigs, who had no leader that
touched the popular heart, none in whom Liberalism could personify
itself and become a passion--who besides were a body long used to
opposition, and therefore making blunders in office--who were borne to
power by a popular impulse which they only half comprehended, and
perhaps less than half shared. But the king's POLICY was wrong; he
impeded the reaction instead of aiding it. He forced on a premature
Tory Government, which was as unsuccessful as all wise people perceived
that it must be. The popular distaste to the Whigs was as yet but
incipient, inefficient; and the intervention of the Crown was
advantageous to them, because it looked inconsistent with the liberties
of the people. And in so far as William IV. was right in detecting an
incipient change of opinion, he did but detect an erroneous change.
What was desirable was the prolongation of Liberal rule. The commencing
dissatisfaction did but relate to the personal demerits of the Whig
leaders, and other temporary adjuncts of free principles, and not to
those principles intrinsically. So that the last precedent for a royal
onslaught on a Ministry ended thus:--in opposing the right principles,
in aiding the wrong principles, in hurting the party it was meant to
help. After such a warning, it is likely that our monarchs will pursue
the policy which a long course of quiet precedent at present
directs--they will leave a Ministry trusted by Parliament to the
judgment of Parliament.

Indeed, the dangers arising from a party spirit in Parliament exceeding
that of the nation, and of a selfishness in Parliament contradicting
the true interest of the nation, are not great dangers in a country
where the mind of the nation is steadily political, and where its
control over its representatives is constant. A steady opposition to a
formed public opinion is hardly possible in our House of Commons, so
incessant is the national attention to politics, and so keen the fear
in the mind of each member that he may lose his valued seat. These
dangers belong to early and scattered communities, where there are no
interesting political questions, where the distances are great, where
no vigilant opinion passes judgment on Parliamentary excesses, where
few care to have seats in the chamber, and where many of those few are
from their characters and their antecedents better not there than
there. The one great vice of Parliamentary government in an adult
political nation, is the caprice of Parliament in the choice of a
Ministry. A nation can hardly control it here; and it is not good that,
except within wide limits, it should control it. The Parliamentary
judgment of the merits or demerits of an administration very generally
depends on matters which the Parliament, being close at hand,
distinctly sees, and which the distant nation does not see. But where
personality enters, capriciousness begins. It is easy to imagine a
House of Commons which is discontented with all statesmen, which is
contented with none, which is made up of little parties, which votes in
small knots, which will adhere steadily to no leader, which gives every
leader a chance and a hope. Such Parliaments require the imminent check
of possible dissolution; but that check is (as has been shown) better
in the Premier than in the sovereign; and by the late practice of our
constitution, its use is yearly ebbing from the sovereign, and yearly
centring in the Premier. The Queen can hardly now refuse a defeated
Minister the chance of a dissolution, any more than she can dissolve in
the time of an undefeated one, and without his consent.

We shall find the case much the same with the safety-valve, as I have
called it, of our Constitution. A good, capable, hereditary monarch
would exercise it better than a Premier, but a Premier could manage it
well enough; and a monarch capable of doing better will be born only
once in a century, whereas monarchs likely to do worse will be born
every day.

There are two modes in which the power of our executive to create
Peers--to nominate, that is, additional members of our upper and
revising chamber--now acts: one constant, habitual, though not
adequately noticed by the popular mind as it goes on; and the other
possible and terrific, scarcely ever really exercised, but always by
its reserved magic maintaining a great and a restraining influence. The
Crown creates peers, a few year by year, and thus modifies continually
the characteristic feeling of the House of Lords. I have heard people
say, who ought to know, that the ENGLISH peerage (the only one upon
which unhappily the power of new creation now acts) is now more Whig
than Tory. Thirty years ago the majority was indisputably the other
way. Owing to very curious circumstances English parties have not
alternated in power, as a good deal of speculation predicts they would,
and a good deal of current language assumes they have. The Whig party
were in office some seventy years (with very small breaks) from the
death of Queen Anne to the coalition between Lord North and Mr. Fox;
then the Tories (with only such breaks), were in power for nearly fifty
years, till 1832; and since, the Whig party has always, with very
trifling intervals, been predominant. Consequently, each
continuously-governing party has had the means of modifying the Upper
House to suit its views. The profuse Tory creations of half a century
had made the House of Lords bigotedly Tory before the first Reform Act,
but it is wonderfully mitigated now. The Irish Peers and Scotch
Peers--being nominated by an almost unaltered constituency, and
representing the feelings of the majority of that constituency only (no
minority having any voice)--present an unchangeable Tory element. But
the element in which change is permitted has been changed. Whether the
English Peerage be or be not predominantly now Tory, it is certainly
not Tory after the fashion of the Toryism of 1832. The Whig additions
have indeed sprung from a class commonly rather adjoining upon Toryism,
than much inclining to Radicalism. It is not from men of large wealth
that a very great impetus to organic change should be expected. The
additions to the Peers have matched nicely enough with the old Peers,
and therefore they have effected more easily a greater and more
permeating modification. The addition of a contrasting mass would have
excited the old leaven, but the delicate infusion of ingredients
similar in genus, though different in species, has modified the new
compound without irritating the old original.

This ordinary and common use of the peer-creating power is always in
the hands of the Premier, and depends for its characteristic use on
being there. He, as the head of the predominant party, is the proper
person to modify gradually the permanent chamber which, perhaps, was at
starting hostile to him; and, at any rate, can be best harmonised with
the public opinion he represents by the additions he makes. Hardly any
contrived constitution possesses a machinery for modifying its
secondary house so delicate, so flexible, and so constant. If the power
of creating life peers had been added, the mitigating influence of the
responsible executive upon the House of Lords would have been as good
as such a thing can be.

The catastrophic creation of peers for the purpose of swamping the
Upper House is utterly different. If an able and impartial exterior
king is at hand, this power is best in that king. It is a power only to
be used on great occasions, when the object is immense, and the party
strife unmitigated. This is the conclusive, the swaying power of the
moment, and of course, therefore, it had better be in the hands of a
power both capable and impartial, than of a Premier who must in some
degree be a partisan. The value of a discreet, calm, wise monarch, if
such should happen to be reigning at the acute crisis of a nation's
destiny, is priceless. He may prevent years of tumult, save bloodshed
and civil war, lay up a store of grateful fame to himself, prevent the
accumulated intestine hatred of each party to its opposite. But the
question comes back, Will there be such a monarch just then? What is
the chance of having him just then? What will be the use of the monarch
whom the accidents of inheritance, such as we know them to be, must
upon an average bring us just then?

The answer to these questions is not satisfactory, if we take it from
the little experience we have had in this rare matter. There have been
but two cases at all approaching to a catastrophic creation of
peers--to a creation which would suddenly change the majority of the
Lords--in English history. One was in Queen Anne's time. The majority
of peers in Queen Anne's time were Whig, and by profuse and quick
creations Harley's Ministry changed it to a Tory majority. So great was
the popular effect, that in the next reign one of the most contested
Ministerial proposals was a proposal to take the power of indefinite
peer creation from the Crown, and to make the number of Lords fixed, as
that of the Commons is fixed. But the sovereign had little to do with
the matter. Queen Anne was one of the smallest people ever set in a
great place. Swift bitterly and justly said "she had not a store of
amity by her for more than one friend at a time," and just then her
affection was concentrated on a waiting-maid. Her waiting-maid told her
to make peers, and she made them. But of large thought and
comprehensive statesmanship she was as destitute as Mrs. Masham. She
supported a bad Ministry by the most extreme of measures, and she did
it on caprice. The case of William IV. is still more instructive. He
was a very conscientious king, but at the same time an exceedingly weak
king. His correspondence with Lord Grey on this subject fills more than
half a large volume, or rather his secretary's correspondence, for he
kept a very clever man to write what he thought, or at least what those
about him thought. It is a strange instance of high-placed weakness and
conscientious vacillation. After endless letters the king consents to
make a REASONABLE number of peers if required to pass the second
reading of the Reform Bill, but owing to desertion of the "Waverers"
from the Tories, the second reading is carried without it by nine, and
then the king refuses to make peers, or at least enough peers when a
vital amendment is carried by Lord Lyndhurst, which would have
destroyed, and was meant to destroy the Bill. In consequence, there was
a tremendous crisis and nearly a revolution. A more striking example of
well-meaning imbecility is scarcely to be found in history. No one who
reads it carefully will doubt that the discretionary power of making
peers would have been far better in Lord Grey's hands than in the
king's. It was the uncertainty whether the king would exercise it, and
how far he would exercise it, that mainly animated the opposition. In
fact, you may place power in weak hands at a revolution, but you cannot
keep it in weak hands. It runs out of them into strong ones. An
ordinary hereditary sovereign--a William IV., or a George IV.--is unfit
to exercise the peer-creating power when most wanted. A half-insane
king, like George III., would be worse. He might use it by
unaccountable impulse when not required, and refuse to use it out of
sullen madness when required.

The existence of a fancied check on the Premier is in truth an evil,
because it prevents the enforcement of a real check. It would be easy
to provide by law that an extraordinary number of peers--say more than
ten annually--should not be created except on a vote of some large
majority, suppose three-fourths of the Lower House. This would ensure
that the Premier should not use the reserve force of the constitution
as if it were an ordinary force; that he should not use it except when
the whole nation fixedly wished it; that it should be kept for a
revolution, not expended on administration; and it would ensure that he
should then have it to use. Queen Anne's case and William IV.'s case
prove that neither object is certainly attained by entrusting this
critical and extreme force to the chance idiosyncrasies and habitual
mediocrity of an hereditary sovereign.

It may be asked why I argue at such length a question in appearance so
removed from practice, and in one point of view so irrelevant to my
subject. No one proposes to remove Queen Victoria; if any one is in a
safe place on earth, she is in a safe place. In these very essays it
has been shown that the mass of our people would obey no one else, that
the reverence she excites is the potential energy--as science now
speaks--out of which all minor forces are made, and from which lesser
functions take their efficiency. But looking not to the present hour,
and this single country, but to the world at large and coming times, no
question can be more practical.

What grows upon the world is a certain matter-of-factness. The test of
each century, more than of the century before, is the test of results.
New countries are arising all over the world where there are no fixed
sources of reverence; which have to make them; which have to create
institutions which must generate loyalty by conspicuous utility. This
matter-of-factness is the growth even in Europe of the two greatest and
newest intellectual agencies of our time. One of these is business. We
see so much of the material fruits of commerce that we forget its
mental fruits. It begets a mind desirous of things, careless of ideas,
not acquainted with the niceties of words. In all labour there should
be profit, is its motto. It is not only true that we have "left swords
for ledgers," but war itself is made as much by the ledger as by the
sword. The soldier--that is, the great soldier--of to-day is not a
romantic animal, dashing at forlorn hopes, animated by frantic
sentiment, full of fancies as to a lady-love or a sovereign; but a
quiet, grave man, busied in charts, exact in sums, master of the art of
tactics, occupied in trivial detail; thinking, as the Duke of
Wellington was said to do, MOST of the shoes of his soldiers; despising
all manner of eclat and eloquence; perhaps, like Count Moltke, "silent
in seven languages". We have reached a "climate" of opinion where
figures rule, where our very supporter of Divine right, as we deemed
him, our Count Bismarck, amputates kings right and left, applies the
test of results to each, and lets none live who are not to do
something. There has in truth been a great change during the last five
hundred years in the predominant occupations of the ruling part of
mankind; formerly they passed their time either in exciting action or
inanimate repose. A feudal baron had nothing between war and the
chase--keenly animating things both--and what was called "inglorious
ease". Modern life is scanty in excitements, but incessant in quiet
action. Its perpetual commerce is creating a "stock-taking" habit--the
habit of asking each man, thing, and institution, "Well, what have you
done since I saw you last?"

Our physical science, which is becoming the dominant culture of
thousands, and which is beginning to permeate our common literature to
an extent which few watch enough, quite tends the same way. The two
peculiarities are its homeliness and its inquisitiveness; its value for
the most "stupid" facts, as one used to call them, and its incessant
wish for verification--to be sure, by tiresome seeing and hearing, that
they are facts. The old excitement of thought has half died out, or
rather it is diffused in quiet pleasure over a life instead of being
concentrated in intense and eager spasms. An old philosopher--a
Descartes, suppose--fancied that out of primitive truths, which he
could by ardent excogitation know, he might by pure deduction evolve
the entire universe. Intense self-examination, and intense reason
would, he thought, make out everything. The soul "itself by itself,"
could tell all it wanted if it would be true to its sublimer isolation.
The greatest enjoyment possible to man was that which this philosophy
promises its votaries--the pleasure of being always right, and always
reasoning--without ever being bound to look at anything. But our most
ambitious schemes of philosophy now start quite differently. Mr. Darwin
begins:--

"When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with
certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting
South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the
past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the
latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the
origin of species--that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by
one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me,
in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by
patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could
possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I allowed
myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these
I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions which then seemed
to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily
pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on
these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been
hasty in coming to a decision."

If he hopes finally to solve his great problem, it is by careful
experiments in pigeon-fancying, and other sorts of artificial
variety-making. His hero is not a self-enclosed, excited philosopher,
but "that most skilful breeder, Sir John Sebright, who used to say,
with respect to pigeons, that he would produce any given feathers in
three years, but it would take him six years to obtain a head and a
beak". I am not saying that the new thought is better than the old; it
is no business of mine to say anything about that; I only wish to bring
home to the mind, as nothing but instances can bring it home, how
matter-of-fact, how petty, as it would at first sight look, even our
most ambitious science has become.

In the new communities which our emigrating habit now constantly
creates, this prosaic turn of mind is intensified. In the American mind
and in the colonial mind there is, as contrasted with the old English
mind, a LITERALNESS, a tendency to say, "The facts are so-and-so,
whatever may be thought or fancied about them". We used before the
civil war to say that the Americans worshipped the almighty dollar; we
now know that they can scatter money almost recklessly when they will.
But what we meant was half right--they worship visible value: obvious,
undeniable, intrusive result. And in Australia and New Zealand the same
turn comes uppermost. It grows from the struggle with the wilderness.
Physical difficulty is the enemy of early communities, and an incessant
conflict with it for generations leaves a mark of reality on the
mind--a painful mark almost to us, used to impalpable fears and the
half-fanciful dangers of an old and complicated society. The "new
Englands" of all latitudes are bare-minded (if I may so say) as
compared with the "old".

When, therefore, the new communities of the colonised world have to
choose a government, they must choose one in which ALL the institutions
are of an obvious evident utility. We catch the Americans smiling at
our Queen with her secret mystery, and our Prince of Wales with his
happy inaction. It is impossible, in fact, to convince their prosaic
minds that constitutional royalty is a rational government, that it is
suited to a new age and an unbroken country, that those who start
afresh can start with it. The princelings who run about the world with
excellent intentions, but an entire ignorance of business, are to them
a locomotive advertisement that this sort of government is European in
its limitations and mediaeval in its origin; that though it has yet a
great part to play in the old States, it has no place or part in new
States. The realisme impitoyable which good critics find in a most
characteristic part of the literature of the nineteenth century, is to
be found also in its politics. An ostentatious utility must
characterise its creations.

The deepest interest, therefore, attaches to the problem of this essay.
If hereditary royalty had been essential to Parliamentary government,
we might well have despaired of that government. But accurate
investigation shows that this royalty is not essential; that, upon an
average, it is not even in a high degree useful; that though a king
with high courage and fine discretion--a king with a genius for the
place--is always useful, and at rare moments priceless, yet that a
common king, a king such as birth brings, is of no use at difficult
crises, while in the common course of things his aid is neither likely
nor required--he will do nothing, and he need do nothing. But we
happily find that a new country need not fall back into the fatal
division of powers incidental to a Presidential government; it may, if
other conditions serve, obtain the ready, well-placed, identical sort
of sovereignty which belongs to the English Constitution, under the
unroyal form of Parliamentary government.



