Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Lord Elgin
Chapter XII - A Comparison of Systems


In one of Lord Elgin's letters we are told that, when he had as visitors to government house in 1850, Sir Henry Bulwer, the elder brother of Lord Lytton, and British minister to the United States, as well as Sir Edmund Head, his successor in the governorship of Canada, he availed himself of so favourable an opportunity of reassuring them on many points of the internal policy of the province on which they were previously doubtful, and gave them some insight into the position of men and things on which Englishmen in those days were too ignorant as a rule. One important point which he impressed upon them--as he hoped successfully--was this:

"That the faithful carrying out of the principles of constitutional government is a departure from the American model, not an approximation to it, and, therefore, a departure from republicanism in its only workable shape."

The fact was: "The American system is our old colonial system, with, in certain cases, the principle of popular election substituted for that of nomination by the Crown." He was convinced "that the concession of constitutional government has a tendency to draw the colonists" towards England and not towards republicanism; "firstly, because it slakes that thirst for self-government which seizes on all British communities when they approach maturity; and secondly because it habituates the colonists to the working of a political mechanism which is both intrinsically superior to that of the Americans, and more unlike it than our old colonial system." In short, he felt very strongly that "when a people have been once thoroughly accustomed to the working of such a parliamentary system as ours they never will consent to resort to this irresponsible mechanism."

Since these significant words were written half a century ago, Canadians have been steadily working out the principles of parliamentary government as understood and explained by Lord Elgin, and have had abundant opportunities of contrasting their experiences with those of their neighbours under a system in many respects the very reverse of that which has enabled Canada to attain so large a measure of political freedom and build up such prosperous communities to the north of the republic, while still remaining in the closest possible touch with the imperial state. I propose now to close this book with some comparisons between the respective systems of the two countries, and to show that in this respect as in others Lord Elgin proved how deep was his insight into the working of political institutions, and how thoroughly he had mastered the problem of the best methods of administering the government of a great colonial dependency, not solely with a regard to its own domestic interests but with a view of maintaining the connection with the British Crown, of which he was so discreet and able a servant.

It is especially important to Canadians to study the development of the institutions of the United States, with the view of deriving benefit from their useful experiences, and avoiding the defects that have grown up under their system. All institutions are more or less on trial in a country like Canada, which is working out great problems of political science under decided advantages, since the ground is relatively new, and the people have before them all the experiences of the world, especially of England and the United States, in whose systems Canadians have naturally the deepest interest. The history of responsible government affords another illustration of a truth which stands out clear in the history of nations, that those constitutions which are of a flexible character, the natural growth of the experiences of centuries, and which have been created by the necessities and conditions of the times, possess the elements of real stability, and best ensure the prosperity of a people. The great source of the strength of the institutions of the United States lies in the fact that they have worked out their government in accordance with certain principles, which are essentially English in their origin, and have been naturally developed since their foundation as colonial settlements, and whatever weaknesses their system shows have chiefly arisen from new methods, and from the rigidity of their constitutional rules of law, which separate too sharply the executive and the legislative branches of government. Like their neighbours the Canadian people have based their system on English principles, but they have at the same time been able to keep pace with the progress of the unwritten constitution of England, to adapt it to their own political conditions, and to bring the executive and legislative authorities to assist and harmonize with one another.

Each country has its "cabinet council," but the one is essentially different from the other in its character and functions. This term, the historical student will remember, was first used in the days of the Stuarts as one of derision and obloquy. It was frequently called "junto" or "cabal," and during the days of conflict between the commons and the king it was regarded with great disfavour by the parliament of England. Its unpopularity arose from the fact that it did not consist of men in whom parliament had confidence, and its proceedings were conducted with so much secrecy that it was impossible to decide upon whom to fix responsibility for any obnoxious measure. When the constitution of England was brought back to its original principles, and harmony was restored between the Crown and the parliament, the cabinet became no longer a term of reproach, but a position therein was regarded as the highest honour in the country, and was associated with the efficient administration of public affairs, since it meant a body of men responsible to parliament for every act of government.[29] The old executive councils of Canada were obnoxious to the people for the same reason that the councils of the Stuarts, and even of George III, with the exception of the regime of the two Pitts, became unpopular. Not only do we in Canada, in accordance with our desire to perpetuate the names of English institutions use the name "cabinet" which was applied to an institution that gradually grew out of the old privy council of England, but we have even incorporated in our fundamental law the older name of "privy council," which itself sprang from the original "permanent" or "continual" council of the Norman kings. Following English precedent, the Canadian cabinet or ministry is formed out of the privy councillors, chosen under the law by the governor-general, and when they retire from office they still retain the purely honorary distinction. In the United States the use of the term "cabinet" has none of the significance it has with us, and if it can be compared at all to any English institutions it might be to the old cabinets who acknowledged responsibility to the king, and were only so many heads of departments in the king's government. As a matter of fact the comparison would be closer if we said that the administration resembles the cabinets of the old French kings, or to quote Professor Bryce, "the group of ministers who surround the Czar or the Sultan, or who executed the bidding of a Roman emperor like Constantine or Justinian." Such ministers like the old executive councils of Canada, "are severally responsible to their master, and are severally called in to counsel him, but they have not necessarily any relations with one another, nor any duty or collective action." Not only is the administration conducted on the principle of responsibility to the president alone, in this respect the English king in old irresponsible days, but the legislative department is itself constructed after the English model as it existed a century ago, and a general system of government is established, lacking in that unity and elasticity which are essential to its effective working. On the other hand the Canadian cabinet is the cabinet of the English system of modern times and is formed so as to work in harmony with the legislative department, which is a copy, so far as possible, of the English legislature.

The special advantages of the Canadian or English system of parliamentary government, compared with congressional government, may be briefly summed up as follows:--

(1) The governor-general, his cabinet, and the popular branch of the legislature are governed in Canada, as in England, by a system of rules, conventions and understandings which enable them to work in harmony with one another. The Crown, the cabinet, the legislature, and the people, have respectively certain rights and powers which, when properly and constitutionally brought into operation, give strength and elasticity to our system of government. Dismissal of a ministry by the Crown under conditions of gravity, or resignation of a ministry defeated in the popular House, bring into play the prerogatives of the Crown. In all cases there must be a ministry to advise the Crown, assume responsibility for its acts, and obtain the support of the people and their representatives in parliament. As a last resort to bring into harmony the people, the legislature, and the Crown, there is the exercise of the supreme prerogative of dissolution. A governor, acting always under the advice of responsible ministers, may, at any time, generally speaking, grant an appeal to the people to test their opinion on vital public questions and bring the legislature into accord with the public mind. In short, the fundamental principle of popular sovereignty lies at the very basis of the Canadian system.

On the other hand, in the United States, the president and his cabinet may be in constant conflict with the two Houses of Congress during the four years of his term of office. His cabinet has no direct influence with the legislative bodies, inasmuch as they have no seats therein. The political complexion of Congress does not affect their tenure of office, since they depend only on the favour and approval of the executive; dissolution, which is the safety valve of the English or Canadian system--"in its essence an appeal from the legal to the political sovereign"--is not practicable under the United States constitution. In a political crisis the constitution provides no adequate solution of the difficulty during the presidential term. In this respect the people of the United States are not sovereign as they are in Canada under the conditions just briefly stated.

(2) The governor-general is not personally brought into collision with the legislature by the direct exercise of a veto of its legislative acts, since the ministry is responsible for all legislation and must stand or fall by its important measures. The passage of a measure of which it disapproved as a ministry would mean in the majority of cases a resignation, and it is not possible to suppose that the governor would be asked to exercise a prerogative of the Crown which has been in disuse since the establishment of responsible government and would now be a revolutionary measure even in Canada.

In the United States there is danger of frequent collision between the president and the two legislative branches, should a very critical exercise of the veto, as in President Johnson's time, occur at a time when the public mind was deeply agitated. The chief magistrate loses in dignity and influence whenever the legislature overrides the veto, and congress becomes a despotic master for the time being.

(3) The Canadian minister, having control of the finances and taxes and of all matters of administration, is directly responsible to parliament and sooner or later to the people for the manner in which public functions have been discharged. All important measures are initiated by the cabinet, and on every question of public interest the ministers are bound to have a definite policy if they wish to retain the confidence of the legislature. Even in the case of private legislation they are also the guardians of the public interests and are responsible to the parliament and the people for any neglect in particular.

On the other hand in the United States the financial and general legislation of congress is left to the control of committees, over which the president and his cabinet have no direct influence, and the chairman of which may have ambitious objects in direct antagonism to the men in office.

(4) In the Canadian system the speaker is a functionary who certainly has his party proclivities, but it is felt that as long as he occupies the chair all political parties can depend on his justice and impartiality. Responsible government makes the premier and his ministers responsible for the constitution of the committees and for the opinions and decisions that may emanate from them. A government that would constantly endeavour to shift its responsibilities on committees, even of its own selection, would soon disappear from the treasury benches. Responsibility in legislation is accordingly ensured, financial measures prevented from being made the footballs of ambitious and irresponsible politicians, and the impartiality and dignity of the speakership guaranteed by the presence in parliament of a cabinet having the direction and supervision of business.

On the other hand, in the United States, the speaker of the House of Representatives becomes, from the very force of circumstances, a political leader, and the spectacle is presented--in fact from the time of Henry Clay--so strange to us familiar with English methods, of decisions given by him with clearly party objects, and of committees formed by him with purely political aims, as likely as not with a view to thwart the ambition either of a president who is looking to a second term or of some prominent member of the cabinet who has presidential aspirations. And all this lowering of the dignity of the chair is due to the absence of a responsible minister to lead the House. The very position which the speaker is forced to take from time to time--notably in the case of Mr. Reed[30]--is clearly the result of the defects in the constitutional system of the United States, and is so much evidence that a responsible party leader is an absolute necessity in congress. A legislature must be led, and congress has been attempting to get out of a crucial difficulty by all sorts of questionable shifts which only show the inherent weakness of the existing system.

In the absence of any provision for the unity of policy between the executive and legislative authorities of the United States, it is impossible for any nation to have a positive guarantee that a treaty it may negotiate with the former can be ratified. The sovereign of Great Britain enters into treaties with foreign powers with the advice and assistance of his constitutional advisers, who are immediately responsible to parliament for their counsel in such matters. In theory it is the prerogative of the Crown to make a treaty; in practice it is that of the ministry. It is not constitutionally imperative to refer such treaties to parliament for its approval--the consent of the Crown is sufficient; but it is sometimes done under exceptional circumstances, as in the case of the cession of Heligoland. In any event the action of the ministry in the matter is invariably open to the review of parliament, and the ministry may be censured by an adverse vote for the advice given to the sovereign, and forced to retire from office. In the United States the senate must ratify all treaties by a two-thirds vote, but unless there is a majority in that House of the same political complexion as the president the treaty may be refused. No cabinet minister is present, to lead the House, as in England, and assume all the responsibility of the president's action. It is almost impossible to suppose that an English ministry would consent to a treaty that would be unpopular in parliament and the country. The existence of the government would depend on its action. In the United States both president and senate have divided responsibilities. The constitution makes no provision for unity in such important matters of national obligation.

The great advantages of the English, or Canadian, system lie in the interest created among all classes of the people by the discussions of the different legislative bodies. Parliamentary debate involves the fate of cabinets, and the public mind is consequently led to study all issues of importance. The people know and feel that they must be called upon sooner or later to decide between the parties contending on the floor of the legislature, and consequently are obliged to give an intelligent consideration to public affairs. Let us see what Bagehot, ablest of critics, says on this point:--

"At present there is business in their attention (that is to say, of the English or Canadian people). They assist at the determining crisis; they assist or help it. Whether the government will go out or remain is determined by the debate and by the division in parliament And the opinion out of doors, the secret pervading disposition of society, has a great influence on that division. The nation feels that its judgment is important, and it strives to judge. It succeeds in deciding because the debates and the discussions give it the facts and arguments. But under the presidential government the nation has, except at the electing moment, no influence; it has not the ballot-box before it; its virtue is gone and it must wait till its instant of despotism again returns. There are doubtless debates in the legislature, but they are prologues without a play. The prize of power is not in the gift of the legislature. No presidential country needs to form daily delicate opinions, or is helped in forming them."

Then when the people do go to the ballot-box, they cannot intelligently influence the policy of the government. If they vote for a president, then congress may have a policy quite different from his; if they vote for members of congress, they cannot change the opinions of the president. If the president changes his cabinet at any time, they have nothing to say about it, for its members are not important as wheels in the legislative machinery. Congress may pass a bill of which the people express their disapproval at the first opportunity when they choose a new congress, but still it may remain on the statute-book because the senate holds views different from the newly elected House, and cannot be politically changed until after a long series of legislative elections. As Professor Woodrow Wilson well puts it in an able essay:--[31]

"Public opinion has no easy vehicle for its judgments, no quick channels for its action. Nothing about the system is direct and simple. Authority is perplexingly subdivided and distributed, and responsibility has to be hunted down in out-of-the-way corners. So that the sum of the whole matter is that the means of working for the fruits of good government are not readily to be found. The average citizen may be excused for esteeming government at best but a haphazard affair upon which his vote and all his influence can have but little effect. How is his choice of representative in congress to affect the policy of the country as regards the questions in which he is most interested if the man for whom he votes has no chance of getting on the standing committee which has virtual charge of those questions? How is it to make any difference who is chosen president? Has the president any great authority in matters of vital policy? It seems a thing of despair to get any assurance that any vote he may cast will even in an infinitesimal degree affect the essential courses of administration. There are so many cooks mixing their ingredients in the national broth that it seems hopeless, this thing of changing one cook at a time."

Under such a system it cannot be expected that the people will take the same deep interest in elections and feel as directly responsible for the character of the government as when they can at one election and by one verdict decide the fate of a government, whose policy on great issues must be thoroughly explained to them at the polls. This method of popular government is more real and substantial than a system which does not allow the people to influence congressional legislation and administrative action through a set of men sitting in congress and having a common policy.

I think it does not require any very elaborate argument to show that when men feel and know that the ability they show in parliament may be sooner or later rewarded by a seat on the treasury benches, and that they will then have a determining voice in the government of the country, be it dominion or province, they must be stimulated by a keener interest in public life, a closer watchfulness over legislation and administration, a greater readiness for discussing all public questions, and a more studied appreciation of public opinion outside the legislative halls. Every man in parliament is a premier in posse. While asking my readers to recall what I have already said as to the effect of responsible government on the public men and people of Canada, I shall also here refer them to some authorities worthy of all respect.

Mr. Bagehot says with his usual clearness:--[32]

"To belong to a debating society adhering to an executive (and this is no inapt description of a congress under a presidential constitution) is not an object to stir a noble ambition, and is a position to encourage idleness. The members of a parliament excluded from office can never be comparable, much less equal, to those of a parliament not excluded from office. The presidential government by its nature divides political life into two halves, an executive half and a legislative half, and by so dividing it, makes neither half worth a man's having--worth his making it a continuous career--worthy to absorb, as cabinet government absorbs, his whole soul. The statesmen from whom a nation chooses under a presidential system are much inferior to those from whom it chooses under a cabinet system, while the
selecting apparatus is also far less discerning."

An American writer, Prof. Denslow,[33] does not hesitate to express the opinion very emphatically that "as it is, in no country do the people feel such an overwhelming sense of the littleness of the men in charge of public affairs" as in the United States. And in another place he dwells on the fact that "responsible government educates office-holders into a high and honourable sense of their accountability to the people," and makes "statesmanship a permanent pursuit followed by a skilled class of men."

Prof. Woodrow Wilson says that,[34] so far from men being trained to legislation by congressional government, "independence and ability are repressed under the tyranny of the rules, and practically the favour of the popular branch of congress is concentrated in the speaker and a few--very few--expert parliamentarians." Elsewhere he shows that "responsibility is spread thin, and no vote or debate can gather it." As a matter of fact and experience, he comes to the conclusion "the more power is divided the more irresponsible it becomes and the petty character of the leadership of each committee contributes towards making its despotism sure by making its duties interesting."

