The English Constitution eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 346 pages of information about The English Constitution.
the help of Victor Emmanuel:  neither the work of Cavour nor the work of Garibaldi were more necessary than his.  But the failure of Louis Philippe to use his reserve power as constitutional monarch is the most instructive proof how great that reserve power is.  In February, 1848, Guizot was weak because his tenure of office was insecure.  Louis Philippe should have made that tenure certain.  Parliamentary reform might afterwards have been conceded to instructed opinion, but nothing ought to have been conceded to the mob.  The Parisian populace ought to have been put down, as Guizot wished.  If Louis Philippe had been a fit king to introduce free government, he would have strengthened his Ministers when they were the instruments of order, even if he afterwards discarded them when order was safe, and policy could be discussed.  But he was one of the cautious men who are “noted” to fail in old age:  though of the largest experience and of great ability, he failed and lost his crown for want of petty and momentary energy, which at such a crisis a plain man would have at once put forth.

Such are the principal modes in which the institution of royalty by its august aspect influences mankind, and in the English state of civilisation they are invaluable.  Of the actual business of the sovereign—­the real work the Queen does—­I shall speak in my next paper.


The House of Commons has inquired into most things, but has never had a committee on “the Queen”.  There is no authentic blue-book to say what she does.  Such an investigation cannot take place; but if it could, it would probably save her much vexatious routine, and many toilsome and unnecessary hours.

The popular theory of the English Constitution involves two errors as to the sovereign.  First, in its oldest form at least, it considers him as an “Estate of the Realm,” a separate co-ordinate authority with the House of Lords and the House of Commons.  This and much else the sovereign once was, but this he is no longer.  That authority could only be exercised by a monarch with a legislative veto.  He should be able to reject bills, if not as the House of Commons rejects them, at least as the House of Peers rejects them.  But the Queen has no such veto.  She must sign her own death-warrant if the two Houses unanimously send it up to her.  It is a fiction of the past to ascribe to her legislative power.  She has long ceased to have any.  Secondly, the ancient theory holds that the Queen is the executive.  The American Constitution was made upon a most careful argument, and most of that argument assumes the king to be the administrator of the English Constitution, and an unhereditary substitute for him—­viz., a president—­to be peremptorily necessary.  Living across the Atlantic, and misled by accepted doctrines, the acute framers of the Federal Constitution, even after the keenest attention, did not perceive the Prime Minister

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The English Constitution from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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