NO. VIII.

THE PREREQUISITES OF CABINET GOVERNMENT, AND THE PECULIAR FORM WHICH
THEY HAVE ASSUMED IN ENGLAND.


Cabinet government is rare because its prerequisites are many. It
requires the co-existence of several national characteristics which are
not often found together in the world, and which should be perceived
more distinctly than they often are. It is fancied that the possession
of a certain intelligence, and a few simple virtues, are the sole
requisites. The mental and moral qualities are necessary, but much else
is necessary also. A Cabinet government is the government of a
committee selected by the legislature, and there are therefore a double
set of conditions to it: first, those which are essential to all
elective governments as such; and second, those which are requisite to
this particular elective government. There are prerequisites for the
genus, and additional ones for the species.

The first prerequisite of elective government is the MUTUAL CONFIDENCE
of the electors. We are so accustomed to submit to be ruled by elected
Ministers, that we are apt to fancy all mankind would readily be so
too. Knowledge and civilisation have at least made this progress, that
we instinctively, without argument, almost without consciousness, allow
a certain number of specified persons to choose our rulers for us. It
seems to us the simplest thing in the world. But it is one of the
gravest things.

The peculiar marks of semi-barbarous people are diffused distrust and
indiscriminate suspicion. People, in all but the most favoured times
and places, are rooted to the places where they were born, think the
thoughts of those places, can endure no other thoughts. The next parish
even is suspected. Its inhabitants have different usages, almost
imperceptibly different, but yet different; they speak a varying
accent; they use a few peculiar words; tradition says that their faith
is dubious. And if the next parish is a little suspected, the next
county is much more suspected. Here is a definite beginning of new
maxims, new thoughts, new ways: the immemorial boundary mark begins in
feeling a strange world. And if the next county is dubious, a remote
county is untrustworthy. "Vagrants come from thence," men know, and
they know nothing else. The inhabitants of the north speak a dialect
different from the dialect of the south: they have other laws, another
aristocracy, another life. In ages when distant territories are blanks
in the mind, when neighbourhood is a sentiment, when locality is a
passion, concerted co-operation between remote regions is impossible
even on trivial matters. Neither would rely enough upon the good faith,
good sense, and good judgment of the other. Neither could enough
calculate on the other.

And if such co-operation is not to be expected in trivial matters, it
is not to be thought of in the most vital matter of government--the
choice of the executive ruler. To fancy that Northumberland in the
thirteenth century would have consented to ally itself with
Somersetshire for the choice of a chief magistrate is absurd; it would
scarcely have allied itself to choose a hangman. Even now, if it were
palpably explained, neither district would like it. But no one says at
a county election, "The object of this present meeting is to choose our
delegate to what the Americans call the 'Electoral College,' to the
assembly which names our first magistrate--our substitute for their
President. Representatives from this county will meet representatives
from other counties, from cities and boroughs, and proceed to choose
our rulers." Such bald exposition would have been impossible in old
times; it would be considered queer, eccentric, if it were used now.
Happily, the process of election is so indirect and hidden, and the
introduction of that process was so gradual and latent, that we
scarcely perceive the immense political trust we repose in each other.
The best mercantile credit seems to those who give it, natural, simple,
obvious; they do not argue about it, or think about it. The best
political credit is analogous; we trust our countrymen without
remembering that we trust them.

A second and very rare condition of an elective government is a CALM
national mind--a tone of mind sufficiently staple to bear the necessary
excitement of conspicuous revolutions. No barbarous, no semi-civilised
nation has ever possessed this. The mass of uneducated men could not
now in England be told "go to, choose your rulers;" they would go wild;
their imaginations would fancy unreal dangers, and the attempt at
election would issue in some forcible usurpation. The incalculable
advantage of august institutions in a free state is, that they prevent
this collapse. The excitement of choosing our rulers is prevented by
the apparent existence of an unchosen ruler. The poorer and more
ignorant classes--those who would most feel excitement, who would most
be misled by excitement--really believe that the Queen governs. You
could not explain to them the recondite difference between "reigning"
and "governing"; the words necessary to express it do not exist in
their dialect; the ideas necessary to comprehend it do not exist in
their minds. The separation of principal power from principal station
is a refinement which they could not even conceive. They fancy they are
governed by an hereditary Queen, a Queen by the grace of God, when they
are really governed by a Cabinet and a Parliament--men like themselves,
chosen by themselves. The conspicuous dignity awakens the sentiment of
reverence, and men, often very undignified, seize the occasion to
govern by means of it.

Lastly. The third condition of all elective government is what I may
call RATIONALITY, by which I mean a power involving intelligence, but
yet distinct from it. A whole people electing its rulers must be able
to form a distinct conception of distant objects. Mostly, the
"divinity" that surrounds a king altogether prevents anything like a
steady conception of him. You fancy that the object of your loyalty is
as much elevated above you by intrinsic nature as he is by extrinsic
position; you deify him in sentiment, as once men deified him in
doctrine. This illusion has been and still is of incalculable benefit
to the human race. It prevents, indeed, men from choosing their rulers;
you cannot invest with that loyal illusion a man who was yesterday what
you are, who to-morrow may be so again, whom you chose to be what he
is. But though this superstition prevents the election of rulers, it
renders possible the existence of unelected rulers. Untaught people
fancy that their king, crowned with the holy crown, anointed with the
oil of Rheims, descended of the House of Plantagenet, is a different
sort of being from any one not descended of the Royal House--not
crowned--not anointed. They believe that there is ONE man whom by
mystic right they should obey; and therefore they do obey him. It is
only in later times, when the world is wider, its experience larger,
and its thought colder, that the plain rule of a palpably chosen ruler
is even possible.

These conditions narrowly restrict elective government. But the
prerequisites of a Cabinet government are rarer still; it demands not
only the conditions I have mentioned, but the possibility likewise of a
good legislature--a legislature competent to elect a sufficient
administration.

Now a competent legislature is very rare. ANY permanent legislature at
all, any constantly acting mechanism for enacting and repealing laws,
is, though it seems to us so natural, quite contrary to the inveterate
conceptions of mankind. The great majority of nations conceive of their
law, either as something Divinely given, and therefore unalterable, or
as a fundamental habit, inherited from the past to be transmitted to
the future. The English Parliament, of which the prominent functions
are now legislative, was not all so once. It was rather a PRESERVATIVE
body. The custom of the realm--the aboriginal transmitted law--the law
which was in the breast of the judges, could not be altered without the
consent of Parliament, and therefore everybody felt sure it would not
be altered except in grave, peculiar, and anomalous cases. The VALUED
use of Parliament was not half so much to alter the law, as to prevent
the laws being altered. And such too was its real use. In early
societies it matters much more that the law should be fixed than that
it should be good. Any law which the people of ignorant times enact is
sure to involve many misconceptions, and to cause many evils.
Perfection in legislation is not to be looked for, and is not, indeed,
much wanted in a rude, painful, confined life. But such an age covets
fixity. That men should enjoy the fruits of their labour, that the law
of property should be known, that the law of marriage should be known,
that the whole course of life should be kept in a calculable track is
the summum bonum of early ages, the first desire of semi-civilised
mankind. In that age men do not want to have their laws adapted, but to
have their laws steady. The passions are so powerful, force so eager,
the social bond so weak, that the august spectacle of an all but
unalterable law is necessary to preserve society. In the early stages
of human society all change is thought an evil. And MOST change is an
evil. The conditions of life are so simple and so unvarying that any
decent sort of rules suffice so long as men know what they are. Custom
is the first check on tyranny; that fixed routine of social life at
which modern innovations chafe, and by which modern improvement is
impeded, is the primitive check on base power. The perception of
political expediency has then hardly begun; the sense of abstract
justice is weak and vague; and a rigid adherence to the fixed mould of
transmitted usage is essential to an unmarred, unspoiled, unbroken life.

