THE TRIAL OF REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT THE "Brown Ministry" in Canada
has passed. away like the newest brood of ephemera ; and we are compelled. to contemplate the Canadian question in humiliating ignorance as to the form- ation of the "Cartier Cabinet." The most certain fact appears to be, that no Government in Canada can rest upon that basis, which according to the dogma of the British Constitution adopted in the colony, is the only legitimate basis of "responsible government," —a parliamentary majority. Since Prince Albert first astonished. a worshipful company in the City by what was thought the some- what " German " declaration, that "representative institutions were on their trial," the truth of his remark has received con- firmation from the widest bounds of the British Empire, nay, from another Empire long since separated from ours, and consti- tuting, with the territories of his royal wife, the unparalleled and. unprecedented empire of the Anglo-Saxon. In every part of that huge domain, which is now become so vast that we sometimes boastfully foresee its extension throughout the entire globe, the principle which has reconciled popular representation with execu- tive administration,—that modern principle which has extorted Irons Englishmen so many admiring descriptions,—has failed. The English notion is this. We exempt our Sovereign from the painful accountability incurred by Charles the First, if we start with the assumption that he "can do no wrong" so long as he does nothing except through Ministers ; it being the Ministers whom we are to hold accountable. The Spanish soldier, who stole a ring from an image in church, and pleaded. that it was "given to him" by the wearer, was prevented, says the tale, from establish- ing a very dangerous precedent as to the transfer of property by the enunciation of a law, that in future the subjects of her most Catholic Majesty would be held responsible for accepting gifts : so the Eng- lish Minister cannot plead the royal authority to exempt him from responsibility, to Parliament. Until very recent times, Ministers, labouring under the ghost of a fear that, if they neglected to take off their hats to the House of Commons, some hat might be taken off with a head in it, were careful not to make themselves re- sponsible for public acts unless they had by way of warrant the endorsement of a parliamentary majority. It is now nearly twenty years since Parliament happened to be divided on a question which involved no political principle, but only a point of economy upon which men of strong practical minds, whatever their party, must agree ; and in accepting free trade, Robert Peel incidentally fused, and confused, the hereditary representa- tives of the two antagonist principles in British polities. He in- troduced what ultimately may be a blessing to the country, the germ of free-trade in opinion, at all events with regard to com- mercial and. political questions ; but the immediate effect has been to overthrow the great massing of public opinion, and to break up "the two great parties in the State," each one divided into its three or four sections. As the Church of England is divided by sects more numerous and more widely severed than those " per- suasions " which stand outside it, so each of the two great parties of the State is divided by internal distinctions wider than that be- tween the two. What is the consequence ? It is that any states- man canvassing support for a future course of action can collect suffrages irrespective of party ; whereas, no sooner does he come to put his own opinions into the tangible form of realized mea- sures,—no sooner does he come to distribute the sweets of place amongst his own immediate followers,—than those who lave betted on him in the way of political speculation become disap- pointed, and the majority which he had for the future, ceases to support him for the present, while it almost spurns him for the past. Thus Peel, Russell, Aberdeen, and Palmerston, have been thrown into office with the impulse of a majority, only to "fall on the other side," and, while drifting down the ebb of the tide of political affairs, to hear the shouts of old friends following them in derision and dislike. Derby is in that intermediate stage which is the present ; he came to office on a casual and composite major- ity ; we, and. he, have yet to learn on what provocative he will be kicked over by a new majority, and pursued down the back-tide of time with the blended. hootings of Whig, Radical, and Tory.
