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Acts of Parliament and Judicial Decisions. 9
thenceforth unassailable in fact, but are treated as unassailable in every constitutional argument. The further expression of this popular character is to be found in those distinct legislative acts, proceeding from assemblies really or professedly representative, which purport to define the limits of some admitted constitutional usage, or apply such usages to the novel exigencies of an increasingly complicated state of society. The Reform Acts, the Acts for the prevention and easy detection of Bribery, and the Ballot Act, as well as all Acts for the amendment of Local and Municipal Government, are examples of this class. Less distinct, but quite as real, modifications of the Constitution proceeding from the same cause (that is, broad popular assent or desire) are to be found in progressive changes in the acknowledged limitations of the Royal Prerogative. This prerogative, which will be subjected to a closer analysis later on, has always defied circumscription by exact written language, though a comparison of the decisions of Courts of Justice might suffice to throw into a tolerably clear shape the nature and limits of that prerogative at any given moment, so far, and so far only, as disputed questions relating to the prerogative happen to have been matters of judicial controversy. When all these sources of the existing Constitution have been examined, and the results clearly tabulated, it will be found that there is an important residuum, which no reference to consecrated usage, judicial decisions, or written documents of any sort, public or private, can account for. Yet the existence of this so-called residuum is not only undoubted as a fact, but may be for the moment the most portentous and prolific of all facts. It is of little use to teach in every primer, and to reiterate on every platform, that by the English Constitution no free man can be imprisoned or put in jeopardy of his life except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the country to which he belongs, if the people are indolent enough to suspend, at the mere dictation, not to say suggestion, of the Executive, all the practical guarantees for this liberty, and to be indifferent to the non-existence of trial by jury anywhere except close at home, and even there to its indefinite restriction or mutilation. It is of little use to refer to the stern principles by which the English monarch and his advisers are controlled in the creation, maintenance, and management of a standing army, if the simplest plea of necessity alleged by the Executive without further explanation is accepted by the bulk of the people as a satisfactory justification of the most glaring violation of these principles.
Confining the retrospect, then, to the last fifty years, it is obvious that the more permanent and deeper sources of the English Constitution can hardly be matters of inquiry at all. The only variable topics which come to the surface in a period so limited, and which it is of the slightest permanent importance to investigate, are Acts of Parliament, judicial decisions, and the popular interpretation of acknowledged principles—including in the word 'popular' the most illustrious as well as the humblest elements of the national life. The materials for the inquiry are at once suggested by the nature and limits of the inquiry itself. The deliberately-expressed opinions of eminent statesmen belonging to all political parties, the casual manifestations of strong and decided public feeling, the comments of scientific writers of repute, and above all the reports of executive acts of all Organic Unity of the Constitution. In sorts, and of their reception by the Legislature and the public, form the main reservoirs of the information here searched for.
This enumeration of the quarters to which attention must be directed leads on to another remark which will form a fitting close to this introductory chapter. Whether the English Constitution is looked at throughout the whole length of its duration-say, from the first combination of Norman and early English elements-or only through a period sufficiently long to give true and fruitful results, it must be regarded as an organic whole, and not as a mere aggregate of distinct institutions and laws. If any metaphorical language were to be adopted (which is a very dangerous experiment in the case of politics—a study crowning all other studies, and therefore eminently sui generis), the parts of the English Constitution might be said to be connected together physiologically rather than chemically, and least of all mechanically. This topic has already been hinted at before, in speaking of the perils to which foreign copyists are liable in imitating detached English institutions. Some English institutions, such as the Royal Prerogative, the Cabinet, and the functions of the Houses of the Legislature, are so intertwined with the radical structure of the national political life that isolation of them in treatment would seem impossible. Yet it will be found in fact that writers, even of considerable authority, have been accustomed to treat one and another even of the most central institutions as if they either stood alone or might be combined without loss or gain with any other institutions whatsoever. Throughout this treatise the objects of all government in relation to public liberty and national progress will
be held to present a natural unity, round which all other institutions, however minute, will naturally gather, and . to which they will be both explicitly and implicitly referred.
But even this mode of describing the unity of the *English Constitution conveys a very inadequate idea of the real facts. It is not only a misleading mode of treatment to isolate any of the elements, and it is not only erroneous even to conceive of their independent existence, but the separation of one element from another, whether for discussion or thought, (unless this be done in the most provisional way, and with a besetting anxiety to guard against the characteristic dangers of the process), bides entirely out of sight the main facts which are the subject of inquiry. It matters little, for instance, what is the constitution or history of the House of Commons, if the origin and authority of the Executive Government and the force of local institutions are unknown quantities. It is even of small importance whether there is a monarch, or how the monarch is selected, or what are his reputed prerogatives, if the real centre of legislation and the avenues for the popular control of that legislation are left undetermined. Thus it is not merely a figurative conception of Samuel Taylor Coleridge that in every Constitution there is a central and germinating Idea, which must be known and grasped if the Constitution is to be understood at all, and apart from the presence and recognition of which all the distinct parts of the Consti. tution are a rude and mechanical framework. Of course, the term “idea' has suggestions derived from great systems of philosophy which may seem to remove the inquiry from the field of modern and practical politics;
Necessity of Treating the Subject as a whole. 13
and Coleridge is not a writer whose name would, in the apprehension of many, impart confidence in what purports to be a strict investigation of the most recent history. But so long as the inseparable oneness, or call it atomic indivisibility, of the English Constitution is thoroughly understood, it matters little by what imagery or metaphors the fact is represented or popularised.
According to the method of handling the whole subject to be here attempted, the grammatical necessity of treating one thing at a time must be deferred to, but the reader will not be in harmony with the writer, and will entirely misunderstand the general argument, if he fails to treat each portion of it as dependent for its value and truth on the value and truth of every other portion. The general scope of the argument will, in fact, only be appreciated when all the chapters are retrospectively regarded as a whole. The reader may take his choice as to the chapter he begins with, provided he bears in mind that the truth it professes to impart is substantial so far, and so far only, as is that set forth in all the remaining chapters.