In such an age a legislature continuously sitting, always making laws,
always repealing laws, would have been both an anomaly and a nuisance.
But in the present state of the civilised part of the world such
difficulties are obsolete. There is a diffused desire in civilised
communities for an ADJUSTING legislation; for a legislation which
should adapt the inherited laws to the new wants of a world which now
changes every day. It has ceased to be necessary to maintain bad laws
because it is necessary to have some laws. Civilisation is robust
enough to bear the incision of legal improvements. But taking history
at large, the rarity of Cabinets is mostly due to the greater rarity of
continuous legislatures.

Other conditions, however, limit even at the present day the area of a
Cabinet government. It must be possible to have not only a legislature,
but to have a competent legislature--a legislature willing to elect and
willing to maintain an efficient executive. And this is no easy matter.
It is indeed true that we need not trouble ourselves to look for that
elaborate and complicated organisation which partially exists in the
House of Commons, and which is more fully and freely expanded in plans
for improving the House of Commons. We are not now concerned with
perfection or excellence; we seek only for simple fitness and bare
competency.

The conditions of fitness are two. First, you must get a good
legislature; and next, you must keep it good. And these are by no means
so nearly connected as might be thought at first sight. To keep a
legislature efficient, it must have a sufficient supply of substantial
business. If you employ the best set of men to do nearly nothing, they
will quarrel with each other about that nothing. Where great questions
end, little parties begin. And a very happy community, with few new
laws to make, few old bad laws to repeal, and but simple foreign
relations to adjust, has great difficulty in employing a legislature.
There is nothing for it to enact, and nothing for it to settle.
Accordingly, there is great danger that the legislature, being debarred
from all other kind of business, may take to quarrelling about its
elective business; that controversies as to Ministries may occupy all
its time, and yet that time be perniciously employed; that a constant
succession of feeble administrations, unable to govern and unfit to
govern, may be substituted for the proper result of Cabinet
government--a sufficient body of men long enough in power to evince
their sufficiency. The exact amount of non-elective business necessary
for a Parliament which is to elect the executive cannot, of course, be
formally stated. There are no numbers and no statistics in the theory
of constitutions. All we can say is, that a Parliament with little
business, which is to be as efficient as a Parliament with much
business, must be in all other respects much better. An indifferent
Parliament may be much improved by the steadying effect of grave
affairs; but a Parliament which has no such affairs must be
intrinsically excellent, or it will fail utterly.

But the difficulty of keeping a good legislature, is evidently
secondary to the difficulty of first getting it. There are two kinds of
nations which can elect a good Parliament. The first is a nation in
which the mass of the people are intelligent, and in which they are
comfortable. Where there is no honest poverty, where education is
diffused, and political intelligence is common, it is easy for the mass
of the people to elect a fair legislature. The idea is roughly realised
in the North American colonies of England, and in the whole free States
of the Union. In these countries there is no such thing as honest
poverty; physical comfort, such as the poor cannot imagine here, is
there easily attainable by healthy industry. Education is diffused
much, and is fast spreading, Ignorant emigrants from the Old World
often prize the intellectual advantages of which they are themselves
destitute, and are annoyed at their inferiority in a place where
rudimentary culture is so common. The greatest difficulty of such new
communities is commonly geographical. The population is mostly
scattered; and where population is sparse, discussion is difficult. But
in a country very large, as we reckon in Europe, a people really
intelligent, really educated, really comfortable, would soon form a
good opinion. No one can doubt that the New England States, if they
were a separate community, would have an education, a political
capacity, and an intelligence such as the numerical majority of no
people, equally numerous, has ever possessed. In a State of this sort,
where all the community is fit to choose a sufficient legislature, it
is possible, it is almost easy, to create that legislature. If the New
England States possessed a Cabinet government as a separate nation,
they would be as renowned in the world for political sagacity as they
now are for diffused happiness.

The structure of these communities is indeed based on the principle of
equality, and it is impossible that ANY such community can wholly
satisfy the severe requirements of a political theorist. In every old
community its primitive and guiding assumption is at war with truth. By
its theory all people are entitled to the same political power, and
they can only be so entitled on the ground that in politics they are
equally wise. But at the outset of an agricultural colony this
postulate is as near the truth as politics want. There are in such
communities no large properties, no great capitals, no refined
classes--every one is comfortable and homely, and no one is at all
more. Equality is not artificially established in a new colony; it
establishes itself. There is a story that among the first settlers in
Western Australia, some, who were rich, took out labourers at their own
expense, and also carriages to ride in. But soon they had to try if
they could live in the carriages. Before the masters' houses were
built, the labourers had gone off--they were building houses and
cultivating land for themselves, and the masters were left to sit in
their carriages. Whether this exact thing happened I do not know, but
this sort of thing has happened a thousand times. There has been a
whole series of attempts to transplant to the colonies a graduated
English society. But they have always failed at the first step. The
rude classes at the bottom felt that they were equal to or better than
the delicate classes at the top; they shifted for themselves, and left
the "gentle-folks" to shift for themselves; the base of the elaborate
pyramid spread abroad, and the apex tumbled in and perished. In the
early ages of an agricultural colony, whether you have political
democracy or not, social democracy you must have, for nature makes it,
and not you. But in time, wealth grows and inequality begins. A and his
children are industrious, and prosper; B and his children are idle, and
fail. If manufactures on a considerable scale are established--and most
young communities strive even by protection to establish them--the
tendency to inequality is intensified. The capitalist becomes a unit
with much, and his labourers a crowd with little. After generations of
education, too, there arise varieties of culture--there will be an
upper thousand, or ten thousand, of highly cultivated people in the
midst of a great nation of moderately educated people. In theory it is
desirable that this highest class of wealth and leisure should have an
influence far out of proportion to its mere number: a perfect
constitution would find for it a delicate expedient to make its fine
thought tell upon the surrounding cruder thought. But as the world
goes, when the whole of the population is as instructed and as
intelligent as in the case I am supposing, we need not care much about
this. Great communities have scarcely ever--never save for transient
moments--been ruled by their highest thought. And if we can get them
ruled by a decent capable thought, we may be well enough contented with
our work. We have done more than could be expected, though not all
which could be desired. At any rate, an isocratic polity--a polity
where every one votes, and where every one votes alike--is, in a
community of sound education and diffused intelligence, a conceivable
case of Cabinet government. It satisfies the essential condition; there
is a people able to elect, a Parliament able to choose.

But suppose the mass of the people are not able to elect--and this is
the case with the numerical majority of all but the rarest nations--how
is a Cabinet government to be then possible? It is only possible in
what I may venture to call DEFERENTIAL nations. It has been thought
strange, but there ARE nations in which the numerous unwiser part
wishes to be ruled by the less numerous wiser part. The numerical
majority--whether by custom or by choice, is immaterial--is ready, is
eager to delegate its power of choosing its ruler to a certain select
minority. It abdicates in favour of its elite, and consents to obey
whoever that elite may confide in. It acknowledges as its secondary
electors--as the choosers of its government--an educated minority, at
once competent and unresisted; it has a kind of loyalty to some
superior persons who are fit to choose a good government, and whom no
other class opposes. A nation in such a happy state as this has obvious
advantages for constructing a Cabinet government. It has the best
people to elect a legislature, and therefore it may fairly be expected
to choose a good legislature--a legislature competent to select a good
administration.

England is the type of deferential countries, and the manner in which
it is so, and has become so, is extremely curious. The middle
classes--the ordinary majority of educated men--are in the present day
the despotic power in England. "Public opinion," nowadays, "is the
opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus." It is NOT
the opinion of the aristocratical classes as such; or of the most
educated or refined classes as such; it is simply the opinion of the
ordinary mass of educated, but still commonplace mankind. If you look
at the mass of the constituencies, you will see that they are not very
interesting people; and perhaps if you look behind the scenes and see
the people who manipulate and work the constituencies, you will find
that these are yet more uninteresting. The English constitution in its
palpable form is this--the mass of the people yield obedience to a
select few; and when you see this select few, you perceive that though
not of the lowest class, nor of an unrespectable class, they are yet of
a heavy sensible class--the last people in the world to whom, if they
were drawn up in a row, an immense nation would ever give an exclusive
preference.

