I propose to speak this evening of the nature and objects of government; and if the subject be one of less popular interest than those which have recently been treated of in this room, it cannot, I imagine, be wholly devoid of interest in a community where politics receive so large a share of public attention. Nor will it be one, perhaps, altogether without novelty; for although politics, as applied to our local concerns, are plentifully supplied, less often is the public attention called to those larger principles and more general objects, which are embraced in the term politics, and which apply equally to all countries and to every age.
I propose, then, to glance rapidly at the nature and origin of government; touching with equal rapidity on the chief features in its growth amongst men: I will then call your attention to some of the characteristics in the form which, it has assumed in the most civilised countries, and the modifications which that form has received in newly formed communities: and, lastly, I will refer to the work which yet remains for government to do, especially in relation to some of those social questions which the art of government has, as yet, failed to solve.
I will not dwell on the various opinions which have been expressed as to the origin of government, and the foundation on which its authority rests. That it is a necessity of our constitution as animal and intellectual beings, all will admit. Even prior to the needs which arise out of the tendency of man to aggregate himself into communities, the necessity of government is indicated by our physical organisation. The feebleness of the child—the long years during which it requires fostering and cherishing in order to support life—the unwisdom and inexperience of youth—these involve the government of the family by its elders as the fundamental structure of society. Hence, in the infancy of nations, we find all government partaking of the patriarchal type, and based on the organisation of the family. But the inequality between human beings, which is experienced at their entrance into life—the difference between the boy and the man—is perpetuated throughout their career by the differences between the powers of different individuals. One man is strong and courageous; another is feeble and timid. One man is gifted with wisdom and mental activity; another has less foresight and intelligence. Hence, no sooner do men come together into communities, than a difference of power displays itself, in the subordination of the wills of the weak to those of the strong. Strong, however, as a man may be, he is not so strong as the multitude; and in the earliest dawn of society it must have become obvious, that the recognition of some common authority, to restrain the aggressions of the strong upon the weak, would be for the mutual benefit of all. I gather, then, that all constituted authority—by which I mean all authority outside that derived from personal superiority of mind and body—is not of right, but is of the nature of a trust. The mutual relations of governor and governed are no doubt indicated, in the first instance, by the mental and physical differences between man and man; but if this were the only basis of authority, the result could be only perpetual conflict—a continual fight for the championship amongst the strong; absolute submission on the part of the weak. But constituted authority rests, not on the personal claim of any man to rule, but on the recognition of that claim by the multitude; that is, on the force of the consenting mass, who entrust the ruler with their aggregate might to be used for the common benefit.
In the history of government, then, the first phase, the original cell, as naturalists would call it, is the authority of the parent over his household; next, that of the patriarch over his family and descendants; and thence the office of chieftainship over a tribe, or cluster of families, filled by the man who, from age and wisdom, or from strength and courage, or any other qualities most suited to the circumstances of the time, was thought best fitted to be trusted with the supreme authority; and lastly, the chieftainship expanded into the throne, filled by the ruler of a whole race or nation, speaking the same language, acknowledging the same traditions, living under the same rule of customs and habits. At the very commencement, then, of all government, the element of popular consent, that is, of a form of the principle of popular election, appears to have existed; and, indeed, must, from the necessity of the case, have existed, coeval with and modifying the claims to rule arising out of personal superiority and patriarchal authority.
The next stage in the development of government is the appearance of the claim of hereditary right. The son of the chief naturally shared some part of the consideration and dignity of his father's station, and so the way was paved to his succession to power on his father's death. Reverence for departed greatness has ever exercised page 2 a large influence over the human race, and, in the vague superstitions of the old world, the heroes of one age became the demigods of another. The respect of a patriotic people for a hero whose name was associated with the past glories and triumphs of their race, was transmitted to his descendants from age to age, giving them, in the estimation of their fellow beings, a title to honor and a claim to power. Still it would not appear that the right of hereditary succession overrode, in early times, all other claims to rule. The respect for blood was ever united with that for personal superiority, and where power descended in a particular family, it was bestowed on that member of it who promised to wield it most successfully. I think we may gather this, not only from the fragments of ancient history, but from the practice of those nations at the present day, which still retain unimpaired the features of a primeval condition of society. Hereditary rank, as one element in government, is, then, undoubtedly presented to us at a very early stage of the world's history. It has been probably the most durable of all claims to power, and has extended, and still extends, over the greater part of the globe. But however in succeeding times it emancipated itself from all rivals, in the dawn of human society it was modified and limited by the voluntary assent and recognition of the governed, and by a form of the principle of popular election; for all respect for blood was sometimes set aside, in favor of the superior claims of prowess or wisdom on the part of men who had no hereditary title to rule. So universal a claim to authority amongst men must have had some deep seated root in their nature. In addition to the cause I have spoken of, we must take into account the indisputable fact, that particular physical and mental qualities are transmitted in the blood of particular races and families of men, passing from father to son, as they re-appear on the page of history in successive generations. As amongst animals, so amongst men, there are wide distinctions in races. The ancient Persian was a different man from the Greek; the Goth from the Roman; the Norman from the Saxon; and as these differences appeared between separate races, so, in each race, certain families were gifted with special powers and qualities which marked them out for rule over their fellow men. Those who regard all hereditary political power as an invasion of the rights of the mass, must still admit the fact, that it was no invention of man's ingenuity; it was not proposed and accepted as a scheme of government; it grew naturally out of the reverence for departed greatness, common to mankind, on the one hand, and on the other, out of the fact, that the same qualities which raised the ancestor to eminence, reappeared with more or less vigor in his descendants for many generations. Theories of government are not established by shutting our eyes to physical facts; and, as a fact, hereditary rank has been, and, taking all the nations of the earth in our survey, probably still is, the most powerful agent in the government of the world. When, however, hereditary power grows into a class or caste, the influence of the order shielding the unworthiness and incapacity of its members,—where the power remains, whilst the qualities which were its primary title have died out from the blood—where it comes in contact with the new governing power which the elevation of the mass calls into existence—then hereditary power becomes an active evil in the State. It has outlived its mission. Admitted that the primary idea of government is, that power is not a right, but a trust deposited in the hands of the ruler for the common weal; still Nature dictated to a certain extent in whose hands that power should be originally vested, and natural law still further decided who should be the depositaries of power, pending the development of the maturer capacity of the mass of mankind. The father of the family is a ruler appointed by Nature within a limited sphere. Admitted that beyond this power could only vest in those to whom society entrusted it; still, pending the time when men should become capable of the power of selecting their rulers, without convulsions destructive of society, natural law seems to have supplied the vacuum. In other words, in the infancy of society the great Chancery of Nature appointed the guardians, indicating by the patriarchal authority, by personal superiority, by the transmission of hereditary qualities, and by the homage of mankind to departed greatness looming through the mists of time, in whom the Government of the world should for long ages be vested.
But in whose hands soever power was placed, the right on the part of the people that it should be wielded for their benefit remained the same. We have now, however, to see the process by which this right was obscured and defeated. I have said that, in the rude organisation of early communities, the democratic element was to a certain extent apparent. The recognition by the multitude of the power of the chief was essential to his rule. But, in the growth of society, this popular influence seems to have died out. The functions of government in the savage state were necessarily as limited as its powers were feeble. The movements of the tribe, its wars and alliances with its neighbors, the struggles for the hunting grounds which supplied the necessaries of life—these were, for the most part, the objects to which the attention of Government was directed; and as all the warriors of the tribe took part in these movements, all had to some extent a voice in their adoption. But with the advance of society, wealth increased; men produced more than they consumed. Land, which in all primitive communities was the property only of the tribe in common, became divided amongst individual proprietors; and wealth showed a natural affinity for power. The savings of the weaker fell into the hands of the stronger. Power seized wealth, and cunning sold it, and with it they bought fresh power; and so wealth and power grew up in the hands of the few; work and oppression were the heritage of the many. The functions of government became enlarged and multiplied; and as the movements of the community were no longer directly aided by the mass of the population, the people lost the page 3 power to direct and control them. Power and wealth, mutually supported each other in the acquisition of fresh wealth and power, and so the earlier tradition of government being a trust, wholly died out; possession became the sole title to authority, and political power became a personal privilege, the property of the holder by indefeasible right. And at last, even in a late period of our own history, its possessors called to their aid the sanction of an obsolete Judaism, and claimed power as of a right divine.
You must not misunderstand me to say that this change in the nature of government went on uniformly over the world. Every nation has its separate growth and history; some many centuries in advance of others. Some indeed, such as the North American tribes, and that people by whom we are surrounded in this and the neighboring islands of the Pacific, are still in that primitive state in which history has not yet commenced. But in each nation which has evolved and has preserved a history at all, I think we may trace something like a regular decline in the spirit of freedom, which seems inseparable from the savage state, and was an inherent element in the primary idea of government; something like a steady growth of despotic power, vested in individuals, descending generally in the blood, and regarded as a personal right.
But it would, I think, be taking a narrow view of history, to regard despotism solely as a rapacious and unnecessary invasion of popular right. I have shown that it had its origin in the very nature of man; and although despotic power was abused and exaggerated by the ambition and rapacity of its possessors, until it overshadowed the world like a pall, not the less does it seem to have been a necessary phase through which society was compelled to pass, before it could emerge into that higher life, which is now dawning on some favored nations of the world, and which we may hope is destined, in the fulness of time, to embrace the globe. The government of a people is a true index of the character of its individual members; and liberty is incompatible with the lower stages of national life. If you take the young salmon fresh from the egg out of its native stream, and put it into the sea, it dies; and yet, a few months later, it will of its own accord seek the salt water, to gain from the ocean some unknown supply necessary to its further growth. So the liberty which is necessary to national life at a more advanced age, is destructive to it at an earlier epoch. It would seem that the despotic era must be passed through, before a nation can learn how to combine the absence of restraint on individuals, with their due subordination to the supreme authority,—how to hold in equilibrium the centrifugal and centripetal forces of society. Liberty cannot co-exist with a general necessity to enforce the law. The restraint which by a despotic Government is exercised over the individual, is, in a state of freedom, supplied in part by his own self-control. Thus, in our own more favored times, we see that the judgments of our courts are never enforced; they are simply obeyed. The growth of liberty, then, depends on the growth in the character of the individual members of society. The extent to which the arbitrary pressure of government can be removed, depends on the extent to which the restraint on individual action, necessary to maintain the integrity of the community, is habitually supplied by the moral control of each man over himself.
There is, however, another element in the history of government, as in the history of mankind in whatever aspect we view it, which must be fully recognised, if we endeavor to take a right view of the progress of the human race. I mean the influence of individual mind and will. I think it was Archdeacon Hare who said, that a nation never knew what a gift God bestowed upon them when he gave them a great poet. The same may be said of a great statesman. For the progress of man is not uniform. Sometimes for long ages a nation remains in the same state of stagnation, and then suddenly and rapidly quickens into life; as if the material elements alone were in existence, whilst the divine afflatus which breathes upon man the breath of life, then first moved over the stagnant waters of society. Again, we have the not unfrequent phenomenon of a nation retreating in the march of civilisation, falling back, as it were, into the senility of age; losing the inspiration which once nerved its arm to fight, and tuned its voice to sing. Those who admit that the progress of mankind is certain, however slow,—and if we do not believe this, what is all history to us but a dismal phantasmagoria—a battle of kites and crows?—those who believe in the elevation of mankind to loftier destinies than we can even yet realise, must still perceive, that the progress of our race is like that of the advancing tide; each wave alternately advances and recoils, and amidst the din and discord we are unable to measure from minute to minute any visible encroachment on the strand; but none the less surely does time reveal to us that the waters have enlarged their boundaries. It has been truly said, that the history of a race is written in the lives of its heroes. The epochs in which a nation has made the greatest strides towards a higher national life have been coeval with the working of some mighty master mind, some warrior, law-giver, philosopher, sage, or poet. In the story of the Jewish law-giver, we have a type of the history of every statesman; and every great movement of mankind has been associated with the name of some great man. Believing, however, in the growth of government and the development of society according to a regular process, I shrink from the philosophy recently revived, that the whole is no more than a lifeless mechanism, moving on by inexorable law. On the contrary, all history seems to me a record of successive new inspirations of divine life and truth, through the lips and lives of the world's heroes, giving new impulses to human thought and new power to human arms. And, on the other hand, most conspicuously is the fall of a people connected with the evil genius of its leading minds. Of this history teems with examples, nowhere more prominently than in the lives of the page 4 later Roman Emperors. We can take no better illustration of the influence of individual mind on a nation, than by comparing the lives of Peter the Great of Russia, and Louis the Great of France—two princes living at the same, and that no remote period; one of whom laid, amidst an inhospitable climate, a poor country, and a savage people, the foundations of a civilization which has ever since carried on the people of Russia in a rapid march of improvement which promises to place her amongst the most advanced of nations; while the other, wrapped in the pride of an effete despotism already verging to decay, exaggerated every corruption in government, and fostered every vice in society, until the ground on which the gaudy and gorgeous spectacle of the French Crown and nobility was erected rotted away under its feet.
I have shown how, with the growth of society, power and wealth, mutually supplementing each other, fell into the hands of the few; and how the earlier spirit of liberty became lost in the struggles of succeeding ages. All changes in government in more recent times may be regarded as efforts on the part of the people to restore those relations with their rulers, which had been one of the features of government in primitive times, sometimes by violent outbreak, sometimes by the more peaceful growth of rights on the part of the governed. But, whilst the direct responsibility of the ruler to the people, by popular election, was not for long ages to be attained—for, in times of continued strife it was not possible, nor, had it been possible, could it have effected much for mankind, with the elements for popular election which society then contained—numerous contrivances grew up in the course of time, for limiting and controlling despotic power in the exercise of its authority. The most important of these was the growth of law. Another, of scarcely less value, was the disintegration of government, by the growth of various subordinate institutions, which, though in a great measure themselves despotic, controlled and modified the despotism of the supreme authority. Such were minor chieftainships, the great Barons of the middle ages, the municipal governments of provinces, cities, countries, hundreds, parishes, and so on. Now, this disintegration of the supreme authority into subordinate parts is one of the most interesting features in the history of all government, because it was into these municipal institutions that the popular element first re-found its way. Excluded from the steps of the throne, it was nurtured in the town and the village, and so grew with the development of modern society, until its influence at last embraced the supreme power in the State. Another very effectual limitation on the arbitrary will of the Crown was the sub-division of the supreme authority, which was effected in our own country, and partially in others, into the three distinct branches of the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial power. No such distinction was preserved in early times. Our idea of a King of the olden time is of one sitting on his throne and doing judgment amongst his people. But, by degrees, judgments grew into precedents, and a traditional or common law was evoked out of successive exercises of the judicial power. The traditional rights of the governed grew up in opposition to the hereditary right of the ruler; and, as these became more complicated, the need was evident of having the law interpreted by those who had made it their special study; until, at last, the judicial authority emancipated itself wholly from the executive. Again, when once a body of law had been called into existence, the question arose—by what authority could it be changed? At first, laws were made by the King; then the consent of the principal subordinate powers in the State was found necessary, in order to enlist their aid in compelling obedience; and long before the will of the people at large had found a voice in Parliament, the legislative power had passed in a great measure to councils of the magnates of the realm. Finally, by the growth of Parliament, and the creation of a popular branch, the legislative power was entirely separated from the executive; and our constitution assumed that complicated form which it has retained for several ages;—the Crown being the supreme executive power, and also a part of the Legislature, to which it is, at the same time, responsible, through its Ministers, for the exercise both of its legislative and executive functions;—the judges appointed by the Crown, but irremovable except by the consent of all the estates; whilst both Crown and Parliament are amenable, through their officers, to the decisions of the judges, the moment they pass outside their constitutional and recognised prerogatives or privileges.
Now there are two distinct things to be done by government, in which it assumes two distinct characters. In the one it deals with the relations of private individuals with each other; in the other it deals with the interests of the State as a whole. In the one, it determines the conditions on which property shall be held and disposed of; it settles the right in case of dispute; it inquires into the truth of criminal charges; it deals, in short, with all matters in which conflict arises between subject and subject. In its political and executive character it guides the conduct of the State in its relations to other States; it disposes of the force necessary to maintain peace, and to enforce obedience to the law; it deals with the action of the community as a whole. Now, it is sufficiently obvious that, so far as the daily interests of men are concerned, the former work is of far more importance than the latter. Multitudes hardly perceive the difference of a change in the administration of the political Government of the country; but every one comes in contact with the law at every step of his career from the cradle to the grave. The law presides over his birth, records it in the national registers, and punishes its concealment as a crime; it attends at his marriage feast; it dictates the form of every engagement into which he can enter; it furnishes him with the means of disposing of his property on his decease, or disposes of it for him should he die intestate; and page 5 in order to protect his life, it inspects with jealous eyes his body after death. If we consider how, in a highly civilised community, we live and breathe in the midst of an atmosphere of law, none the less truly enwrapping us, that, like the material atmosphere, we do not always feel it, we shall perceive of how small importance in comparison is all political administration of public affairs; and of what vast moment it is to the happiness of a community, that the administration of the law shall be equitable and righteous. Now, experience has shown, that those who are struggling for, or in the possession of, or are striving to maintain themselves in, stations of political power, are not fit to be trusted with the administration of the law; the temptation of wresting it for purposes of private interest or ambition often becomes irresistible. The great canons of English liberty, that the laws are the same for all, that the same rules are applicable to the statesman and to the beggar, that the life of the greatest in the land is of no more consideration than the life of the least, that all action must be judged according to fixed law, not arbitrary will; all these maxims could have no practical meaning, unless the independent administration of the law were secured, by removing it altogether from the influence of those enjoying political power on the one side, and from the pressure of popular excitement on the other.
Now, it seems a prevalent idea in these days, that liberty depends solely upon the share which the people obtain of political power. Hence the enlargement of franchises, and the more complete subordination of the executive to the legislature, are spoken of as if they were the only guarantees for the preservation of liberty. But all that these things can do is, to render government more completely subservient to the will of the popular majority. That, no doubt, is for certain purposes desirable. But how does it protect personal liberty? A majority can be as intolerant and tyrannical as an individual; and more so, because the tyrant has a head to be chopped off if the worst comes to the worst, which the majority has not. The tyranny of an individual is the evil of past times in civilised nations; at the present day, of still semi-barbarous people. But, in free countries, there is increasing danger of the tyranny of the majority of the hour. An act is not less unjust when done by a multitude than when done by one. Liberty is equally destroyed if stabbed by a monarch, or trampled under the feet of a mob. Hence in the struggles for liberty in past times, it was not sought merely to render government popular, to substitute representative authority for hereditary right, to subordinate the will of the one to that of the many; it was found necessary to surround power, no matter in whose hands it might be, with a network of contrivances for its just use, amongst which we have had this handed down to us as the surest guarantee for personal liberty, the entire exclusion of those whose duty it is to administer the law, from all political power, and their independence of those in whose hands the Executive Government is placed. And they are but shallow politicians who fancy that, because the representatives of the political majority of the day have become the depositaries of political power, the guarantees against its unlawful use which have been handed down to us from the past, may be safely removed. I venture to speak thus, because there is a school of politicians who, in the eager desire for further improvement, and perhaps in a somewhat overstrained admiration for their own age, regard too lightly what we have received from the past. Let us not mistake forms for principles; and, rudely as we sweep away the technicalities and contrivances of a past age, whenever they stand in the way of substantial improvements in the political machine, at least let us endeavor to understand the great principles of the structure we propose to improve. I think no one can have watched the working of the democratic Governments, established in most of the British colonies, without perceiving a tendency to rely too largely upon the powers of the Executive Government, under the impression that, because it represents the majority of the hour, the ancient restraints upon the authority of the Executive may be safely set aside. And, if I regard with some apprehension the results of this doctrine, it is from no pedantic regard for antique forms, but because it seems to me to tend towards a resumption by the supreme authority of those various powers of Government, the distribution of which in separate and independent depositaries, was, and ever will be, the surest if not the only real guarantee for personal liberty.
I have spoken of one great feature of modern government—the reign of law, and its administration by an authority independent of the executive and legislative powers.
I turn now to speak of those two latter parts of government, especially of the difference in the types which they have assumed in Europe and in America. The European type is constructed partly on the principle of hereditary right, partly on that of popular election; these two principles as well as the control of one over the other, predominating in very different degrees in different countries. Omitting France, whose government is still in an unsettled state, the popular element may be said to be stronger in England than in any country of Europe. In England two of the branches of the legislature are constructed on the basis of ancient hereditary right; the House of Commons alone on that of election. But the influence of the latter element is gradually increasing, the former is on the decline; and that, not by any actual change in the constitutional law, but by custom and usage, which, in the lapse of time, modifies all institutions which, like the constitution of England, have no written form, but are based on ancient tradition. The power of the Crown has visibly decreased from the time when kings took an active personal part in the conduct of government, until the present day when it has been almost entirely vested in the Ministers. It is curious to look back to a time, even so recent as that of George III, and to observe how large an influence the King exercised over the political movements of the day, to an extent page 6 which would not now be tolerated without serious opposition and dangerous disturbance of the Government: indeed many prerogatives still attach to the Crown at law which have fallen into disuse and could not again be revived. Equally great is the change which has passed over the House of Lords, a body whose power was, in some respects, superior to that of the Lower House. Still retaining its ancient hereditary form, the modifications in the practical working of the constitution are giving this chamber more of an elective character. Only a small part of the Peers now represent those ancient families which were formerly the depositaries of political power. The constant creation of fresh Peers from amongst successful soldiers, lawyers, and men of wealth and learning, has separated the peerage in a great measure from the old aristocracy, whose blood flows quite as much amongst the country families as amongst the titled nobility. The power of creating fresh Peers is exercised by the Ministers, that is by the representatives of the majority of the nation; and as each party successively attains a tenure of power, the ranks of the peerage are pretty evenly recruited from the political sections into which the country is divided. Virtually, therefore, the English House of Peers is a body indirectly elected for very long, instead of very short periods. An attempt was made a few years ago to introduce a great change into the constitution of the House of Lords by the creation of a Peer for life. It failed through the opposition of the Peers, and Lord Wenessleydale was created in the usual form with succession to his heirs male, of which, however, his lordship had none. But it is evident that the creation of life peerages would greatly alter the character of the order, rendering the falling in of titles far more frequent, and giving the assembly still more nearly an elective character.
The other type of free Government, of which I spoke, is that adopted in the United States; and when we consider the circumstances under which their Government was established, it is rather a matter of surprise how little alteration was made in the form which they naturally adopted as a model. The whole existing English laws remained unchanged. The constitutions of the several States under their charters were in a great measure retained, some of them almost without material alteration, for fifty years after the independence. The hereditary character of the Crown and the House of Lords was necessarily exchanged for corresponding elective institutions; and the principle of election was applied to the Governors of those States who had theretofore been appointed by the Crown. In the course of time the same principle has been applied to many offices, which in England are filled by nominees of the Crown. And I may say, in passing, that however objectionable it may seem that many of these offices should be filled by popular election, there is less danger to public liberty, and perhaps a fairer chance of good appointments, than when the patronage is placed in the hands of an officer, himself chosen by popular election, and compelled to use his patronage for the purpose of rewarding partizans or securing political support. Even in the case of Judges, it is doubtful whether the object sought by the English system is not more nearly attained by election, than by nomination by an elected officer. We have then these two types of Government, each having certain advantages and disadvantages to which I will for a moment allude.
