The English Constitution eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 346 pages of information about The English Constitution.

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.


“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.

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The English Constitution from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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