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AND OTHER POLITICAL ESSAYS.
LATEST REVISED EDITION.
“THE English Constitution,” by Mr. Walter Bagehot, has already attracted some attention in this country, but it is a work that deserves to be much more widely and familiarly known. Its title, however, is so little suggestive of its real character, and is so certain to repel and mislead American readers, that, in bringing out a new and cheaper edition of it, at this time, some prefatory words may be useful for the correction of erroneous impressions.
It is well known that the term “ Constitution,” in its political sense, has very different significations in England and in this country. With us it means a written instrument, decreed at a certain time to be the supreme law of the land. Hence, when a book appears upon the American Constitution, if not a history of its adoption, it will probably be a commentary upon its meanings; that is, some kind of a law-treatise, dealing with the technical interpretations of a legal instrument. The English, on the contrary, have no such written document. By the national Constitution they mean their actual social and political order the whole body of laws, usages, and precedents, which have been inherited from former generations, and by which the practice of government is regulated. A work upon the English Constitution, therefore, brings us naturally to the direct consideration of the structure and practical working of English political institutions and social life.
The American Constitution was “framed” by a convention; the English Constitution is a growth of centuries. Books written upon the two Constitutions are, therefore,