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postpone the popular will in the making and execution of laws. The statesmen to whom I refer did not, however, believe that the barriers erected by the framers of the Constitution to maintain its stability would prove sufficient for that purpose. Some of them were fully persuaded that the government of the United States was a "crazy hulk," which would go to pieces in the storms by which it would certainly be assailed.
The government of England had been tried through many generations. The people of England had, under it, enjoyed a degree of liberty and social well-being unknown elsewhere in the civilized world. The venerable fathers in question, therefore, declared the government by king, lords, and commons to be the best and wisest that had ever been known among men. They could not, of course, form their judgment of the American Constitution by its actual working, because it was of too recent origin. They knew the British Constitution historically and practically, but they could only reason theoretically concerning that of their own country. But now let us, after a lapse of one hundred years, apply to that question of the balance of power (which is conceded to be the conservative principle of both constitutions) the sure test of time and actual experience,
The argument of those who believed in the superior excellence of the British Constitution ran thus: Three elementary forms of government-monarchy, aristocracy, and democracyhave at various times prevailed among men. In the course of history all these forms of government have been tried and found wanting. But, it was contended, we have in the British Constitution all these elementary forms of government so combined with checks and balances as, in a large measure, to retain what is good and to neutralize what is evil in each of them. The balance of the British Constitution was the great argument in its favor. Monarchy was represented in the king, aristocracy in the House of Peers, and democracy in the House of Commons; and it was assumed that these co-ordinates formed checks upon the evil tendencies of each other, and produced a balance of power favorable to strength, order, liberty, and stability.
This ingenious theory of the British Constitution has been tried by the severe test of history, and what is the result?
The much-lauded balance of the British Constitution no longer exists. The House of Commons is now the British Government. The king and lords, spiritual and temporal, are but negative qualities, nominal factors, in the actual working of the British Constitution. The commons may well say, with Louis XIV., "We are the state." The House of Commons has, indeed, absorbed the law-executing as well as the law-making powers of the British Government; for what are the ministers of the crown but the agents of the commons, entirely subservient to their will. Whenever the ministers of the crown lose the confidence of the House of Commons, out they go, and the king, willing or unwilling, is compelled to name others who are in harmony with that house. Thus the government of England is vested in a single representative house without adequate checks or balances, with no enumeration or definition of its powers, and with no limit whatever to its sovereign authority.
The House of Commons is virtually the Parliament of England, and the power of Parliament is wholly unlimited. It has been satirically said that the British Parliament can do anything but make a man a woman or a woman a man. It can, in the exercise of its plenary legislative authority, establish a new dynasty, prescribe a new order of succession to the crown, disestablish the church, make an English pope of the king, confiscate property; nay, change the very form and structure of the government itself.
The British Government, while in form a monarchy, is in fact a representative republic. It is, as I shall presently show, in its practical working, far more republican than the government of the United States. The House of Commons acts in obedience to the popular will, and the other branches of the legislature respond submissively to the will of the commons. In no country, therefore, is public opinion more potential in the government of the state than it is in England. For nearly two hundred years no king of England has ventured to exercise the veto power; and the voice of the lords in resisting the will of the people, when decisively expressed in the lower house, is feeble almost to impotency. The lords, in obedience to the mighty voice of the people of England uttered in the House of Com
mons, habitually acquiesce in measures of legislation most repugnant to their convictions and interests.
We see in England to-day the reverse of what was exhibited in Rome under Augustus. The government of that emperor was a monarchy under the forms of a republic. By his cunning policy the venerated forms were kept up and maintained. The senate met as usual, with its accustomed solemnities, and exercised some of its ancient prerogatives. The consuls and other great magistrates of the republic were annually invested with the ensigns of office. Augustus sought to reconcile the people to his despotism by keeping the image of the ancient republic constantly before their eyes. In England, on the contrary, the venerable forms of the ancient monarchy are preserved, while in fact the government is a representative republic. As was the republic in Rome under Augustus, so is the monarchy in England under Victoria: an illusion hallowed in the popular mind by grand traditions and glorious memories of the past.
