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in conceiving of a purely Parliamentary republic, of a monarchy minus the monarch, we must not think of it as much more. It is too singular in its nature and too peculiar in its accidents to be a guide to anything except itself.
In this essay I have made many remarks on the American constitution, in comparison with the English ; and as to the American constitution we have had a whole world of experience since I first wrote. My great object was to contrast the office of President as an executive officer and to compare it with that of a Prime Minister ; and I devoted much space to showing that in one principal respect the English system is by far the best. The English Premier being appointed by the selection, and being removable at the pleasure, of the preponderant Legislative Assembly, is sure to be able to rely on that assembly. If he wants legislation to aid his policy he can obtain that legislation ; he can carry out that policy. But the American President has no similar security. He is elected in one way, at one time, and Congress (no matter which House) is elected in another way, at another time. The two have nothing to bind them together, and in matter of fact, they continually disagree.
This was written in the time of Mr. Lincoln, when Congress, the President, and all the North were united as one man in the war against the South. There was then no patent instance of mere disunion. But between the time when the essays were first written in the “ Fortnightly,” and their subsequent junction into a book, Mr. Lincoln was assassinated, and Mr. Johnson, the VicePresident, became President, and so continued for nearly four years. At such a time the characteristic evils of the Presidential system were shown most conspicuously. The President and the Assembly, so far from being (as it is essential to good government that they should be) on terms of close union, were not on terms of common courtesy. So far from being capable of a continuous and concerted co-operation they were all the while trying to thwart one another. He had one plan for the pacification of the south and they another: they would have nothing to say to his plans, and he vetoed their plans as long as the Constitution permitted, and when they were, in spite of him, carried, he, as far as he could (and this was very much), embarrassed them in action. The quarrel in most countries would have gone beyond the law, and come to blows; even in America, the most law-loving of countries, it went as far as possible within the law. Mr. Johnson described the most popular branch of the legislaturethe House of Representatives—as a body “hanging on the verge of government;” and that House impeached him criminally, in the hope that in that way they might get rid of him civilly. Nothing could be so conclusive against the American Constitution, as a Constitution, as that incident. A hostile legislature and a hostile executive were so tied together, that the legislature tried, and tried in vain, to rid itself of the executive by accusing it of illegal practices. The legislature was so afraid of the President's legal power, that it unfairly accused him of acting beyond the law. And the blame thus cast on the American Constitution is so much praise to be given to the American political character. Few nations, perhaps scarcely any nation, could have borne such a trial so easily and so perfectly.
This was the most striking instance of disunion between the President and the Congress that has ever yet occurred, and which probably will ever occur. Probably for very many years the United States will have great and painful reason to remember, that at the moment of all their history, when it was most important to them to collect and concentrate all the strength and wisdom of their policy on the pacification of the South, that policy was divided by a strife in the last degree unseemly and degrading. But it will be for a competent historian hereafter to trace out this accurately and in detail; the time is yet too recent, and I cannot pretend that I know enough to do so. I cannot venture myself to draw the full lessons from these events ; I can only predict that when they are drawn, those lessons will be most important and most interesting
There is, however, one series of events which have happened in America since the beginning of the civil war, and since the first publication of these essays, on which I should wish to say something in detail—I mean the financial events. These lie within the scope of my peculiar studies, and it is comparatively easy to judge of them, since whatever may be the case with refined statistical reasoning, the great results of money matters speak to and interest all mankind. And every incident in this part of American financial history exemplifies the contrast between a Parliamentary and a Presidential Government.
The distinguishing quality of Parliamentary Government is, that in each stage of a public transaction there is a discussion ; that the public assist at this discussion; that it can, through Parliament, turn out an administration which is not doing as it likes, and can put in an administration which will do as it likes. But the characteristic of a Presidential Government is, in a multitude of cases, that there is no such discussion; that when there is a discussion the fate of Government does not turn upon it, and, therefore, the people do not attend to it; that upon the whole the administration itself is pretty much doing as it likes, and neglecting as it likes, subject always to the check that it must not too much offend the mass of the nation. The nation commonly does not attend, but if by gigantic blunders you make it attend, it will remember it and turn you out when its time comes; it will show you that your power is short, and so on the instant weaken
that power; it will make your present life in office unbearable and uncomfortable by the hundred modes in which a free people can, without ceasing, act upon the rulers which it elected yesterday, and will have to reject or re-elect to-morrow.
In finance the most striking effect in America has, on the first view of it, certainly been good. It has enabled the Government to obtain and to keep a vast surplus of revenue over expenditure. Even before the civil war it did this — from 1837 to 1857. Mr. Wells tells us that, strange as it may seem, “ There was not a single year in which the unexpended balance in the National Treasury-derived from various sources—at the end of the year, was not in excess of the total expenditure of the preceding year; while in not a few years the unexpended balance was absolutely greater than the sum of the entire expenditure of the twelve months preceding.” But this history before the war is nothing to what has happened since. The following are the surpluses of revenue over expenditure since the end of the civil war: