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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 tbe 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. i r
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 perijs 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), hides 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 Constitution 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.
THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT.
Section L—Composition And Mutual Relations Of The Houses.
So far as the movements of the English Constitution are concerned, as distinguished from what may be called its permanent or statical elements, attention is naturally directed first to the two Houses of Parliament. The structural constituents of local government, as found in the Parish, the County, and even the Parliamentary substitutes for these found in the modern complication of Districts, form perhaps the most stable and characteristic portions of the Constitution; while the peculiar political and historical situation of the Monarch might seem to invite primary attention in virtue of its dignity. But while the apparent immobility of local institutions on the one hand, and of the monarchical office on the other, marks real though somewhat indefinite limits to the activity of the central Legislature, it is in the proceedings and self-determining action of that Legislature that organic changes in the Constitution, whether gradual or precipitate, must be looked for.
The question is at once raised, which, in discussing the Coronation Oath, Coleridge brought into such clear relief, and the increasing importance of which is disclosed