Professor James Bryee, it will be admitted, is one of the fairest of critics in his review of the institutions of the United States; but he, too, comes to the conclusion[35] that the system of congressional government destroys the unity of the House (of representatives) as a legislative body; prevents the capacity of the best members from being brought to bear upon any one piece of legislation, however important; cramps debate; lessens the cohesion and harmony of legislation; gives facilities for the exercise of underhand and even corrupt influence; reduces responsibility; lowers the interest of the nation in the proceedings of congress.

In another place,[36] after considering the relations between the executive and the legislature, he expresses his opinion that the framers of the constitution have "so narrowed the sphere of the executive as to prevent it from leading the country, or even its own party in the country." They endeavoured "to make members of congress independent, but in doing so they deprived them of some of the means which European legislators enjoy of learning how to administer, of learning even how to legislate in administrative topics. They condemned them to be architects without science, critics without experience, censors without responsibility."

And further on, when discussing the faults of democratic government in the United States--and Professor Bryce, we must remember, is on the whole most hopeful of its future--he detects as amongst its characteristics "a certain commonness of mind and tone, a want of dignity and elevation in and about the conduct of public affairs, and insensibility to the nobler aspects and finer responsibilities of national life." Then he goes on to say[37] that representative and parliamentary system "provides the means of mitigating the evils to be feared from ignorance or haste, for it vests the actual conduct of affairs in a body of specially chosen and presumably qualified men, who may themselves intrust such of their functions as need peculiar knowledge or skill to a smaller governing body or bodies selected in respect of their more eminent fitness. By this method the defects of democracy are remedied while its strength is retained." The members of American legislatures, being disjoined from the administrative offices, "are not chosen for their ability or experience; they are not much respected or trusted, and finding nothing exceptional expected from them, they behave as ordinary men."

"If corruption," wrote Judge Story, that astute political student, "ever silently eats its way into the vitals of this Republic, it will be because the people are unable to bring responsibility home to the executive through his chosen ministers."[38]

As I have already stated in the first pages of this chapter, long before the inherent weaknesses of the American system were pointed out by the eminent authorities just quoted, Lord Elgin was able, with that intuitive sagacity which he applied to the study of political institutions, to see the unsatisfactory working of the clumsy, irresponsible mechanism of our republican neighbours.

"Mr. Fillmore," he is writing in November, 1850, "stands to his congress very much in the same relation in which I stood to my assembly in Jamaica. There is the same absence of effective responsibility in the conduct of legislation, the same want of concurrent action between the parts of the political machine. The whole business of legislation in the American congress, as well as in the state legislatures, is conducted in the manner in which railway business was conducted in the House of Commons at a time when it is to be feared that, notwithstanding the high standard of honour in the British parliament, there was a good deal of jobbing. For instance, our reciprocity measure was pressed by us at Washington last session just as a railway bill in 1845 or 1846 would have been pressed in parliament There was no government to deal with. The interests of the union as a whole, distinct from local and sectional interests, had no organ in the representative bodies; it was all a question of canvassing this member of congress or the other. It is easy to perceive that, under such a system, jobbing must become not the exception but the rule,"--remarks as true in 1901 as in 1850.

It is important also to dwell on the fact that in Canada the permanency of the tenure of public officials and the introduction of the secret ballot have been among the results of responsible government. Through the influence and agency of the same system, valuable reforms have been made in Canada in the election laws, and the trial of controverted elections has been taken away from partisan election committees and given to a judiciary independent of political influences. In these matters the irresponsible system of the United States has not been able to effect any needful reforms. Such measures can be best carried by ministers having the initiation and direction of legislation and must necessarily be retarded when power is divided among several authorities having no unity of policy on any question.