In England the political government of the country is conducted nominally by the Crown, really by Ministers, who are responsible, ultimately in life and fortune, primarily in loss of office, to Parliament. The Ministers therefore sit in Parliament. In America the Government is conducted by the President, who is not responsible to Parliament, and hardly, it may be said, even to the people, unless he stands for re-election. He is only amenable to the law, upon impeachment, for its direct violation; and his Ministers, who are responsible solely to him, do not sit in Parliament. The great advantage of the English system lies in the security which it affords for the conduct of affairs being entrusted only to men of tried ability. No man can rise to power under our Parliamentary system without long years of patient labor—without the display of more than ordinary capacity in an assembly in which success is peculiarly difficult, and without having held subordinate offices, and undergone considerable training in the public service. On the whole the best men do rise to the top in England. But if many writers, American as well as English, are to be believed, this is far from the case in America. The Americans as a people are, no doubt, far better informed than any other, as to the character and capabilities of their public men; but still the means within reach of the public of measuring and testing the administrative capacity of men, are very insufficient, far less, at all events, than those of an assembly which has watched the progress of what may be called a competitive examination for office extending over many years.
On the other hand the disadvantage of the English system is that it reduces government to the limits of party; it cripples independent thought and action, and leaves less scope for individual views, compelling all to follow one or other of the great political factions into which the State is divided. Thus it necessarily and constantly happens that men have to vote contrary to their convictions, because they have to choose between the lesser evil of supporting a measure they dislike, or the greater evil of turning out a Government with which they ordinarily agree. Hence this system of Government by party sometimes works out into a temporary tyranny by the Executive, by which measures are passed opposed to the wish of the real majority of Parliament and the nation. On the other hand, as to measures proposed by independent members, the Ministers are to a certain extent compelled to regard them, not altogether in reference to their real merits, but more or less as they may be likely to affect the stability of the Government and the votes of its supporters. Now, the American system is free from this inconvenience. There is there no parliamentary struggle for office, because there is no page 7 office to struggle for. The President once elected, and his Ministers and officers appointed, their position cannot be disturbed until his term, is out. The struggles of party are as keen in the republic as in the monarchy, and they are fought out on the hustings, and in Parliament, at the elections, and upon particular measures; but they do not affect the position or authority of the Executive Government.
Let us see now how these forms of Government have been applied, and with what modification, to colonies of the parent states. In the English colonies, the constitutions recently given, are presumed to be on the English model, adapted to the circumstances of new countries. The hereditary element, however, has no place, except in the nominal sovereignty of the Queen. The Upper Houses are either elected, as in America, although their constitution is by no means of so conservative a character as that of the American Senate, or, as in this colony, they are nominated by the Ministry of the day for life. Even in the nominated Chambers, however, the Upper House has never become like the Peers of England, a distinct order; for men sit sometimes in one House by nomination, sometimes in the other by election, as political convenience dictates. The peculiar feature in all our colonies is in the link which unites their Government to that of the mother country—that is the Representative of the Crown; and I do not think that any previous example has occurred in the history of government, of so anomalous a position. Being the servant of the Crown, he is subject to the orders of the advisers of the Crown in England, and he has at the same time to act by the advice of another set of advisers of the Crown in the colony. But the Ministers at different sides of the world do not always agree: so that the Governor has to select between instructions on the one side, and advice on the other. A line has, I know, been drawn in theory, between Imperial and local concerns; but this line is in the breast of the Colonial Office; it is not settled by any constitutional law or usage; and it will not unlikely be assumed to be very different, when viewed from different sides of the world. Notwithstanding, then, all the ability, tact, and skill, which these servants of the Crown display in the discharge of such delicate duties, I cannot persuade myself that a form of Government containing such an element of conflict, is destined to be durable. Now when it is considered that these new Governments have been tried but a short time, for the oldest has hardly seen twenty-five years, it is worth while pausing a moment to consider the prospects of their success.
This experiment in government has, so far as I know, no example in the history of the world. The first great period of colonisation was that of the Phœnecian and the Greek; but the colonies formed by these races were entirely independent states, bound to the parent state by no ties of government, and by no affinity other than that of a common race, language, and religion; which however were frequently unavailing to prevent hostilities between the parent and the child. The next great epoch, that of Roman colonisation, was one of conquest; and the government was strictly central. The independence of the Roman colonies or provinces was only coeval with the destruction of the empire. The colonies of the Middle Ages, the Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portugese, colonies were all governed more or less directly from the mother country, and were always managed for the benefit of the home Government, and were regarded as a legitimate source of revenue. The English colonies stood alone, I believe, in the extent to which local powers of government were delegated to the colonists. These governments were peculiar in form, arising from the fact that the colonies were mostly formed by companies or individuals to whom proprietary rights, and many of the functions of government, were conceded by charter. Practically, the government, by what Edmund Burke called “a wise and salutary neglect,” fell into the hands of the colonists; and then, for the first time, the result of the attempt to govern outlying portions of the empire by means of independent or nearly independent local governments, became apparent. At the first practical attempt to enforce obedience to the home Government, the states revolted from their allegiance. The next phase in the work of colonisation was the establishment of convict settlements, in which the government was necessarily despotic, enforced by the presence of troops from the mother country. This brings down the history of colonial government to our own time, and this was the condition of most of the colonial governments when I first in early life commenced the study of the subject. The first change which took place was that arising out of the enquiry into convict settlements by a committee of the House of Commons, resulting in disclosures which necessitated the abandonment of transportation; although many years elapsed before an entire end could be put to a system which had become a part of the policy of the country in its treatment of criminals. But in the meantime large interests bad grown up, and a considerable free population had clustered around the nucleus of the convict settlements; and the necessity for some change in the form of their Government was evidenced to be a constant and irritating agitation. The great examples which were then adduced as the mode, on which all healthy colonisation should be conducted, were the colonies of the Greeks and the colonies of New England. But the conclusion seems to have escaped the writers and speakers of that day, that, as regards the Greek colonies, Imperial unity had never been attempted or desired, and, in the case of the North American colonies, it had been found to be incompatible with the free local government of the dependencies. English statesmen therefore proceeded to apply forms of government to subordinate portions of an empire, which had hitherto in no instance been found consistent with the idea of Imperial unity.
