The English Constitution eBook

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


The monarchy.


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The English Constitution from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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