James Bryce Bryce.

University and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain online

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Franklin, came as a delegate from the State of Penn-
sylvania. Among the others, eminent men, even if
they did not attain unto those first three, one of the
most eminent came also as a delegate from the State
of Pennsylvania. I mean James Wilson ; a Scotsman
from Fife who had few equals and possibly no superior
in that Convention, as respects either the acuteness


of his mind, or his penetration and sagacity ; a man to
whom some of the best features of the Constitution
were due, and who, by his speeches in your Pennsyl-
vania convention held to consider the draft prepared
by the Convention, added an illuminating commentary
upon many provisions of the Constitution, and no doubt
contributed materially to its adoption, both in your
State and in the other States of the Union.

Now, I am under certain restraints here. I re-
member a time in England when young Liberal orators
used to glorify the British Constitution as " the para-
gon of the world," "the perfection of human wisdom,"
nor did the other party abound any less in praise, for
each party claimed that the Constitution embodied its
own distinctive principles. So here too both parties and
both sections of the country vied in their admiration
of your Constitution, for both insisted that the ven-
erable instrument, if correctly interpreted, supported
its own tenets. But in England those paeans of praise
are now seldom heard ; and here in America the Con-
stitution seems to be drifting down the stream of time
into the neighbourhood of the icebergs of controversy.
Accordingly I must not allow myself to approach any
questions which are becoming issues between parties. I
cannot leap over the wire fence which incloses the rep-
resentative of another country and, like my distin-
guished friend, the Attorney-General, prance and gallop
far and wide in the open plains of politics. From any
discussion of whether and how the Constitution ought


to be amended, I must refrain, but I am free to speak
of what it has been in the past, and may examine the
working of certain usages that have grown up under it
which neither party is concerned to defend or to attack
and which are now exposing it to unmerited censure.

The whole history of your country since 1789 has been
a commentary upon the services rendered by the Con-
stitution. The greatest of all the services it could ren-
der and did render, was the spirit which it implanted in
the hearts of your people. Perhaps I ought not to say
"implanted," for the spirit was already there, and the
function of the Constitution was to confirm and develop
it. Your ancestors brought from England the prin-
ciple of deference for law, and the sentiment which
desired to unite Liberty with Order, but that spirit
was immensely strengthened and its roots deepened by
the provisions of the Constitution, which combined,
as no instrument had ever done before, a respect for
the settled rule of law, with a recognition of the sov-
ereignty of the people. It showed how the popular
will can express itself through prescribed forms, with
such due regard for and observance of legal methods
as to avoid the dangers of sudden impulses and hasty
action, while also in such a way as ultimately to give
complete effect to the sober and deliberate purpose of
the people.

Some critics, both here and in Europe, have made it a
reproach against the Constitution that it did not
avert the War of Secession, and others have gone so


far as to suggest that its failing to either recognize or
deny the right of a State or States to secede was itself
a proximate cause of the war by giving each party an
arguable legal case. To this criticism the answer is
that if such a provision had been placed in the Consti-
tution there might probably never have been any
Constitution at all. Whether any legal instrument
could have prevented a split and a conflict where eco-
nomic differences were so marked, where each section
of the nation misunderstood the other, and where pas-
sion had in one of them risen to white heat, may well
be doubted. Legal forms may do much, but cannot
do everything. So far as we can now judge, there was
only one thing would have enabled the South and the
North to hold together, and that thing was unattain-
able. It has probably struck some of you that had the
United States remained in political connection with the
mother country, there would have been no Civil War.
South and North fought because there was no one to
mediate between and try to reconcile them. Had they
been part of a British nation there might have been
indeed, would almost certainly have been mediation.
The question of slavery, if indeed slavery had been still
in existence, would no doubt have been a question for
themselves to settle, for long before 1861 they would
have been enjoying a self-government at least as large
as Canada and Australia now enjoy under the British
flag. But as members of one British people, both
North and South would have been kept in union as


parts of a larger whole, and the influence of the rest
of the British people at home would have been suffi-
cient to soften antagonisms and bring about a peaceable

The Constitution could not avert the Civil War, but
it maintained the ideal of national unity all through the
Civil War, and it enabled the wounds which the war had
made to be subsequently healed with a rapidity and
completeness which amazed the world. During and for
some time after the Civil War it rendered a service
such as no legal instrument had ever rendered to a peo-
ple before. You had enormous difficulties then. The
difficulties during the war, when it was all that the
President could do to avoid putting a strain on the
Constitution, were hardly more alarming than those
that came later in that sad and troublous period of
reconstruction through which your Southern brothers
passed. The situation would have been almost hope-
less but for the fact that the Constitution laid down
the lines upon which each Southern State should be
ultimately restored to self-government and again take
its place as a self-governing member of the Union.
When Reconstruction was over, and when, in and after
1877, more normal relations were reestablished in the
South, the Constitution again became a rallying point
for the patriotic sentiment of the whole people and
for their devotion to the principles which had originally
made it strong and your nation great. Your National
unity, never so conspicuous or so firmly entrenched as


it is to-day, is largely due to the fact that you all have
revered and trusted and walked by your now venerable

True it is that all constitutions must needs be sus-
ceptible of such amendments or developments as are
needed to adapt them to the changing circumstances
which time brings with them. As Bacon says, " That
which man changeth not for the better Time changeth
for the worse." But you will also observe that all
constitutions, and all systems of free governments
everywhere, require something to steady them. Now,
we in England, who have no documentary consti-
tution placed above the other laws of the country,
where every arrangement of the government can
be at any moment changed by the power of the
people acting through their representatives in Parlia-
ment, we in England have steadying forces in the
existence of long traditions, and of powerful classes
who have held great influence throughout the whole
nation. In France there has been and is a steady-
ing influence in the existence of a large number of
small landed proprietors attached to the rights of
property. In Germany a similar influence may be
found, not only in the presence of a strong monarchy
and of a landholding class which has commanded the
deference of the people for centuries, but also in an
exceedingly able and highly trained civil service,
which administers public affairs. You in this country
have neither the social classes of Continental Europe


nor have you the power of a civil service like that of
Germany. But as you also need some steadying ele-
ment, you have found it in the respect for your Con-
stitution. It has made your traditions. It has been
revered as a sort of palladium of ordered liberty.
Whatever changes you now think fit to make in
your Constitution you will, I am sure, never forget
that ballast as well as sails are needed if a ship is to
pursue with safety her course over seas that are some-
times stormy.

There are, as you all know, two chief parts or
branches of the Federal Constitution that which
creates the system of National Government, with its
three departments, and that which defines the relation
of the National Government to the governments and
people of the States. Of these two the former part,
which establishes the frame of National Government,
has been criticized, and in some points unfavourably,
both by your own statesmen and by foreign observers,
much more than has the latter part, which determines
the relations between the National Government and the
States. Now let me ask you to note that these criti-
cisms upon the practical working of the frame of
national government are really in the main criticisms
not of the Constitution itself but of usages which have
grown up under it but are no part of it and could be
changed at any moment by Congress or by the action
of the people themselves.

One of the complaints most frequently heard is that



members of Congress have been tending to become too
much mere local delegates, rather than members of the
great council of the Nation, and that they are so active
in furthering the interest each of his own constituency
and his own State, that they think too little, and care
too little, for the general interests of the whole people,
though it is itself more than ever One People. If the
facts are as these censors assert, and you can judge
better than I whether the censors are right, what is
the cause ? Not any provision of the Constitution but
the habit which has prevailed and prevails to-day, of
confining the choice of a member of Congress to persons
resident in the particular Congressional district, and the
habit which the people of the district have formed of ex-
pecting Congress to appropriate money for local pur-
poses. Such usages are no parts of democracy, for there
are other democratic countries in which they do not
prevail. They inevitably tend to narrow a member's
views as well as his activities, and they prevent an
able man who by some turn of the political tide has
lost his seat in the place where he resides from obtaining
a seat elsewhere. Nearly all your own leading men, as
well as foreign observers, think that you lose immensely
by the exclusion from Congress of so many of your
strongest intellects, and they regret the persistence
of the habit. Take the case of such a statesman,
eminent both by his talents and by the purity and eleva-
tion of his character, as the late Mr. Carl Schurz, who
after he left Missouri to settle in New York City could


never find entrance to Congress. In Britain, more
democratic in most respects than this country, nearly
all the eminent statesmen of the last sixty years have
represented constituencies in which they did not re-
side, and represented them quite as efficiently as resi-
dents could have done. This is common in Australia
also, a country more democratic than either the United
States or Great Britain.

Another feature of the present working of your
National Government which I have heard constantly
criticized by thoughtful American statesmen is that
the separation of the legislative and executive depart-
ments has been carried too far by the custom which
does not allow the ministers of the President access
to the floor of Congress to speak and to be interro-
gated there. Now this custom has grown up inde-
pendently of the Constitution. It is not a part of the
Constitution, and Congress has therefore the power
at any time to alter if it should think fit. Foreign
observers who are accustomed to the methods of
the free countries of Europe think that you are sac-
rificing a valuable means of bringing your legislative
and your executive authorities into a natural and
easy and constant harmony by your forbidding them
to come together in the way I have mentioned. They
are allowed so to come together in Switzerland. Swit-
zerland has a federal constitution like yours. Switzer-
land, like you, does not permit the members of the
Administration, which there consists of a body of