Party government undoubtedly has its dangers arising from personal ambition and unscrupulous partisanship, but as long as men must range themselves in opposing camps on every subject, there is no other system practicable by which great questions can be carried and the working of representative government efficiently conducted. The framers of the constitution of the United States no doubt thought they had succeeded in placing the president and his officers above party when they instituted the method of electing the former by a body of select electors chosen for that purpose in each state, who were expected to act irrespective of all political considerations. A president so selected would probably choose his officers also on the same basis. The practical results, however, have been to prove that in every country of popular and representative institutions party government must prevail. Party elects men to the presidency and to the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives, and the election to those important positions is directed and controlled by a political machinery far exceeding in its completeness any party organization in England or in Canada. The party convention is now the all important portion of the machinery for the election of the president, and the safeguard provided by the constitution for the choice of the best man is a mere nullity. One thing is quite certain, that party government under the direction of a responsible ministry, responsible to parliament and the people for every act of administration and legislation, can have far less dangerous tendencies than a party system which elects an executive not amenable to public opinion for four years, divides the responsibilities of government among several authorities, prevents harmony among party leaders, does not give the executive that control over legislation necessary to efficient administration of public affairs, and in short offers a direct premium to conflict among all the authorities of the state--a conflict, not so much avoided by the checks and balances of the constitution as by the patience, common sense, prudence, and respect for law which presidents and their cabinets have as a rule shown at national crises. But we can clearly see that, while the executive has lost in influence, congress has gained steadily to an extent never contemplated by the founders of the constitution, and there are thoughtful men who say that the true interests of the country have not always been promoted by the change. Party government in Canada ensures unity of policy, since the premier of the cabinet becomes the controlling part of the political machinery of the state; no such thing as unity of policy is possible under a system which gives the president neither the dignity of a governor-general, nor the strength of a premier, and splits up political power among any number of would-be party leaders, who adopt or defeat measures by private intrigues, make irresponsible recommendations, and form political combinations for purely selfish ends.[39]

It seems quite clear then that the system of responsible ministers makes the people more immediately responsible for the efficient administration of public affairs than is possible in the United States. The fact of having the president and the members of congress elected for different terms, and of dividing the responsibilities of government among these authorities does not allow the people to exercise that direct influence which is ensured, as the experience of Canada and of England proves, by making one body of men immediately responsible to the electors for the conduct of public affairs at frequently recurring periods, arranged by well understood rules, so as to ensure a correct expression of public opinion on all important issues. The committees which assist in governing this country are the choice of the people's representatives assembled in parliament, and every four or five years and sometimes even sooner in case of a crisis, the people have to decide on the wisdom of the choice.

The system has assuredly its drawbacks like all systems of government that have been devised and worked out by the brain of man. In all frankness I confess that this review would be incomplete were I not to refer to certain features of the Canadian system of government which seem to me on the surface fraught with inherent danger at some time or other to independent legislative judgment. Any one who has closely watched the evolution of this system for years past must admit that there is a dangerous tendency in the Dominion to give the executive--I mean the ministry as a body--too superior a control over the legislative authority. When a ministry has in its gift the appointment not only of the heads of the executive government in the provinces, that is to say, of the lieutenant-governors, who can be dismissed by the same power at any moment, but also of the members of the Upper House of Parliament itself, besides the judiciary and numerous collectorships and other valuable offices, it is quite obvious that the element of human ambition and selfishness has abundant room for operation on the floor of the legislature, and a bold and skilful cabinet is also able to wield a machinery very potent under a system of party government. In this respect the House of Representatives may be less liable to insidious influences than a House of Commons at critical junctures when individual conscience or independent judgment appears on the point of asserting itself. The House of Commons may be made by skilful party management a mere recording or registering body of an able and determined cabinet. I see less liability to such silent though potent influences in a system which makes the president and a house of representatives to a large degree independent of each other, and leaves his important nominations to office under the control of the senate, a body which has no analogy whatever with the relatively weak branch of the Canadian parliament, essentially weak while its membership depends on the government itself. I admit at once that in the financial dependence of the provinces on the central federal authority, in the tenure of the office of the chief magistrates of the provinces, in the control exercised by the ministry over the highest legislative body of Canada, that is, highest in point of dignity and precedence, there are elements of weakness; but at the same time it must be remembered that, while the influence and power of the Canadian government may be largely increased by the exercise of its great patronage in the hypothetical cases I have suggested, its action is always open to the approval or disapproval of parliament and it has to meet an opposition face to face. Its acts are open to legislative criticism, and it may at any moment be forced to retire by public opinion operating upon the House of Commons.

On the other hand the executive in the United States for four years may be dominant over congress by skilful management. A strong executive by means of party wields a power which may be used for purposes of mere personal ambition, and may by clever management of the party machine and with the aid of an unscrupulous majority retain power for a time even when it is not in accord with the true sentiment of the country; but under a system like that of Canada, where every defect in the body politic is probed to the bottom in the debates of parliament, which are given by the public press more fully than is the practice in the neighbouring republic, the people have a better opportunity of forming a correct judgment on every matter and giving an immediate verdict when the proper time comes for an appeal to them, the sovereign power. Sometimes this judgment is too often influenced by party prejudices and the real issue is too often obscured by skilful party management, but this is inevitable under every system of popular government; and happily, should it come to the worst, there is always in the country that saving remnant of intelligent, independent men of whom Matthew Arnold has written, who can come forward and by their fearless and bold criticism help the people in any crisis when truth, honour and justice are at stake and the great mass of electors fail to appreciate the true situation of affairs. But we may have confidence in the good sense and judgment of the people as a whole when time is given them to consider the situation of affairs. Should men in power be unfaithful to their public obligations, they will eventually be forced by the conditions of public life to yield their positions to those who merit public confidence. If it should ever happen in Canada that public opinion has become so low that public men feel that they can, whenever they choose, divert it to their own selfish ends by the unscrupulous use of partisan agencies and corrupt methods, and that the highest motives of public life are forgotten in a mere scramble for office and power, then thoughtful Canadians might well despair of the future of their country; but, whatever may be the blots at times on the surface of the body politic, there is yet no reason to believe that the public conscience of Canada is weak or indifferent to character and integrity in active politics. The instincts of an English people are always in the direction of the pure administration of justice and the efficient and honest government of the country, and though it may sometimes happen that unscrupulous politicians and demagogues will for a while dominate in the party arena, the time of retribution and purification must come sooner or later. English methods must prevail in countries governed by an English people and English institutions.

It is sometimes said that it is vain to expect a high ideal in public life, that the same principles that apply to social and private life cannot always be applied to the political arena if party government is to succeed; but this is the doctrine of the mere party manager, who is already too influential in Canada as in the United States, and not of a true patriotic statesman. It is wiser to believe that the nobler the object the greater the inspiration, and at all events, it is better to aim high than to sink low. It is all important that the body politic should be kept pure and that public life should be considered a public trust. Canada is still young in her political development, and the fact that her population has been as a rule a steady, fixed population, free from those dangerous elements which have come into the United States with such rapidity of late years, has kept her relatively free from any serious social and political dangers which have afflicted her neighbours, and to which I believe they themselves, having inherited English institutions and being imbued with the spirit of English law, will always in the end rise superior. Great responsibility, therefore, rests in the first instance upon the people of Canada, who must select the best and purest among them to serve the country, and, secondly, upon the men whom the legislature chooses to discharge the trust of carrying on the government. No system of government or of laws can of itself make a people virtuous and happy unless their rulers recognize in the fullest sense their obligations to the state and exercise their powers with prudence and unselfishness, and endeavour to elevate and not degrade public opinion by the insidious acts and methods of the lowest political ethics. A constitution may be as perfect as human agencies can make it, and yet be relatively worthless while the large responsibilities and powers entrusted to the governing body--responsibilities and powers not embodied in acts of parliament--are forgotten in view of party triumph, personal ambition, or pecuniary gain. "The laws," says Burke, "reach but a very little way. Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state. Even all the use and potency of the laws depend upon them. Without them your commonwealth is no better than a scheme upon paper, and not a living, active, effective organization."


Return to Book Index Page