In fact, the mass of the English people yield a deference rather to
something else that to their rulers. They defer to what we may call the
THEATRICAL SHOW of society. A certain state passes before them; a
certain pomp of great men; a certain spectacle of beautiful women; a
wonderful scene of wealth and enjoyment is displayed, and they are
coerced by it. Their imagination is bowed down; they feel they are not
equal to the life which is revealed to them. Courts and aristocracies
have the great quality which rules the multitude, though philosophers
can see nothing in it--visibility. Courtiers can do what others cannot.
A common man may as well try to rival the actors on the stage in their
acting, as the aristocracy in THEIR acting. The higher world, as it
looks from without, is a stage on which the actors walk their parts
much better than the spectators can. This play is played in every
district. Every rustic feels that his house is not like my lord's
house; his life like my lord's life; his wife like my lady. The climax
of the play is the Queen: nobody supposes that their house is like the
court; their life like her life; her orders like their orders. There is
in England a certain charmed spectacle which imposes on the many, and
guides their fancies as it will. As a rustic on coming to London finds
himself in presence of a great show and vast exhibition of
inconceivable mechanical things, so by the structure of our society, he
finds himself face to face with a great exhibition of political things
which he could not have imagined, which he could not make--to which he
feels in himself scarcely anything analogous.

Philosophers may deride this superstition, but its results are
inestimable. By the spectacle of this august society, countless
ignorant men and women are induced to obey the few nominal
electors--the Ll0 borough renters, and the L50 county renters--who have
nothing imposing about them, nothing which would attract the eye or
fascinate the fancy. What impresses men is not mind, but the result of
mind. And the greatest of these results is this wonderful spectacle of
society, which is ever new, and yet ever the same; in which accidents
pass and essence remains; in which one generation dies and another
succeeds, as if they were birds in a cage, or animals in a menagerie;
of which it seems almost more than a metaphor to treat the parts as
limbs of a perpetual living thing, so silently do they seem to change,
so wonderfully and so perfectly does the conspicuous life of the new
year take the place of the conspicuous life of last year. The apparent
rulers of the English nation are like the most imposing personages of a
splendid procession: it is by them the mob are influenced; it is they
whom the spectators cheer. The real rulers are secreted in second-rate
carriages; no one cares for them or asks about them, but they are
obeyed implicitly and unconsciously by reason of the splendour of those
who eclipsed and preceded them.

It is quite true that this imaginative sentiment is supported by a
sensation of political satisfaction. It cannot be said that the mass of
the English people are well off. There are whole classes who have not a
conception of what the higher orders call comfort; who have not the
prerequisites of moral existence; who cannot lead the life that becomes
a man. But the most miserable of these classes do not impute their
misery to politics. If a political agitator were to lecture to the
peasants of Dorsetshire, and try to excite political dissatisfaction,
it is much more likely that he would be pelted than that he would
succeed. Of Parliament these miserable creatures know scarcely
anything; of the Cabinet they never heard. But they would say that,
"for all they have heard, the Queen is very good"; and rebelling
against the structure of society is to their minds rebelling against
the Queen, who rules that society, in whom all its most impressive
part--the part that they know--culminates. The mass of the English
people are politically contented as well as politically deferential.

A deferential community, even though its lowest classes are not
intelligent, is far more suited to a Cabinet government than any kind
of democratic country, because it is more suited to political
excellence. The highest classes can rule in it; and the highest classes
must, as such, have more political ability than the lower classes. A
life of labour, an incomplete education, a monotonous occupation, a
career in which the hands are used much and the judgment is used
little, cannot create as much flexible thought, as much applicable
intelligence, as a life of leisure, a long culture, a varied
experience, an existence by which the judgment is incessantly
exercised, and by which it may be incessantly improved. A country of
respectful poor, though far less happy than where there are no poor to
be respectful, is nevertheless far more fitted for the best government.
You can use the best classes of the respectful country; you can only
use the worst where every man thinks he is as good as every other.

It is evident that no difficulty can be greater than that of founding a
deferential nation. Respect is traditional; it is given not to what is
proved to be good, but to what is known to be old. Certain classes in
certain nations retain by common acceptance a marked political
preference, because they have always possessed it, and because they
inherit a sort of pomp which seems to make them worthy of it. But in a
new colony, in a community where merit MAY be equal, and where there
CANNOT be traditional marks of merit and fitness, it is obvious that a
political deference can be yielded to higher culture only upon proof,
first of its existence, and next of its political value. But it is
nearly impossible to give such a proof so as to satisfy persons of less
culture. In a future and better age of the world it may be effected;
but in this age the requisite premises scarcely exist; if the
discussion be effectually open, if the debate be fairly begun, it is
hardly possible to obtain a rational, an argumentative acquiescence in
the rule of the cultivated few. As yet the few rule by their hold, not
over the reason of the multitude, but over their imaginations, and
their habits; over their fancies as to distant things they do not know
at all, over their customs as to near things which they know very well.

A deferential community in which the bulk of the people are ignorant,
is therefore in a state of what is called in mechanics unstable
equilibrium. If the equilibrium is once disturbed there is no tendency
to return to it, but rather to depart from it. A cone balanced on its
point is in unstable equilibrium, for if you push it ever so little it
will depart farther and farther from its position and fall to the
earth. So in communities where the masses are ignorant but respectful,
if you once permit the ignorant class to begin to rule you may bid
farewell to deference for ever. Their demagogues will inculcate, their
newspapers will recount, that the rule of the existing dynasty (the
people) is better than the rule of the fallen dynasty (the
aristocracy). A people very rarely hears two sides of a subject in
which it is much interested; the popular organs take up the side which
is acceptable, and none but the popular organs in fact reach the
people. A people NEVER hears censure of itself. No one will tell it
that the educated minority whom it dethroned governed better or more
wisely than it governs. A democracy will never, save after an awful
catastrophe, return what has once been conceded to it, for to do so
would be to admit an inferiority in itself, of which, except by some
almost unbearable misfortune, it could never be convinced.



NO. IX.

ITS HISTORY, AND THE EFFECTS OF THAT HISTORY.--CONCLUSION.


A volume might seem wanted to say anything worth saying[12] on the
History of the English Constitution, and a great and new volume might
still be written on it, if a competent writer took it in hand. The
subject has never been treated by any one combining the lights of the
newest research and the lights of the most matured philosophy. Since
the masterly book of Hallam was written, both political thought and
historical knowledge have gained much, and we might have a treatise
applying our strengthened calculus to our augmented facts. I do not
pretend that I could write such a book, but there are a few salient
particulars which may be fitly brought together, both because of their
past interest and of their present importance.


[12] Since the first edition of this book was published several
valuable works have appeared, which, on many points, throw much light
on our early constitutional history, especially Mr. Stubbs' Select
Charters and other Illustrations of English Constitutional History,
from the Earliest Times to the Reign of Edward the First, Mr. Freeman's
lecture on "The Growth of the English Constitution," and the chapter on
the Anglo-Saxon Constitution in his History of the Norman Conquest: but
we have not yet a great and authoritative work on the whole subject
such as I wished for when I wrote the passage in the text, and as it is
most desirable that we should have.


