The complete partisan spirit in which Home Rule has been treated is the more to be deplored as the subject is one which does not lend itself readily to the trivialities of party debates. It raises questions of principle, not of detail. It ascends at once into the highest region of politics. It is conversant with the great questions of constitutional and international law, and leads to an inquiry into the very nature of governments and the various modes in which communities of men are associated together either as simple or composite nations. To describe those modes in detail would be to give a history of the various despotic, monarchical, oligarchical, and democratic systems of government which have oppressed or made happy the children of men. Such a description is calculated to perplex and mislead from its very extent; not so an inquiry into the powers of government, and a classification of those powers. They are limited in extent, and, if we confine ourselves to English names and English necessities, we shall readily attain to an apprehension of the mode in which empires, nations, and political societies are bound together, at least in so far as such knowledge is required for the understanding of the nature of Imperial supremacy, and the mode in which Home Rule in Ireland is calculated to affect that supremacy.
The powers of government are divisible into two great classes—1. Imperial powers; 2. State powers, using “State” in the American sense of a political community subordinated to some other power, and not in the sense of an independent nation. The Imperial powers are in English law described as the prerogatives of the Crown, and consist in the main of the powers of making peace and war, of maintaining armies and fleets and regulating commerce, and making treaties with foreign nations. State powers are complete powers of local self-government, described in our colonial Constitutions as powers to make laws “for the peace, order, and good government of the Colony or State” in which such powers are to be exercised.
Intermediate between the Imperial and State powers are a class of powers required to prevent disputes and facilitate intercourse between the various parts of an empire or other composite system of States—for example, the coinage of money, and other regulations relating to the currency; the laws relating to copyright, or other exclusive rights to the use and profits of any works or inventions; and so forth. These powers may be described as quasi-Imperial powers.