« PreviousContinue »
fault that they have no great genius at their head. The few marvellous statesmen of the world are of necessity rare, and are not manufactured to order even by the bidding of an awful crisis. But it is a fault that they have not one or more possible parliamentary cabinets-several sets of trained men, with considerable abilities and known character, whose policy is decided, whose worth is tried, who have cast in their lot for years with certain ideas, whose names are respected in every household through Europe. In consequence of the unfortunate caution of their Constitution-makers, America has no such men; and Italy has them, or will soon have them; but after a political experience of seventy years the United States have none. They have existed during two generations as a democracy without ideals; and are likely to die now a democracy without champions.
It is, however, only fair to observe, that the American Constitution has one great excellence at this moment, not, indeed, as compared with the English Constitution, but as compared with that degraded imitation of it which exists, for example, in our Australian Colonies. In those governments the parliament is wholly unfit to choose an executive; it has not patriotism enough to give a decent stability to the government; there are “ministerial crises” once a week, and actual changes of administration once a month. The suffrage has been lowered to such a point among the refuse population of the gold colonies, that representative government is there a very dubious blessing, if not a certain and absolute curse. If such a parliament had met in such a crisis as the American Congress lately had to face, it is both possible and probable that no stable administration would have been formed at all. Every possible ministry would have been tried in succession; and every one would have been rejected in succession. We might have witnessed debates as aimless, as absurd, as unpractical in their tenor, as those of certain French Parliaments, without the culture and refinement which made the latter more tolerable, though it could not make them more wise.
The American Constitution has at least the merit of preventing this last extreme of political degradation. Having placed Mr. Lincoln, though certainly an unknown and probably an inferior man, in power, it has at least prevented his being superseded, or its being proposed that he should be superseded, by some other equally unknown and equally inferior man. The American Constitution probably necessitated the choice of some second-rate person for the first position at an awful crisis; but it has at least settled once for all who he should be; it has compelled a conclusive choice, which an Australian Constitution would not have done.
Constitution has put him the had to carry on of
But with this single item the aid which the American Constitution has given to Mr. Lincoln in his presidency begins and ends. It has put him there, and it has kept him there; but it has done no more. He has had to carry on the government with new subordinates; for at every change of the American President, all the officials, from the cabinet minister to the petty post-master, are changed. So far from giving him any special powers suitable to a civil war; it authoritatively declares that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed ; that it shall be illegal - to abridge the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble or to petition for a redress of grievance.” It does not permit the punishment of any person, or the confiscation of his property, except after satisfactory proof before a civil tribunal. Even now, at this early state of the civil contest, martial law has been declared in Missouri and habeus corpus suspended in Baltimore; the property (slave-property, certainly, but still legal property in America) of Secessionists has been confiscated; the liberty of speech is almost at an end; the liberty of the press has ceased to exist. These last are indeed infractions of the law, not by the administration, but by the mob; it is they, and not Mr. Lincoln, who have burnt printers' offices and proscribed dissentient individuals. But Mr. Lincoln and his ministers have broken, and have been obliged to break, the law on almost innumerable occasions, because that law provided no suitable procedure for the extreme contingency of a great civil war. The framers of the Constitution shrank naturally, and perhaps not unwisely, from providing against such an incalculable peril. They may have not unreasonably feared that they might augment the probability of such a calamity by recognising its possibility, even in order to provide against it. But their omission must have been grievously lamented by those who have had now to violate the law, for it inay hereafter expose them to imminent danger. The English Parliament, in such an emergency, could and would condone every well-intentioned and beneficial irregularity by an act of indemnity. But the American Congress cannot do so. Its powers are limited powers, defined by the letter of a document; and in that document there is nothing to authorise a bill of indemnity-nor, indeed, could there be consistently with the very nature of it. By its fundamental conception, the States should relinquish certain special powers to the Federal Government, and those powers only; if the Federal Government could pass a bill of indemnity for infractions of the law, it would have absolute power; it would be a generally sovereign body, like the King, Lords, and Commons of England; it would have over the States of America, and over their people, not a defined and limited superiority, but an uncontrolled and unlimited one. Mr. Lincoln is, therefore, in peril from the inseparable accidents of the office he holds; he is a President under a Constitution which could give him only defined powers, and he is in a position requiring indefinite powers; he has therefore had to take his life in his hand, and violate the law. At present, popular opinion approves of what he has done ; but the Republican party, of which he is the head, has many bitter enemies. If his announced aim should be successful, and he should reëstablish the Union, those enemies will be reinforced by the whole constitutional power of the whole South, bitterly hostile to their vanquisher, bitterly aggrieved at the means by which they have been vanquished. Against such a coalition of enemies it will be difficult to defend the illegal, the arbitrary, the impeachable acts (for such, in the eye of American law, they are) of which Mr. Lincoln has been guilty. We doubt much whether he can succeed in compelling the South to return to the Union; but if he should, he will have succeeded at his peril.