There is a certain common polity, or germ of polity, which we find in
all the rude nations that have attained civilisation. These nations
seem to begin in what I may call a consultative and tentative
absolutism. The king of early days, in vigorous nations, was not
absolute as despots now are; there was then no standing army to repress
rebellion, no organised ESPIONAGE to spy out discontent, no skilled
bureaucracy to smooth the ruts of obedient life. The early king was
indeed consecrated by a religious sanction; he was essentially a man
apart, a man above others, divinely anointed or even God-begotten. But
in nations capable of freedom this religious domination was never
despotic. There was indeed no legal limit; the very words could not be
translated into the dialect of those times. The notion of law as we
have it--of a rule imposed by human authority, capable of being altered
by that authority, when it likes, and in fact, so altered
habitually--could not be conveyed to early nations, who regarded law
half as an invincible prescription, and half as a Divine revelation.
Law "came out of the king's mouth"; he gave it as Solomon gave
judgment--embedded in the particular case, and upon the authority of
Heaven as well as his own. A Divine limit to the Divine revealer was
impossible, and there was no other source of law. But though there was
no legal limit, there was a practical limit to subjection in (what may
be called) the pagan part of human nature--the inseparable obstinacy of
freemen. They NEVER would do exactly what they were told.

To early royalty, as Homer describes it in Greece and as we may well
imagine it elsewhere, there were always two adjuncts: one the "old
men," the men of weight, the council, the _boulé_, of which the king
asked advice, from the debates in which the king tried to learn what he
could do and what he ought to do. Besides this there was the _agorá_,
the purely listening assembly, as some have called it, but the
TENTATIVE assembly, as I think it might best be called. The king came
down to his assembled people in form to announce his will, but in
reality, speaking in very modern words, to "feel his way". He was
sacred, no doubt; and popular, very likely; still he was half like a
popular Premier speaking to a high-spirited chamber; there were limits
to his authority and power--limits which he would discover by trying
whether eager cheers received his mandate, or only hollow murmurs and a
thinking silence.

This polity is a good one for its era and its place, but there is a
fatal defect in it. The reverential associations upon which the
government is built are transmitted according to one law, and the
capacity needful to work the government is transmitted according to
another law. The popular homage clings to the line of god-descended
kings; it is transmitted by inheritance. But very soon that line comes
to a child or an idiot, or one by some defect or other incapable. Then
we find everywhere the truth of the old saying, that liberty thrives
under weak princes; then the listening assembly begins not only to
murmur, but to speak; then the grave council begins not so much to
suggest as to inculcate, not so much to advise as to enjoin.

Mr. Grote has told at length how out of these appendages of the
original kingdom the free States of Greece derived their origin, and
how they gradually grew--the oligarchical States expanding the council,
and the democratical expanding the assembly. The history has as many
varieties in detail as there were Greek cities, but the essence is the
same everywhere. The political characteristic of the early Greeks, and
of the early Romans, too, is that out of the tentacula of a monarchy
they developed the organs of a republic.

English history has been in substance the same, though its form is
different, and its growth far slower and longer. The scale was larger,
and the elements more various. A Greek city soon got rid of its kings,
for the political sacredness of the monarch would not bear the daily
inspection and constant criticism of an eager and talking multitude.
Everywhere in Greece the slave population--the most ignorant, and
therefore the most unsusceptible of intellectual influences--was struck
out of the account. But England began as a kingdom of considerable
size, inhabited by distinct races, none of them fit for prosaic
criticism, and all subject to the superstition of royalty. In early
England, too, royalty was much more than a superstition. A very strong
executive was needed to keep down a divided, an armed, and an impatient
country; and therefore the problem of political development was
delicate. A formed free government in a homogeneous nation may have a
strong executive; but during the transition state, while the republic
is in course of development and the monarchy in course of decay, the
executive is of necessity weak. The polity is divided, and its action
feeble and failing. The different orders of English people have
progressed, too, at different rates. The change in the state of the
higher classes since the Middle Ages is enormous, and it is all
improvement; but the lower have varied little, and many argue that in
some important respects they have got worse, even if in others they
have got better. The development of the English Constitution was of
necessity slow, because a quick one would have destroyed the executive
and killed the State, and because the most numerous classes, who
changed very little, were not prepared for any catastrophic change in
our institutions.

I cannot presume to speak of the time before the Conquest, and the
exact nature even of all Anglo-Norman institutions is perhaps dubious:
at least, in nearly all cases there have been many controversies.
Political zeal, whether Whig or Tory, has wanted to find a model in the
past; and the whole state of society being confused, the precedents
altering with the caprice of men and the chance of events, ingenious
advocacy has had a happy field. But all that I need speak of is quite
plain. There was a great "council" of the realm, to which the king
summoned the most considerable persons in England, the persons he most
wanted to advise him, and the persons whose tempers he was most anxious
to ascertain. Exactly who came to it at first is obscure and
unimportant. I need not distinguish between the "magnum concilium in
Parliament" and the "magnum concilium out of Parliament". Gradually the
principal assemblies summoned by the English sovereign took the precise
and definite form of Lords and Commons, as in their outside we now see
them. But their real nature was very different. The Parliament of
to-day is a ruling body; the mediaeval Parliament was, if I may so say,
an EXPRESSIVE body. Its function was to tell the executive--the
king--what the nation wished he should do; to some extent, to guide him
by new wisdom, and, to a very great extent, to guide him by new facts.
These facts were their own feelings, which were the feelings of the
people, because they were part and parcel of the people. From thence
the king learned, or had the means to learn, what the nation would
endure, and what it would not endure;--what he might do, and what he
might not do. If he much mistook this, there was a rebellion.

There are, as is well known, three great periods in the English
Constitution. The first of these is the ante-Tudor period. The English
Parliament then seemed to be gaining extraordinary strength and power.
The title to the Crown was uncertain; some monarchs were imbecile. Many
ambitious men wanted to "take the people into partnership". Certain
precedents of that time were cited with grave authority centuries
after, when the time of freedom had really arrived. But the causes of
this rapid growth soon produced an even more sudden decline. Confusion
fostered it, and confusion destroyed it. The structure of society then
was feudal; the towns were only an adjunct and a make-weight. The
principal popular force was an aristocratic force, acting with the
co-operation of the gentry and yeomanry, and resting on the loyal
fealty of sworn retainers. The head of this force, on whom its
efficiency depended, was the high nobility. But the high nobility
killed itself out. The great barons who adhered to the "Red Rose" or
the "White Rose," or who fluctuated from one to the other, became
poorer, fewer, and less potent every year. When the great struggle
ended at Bosworth, a large part of the greatest combatants were gone.
The restless, aspiring, rich barons, who made the civil war, were
broken by it. Henry VII. attained a kingdom in which there was a
Parliament to advise, but scarcely a Parliament to control.

The consultative government of the ante-Tudor period had little
resemblance to some of the modern governments which French philosophers
call by that name. The French Empire, I believe, calls itself so. But
its assemblies are symmetrical "shams". They are elected by a universal
suffrage, by the ballot, and in districts once marked out with an eye
to equality, and still retaining a look of equality. But our English
Parliaments were UNsymmetrical realities. They were elected anyhow; the
sheriff had a considerable licence in sending writs to boroughs, that
is, he could in part pick its constituencies; and in each borough there
was a rush and scramble for the franchise, so that the strongest local
party got it, whether few or many. But in England at that time there
was a great and distinct desire to know the opinion of the nation,
because there was a real and close necessity. The nation was wanted to
do something--to assist the sovereign in some war, to pay some old
debt, to contribute its force and aid in the critical conjuncture of
the time. It would not have suited the ante-Tudor kings to have had a
fictitious assembly; they would have lost their sole FEELER, their only
instrument for discovering national opinion. Nor could they have
manufactured such an assembly if they wished. The instrument in that
behalf is the centralised executive, and there was then no 'prefet' by
whom the opinion of a rural locality could be made to order, and
adjusted to suit the wishes of the capital. Looking at the mode of
election a theorist would say that these Parliaments were but "chance"
collections of influential Englishmen. There would be many corrections
and limitations to add to that statement if it were wanted to make it
accurate, but the statement itself hits exactly the principal
excellence of those Parliaments. If not "chance" collections of
Englishmen, they were "undesigned" collections; no administrations made
them or could make them. They were bona-fide counsellors, whose opinion
might be wise or unwise, but was anyhow of paramount importance,
because their co-operation was wanted for what was in hand.