But the condition which we have described for England is, and on the same grounds, the source of embarrassment to every Governor, to every actual Minister, the source of a delusive hope to every potential Minister in all of our constitutional British colo- nies, and especially of those which exhibit in the strongest form the political type of the mother-country. There is scarcely a settlement in Australia that is not under the actual administration of a minority simply because no majority exists. The ministerial crisis in Canada is the English crisis seen, diminished in a distant mirror ; and, if variety of institutions varies the position in the United States the ever-changing denomination of parties marks the perpetual change in their distinctions rind of the convictions upon which they are constituted. The Anglo-Saxon race seems at present unable to find either a majority which shall prevent its "responsible government" from becoming a farce, or yet to strike out the machinery by which the aggregate of minorities—the whole nation—might present its own Executive to carry on "the Queen's Government " or the People's. If ever representative institutions were heartily adopted and generally carried out, it has been by the Anglo-Saxon race ; and in some respects this has been more the case in our colonies than in our own country, where these have always classes of the people excluded and not represented. Thus, our experiment might be considered the best in history-, and yet at the present moment it looks rather like a failure ; and the prospect justifies the anxiety of Prince Albert. But no statesman Judges by "the present mo- ment "; and if there is one thing which mankind has learned in the progress of its recorded history, it is that, whereas statesmen at some particular day, may teach the world to do what the world is already wishing; that world, assisted by other students besides those of statesmanship, teaches statesmen and governments much more in return. We have therefore to interrogate the actual con- dition of society, political or social, moral or intellectual, in order to find the clue to solve the enigma. The immediate reason for the failure of representation appears to be that the represented themselves are in fault. They do not select their representatives with sufficient discrimination, do not keep them to their duty with sufficient rigour. There are further reasons for this lassitude; the two principal are, that at the present moment—and it is the present moment that just now constitutes our puzzle,—every per- son is engaged in a variety of occupations not political ; antici- pating a far larger amount of profit from some other pursuit, than of mischief from any mistake which may be made just now in legislation or administration. To speak in plain language every- body, under the joint influence of exhausted political purpose, of worldly success, and of unsettled. opinion, is under a strong im- pulse from the instinct of selfishness ; and everybody looking after himself or his is leaving the world. to take care of itself. It is our own selfishness, and want of true citizenship, which is the cause of those faults that we ascribe to Governments or Parlia- ments.
But another reason is the want of insight. It is our own igno- rance or stupidity. Very few of us care for what we do not un- derstand, except when we think that it is something so sublime that it surpasses understanding. Thus men are fond of mystery', but they are indifferent to realities which are "out of their way." On the other hand, no man can be indifferent to that which he really understands ; for wonderful are the works of Providence, stupendous the operations of nature, grand the half-conscious ministrations of society. The man who has acquired even a smattering of entomology will pursue a butterfly with an ardour which, if lent to practical politics, would be a real blessing to the country. He will enter into the niceties of art, for the sake of which he will lay down his life. He will study the paths of the stars, though he cannot alter them. All for the love of the thing we understand. Do not say that "education" would cure this defect, for it is not education of the common sort,—it is not the printed grammar, or the knowledge to pass an examination, which would cure the want ; but that conscientious, modest study of the things living and moving around us. It is a study which men can pursue best with some education, but can pursue m some degree if they have no more than natural intelligence and stout- ness of heart. For after all, perhaps, the chief evil at the present day is a suspension of heart-feeling in public matters. We may exouse the fault by saying that so many old opinions have been ana- tomized and exposed, on all sorts of subjects, that men hardly know what to think ; while scarcely dare trust themselves with thoroughly feeling anything lest it should be pronounced immo- ral, or what is worse, ridiculous. Men will hardly dare trust their affections, or their religious instincts, lest there should be a fault in the logic. The sense of chivalry which used to make every
man stand ucfor his order, or his country, or the right, at the cost of limb or de, would now be voted "unpractical." The dergv,—the servants of God,—who ought to be helping us out of this trivial scepticism, are themselves the victims of controversial trivialities of their own.
We might despair if we trusted only to the present ; but as the evil increases, it will bring its own reactionary cure. Natural indignation will spur men up to a graver performance of natural duties. Under that stern impulse, men's opinions will revive ; the broken-down aggregations of mind will be reunited in new popular opinions ; and then a community which is fit to be re- presented, will demand its own representation, and will look after its representatives.