seven persons called the Federal Council, to be elected
to and sit in either House of its federal legislature ; but
it permits them and encourages them to be present in
either House, and when I have been attending the
debates of the federal legislature in Switzerland I have
seen the members of the Federal Council, sometimes
in the one House, sometimes in the other, interrogated
by members upon questions relating to the adminis-
tration of their departments, answering those questions,
giving the fullest information upon every executive
act done or perhaps even contemplated by them, and
at the same time addressing the members of the legis-
lature upon the measures that were pending there,
stating their views, telling them what was wanted, in
the way of money or otherwise, to increase the efficiency
of the several executive departments, and answering
any objections which the members of the legislature
could advance. No Swiss doubts that such a plan is
for the good of Switzerland. The Swiss Government,
take it all in all, seems to be the most successful and
one of the most stable among the democratic govern-
ments of the world, and could not possibly work as
smoothly and successfully as it does work but for this
practice and, as you know, the plan of admitting
Cabinet Ministers to speak in Congress has been rec-
ommended by many of your own statesmen, as, for
instance, by President Garfield.

Any proposal for the admission of Cabinet Ministers
to the floor of either House, to be questioned there


and to speak there, well deserves to be considered
as a possible improvement in the conduct of busi-
ness by Congress. To suggest that the Constitution
itself ought to be so altered as to permit ministers
to be elected to and vote in Congress would be quite
another matter, for it would raise different and far
wider issues. It would mean a change in your whole
scheme of government. Our English system what
we call our Cabinet and Parliamentary System is no
doubt a far more prompt and a far more effective way
of bringing the will of the people to bear upon the
government than your system is here. As I have
already observed, we in Great Britain are in reality far
more of a democracy "than you are. The will of the
people declared in an election of the members of the
House of Commons, is able to act more quickly, more
promptly, with a more tremendous and compelling
force, in Britain than it can here. We do not have
your checks and balances. But it may well be doubted
whether the British system, however it may work with
I us, would be a safe one for a country so vast and varied
in its parts as yours. There is, however, every reason
to think that Congress itself would find a great advan-
tage in having the Ministers of the President before it
on the floor, so that it could address questions to them,
as ministers are daily questioned in our Parliament.
British ministers are obliged to tell Parliament every-
thing that is being done in the course of our adminis-
tration which it is not inconsistent with the public


service to disclose. They must answer all questions put
to them about what they are doing, and how they are
doing it, and why they are doing it. It is good for them.
Like other ministers, I have, when a member of the
British cabinet, sometimes found the process tiresome.
But I never doubted that it was a good thing for
everybody concerned. Ministers are all the better for
having to stand that ordeal. You here would soon
find the benefit of it. Every minister would feel it to
be an advantage and a help to him in his work if he
were able, when his departmental experience has shown
him that some measure is urgently needed, to come to
Congress and argue the matter out with either House
on its own floor and tell them, not by written words,
but by the spoken word, which is far more effective,
why he thinks the measure is needed and what are the
arguments by which he would support it. And you
can all see how much Congress would gain by the more
thorough knowledge of the workings and the needs of
the departments which it would gain.

Others conceive that the special functions of the
Senate or perhaps the machinery by which these
functions are exercised, require to be reconsidered in
view of the fact that when they were assigned to it
the Senate had only twenty-six members, whereas it
has now ninety-six. If anything of that kind needs
to be done, it could probably be done without altering
the Constitution, just as a usage which had come to be
recognized by common consent as being one of the


greatest evils in the working of the National Govern-
ment was dealt with. I refer to the Spoils System.
That system arose outside the Constitution. It has
been now much reduced and indeed seems likely to be
soon expunged by measures requiring no change in the
Constitution. So also that scheme of national nomi-
nating conventions, which now seems likely to be
superseded by a system of nominating primaries, arose
altogether outside the Constitution, and had never
even any statutory character.

As regards the other part of your Constitution, that
which concerns the relations of the States with the
National Government, you may rest happy in the
thought that it has received the almost unqualified
admiration of the whole world. I will not say that
there may not be minor points in which it is susceptible
of improvement. Probably there are some directions
in which the progress of time has made it desirable to
expand a little the legislative authority of Congress.
Many have argued, for instance, in favour of extending
that authority to the establishment of a uniform law
of marriage and divorce. Others would extend the
range of federal authority over railroads, and would
recognize in the National Government a much longer
power of creating and supervising corporations. Others
have indicated the need for some more prompt and
effective method than now exists of securing the due
observance by each and every State of treaty obliga-
tions undertaken by the National Government. There


may be points in which the State authorities them-
selves could be induced to desire that it should be
more easy to pass uniform legislation for the whole

Still, looking at the general federal scheme in a
broad way, can anything be more clear, can anything
be more rational in theory or more convenient in appli-
cation to practice than the general principles by which
the relations of the States and the National Govern-
ment have been fixed and determined ? The prin-
ciples are as clear, as philosophically conceived, and as
precisely expressed as it is possible for the human in-
tellect to have conceived and expressed them, and they
have been worked out by your successive Administra-
tions, by Congress, and most of all by your Judicial
Bench, with an infinite and admirable delicacy in detail.
The best testimony to the excellence of your system is
to be found in the influence that it has had upon other
countries. It is an interesting fact that your Consti-
tution and ours have been, in their general lines, the
patterns of all modern free constitutions. The British
Constitution has been taken as being more or less a
model by all the free governments that have been
established in Europe and in the British Colonies
since 1815. Your Constitution has been taken as a
model imperfect as some of the reproductions have
been by the republican governments that have been
established in every part of the western world, that
is to say, in South America and in Central America,


and it has also had a profound influence not only on
the latest constitution of Switzerland, that of 1874,
but also upon the federal constitutions of Canada, of
Australia, and of South Africa.

It was the glory of our two countries to have held
the torch of liberty aloft in days when there were
hardly any other free governments in the world and
when the dumb populations lay prostrate at the feet
of arbitrary power. And it has been the glory of your
country in later days to render another great service
to humanity, by showing how it is possible to establish
and maintain national unity over the vast spaces of a
continent, and at the same time to secure the fullest
development of self-government in State, in county,
and in city over those vast spaces. That was a problem
which would have been deemed hopeless and insoluble
a century and a half ago, but the example of your suc-
cess has now set your system on high as a beacon for
the world to follow. Your Constitution, by the ex-
ample it has set of its working and by the halo of
fame which now surrounds it, has become one of the
vital and vitalizing forces of the modern world. Let us
honour the group of illustrious men who, meeting in
Philadelphia one hundred and twenty-five years ago,
rendered this incomparable and enduring service not
to you only, but also to all mankind.


Acton, Lord, as a historical writer, 352;
method followed by, in reading,

Alleghany Mountains, desirability of a
national park in the, 401402.

Allegiance to Humanity, address on,
247 ff.

Allen, Ethan, 272.

America, as the land of hope to Euro-
peans, 36.

American Civic Association, address
before the, 389 ff .

American Institute of Architects, ad-
dresses to the, 171 ff., 181 ff.

Anarchy, the enemy of true liberty, 14 ;
principle of the Common Law which
is a safeguard against, 46-47.

Ancient Literature, address on the Study
of, 317 ff.

Anecdotes, use of, in public speaking,

Antrim, Scotch-Irish in, 217-218.

Appeal in criminal cases in England, 64.

Architecture and History, address on,

Architecture, advantages and disad-
vantages of the profession of, 184-
186; comparison of, with the study
of law, 186-187; affiliation of, with
history, 187-188; European monu-
ments of, 189-190 ; present lack of
originality in, 191-194; examples
of, and magnificence of conception
of, in America, 194-195.

Aristotle, critically exact spirit found
in, 349.

Armaments, the increase in military
and naval, 251-253.

Art, appreciation of pleasures of, to be
derived from literary training, 28-29.

Athletics, excessive passion for, at uni-
versities, 240-242.

Augustine, St., 129.

Australia, national parks in, 398.
Automobiles in national parks, 398-401,

Avila, architecture of churches of, 188.


Bacon, Sir Francis, 3.

Balboa, 269.

Bancroft, George, 345.

Bible, decreasing familiarity with the,

Big Trees of the Sierra Nevada, preser-
vation of, 395.

Boniface, St., 129.

Books, the choice of, 367 ff.

Bracton, early legal writer, 66.

Brevity in speeches, 295-296.

Bright, John, as a speaker, 293-294;

Brooks, Phillips, rapidity of, in speak-
ing, 293.

Brougham, Lord, on fluency in public
speaking, 284.

Browning, Robert, the reading of works
of, 374-

Brunton, Miss, Scottish authoress, 374.

Buckle's "History of Civilization," 356.

Burke, Edmund, 222.

Business, devotion to, of the normal
American, 319-320; the study of
ancient literature as an offset to
absorption in, 338.

Cabinet, the, in English legislative
system, 94.

Cabinet members, admission of, to
floor of houses of Congress recom-
mended, 419-421.

Cabots, the, 269.

Cairns, Lord, a Scotch-Irishman, 220.

Cairo, seat of learning at, 154.

California, University of, address de-
livered at, 227 ff.




California, a country as well as a state,
229; progress of, in material develop-

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Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 23 of 24)