Legislation as a positive power was very secondary in those old
Parliaments. I believe no statute at all, as far as we know, was passed
in the reign of Richard I., and all the ante-Tudor acts together would
look meagre enough to a modern Parliamentary agent who had to live by
them. But the negative action of Parliament upon the law was essential
to its whole idea, and ran through every part of its use. That the king
could not change what was then the almost sacred datum of the common
law, without seeing whether his nation liked it or not, was an
essential part of the "tentative" system. The king had to feel his way
in this exceptional, singular act, as those ages deemed original
legislation, as well as in lesser acts. The legislation was his at
last; he enacted after consulting his Lords and Commons; his was the
sacred mouth which gave holy firmness to the enactment; but he only
dared alter the rule regulating the common life of his people after
consulting those people; he would not have been obeyed if he had not,
by a rude age which did not fear civil war as we fear it now. Many most
important enactments of that period (and the fact is most
characteristic) are declaratory acts. They do not profess to enjoin by
inherent authority what the law shall in future be, but to state and
mark what the law is; they are declarations of immemorial custom, not
precepts of new duties. Even in the "Great Charter" the notion of new
enactments was secondary, it was a great mixture of old and new; it was
a sort of compact defining what was doubtful in floating custom, and
was re-enacted over and over again, as boundaries are perambulated once
a year, and rights and claims tending to desuetude thereby made patent
and cleared of new obstructions. In truth, such great "charters" were
rather treaties between different orders and factions, confirming
ancient rights, or what claimed to be such, than laws in our ordinary
sense. They were the "deeds of arrangement" of mediaeval society
affirmed and re-affirmed from time to time, and the principal
controversy was, of course, between the king and nation--the king
trying to see how far the nation would let him go, and the nation
murmuring and recalcitrating, and seeing how many acts of
administration they could prevent, and how many of its claims they
could resist.

Sir James Mackintosh says that Magna Charta "converted the right of
taxation into the shield of liberty," but it did nothing of the sort.
The liberty existed before, and the right to be taxed was an
efflorescence and instance of it, not a sub-stratum or a cause. The
necessity of consulting the great council of the realm before taxation,
the principle that the declaration of grievances by the Parliament was
to precede the grant of supplies to the sovereign, are but conspicuous
instances of the primitive doctrine of the ante-Tudor period, that the
king must consult the great council of the realm, before he did
anything, since he always wanted help. The right of self-taxation was
justly inserted in the "great treaty"; but it would have been a dead
letter, save for the armed force and aristocratic organisation which
compelled the king to make a treaty; it was a result, not a basis--an
example, not a cause.

The civil wars of many years killed out the old councils (if I might so
say): that is, destroyed three parts of the greater nobility, who were
its most potent members, tired the small nobility and the gentry, and
overthrew the aristocratic organisation on which all previous effectual
resistance to the sovereign had been based.

The second period of the British Constitution begins with the accession
of the House of Tudor, and goes down to 1688; it is in substance the
history of the growth, development, and gradually acquired supremacy of
the new great council. I have no room and no occasion to narrate again
the familiar history of the many steps by which the slavish Parliament
of Henry VIII. grew into the murmuring Parliament of Queen Elizabeth,
the mutinous Parliament of James I., and the rebellious Parliament of
Charles I. The steps were many, but the energy was one--the growth of
the English middle-class, using that word in its most inclusive sense,
and its animation under the influence of Protestantism. No one, I
think, can doubt that Lord Macaulay is right in saying that political
causes would not alone have then provoked such a resistance to the
sovereign unless propelled by religious theory. Of course the English
people went to and fro from Catholicism to Protestantism, and from
Protestantism to Catholicism (not to mention that the Protestantism was
of several shades and sects), just as the first Tudor kings and queens
wished. But that was in the pre-Puritan era. The mass of Englishmen
were in an undecided state, just as Hooper tells us his father
was--"Not believing in Protestantism, yet not disinclined to it".
Gradually, however, a strong Evangelic spirit (as we should now speak)
and a still stronger anti-Papal spirit entered into the middle sort of
Englishmen, and added to that force, fibre, and substance which they
have never wanted, an ideal warmth and fervour which they have almost
always wanted. Hence the saying that Cromwell founded the English
Constitution. Of course, in seeming, Cromwell's work died with him; his
dynasty was rejected, his republic cast aside; but the spirit which
culminated in him never sank again, never ceased to be a potent, though
often a latent and volcanic force in the country. Charles II. said that
he would never go again on his travels for anything or anybody; and he
well knew that though the men whom he met at Worcester might be dead,
still the spirit which warmed them was alive and young in others.

But the Cromwellian republic and the strict Puritan creed were utterly
hateful to most Englishmen. They were, if I may venture on saying so,
like the "Rouge" element in France and elsewhere--the sole
revolutionary force in the entire State, and were hated as such. That
force could do little of itself; indeed, its bare appearance tended to
frighten and alienate the moderate and dull as well as the refined and
reasoning classes. Alone it was impotent against the solid clay of the
English apathetic nature. But give this fiery element a body of
decent-looking earth; give it an excuse for breaking out on an
occasion, when the decent, the cultivated, and aristocratic classes
could join with it, and they would conquer by means of it, and it could
be disguised in their covering.

Such an excuse was found in 1688. James II., by incredible and
pertinacious folly, irritated not only the classes which had fought
AGAINST his father, but also those who had fought FOR his father. He
offended the Anglican classes as well as the Puritan classes; all the
Whig nobles, and half the Tory nobles, as well as the dissenting
bourgeois. The rule of Parliament was established by the concurrence of
the usual supporters of royalty with the usual opponents of it. But the
result was long weak. Our revolution has been called the minimum of a
revolution, because in law, at least, it only changed the dynasty, but
exactly on that account it was the greatest shock to the common
multitude, who see the dynasty but see nothing else. The support of the
main aristocracy held together the bulk of the deferential classes, but
it held them together imperfectly, uneasily, and unwillingly. Huge
masses of crude prejudice swayed hither and thither for many years. If
an able Stuart had with credible sincerity professed Protestantism
probably he might have overturned the House of Hanover. So strong was
inbred reverence for hereditary right, that until the accession of
George III. the English Government was always subject to the unceasing
attrition of a competitive sovereign.

This was the result of what I insist on tediously, but what is most
necessary to insist on, for it is a cardinal particular in the whole
topic. Many of the English people--the higher and more educated
portion--had come to comprehend the nature of constitutional
government, but the mass did not comprehend it. They looked to the
sovereign as the Government, and to the sovereign only. These were
carried forward by the magic of the aristocracy and principally by the
influence of the great Whig families with their adjuncts. Without that
aid reason or liberty would never have held them.

Though the rule of Parliament was definitely established in 1688, yet
the mode of exercising that rule has since changed. At first Parliament
did not know how to exercise it; the organisation of parties and the
appointment of Cabinets by parties grew up in the manner Macaulay has
described so well. Up to the latest period the sovereign was supposed,
to a most mischievous extent, to interfere in the choice of the persons
to be Ministers. When George III. finally became insane, in 1810, every
one believed that George IV., on assuming power as Prince Regent, would
turn out Mr. Perceval's Government and empower Lord Grey or Lord
Grenville, the Whig leaders, to form another. The Tory Ministry was
carrying on a successful war--a war of existence--against Napoleon; but
in the people's minds, the necessity at such an occasion for an
unchanged Government did not outweigh the fancy that George IV. was a
Whig. And a Whig it is true he had been before the French Revolution,
when he lived an indescribable life in St. James's Street with Mr. Fox.
But Lord Grey and Lord Grenville were rigid men, and had no immoral
sort of influence. What liberalism of opinion the Regent ever had was
frightened out of him (as of other people) by the Reign of Terror. He
felt, according to the saying of another monarch, that "he lived by
being a royalist". It soon appeared that he was most anxious to retain
Mr. Perceval, and that he was most eager to quarrel with the Whig
Lords. As we all know, he kept the Ministry whom he found in office;
but that it should have been thought he could then change them, is a
significant example how exceedingly modern our notions of the despotic
action of Parliament in fact are.

