Page images
[ocr errors]

not combine legislative or executive with judicial
functions. We have county government of a sort and
town government of a good sort, as distinguished
from the general or Imperial Government. The Court
of Session and the House of Commons are distinct
bodies, and the Speaker of the House has wholly
different duties from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
But the existence in this country of an omnipotent
Parliament overrides all these distinctions. Through-
out the whole British Empire there is one determinate
body whose word is constitutionally supreme. That
body is Parliament, meaning thereby, in theory, the
Crown, Lords, and Commons, and in actual practice
and fact, for most things, the House of Commons alone.
Parliament habitually abstains from interference in
large portions of this Empire; it leaves many of the
Colonies to govern themselves; it leaves India to the
Governor-General and his clerks. But wherever and
whenever it speaks, its word is law. The self-govern-
ment of our municipalities is a gift from Parliament.
The wisdom of the judge is but the breath of Parliament.
The Ministry which carries on the imperial business
of the country exists but by the favour of Parliament.
In the United States there is no such sovereign assembly
or combination of assemblies. The President and the
two Houses of Congress have no such sovereign power
as the Queen, Lords, and Commons. The Government
of the United States is confronted in every single State
with the Government of that Sta Each
province, and within that province is independent of the

its own

other and excludes the other.

And in the government of the United States itself the two Houses of Congress have their own functions, and can control neither the executive nor the judges beyond the limits of the constitution. The President and his Cabinet are not at their mercy, as a British Ministry is at the mercy of the House of Commons. The judges of the United States are not compelled to accept the legislation of Congress as law; on the contrary, if such legislation is beyond the powers of the legislative body, the Supreme Court will declare it null and void, as the Supreme Courts here will annul and disallow an unauthorised bye-law of a railway company or a local corporation.

The nearest parallel in this country to the American system is the constitutional system prevailing in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. There you have a university with its colleges, but the university and the college has each its own functions and its own officers. The university is not co-extensive with the aggregate of colleges, because it includes halls which are not colleges, and individuals who do not own allegiance to hall or college. The colleges create the ruling power in the university, but they are not subject to it except in special matters. So the United States, as a political system, includes not only the States which · create the governing powers, but Territories which are not States, and Districts which are neither States nor Territories. There are thirty-eight States, eight Territories, and two Districts, if the recently acquired

Alaska may be so described. The District of Columbia, on which the capital city of Washington is built, is governed directly by Congress. The Territories, which inay be described as States in process of formation, have legislatures of their own, and practically full local self-government,-by delegation, however, from the United States as a whole.

The real units of the system are the separate States. They create the governing authorities of the United States. The Territories do not vote in a presidential election, and do not send senators or members to Congress. The thirty-eight States, by various methods of election, evolve the Federal Government. That Government, although on a larger scale, is organised on the same general plan as the Governments of the separate States. In the Federal Government you have the President and his executive, the two Houses of Congress, and the judges. In the State Government you have a presiding officer, known in different States by different names, generally as Governor, the two Houses of the Legislature, and the judiciary. In the Federal Government you have the Constitution of the United States and its amendments; in the State, you have the State Constitution, defining in each case, with more or less minuteness of detail, the powers and provinces of the different authorities. The large Central Government is thus a copy of the small State Government, and the resemblance is carried down to minor details. Thus the Upper House or Senate is distinguished by a longer term of office than the

Lower; the President or Governor has a veto on legislation; the judges are distributed into a Supreme Court, which sits mainly for appeals, and judges of first instance, each of whom has a circuit or district of his own.

The courts decide whether legislation is valid, and so on.

It would not be historically correct to say that the State Government is a copy of the Federal Government, because in a sense there were State Governments before there was a Federal Government. It is impossible for a British observer, however, to miss the parallel that State and Federal Government alike presents to the British constitution as it was a hundred years ago, and as it pretends under palpable disguises still to be. A hundred years ago we had a very different distribution of political power, although we still use the same names that were used then. There was more reality in the power of the Crown in those days, and the Upper House of Parliament was of more importance in the state than it is to-day. The founders of the American Republic revolted from the British crown, but not from the principles of the British constitution. So far as their materials and circumstances enabled them, they reproduced the regulations and safeguards, the checks and balances, that were believed to be the special virtue of that constitution. Instead of a hereditary monarch, they had an elective President; instead of a House of Peers, they had an elective Upper House. They adopted the essentials of the British system as it then existed, but in doing

[ocr errors]

so they inevitably introduced a condition which was wholly new, and to which the difference in the development of the two systems is largely due : they had to commit their constitution to writing. It was a treaty of union for one thing; but what is perhaps more important, it was a new creation. The British constitution, for the most part, exists only in practice and text-books of more or less authority, and in the course of a century it has grown to be a very different thing from the constitution as known to the American colonists. The great feature of that growth has been the overwhelming predominance of the Lower House, before which the separate powers of the Crown and the House of Lords have alike gone down. If there has been any change in the American Constitution it has been in a different direction. The executive in some respects is stronger,* and the Senate is stronger, than they were in the beginning. What we have had of a written constitution has never acquired any special sanctity. The treaty between England and Scotland, and the treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, couched as they are in the language of perpetual validity, have lapsed into the status of ordinary statutes. The Imperial Parliament which was created by them would certainly not scruple to deal with them as it pleased, and nobody, I should imagine, doubts its competence to do so.

The United States, then, is not only a Republic,

* The early Presidents were denied precedence by the Governor of New York.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »