Page images
PDF
EPUB

LOUIS.

majority, he can make a majority. This is a safety-valve of the truest kind. It enables the popular will—the will of which the executive is the exponent, the will of which it is the appointee—to carry out within the constitution desires and conceptions which one branch of the constitution dislikes and resists. It lets forth a dangerous accumulation of inhibited power, which might sweep this constitution before it, as like accumulations have often swept away like constitutions.

The regulator, as I venture to call it, of our single sovereignty is the power of dissolving the otherwise sovereign chamber confided to the Chief executive. The defects of the popular branch of a legislature as a sovereign have been expounded at length in a previous essay. Briefly, they may be summed up in three accusations.

First. Caprice is the commonest and most formidable vice of a choosing chamber. Wherever in our colonies parliamentary government is unsuccessful, or is alleged to be unsuccessful, this is the vice which first impairs it. The assembly cannot be induced to maintain any administration; it shifts its selection now from one minister to another minister, and in consequence there is no government at all. 1 Secondly. The very remedy for such caprice entails another evil. The only mode by which a cohesive majority and a lasting administration can be upheld in a Parliamentary government, is party organisation; but that organisation itself tends to aggravate party violence and party animosity. It is, in substance, subjecting the whole nation to the rule of a section of the nation, selected because of its speciality. Parliamentary government is, in its essence, a sectarian government, and is possible only when sects are cohesive.

Thirdly. A parliament, like every other sort of sovereign, has peculiar feelings, peculiar prejudices, peculiar interests; and it may pursue these in opposition to the desires, and even in opposition to the well-being of the nation. It has its selfishness as well as its caprice and its parties.

The mode in which the regulating wheel of our constitution produces its effect is plain. It does not impair the authority of Parliament as a species, but it impairs the power of the individual Parliament. It enables a particular person outside parliament to say, “You Members of Parliament are not doing your duty. You are gratifying caprice at the cost of the nation. You are indulging party spirit at the cost of the nation. You are helping yourself at the cost of the nation. I will see whether the nation approves what you are doing or not; I will appeal from Parliament No. 1 to Parliament No. 2."

By far the best way to appreciate this peculiar provision of our constitution is to trace it in action,—to see, as we saw before of the other powers of English royalty, how far it is dependent on the existence of an hereditary king, and how far it can be exercised by a premier whom Parliament elects. When we examine the nature of the particular person required to exercise the power, a vivid idea of that power is itself brought home to us.

First. As to the caprice of parliament in the choice of a premier, who is the best person to check it ? Clearly

the premier himself. He is the person most interested in maintaining his administration, and therefore the most likely person to use efficiently and dexterously the power by which it is to be maintained. The intervention of an extrinsic king occasions a difficulty. A capricious Parliament may always hope that his caprice may coincide with theirs. In the days when George III. assailed his governments, the premier was habitually deprived of his due authority. Intrigues were encouraged because it was always dubious whether the king-hated minister would be permitted to appeal from the intriguers, and always a chance that the conspiring monarch might appoint one of the conspirators to be premier in his room. The caprice of Parliament is better checked when the faculty of dissolution is intrusted to its appointee, than when it is set apart in an outlying and an alien authority.

But, on the contrary, the party zeal and the selfseeking of Parliament are best checked by an authority which has no connection with Parliament or dependence upon it-supposing that such authority is morally and intellectually equal to the performance of the intrusted function. The Prime Minister obviously being the nominee of a party majority is likely to share its feeling, and is sure to be obliged to say that he shares it. The actual contact with affairs is indeed likely to purify him from many prejudices, to tame him of many fanaticisms, to beat out of him many errors. The present Conservative Government contains more than one member who regards his party as intellectually benighted; who either

never speaks their peculiar dialect, or who speaks it condescendingly, and with an “aside;" who respects their accumulated prejudices as the “potential energies” on which he subsists, but who despises them while he lives by them. Years ago Mr. Disraeli called Sir Robert Peel's Ministry—the last Conservative Ministry that had real power-"an organised hypocrisy," so much did the ideas of its "head” differ from the sensations of its "tail.” Probably he now comprehends—if he did not always—that the air of Downing Street brings certain ideas to those who live there, and that the hard, compact prejudices of opposition are soon melted and mitigated in the great gulf stream of affairs. Lord Palmerston, too, was a typical example of a leader lulling, rather than arousing, assuaging rather than acerbating the minds of his followers. But though the composing effect of close difficulties will commonly make a premier cease to be an immoderate partisan, yet a partisan to some extent he must be, and a violent one he may be; and in that case he is not a good person to check the party. When the leading sect (so to speak) in Parliament is doing what the nation do not like, an instant appeal ought to be registered and Parliament ought to be dissolved. But a zealot of a premier will not appeal; he will follow his formulæ; he will believe he is doing good service when, perhaps, he is but pushing to unpopular consequences the narrow maxims of an inchoate theory. At such a minute a constitutional king such as Leopold the First was, and as Prince Albert might have been-is invaluable; he can and will prevent Parliament from hurting the nation.

Again, too, on the selfishness of Parliament an extrinsic check is clearly more efficient than an intrinsic. A premier who is made by Parliament may share the bad impulses of those who chose him; or, at any rate, he may have made “capital” out of them—he may have seemed to share them. The self-interests, the jobbing propensities of the assembly are sure indeed to be of very secondary interest to him. What he will care most for is the permanence, is the interest--whether corrupt or uncorrupt-of his own ministry. He will be disinclined to anything coarsely unpopular. In the order of nature, a new assembly must come before long, and he will be indisposed to shock the feelings of the electors from whom that assembly must emanate. But though the interest of the minister is inconsistent with appalling jobbery, he will be inclined to mitigated jobbery. He will temporise; he will try to give a seemly dress to unseemly matters : to do as much harm as will content the assembly, and yet not so much harm as will offend the nation. He will not shrink from becoming a particeps criminis ; he will but endeavour to dilute the crime. The intervention of an extrinsic, impartial, and capable authority-if such can be found—will undoubtedly restrain the covetousness as well as the factiousness of a choosing assembly.

But can such a head be found ? In one case I think it has been found. Our colonial governors are precisely Dei ex machina. They are always intelligent, for they have to live by a different trade; they are nearly sure to be impartial, for they come from the ends of the earth ;

« PreviousContinue »