And not only were these new theories generally accepted as maxims of government, but new colonies were founded wholly upon the principles then in vogue; and South page 8 Australia and the several settlements of New Zealand were founded by the same men who were the champions of the new philosophy, or rather, who strove for the revival of the old philosophy, in the art of extending an empire by colonisation; and we, my friends, stand here to-night upon the classic ground—for classic ground it will be deemed in after ages—upon which one of the first experiments was made in restoring, what was then called, the lost art of colonisation. Now it is not necessary, indeed it would be unbecomig in me, to allude to the special events which have occasioned some disruption in these times between the tie of sentiment and affection which has hitherto subsisted between this colony and the mother country. My only object is to call your attention to the fact, which seems to have escaped general observation, that whatever may have been the immediate cause of the mutual dissatisfaction which has arisen between the Governments of Great Britain and of some of her colonies, they are but incidents, merely indications, of the incompleteness which pervades the whole theory of colonial government, as it was accepted when free governments were granted to the colonies. If there is a radical flaw in the system itself, it is a matter of small importance upon what particular issue the inherent weakness may display itself. It is a very curious and instructive fact that the original cause of the revolt of the American colonies, was nearly the opposite of that, which has led some leading colonists of the present day to talk of colonial independence as a possibility not very remote. For the claim to tax the colonies asserted by the statesmen of the last century, was based on the ground that they enjoyed the protection of the mother country; and whilst during all the time when Imperial troops were unknown in the North American colonies, about one hundred and fifty years, there had been no failure in their loyalty, within fifty years after the landing of the first soldier they declared their independence. The question is really a very much larger and deeper one, than it has been yet considered to be. It amounts to this—whether the government of large outlying portions of an empire, by means of independent local legislatures, with chief executive officers acting under the advise of local ministers responsible to local parliaments, is theoretically or practically consistent with the unity of that empire. That is a question which our statesmen, whether in the Colonies or in England, do not seem to me to have yet grappled with. And it is one which sooner of later will demand solution.
Let us see, however, how America has dealt with this difficult problem. There were but thirteen States when the declaration of independence was issued. The whole territory of the United States, outside the existing States were its Colonies—just as much colonies as those of Great Britain; and though separated from the parent state by land instead of by water, many of them were more difficult of access than the furthest possessions of the British Crown. America appears from the first to have mastered this question, and provided for her Colonial Governments with the most admirable sagacity. She provided that when any Territory possessed a certain number of inhabitants, it should receive a provisional government entirely subordinate to the Federal Government; and when it received a certain further population, it should become a State, and enter into the union of the States on the same terms and with the same privileges as the oldest or most populous State in the union. But the Federal Government of the United States never relaxes in the smallest degree the imperial rule which it holds over its colonists. If America defends with her armies the utmost borders of her vast territories, on the other hand she makes her citizens feel to the extremest verge, the obligation of paying their full share to the Imperial Exchequer. The defence of the colonies by the imperial armies, and the contribution by the colonies to the maintenance of those armies, have ever been regarded as correlative duties, and the more complete organization of the colonial community which takes place when it becomes a State, and enters upon new and enlarged powers of local government, does not affect in the smallest degree the relations which already subsist between the Federal Government and the colonists as the citizens of the common empire. No power or duty, right or responsibility, is remitted, or transferred from the Federal officer to the Provincial. The citizen, when he becomes a member of a new State, acquires new powers, rights and duties, in relation to the new State; but the old ones subsisting between him and the empire remain unimpaired and unaltered. Thus it is, then, that the constitution of the United States provides for the indefinite extension of the colonial system, and at the same time for the complete integrity of the empire. It is to this statesman-like and sagacious provision that we must mainly attribute the miraculous rapidity with which America is being peopled, and its illimitable resources called forth to add to the wealth of mankind. And to this too we must attribute that mighty impulse in favor of preserving the common empire, which was displayed during the late internal struggle. If there was one point upon which critics had spoken more confidently than another, before the late war, it was on the impossibility of the unity of so great an empire being preserved in the midst of the local independence of so many parts; and the certainty of the destruction of the whole machine when brought under the strain of civil conflict. The result of the late war has shewn that local independence is perfectly compatible with imperial unity, when the powers and duties of the local and imperial authorities are separate and clearly defined, and when the duties and obligations of the citizen to either authority are entirely distinct, and are equally recognised by constitutional law.
Events would seem to point to only one of two possible conclusions as to the future of the British Empire. For it is impossible not to foresee that as the wealth and power of the colonies increase in proportion to those of the mother country, the anomaly in the system which unites the page 9 whole will become daily more apparent. The one is, such a change in the constitution of the Empire as shall make Imperial unity a reality instead of a name—every part sharing the burdens, enjoying the privileges, and taking its part in the Government of the whole. The other is, the final dissolution of the ties of common citizenship, and the complete independence of the young and vigorous offspring of the parent state. I need not say to which all true and great statesmanship would lead us, for the voluntary abandonment of empire is synonomous, in my mind, with decrepitude in a people. Not, indeed, that the pomp and parade of vast power, for its own sake, is the ambition of noble minds, but because an enlightened people must feel that the liberty and truth which has been committed to them, is a sacred trust for the benefit of mankind, which they are sworn to maintain and to transmit; and that the dismemberment of their Empire, by crippling their power, may imperil the safety of that trust. There are statesmen, indeed, who think that this work will be carried on as well, perpaps more effectually, if the colonies were independent states. I will not say that such might not be the case if the independence of the colonies were secured; but I fail to see the probability of the might of the Empire being pledged to defend the liberties of independent states, which was but grudgingly afforded when they were parts of the Empire. If, however, it be impossible that the Empire of Great Britain can be consolidated—if a close adherence to ancient precedents and hereditary rights, impels our statesmen to the conclusion that the English constitution is incapable of enlarging its limits to embrace an empire—then, however we may deplore the result, it is hard to see how it may be avoided; and we can only indulge in the perhaps not wholly idle speculation that the dismemberment of the British Empire in its present form, may pave the way to the consolidation in one great confederacy of all the nations on the earth who speak the English tongue, and are sprung from English blood, and are imbued with and trained in the spirit of English liberty.
But I pass on now to speak of the future. In what direction are changes in government tending? What is the sort of work which it has yet to do in the world? We love to use that vainglorious phrase—“in this nineteenth century,” and to flatter our age that it is not as other ages were. Perhaps if we knew more of the past, we should be hardly so proud of the present; perhaps if we realised more fully what the future demands of us, we should be still less so; perhaps we should feel that there is less cause for satisfaction in the difference between the present and the past, than for sadness at the difference between the future and the present.
