Page images

by nearly every minister who had been at the head of affairs; that, if this practice had not been introduced under the prince who was placed upon the throne by the revolution of 1688, it had certainly grown to a kind of system in the hands of the statesmen by whom that revolution was effected, and had attained its greatest height under the first two princes of the house of Hanover; that it was freely and sometimes shamefully applied throughout the American war; and that, down to that day, no British statesman had had the sagacity to discover, and the virtue to adopt, a purer system of administration.' Whether this was a necessary vice of the English constitution; whether it was inherent or temporary; or whether it was only a stage in the development of parliamentary government, destined to pass away when the relations of the representative body to the people had become better settled, could not then be seen even in England. But to our ancestors, when framing their Constitution, it presented itself as a momentous fact; whose warning was not the

[merged small][ocr errors]

it originated under Charles II., and both admit that it was practised down to the close of the American war. (Hallam's Const, Hist., III. 255, 256, 351–356. Macaulay's Hist. of England, III. 541-549.) The latter, in a very masterly analysis of its origin and history, treats it as a local disease, incident to the growth of the English constitution. It must be confessed, that it had become chronic.

less powerful, because it came from the centre of institutions with which they had been most familiar, and from the country to which they traced their origin, - a country in which parliamentary government had had the fairest chances for success that the world had witnessed.

Yet it would not have been easy at that time, as it is not at the present, and as it may never be, to define with absolute precision the true limits which executive influence with the legislative body should not be suffered to pass. Still less is it easy to say that such influence ought not to exist at all;1 although it is not difficult to say that there are methods in which it should not be suffered to be exercised. The more elevated and more clear-sighted public morality of the present age, in England and in America, condemns with equal severity and equal justice both the giver and the receiver in every transaction that can be regarded as a purchase of votes upon particular measures or occasions, whatever may have been

1 I am quite aware of the danger of reasoning from the circumstances of one country to those of another, even in the case of England and the United States. But I avail myself, in support of the text, of the authority of a writer, whose high moral tone, and whose profound knowledge of the constitution on which he has written, unite to make it unnecessary that its history should be written again;-I mean, of course, Mr. Hallam. He pronounces it an extreme supposition, and not to be pretended, that Parliament was

ever "absolutely, and in all conceivable circumstances, under the control of the sovereign, whether through intimidation or corrupt subservience." "But," he adds, "as it would equally contradict notorious truth to assert that every vote has been disinterested and independent, the degree of influence which ought to be permitted, or which has at any time existed, becomes one of the most important subjects in our constitutional policy." (Const. Hist., III. 351.)


the consideration or motive of the bargain. whether that morality goes, or ought to go, farther, - whether it includes, or ought to include, in the same condemnation, every form of influence by which an administration can add extrinsic weight to the merits of its measures, is a question that admits of discussion.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

It may be said, assuming the good intentions of an administration, and the correctness of its policy and measures, that its policy and its measures should address themselves solely to the patriotism and sense of right of the members of the legislative department. But an ever active patriotism and a never failing sense of right are not always, if often, to be found; the members of a legislative body are men, with the imperfections, the failings, and the passions of men ; and if pure patriotism and right perceptions of duty are alone relied upon, they may, and sometimes inevitably will be, found wanting. On the other hand, it is just as true, that the persons composing every administration are mere men, and that it will not do to assume their wisdom and good intentions as the sole foundations on which to rest the public security, leaving them at liberty to use all the appliances that may be found effectual for gaining right ends, and overlooking the character of the means. One of the principal reasons for the establishment of different departments, in the class of governments to which ours belongs, is, that perfect virtue and unerring wisdom are not to be predicated of any man in any station. If they were, a simple despotism

would be the best and the only necessary form of government.

All correct reasoning on this subject, and all true construction of governments like ours, must commence with two propositions, one of which embraces a truth of political science, and the other a truth of general morals. The first is, that, while the different functions of government are to be distributed among different persons, and to be kept distinctly separated, in order that there may be both division of labor and checks against the abuse of power, it is occasionally necessary that some room should be allowed for supplying the want of wisdom or virtue in one department by the wisdom or virtue of another. In matters of government depending on mere discretion, unlimited confidence cannot with safety be placed anywhere. The other proposition is the very plain axiom in morals, that, while in all human transactions there may be bad means employed to effect a worthy object, the character of those means can never be altered, nor their use justified, by the

1 The position and functions of the judiciary, after proper measures have been taken to secure individual capacity and integrity, do admit and require what may be called absolute confidence. That is to say, their action is not only final and conclusive, but it is never legitimately open to the influence of any other department. The reason is, that their action does not proceed from individual discretion, but is regulated by the principles

of a moral science, whose existence is wholly independent of the will of the particular judge. Whereas the action of both the executive and the legislative departments, within the limits prescribed to it by the fundamental law, involves the exercise, to a wide extent, of mere individual discretion. The remedy for a failure in the judge to justify the confidence reposed in him is, therefore, only by impeachment.

character of the end. With these two propositions admitted, what is to be done is to discover that arrangement of the powers and relations of the different departments whose acts involve, more or less, the exercise of pure discretion, which will give the best effect to both of these truths; and as all government and all details of government, to be useful, must be practically adapted to the nature of man, it will be found that an approximation in practice to a perfect theory is all that can be attained.

Thus the general duties and powers of the legislative and the executive departments are capable of distinct separation. The one is to make, the other is to execute the laws. But execution of the laws of necessity involves administration, and administration makes it necessary that there should be an executive policy. To carry out that policy requires new laws; authority must be obtained to do acts not before authorized; and supplies must be perpetually renewed. The executive stands therefore in a close relation to the legislative department; - a relation which makes it necessary for the one to appeal frequently, and indeed constantly, to the discretion of the other. If the executive is left at liberty to purchase what it believes or alleges to be the right exercise of that discretion, by the inducements of money or office applied to a particular case, the rule of common morals is violated; conscience becomes false to duty, and corruption, having once entered the body politic, may be employed to effect bad ends as well as good. Nay, as bad ends will stand most in need

« EelmineJätka »