But why is the balance of the British Constitution a thing of the past? From what cause has it ceased to exist? Why is it that the king and lords, spiritual and temporal, are now rather subordinate than co-ordinate branches of the legis lature? Why has the conservative upper house no longer strength to arrest and repel the waves of popular opinion which beat upon it through the medium of the lower house? The reason is obvious. The two conservative orders are hereditary. They no longer represent any real power in the state. In a word, they have no constituency. Moreover, they are logically inconsistent with the accepted principle of popular rule, which lies at the basis of the English Constitution. On the other hand, the House of Commons has behind it the whole popular power of Great Britain-a constituency of thirty millions; and in these thirty millions of people dwells the real power of the state. The king and lords have no backing. They are like a thin line of battle with no second rank behind it, no reserves and supports to fall back upon. Conscious of weakness such a line is ever ready to waver and break into frag. ments in the presence of a determined adversary.
A free people like the English acquiesce in such legislative
functions as the lords once performed only so long as the popu lar opinion is such as to concede the right of the few to obstruct and defeat the will of the many. But in every state where discussion is free and unrestrained the constant tendency of popular thought is to democracy, or the absolute sovereignty of the people; and so irresistibly does this current of opinion sometimes run that it sweeps away in its course all barriers erected by experienced wisdom to check and mitigate or arrest the destructive flood tides of popular passion. And if institutions the most reasonable and salutary are often overborne by the resistless progress of democratic opinion, how feeble must be the resistance offered by mere artificial and conventional obstructions to the popular will, founded upon no better reason than immemorial usage. I repeat, that any arrangement of legislative functions in a popular government, by which a few men may, by mere hereditary right, obstruct and defeat the will of the whole people, must, to the popular mind, appear illogical and inconsistent; and such a constitution must, therefore, be subject to inherent weakness from the want of popular support. Shall a handful of men-a hundred or more hereditary legislators-have power, in a self-governing state, to stifle the voice of a whole people uttered in their representative assembly? Such is the question which must address itself continually to the popular mind in every free state. I say, therefore, that they who so highly extolled the hereditary balance of the British Constitution failed to see that it was characterized by inherent weakness. They did not appreciate the force of that inevitable progress of opinion by which all mere hereditary obstructions to the popular will were destined to be either neutralized or destroyed. That political philosophy which lost sight of the factor of progressive popular opinion was necessarily inadequate to the solution of the complex question of checks and balances involved in the discussion of the British Constitution.
It is a curious political phenomenon that our federal government is, under republican forms, more conservative and less democratic in its actual working than the government of Great Britain. With a fuller recognition of the theory of popular government in our system, the federal government is less exposed
to the fluctuations of popular opinion than that of the mother country. Nor is it difficult to explain this apparent paradox. Undoubtedly the authors of the federal Constitution framed that instrument largely upon the model of that of Great Britain. Thus they provided for two legislative bodies, with a complete negative upon each other; and they gave to the executive a qualified veto on the action of both houses. They sought to erect barriers, on the one side against the dreaded violence of popular prejudice and passion, and on the other against the apprehended tendency of executive encroachment upon popular liberty. In a word, they aimed to establish in our system the same balance which they supposed to exist in the British Constitution. But while in England all barriers have been prostrated before the power of the House of Commons, the balance of the American Constitution has been fully preserved. Thus our House of Representatives is not by any means the government of the United States. Neither the President nor the Senate habitually bends to the supposed voice of the people expressed, how vehemently soever, in the lower house of Congress. The President does not hesitate to use the veto. The Senate is, to all intents and purposes, not only a co-ordinate, but a coequal, branch of the legislature. We do not see the Senate bowing submissively, like the House of Lords, to the behests of the popular branch.
One reason of this political phenomenon doubtless is, that the ministers of the crown may, in obedience to the will of the commons, and with the compelled consent of the king, change the majority of the upper house by increasing its membership. It is needless to say that our House of Representatives has no such means-nor, indeed, any means whatever-of coercing the Senate to a compliance with what it assumes to be the will of the people. We do not see, in this country, the frequent spectacle of the whole executive administration changing front in obedience to the fluctuating will of the people as expressed in the lower house of Congress. On the contrary, we often find one political party, though dominant for years in the House of Representatives, completely checked and thwarted by their adversaries, by means of their control of the Senate; and we not seldom