Let us cast our eyes for a moment over the world, and what is the aspect of government which meets our view on every side. Almost the whole population of Africa, the aboriginal population of North and South America, and the inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific, are still in the most primitive condition of human society—without law, without more than the rudest form of Government, without accumulated wealth, living from hand to mouth, in a state of perpetual war—hunters, whose game is man. Almost the whole of the Asiatic Continent is still under the rule of hereditary and arbitrary power, upon which the idea of free government has not yet even dawned. Even in India, ruled as it is by a nation of free men, how long a time must elapse before we shall be able to infuse into the hearts of an Asiatic race the idea of, and the capacity for, free government. India, indeed, is one of the most singular experiments in the art of government which the world has seen. Conquered by the sword, and governed by the strength and skill of a superior race, it must be admitted that, in spite of some instances of oppression and mis-government, which, under such a system, are unavoidable, upon the whole she has been governed for the benefit of the people rather than of her rulers; and were there no other reason for praying for the maintenance of the British Empire, it would be that this great experiment in government might be tried to the end—that the principles of English liberty might become implanted in the races of the Indian peninsula, and from that base might extend throughout the whole continent of Asia. Turning our eyes to the North we see the vast empire of Russia, of which the Government is slowly casting off old barbaric forms, and assimilating itself more nearly to the European model; whilst amongst the nations of Europe, there is hardly one in which the old element of hereditary rule is not still predominant, although their governments are daily feeling more and more the influence of the rising popular power. The wonderful reconstruction of the kingdom of Italy in our own days has a far higher significance than the loss of territory by one monarch and the gain by another. It is the establishment in the South of Europe of a powerful kingdom, having a constitutional Government based on the popular will. It gained less for Sardinia than for mankind. In America we have the world of new governments, mostly sprung out of revolted colonies of European nations. In the United States, amongst a people long trained in the paths of liberty, there exists a condition of freedom, combined with settled law and social order; in other republics, amongst races which were deficient in such training, a condition of constant strife, indicating that the populations had not yet arrived at the growth in which a free government becomes possible. There seems to be no road out of anarchy except through despotic power. Such, then, is the condition of the world in its governments. And when we consider how much has yet to be done to bring the mass up to the standard of the highest, the prospect is indeed sufficiently discouraging.
But even in the most advanced countries, how much has yet to be done. Let me glance for a moment, for I have no time to do more, at some of the great questions which are now being submitted for the solution of governments. Take, for example, the question of the relations between page 10 capital and labor. If we look at the almost incredible increase in the wealth of such countries as England or America, not only the actual increase, but the average increase per man, it is difficult to maintain that the lowest class of the population has had its due share in the distribution. It is difficult to make any comparison between the condition of the people at one age and another; but many of those who have made this subject their study, have come to the conclusion that the mass of the laborers in England, and in other old countries, are little, if at all, better off, as regards food, clothing, and habitations, than they were formerly. Wealth is, no doubt, more widely distributed; it is not now confined to a few families, mostly the great territorial aristocracy; the middle classes now share luxuries which were then within reach only of the greatest in the land; and we may hope that this distribution of wealth will gradually descend in the scale, until it embraces the lowest ranks. But at present we stand face to face, in every old country, with the difficulty, that the wealth created by labor seems to flow in an undue proportion towards those by whom wealth is possessed. Now, the political economist tells us that this question is beyond the pale of government; that it is regulated by the working of a rigid law, that of supply and demand. Still, if you leave this law to itself, the result is a strike—that is, a remedy as shocking and cruel as any which the history of ancient tyranny records. For what can be more shameful to our intellect, our manhood, our Christianity, than that women and children should be made to undergo all the horrors of famine, the more cruel that it is a fictitious famine, created, not by the niggardliness of nature, but by the shortsightedness of man—a famine amid the granaries and workshops of the world. I cannot enter upon the remedies for this evil; it is sufficient to indicate it as a stern difficulty with which all governments must one day deal,—to point out that the cruel and wasteful expedient of a strike, in order to ascertain what the rate of wages should be, is an undeniable proof that our present legal and economical system for the distribution of wealth demands change. Again, there is that great cloud looming in the distance—the unemployed. The proportion of the populations of England and some other countries, whose employment depends on trade and manufactures, has enormously increased and is increasing. A population living on the land can never be wholly unemployed, there is always the land to till. But those living by trade and manufactures, depend on markets—that is, on the purchasing power of others. If we are to believe the accounts by every mail, the number of the unemployed is steadily increasing; and the problem has arisen, how to restore again to the land the super-abundant population which has been drawn from it—if not to the land of old countries, then to those of the unoccupied parts of the world. Again, the economist tells us, that it is no part of the work of government to find employment for the people; that is a matter for private enterprise. But the days are probably coming when we shall greatly enlarge our views as to the duties of government. Already the change is creeping over us. In railways, telegraphs, savings banks, insurance, and other institutions, we see government accepting duties which used to be considered the work of private enterprise alone. The great principle of association, which has done so much for the application of small savings to the production of fresh wealth, seems to be enlarging itself towards the idea of association embracing the whole country, in which every citizen is a shareholder and government the managing power. And it is difficult to see the limits which may confine the operations of government in this new direction.
Time fails me to do more than allude to the many subjects which still call for change in the machinery and objects of government. I might speak of the position of woman in the social scheme;—how to unite her claims to emancipation from the remnants of that old world condition of social bondage in which she was deemed to be the property of man, classified with his ox and his ass, and anything that was his, with a due regard to the protection of her peculiar character as the presiding spirit of the family and the home. I might speak of the subject of the education of the people, which lies at the root of all progress in society. I might ask, of what use is it to bring men to these or any other shores, or to make for them railways to travel on, or do anything else to build up a nation, when we neglect that which lies at the root of all—the character of the people themselves. A nation must be great or little in proportion as its component parts are strong or feeble. All history tells us that numbers are an insignificant element in national greatness as compared with individual strength, courage, endurance, self-restraint, virtue, knowledge, enlightenment. Compared with what the future demands of us, all efforts yet made to educate the people appear little else than contemptible. I proportion to her population and her wealth, I think it might be shewn that England does not at the present day devote as much to educational purposes as she did in the Middle Ages; and yet which of her colonies does as much? Again, what changes are not still called for in all countries, before religious faith and worship will be wholly relieved from the trammels which have been woven round it by the worldly policy of states and governments; and, on the other hand, before the civil liberties of man can be emancipated from the burden with which superstition has assisted governments to load them.
