« AnteriorContinuar »
specified, dated. Come what may, you can quicken nothing and can retard nothing. You have bespoken your government in advance; and whether it suits you or not, whether it works well or works ill, whether it is what you want or not, by law you must keep it. In a country of complex foreign relations, it would mostly happen that the first and most critical year of every war would be managed by a peace premier, and the first and most critical years of peace by a war premier. In each case the period of transition would be irrevocably governed by a man selected not for what he was to introduce, but what he was to change; for the policy he was to abandon, not for the policy he was to administer.
The whole history of the American Civil War - a history which has thrown an intense light on the working of a presidential government at the time when government is most important-is but a vast continuous commentary on these reflections. It would indeed be absurd to press against presidential government as such the singular defect by which VicePresident Johnson has become President, — by which a man elected to a sinecure is fixed in what is for the moment the most important administrative part in the political world. This defect, though most characteristic of the expectations * 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.
* The framers of the Constitution expected that the Vice-President would be elected by the Electoral College as the second wisest man in the country. The vice-presidentship 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. – B.
A conception —not perhaps in all respects a true, but a most vivid conception - 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 use of the Queen, in a dignified capacity, is incalculable : without her in England, the present English government would fail and pass away. Most people, when they read that the Queen walked on the slopes at Windsor, that the Prince of Wales went to the Derby, have imagined that too much thought and prominence were given to little things; but they have been in error, and it is nice to trace how the actions of a retired widow and an unemployed youth become of such importance.
The best reason why monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government : the mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other. It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations ; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations. The nature of a constitution, the action of an assembly, the play of parties, the unseen formation of a guiding opinion, are complex facts, difficult to know and easy to mistake; but the action of a single will, the fiat of a single mind, are easy ideas, - anybody can make them out, and no one can ever forget them. When you put before the mass of mankind the question, “Will you be governed by a king, or will you be governed by a constitution?" the inquiry comes out thus: “Will you be governed in a way you understand, or will you be governed in a way you do not understand ?” The issue was put to the French people: they were asked, “Will you be governed
by Louis Napoleon, or will you be governed by an assembly ?” The French people said, “We will be governed by the one man we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine."
The best mode of comprehending the nature of the two governments is to look at a country in which the two have within a comparatively short space of years succeeded each other.
“The political condition,” says Mr. Grote, “which Grecian legend everywhere presents to us, is in its principal features strikingly different from that which had become universally prevalent among the Greeks in the time of the Peloponnesian War. Historical oligarchy, as well as democracy, agreed in requiring a certain established system of government, comprising these three elements : specialized functions, temporary functionaries, and ultimate responsibility (under some form or other) to the mass of qualified citizens, - either a Senate or an Ecclesia, or both. There were, of course, many and capital distinctions between one government and another, in respect to the qualification of the citizen, the attributes and efficiency of the general assembly, the admissibility to power, etc. ; and men might often be dissatisfied with the way in which these questions were determined in their own city. But in the mind of every man, some determining rule or system - something like what in modern times is called a constitution - was indispensable to any government entitled to be called legitimate, or capable of creating in the mind of a Greek a feeling of moral obligation to obey it. The functionaries who exercised authority under it might be more or less competent or popular; but his personal feelings towards them were commonly lost in his attachment or aversion to the general system. If any energetic man could by audacity or craft break down the constitution, and render himself permanent ruler according to his own will and pleasure, even though he might govern well he could never inspire the people with any sentiment of duty towards him: his sceptre was illegitimate from the beginning, and even the taking of his life, far from being interdicted by that moral feeling which condemned the shedding of blood in other cases, was considered meritorious ; nor could he be mentioned in the language except by a (rípavvoc, despot) which branded him as an object of mingled fear and dislike.
“If we carry our eyes back from historical to legendary Greece, we find a picture the reverse of what has been here sketched. We discern a government in which there is little or no scheme or