It is easy to sum up the results of this long discussion. We cannot regard the American Constitution with the deference and the admiration with which all Americans used to regard it, and with which many Northern Americans still regard it. We admit that it has been beneficial to the American Republic as a bond of union; it has prevented war, it has fostered commerce, it has made them a nation to be counted with. But it always contained the seeds of disunion. There is no chance of saving such a polity when many States wish to separate from it, for the simple reason that its whole action essentially depends on the voluntary union of all, or of nearly all, the States. So far from its being wonderful that the present rupture has happened now, it is rather wonderful that it did not happen long since. It is rather surprising that a Government, which in practice, though not in theory, is dependent on the precarious consent of many distinct bodies, should have lasted so long, than that it should break asunder now. We see, too, that the American Constitution was, in its very essence, framed upon an erroneous principle. Its wise founders wished to guard against the characteristic evils of democracy; but they relied for this purpose upon ingenious devices and superficial subtilties. They left the essence of the government unchanged; they left the sovereign people, sovereign still. As has been shown in detail, the effect has been calamitous. Their ingenuities have produced painful evils, and aggravated great dangers; but they have failed of their intended purpose,—they have neither refined the polity, nor restrained the people.
BOOKS OF THE QUARTER SUITABLE FOR READING
Memoirs to illustrate my own Time. By M. Guizot. Vol. IV. Bentley [Contains the negotiations concerning the intervention of France in
Spain, according to M. Guizot and his Ministry, and the Syrian quar
rel with England.] Irish History and Irish Character. By Goldwin Smith. J. H. and James Parker. [An admirable essay, of great graphic power, and showing a clear grasp
of liberal principles.] The Last Crusader; or, the Life and Times of Cardinal Julian, of the
House of Cesarini: an Historical Sketch. By Robert C. Jenkins,
[A learned, and on the whole impartial, though not very graphic, book.] Secret History of the Court of France under Louis XV. By Dr. Challice. Hurst and Blackett. [A foolish defence of Madame de Pompadour on the most extraordinary
pleas.] Henri IV. and Marie de Medici. By Martha Walker Freer. 2 vols. Hurst and Blackett.
[A respectable history, and no more.] Lives of the Bachelor Kings of England. By Agnes Strickland. Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.
[The principle of selection indicates sufficiently the nature of the work.] Pictures of Old England. By Dr. Pauli. Longmans.
[This is the sweepings-up of a good previous book,-a collection of
literary litter by a learned man, after executing a valuable work in which he was unable to use all his materials. It contains, however,
some fragments of interest.) Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, Lady Companion to the
Princess Charlotte. With Extracts from her Journals and Anecdote-Books. 2 vols. W. H. Allen and Co.
[An interesting recollection of Court life and gossip.] Scepticism: a Retrogressive Movement in Theology and Philosophy,
as contrasted with the Church of England, Catholic (at once) and
Books of the Quarter suitable for Reading-Societies. 495
Protestant, Stable and Progressive. Two Letters on points of present interest, addressed to the Rev. W. D. Bryan, M.A., Rector of Rodington, and the Hon. Colin Lindsay. By Lord Lindsay. Murray.
[An amiable and learned, but rather ineffectual, production. Lord
Lindsay wishes to engender conviction by showing the dangerous
tendencies of all views but his own,—a hopeless kind of task.] The Letters to the Seven Churches. By R. C. Trench, D.D. Parker,
Son, and Bourn. The Prison Chaplain : a Memoir of the Rev. John Clay, B.D., late
Chaplain of the Preston Gaol. By his Son, the Rev. Walter Lowe Clay, M.A. Macmillan and Co. [Containing the materials of a most interesting book in hopeless con
fusion,-interspersed with endless dissertation and digression.] Cavour: a Memoir. By Edward Dicey. Macmillan.
[An extremely manly and vigorous memoir.] Memoirs of Dr. Marshall Hall, M.D., F.R.S. By his Widow. Bentley.
[The memoir of a very good man and very remarkable physiologist,
spoilt by the wretched taste of strong affection.] Recollections of A. N. Welby Pugin. By Benjamin Ferrey. Stanford.
(Valuable and interesting.] A Saunter through the West End. By Leigh Hunt. Hurst and Blackett.
[One of Leigh Hunt's really characteristic books.] Court Life in Naples in our own Time. By the Author of “ La Cava.”
2 vols. Saunders and Otley. Lectures on the Science of Language. By Max Müller. Longmans.
[Reviewed in Article VI.] On Food. By Dr. Lankester. Hardwick.
[A very interesting book, popular without being shallow. The only ob
jectionable element is the very clap-trap illustrations, usually no illustrations at all. Thus, for the chapter on “fat, oil, &c.," we have
a picture of a prize-pig.] In the Track of the Garibaldians through Italy and Sicily. By Algernon Sidney Bicknell. Manwaring.
[A clever and lively book.] The Okavargo River: a Narrative of Travel, Exploration, and Adven
ture. By Charles John Andersson, Author of “ Lake Ngami.” With numerous Illustrations. Hurst and Blackett.
(Very interesting adventures.] The Oxonian in Iceland. By the Rev. F. Metcalfe. Longmans.
[A vivid description of Iceland.]