And lastly, may we not ask at this moment, what has modern civilisation done for us, what does not our Christianity and our boasted enlightenment demand of us, in the dealings between nation and nation? It is difficult to speak with becoming calmness on such a subject when every mail brings to us the appalling narrative of one of the most meaningless, most unnecessary, and most wicked wars which the world has ever seen. I took occasion not many months ago, in an address in this room, to denounce in no uncertain page 11 terms, the shame to our boasted civilisation, of seeing vast armies, in a time of profound peace, waiting for the first excuse to fall upon each other—the disgrace to our age that the best efforts of mechanical ingenuity and the largest portion of the public incomes of states should be devoted to purposes of destroying human life and annihilating the labors of generations of men. We have before us the miserable result. Without time for consideration, without the chance afforded for calmer counsels to be given, or dispassionate voices heard, within a few hours after the Foreign Minister had announced that never was the work of his department more barren of interest,—we see two of our allies, with whom we are most intimately connected by diplomatic relations, flying at each others' throats, for a cause which the world around can hardly divine, and in which the future welfare of mankind can be in no way concerned. When I read in the paper the other day, that five hundred horses had been driven into a field in France, and there shot down as an experiment, used as a living target, to exhibit the destructive power of a new military engine, I thought I was reading some scene in the old amphitheatre of Rome; and I remembered how in that great empire the cultivation of savage spectacles had been coeval with the decline of national glory. If there were no other work left for Governments to do, this alone should be the effort of every man worthy of the name of statesman—to put an end to unnecessary wars. I say not that, with our still imperfect civilisation, wars may not, for many a long age, be a part of the scheme for the education of the world. Still, for long ages the final court of appeal for nations will no doubt be the sword. But so long as states remain in time of peace armed to the teeth, so long will war be an appeal to passion not to right. In private life at no remote period, men wore swords by their sides, and every petty quarrel was the excuse for the shedding of blood. We have grown to feel that law and the opinion of society can defend individuals from insult as effectively as the sword. But amongst states it would seem that the world has made no progress. History will probably search in vain amongst the annals of the dark ages, for any war waged by personal ambition or national passion, more aimless or more wanton than that which is now desolating the provinces of the Rhine. There was an attempt made after the Crimean war in 1856 to assert by a formal protocol, that the differences between states should be submitted to arbitration; but France and Prussia, who were parties to that engagement, now ignore it in the blindness of their passions. It was agreed at that celebrated conference that the consenting nations should abandon privateering in war by sea. America was asked to join; she declined, but placed herself far in advance of the civilization of the Governments of Europe, by offering to unite in a treaty by which all private property on the high seas should be protected from capture, whether by privateers or by ships of the national navies. England would not—to her discredit be it spoken—abandon for her navy the prize money accruing from the capture of private property; and, yet, expected that America, which has a very small national navy, should abandon the only means by which she could compete with the immense navy of England in the pillage of private property on the high seas. Whatever improvements we may hope for in the internal governments of states, far louder is the call for amendment in international law. That some binding system of law will one day be evoked, I do not doubt—some government for the governments of states. But at present international law, as any practical restraint on personal ambition or popular animosity, is little more than a name. To what then can we look? Whence can we hope for any impulse which can teach nations that in peace, not in war, the amelioration of mankind must be sought. I think Mr Disraeli struck the right key in a few words which he used in the House of Commons in reference to this war—We can only appeal to the opinion of the civilized world.
In the earlier part of this lecture I spoke of despotic power as more adapted to certain conditions of society than any form of democratic government, not that despotism is ever in itself desirable or kindred to the higher nature of man, but that it is the only resource when the materials out of which free governments are constructed, have no existence. But there is this law pervading all human action, that powers physical as well as mental grow by use and exercise; and thus it is, that by the enjoyment of liberty men become trained to the rightful use of higher measures of freedom. The least of all the results of free government is that men are better governed; its greatest boon to man lies in this, that it educates and enlarges the character of a people, throwing upon each man larger duties and weightier responsibilities, demanding from him greater, not enforced but voluntary, sacrifices, and clothing him with the dignity which grows with the possession of power. Again, under free government alone, has been or could have been developed that vast machinery which pervades the civilised world for communicating intelligence of the events passing around us. Thus it is that an enlightened public opinion is growing up, which is at once the child and the parent of freedom; and to this alone can we appeal to cheque the ambition and control the passions of men.
We must take our stand upon this assumption, that the world is a world of growth—the development of higher out of lower organisms. We are told that in our physical nature we have grown out of the same cradle out of which all animal form has sprung. We trace our language back to simple sounds which differ but little from the cries of animals. So, in the perception of moral right, it needs but little study to show how crude the notions of right and wrong which formed the highest standard of morals in the earlier ages of the world. And in the application of knowledge to our material wants the present is even more conspicuously in advance of the past. As in all other aspects, so in the nature of government, that is, in the art of ordering and utilising the united and consolidated powers of masses of page 12 mankind, the human race is ever surely though slowly growing. And that same growth, which in individual states, has enabled the Government almost entirely to lay down the sword, which has substituted obedience for force, which enables the law to be administered without the necessity of using violence to enforce it,—that feeling which has induced private citizens to lay aside weapons of war in daily life, and to submit to the arbitration of society;—that same public feeling, when sufficiently extended and sufficiently cultivated, will beyond doubt exercise the same influence on the relations of states with each other, as it does over the individuals in some.
Far distant apparently is the promised era, when men shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into reaping hooks. The worship of physical force will, perhaps, long be the reigning superstition of mankind. But, if there be any difference between one government and another,—if there be any standard by which we can measure the value of government, surely our judgment should pronounce a government better or worse, in proportion as it leads or obstructs the people under its rule in the march towards a higher national life.