The distinguishing characteristics of an imperial union are, that it consists of an aggregate of communities, one of which is dominant, and that the component communities have been brought into association, not by arrangement between themselves, but by colonization, cession, and by other means emanating from the resources or power of the dominant community.
The above-mentioned distinction between a Government having communities only for its subjects, and incapable of enforcing its orders by any other means than war, and a Government acting directly on individuals, must be constantly borne in mind, for in this lies the whole difference between a confederate and federal union; that is to say, between a confederacy which, in the case of the United States, lasted a few short years, and a federal union which, with the same people as subjects, has lasted nearly a century, and has stood the strain of the most terrible war of modern times.
The material features of the Constitution of the United States have been explained in a previous article. All that is necessary to call to mind here is, that the Government of the United States exercises a power of taxation throughout the whole Union by means of its own officers, and enforces its decrees through the medium of its own Courts. A Supreme Court has also been established, which has power to adjudicate on the constitutionality of all laws passed by the Legislature of the United States, or of any State, and to decide on all international questions.
Switzerland was till 1848 an example of a confederate union or league of semi-independent States, which, unlike other confederacies, had existed with partial interruptions for centuries. This unusual vitality is attributed by Mill to the circumstance that the confederate government felt its weakness so strongly that it hardly ever attempted to exercise any real authority. Its present government, finally settled in 1874, but based on fundamental laws passed in 1848, is a federal union formed on the pattern of the American Constitution. It consists of a federal assembly comprising two Chambers—the Upper Chamber composed of forty-four members chosen by the twenty-two cantons, two for each canton; the Lower consisting of 145 members chosen by direct election at the rate of one deputy for every 20,000 persons. The chief executive authority is deputed to a federal council consisting of seven members elected for three years by the federal assembly, and having at their head a president and vice-president, who are the first magistrates of the republic. There is also a federal tribunal, having similar functions to those of the supreme court of the United States of America, consisting of nine members elected for six years by the federal assembly.