By the steps of the struggle thus rudely mentioned (and by others which
I have no room to speak of, nor need I), the change which in the Greek
cities was effected both in appearance and in fact, has been effected
in England, though in reality only, and not in outside. Here, too, the
appendages of a monarchy have been converted into the essence of a
republic; only here, because of a more numerous heterogeneous political
population, it is needful to keep the ancient show while we secretly
interpolate the new reality.

This long and curious history has left its trace on almost every part
of our present political condition; its effects lie at the root of many
of our most important controversies; and because these effects are not
rightly perceived, many of these controversies are misconceived.

One of the most curious peculiarities of the English people is its
dislike of the executive government. We are not in this respect "un
vrai peuple moderne," like the Americans. The Americans conceive of the
executive as one of their appointed agents; when it intervenes in
common life, it does so, they consider, in virtue of the mandate of the
sovereign people, and there is no invasion or dereliction of freedom in
that people interfering with itself. The French, the Swiss, and all
nations who breathe the full atmosphere of the nineteenth century,
think so too. The material necessities of this age require a strong
executive; a nation destitute of it cannot be clean, or healthy, or
vigorous, like a nation possessing it. By definition, a nation calling
itself free should have no jealousy of the executive, for freedom means
that the nation, the political part of the nation, wields the
executive. But our history has reversed the English feeling: our
freedom is the result of centuries of resistance, more or less legal,
or more or less illegal, more or less audacious, or more or less timid,
to the executive government. We have, accordingly, inherited the
traditions of conflict, and preserve them in the fulness of victory. We
look on State action, not as our own action, but as alien action; as an
imposed tyranny from without, not as the consummated result of our own
organised wishes. I remember at the census of 1851 hearing a very
sensible old lady say that the "liberties of England were at an end";
if Government might be thus inquisitorial, if they might ask who slept
in your house, or what your age was, what, she argued, might they not
ask and what might they not do?

The natural impulse of the English people is to resist authority. The
introduction of effectual policemen was not liked; I know people, old
people, I admit, who to this day consider them an infringement of
freedom, and an imitation of the gendarmes of France. If the original
policemen had been started with the present helmets, the result might
have been dubious; there might have been a cry of military tyranny, and
the inbred insubordination of the English people might have prevailed
over the very modern love of PERFECT peace and order. The old notion
that the Government is an extrinsic agency still rules our
imaginations, though it is no longer true, and though in calm and
intellectual moments we well know it is not. Nor is it merely our
history which produces this effect; we might get over that; but the
results of that history co-operate. Our double Government so acts: when
we want to point the antipathy to the executive, we refer to the
jealousy of the Crown, so deeply embedded in the very substance of
constitutional authority; so many people are loth to admit the Queen,
in spite of law and fact, to be the people's appointee and agent, that
it is a good rhetorical emphasis to speak of her prerogative as
something NON-popular, and therefore to be distrusted. By the very
nature of our government our executive cannot be liked and trusted as
the Swiss or the American is liked and trusted.

Out of the same history and the same results proceed our tolerance of
those "local authorities" which so puzzle many foreigners. In the
struggle with the Crown these local centres served as props and
fulcrums. In the early Parliaments it was the local bodies who sent
members to Parliament, the counties, and the boroughs; and in that way,
and because of THEIR free life, the Parliament was free too. If active
real bodies had not sent the representatives, they would have been
powerless. This is very much the reason why our old rights of suffrage
were so various; the Government let whatever people happened to be the
strongest in each town choose the members. They applied to the electing
bodies the test of "natural selection"; whatever set of people were
locally strong enough to elect, did so. Afterwards in the civil war,
many of the corporations, like that of London, were important bases of
resistance. The case of London is typical and remarkable. Probably, if
there is any body more than another which an educated Englishman
nowadays regards with little favour, it is the Corporation of London.
He connects it with hereditary abuses perfectly preserved, with large
revenues imperfectly accounted for, with a system which stops the
principal city government at an old archway, with the perpetuation of a
hundred detestable parishes, with the maintenance of a horde of
luxurious and useless bodies. For the want of all which makes Paris
nice and splendid we justly reproach the Corporation of London; for the
existence of much of what makes London mean and squalid we justly
reproach it too. Yet the Corporation of London was for centuries a
bulwark of English liberty. The conscious support of the near and
organised capital gave the Long Parliament a vigour and vitality which
they could have found nowhere else. Their leading patriots took refuge
in the City, and the nearest approach to an English "sitting in
permanence" is the committee at Guildhall, where all members "that came
were to have voices". Down to George III.'s time the City was a useful
centre of popular judgment. Here, as elsewhere, we have built into our
polity pieces of the scaffolding by which it was erected.

De Tocqueville indeed used to maintain that in this matter the English
were not merely historically excusable but likewise politically
judicious. He founded what may be called the culte of corporations. And
it was natural, that in France, where there is scarcely any power of
self-organisation in the people, where the prefet must be asked upon
every subject, and take the initiative in every movement, a solitary
thinker should be repelled from the exaggerations of which he knew the
evil, to the contrary exaggeration of which he did not. But in a
country like England where business is in the air, where we can
organise a vigilance committee on every abuse and an executive
committee for every remedy--as a matter of political instruction, which
was De Tocqueville's point--we need not care how much power is
delegated to outlying bodies, and how much is kept for the central
body. We have had the instruction municipalities could give us: we have
been through all that. Now we are quite grown up, and can put away
childish things.

The same causes account for the innumerable anomalies of our polity. I
own that I do not entirely sympathise with the horror of these
anomalies which haunts some of our best critics. It is natural that
those who by special and admirable culture have come to look at all
things upon the artistic side, should start back from these queer
peculiarities. But it is natural also that persons used to analyse
political institutions should look at these anomalies with a little
tenderness and a little interest. They MAY have something to teach us.
Political philosophy is still more imperfect; it has been framed from
observations taken upon regular specimens of politics and States; as to
these its teaching is most valuable. But we must ever remember that its
data are imperfect. The lessons are good where its primitive
assumptions hold, but may be false where those assumptions fail. A
philosophical politician regards a political anomaly as a scientific
physician regards a rare disease--it is to him an "interesting case".
There may still be instruction here, though we have worked out the
lessons of common cases. I cannot, therefore, join in the full cry
against anomalies; in my judgment it may quickly overrun the scent, and
so miss what we should be glad to find.

Subject to this saving remark, however, I not only admit, but maintain,
that our Constitution is full of curious oddities, which are impeding
and mischievous, and ought to be struck out. Our law very often reminds
one of those outskirts of cities where you cannot for a long time tell
how the streets come to wind about in so capricious and serpent-like a
manner. At last it strikes you that they grew up, house by house, on
the devious tracks of the old green lanes; and if you follow on to the
existing fields, you may often find the change half complete. Just so
the lines of our Constitution were framed in old eras of sparse
population, few wants, and simple habits; and we adhere in seeming to
their shape, though civilisation has come with its dangers,
complications, and enjoyments. These anomalies, in a hundred instances,
mark the old boundaries of a constitutional struggle. The casual line
was traced according to the strength of deceased combatants; succeeding
generations fought elsewhere; and the hesitating line of a half-drawn
battle was left to stand for a perpetual limit.

I do not count as an anomaly the existence of our double government,
with all its infinite accidents, though half the superficial
peculiarities that are often complained of arise out of it. The
co-existence of a Queen's seeming prerogative and a Downing Street's
real government is just suited to such a country as this, in such an
age as ours.[13]


[13] So well is our real government concealed, that if you tell a
cabman to drive to "Downing Street," he most likely will never have
heard of it, and will not in the least know where to take you. It is
only a "disguised republic".



[The End]





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