The American Commonwealth - Vol. 2

The American Commonwealth - Vol. 2

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The American Commonwealth - Vol. 2

The American Commonwealth - Vol. 2

Read FREE!

Excerpt

In the preceding chapters I have endeavoured to describe the legal framework of American government as it exists both in the nation and in the States. Beginning from the Federal and State Constitutions we have seen what sort of a structure has been erected upon them as a foundation, what methods of legislation and administration have been developed, what results these methods have produced. It is only occasionally and incidentally that we have had to consider the influence upon political bodies and methods of those extra-legal groupings of men called political parties. But the spirit and force of party has in America been as essential to the action of the machinery of government as steam is to a locomotive engine; or, vary the simile, party association and organization are to the organs of government almost what the motor nerves are to the muscles, sinews, and bones of the human body. They transmit the motive power, they determine the directions in which the organs act. A description of them is therefore a necessary complement to an account of the Constitution and government; for it is into the hands of the parties that the working of the government has fallen. Their ingenuity, stimulated by incessant rivalry, has turned many provisions of the Constitution to unforeseen uses, and given to the legal institutions of the country no small part of their present colour.

To describe the party system is, however, much harder than it has been to describe those legal institutions. Hitherto we have been on comparatively firm ground, for we have had definite data to rely upon, and the facts set forth have been mostly patent facts which can be established from books and documents. But now we come to phenomena for a knowledge of which one must trust to a variety of flying and floating sources, to newspaper paragraphs, to the conversation of American acquaintances, to impressions formed on the spot from seeing . . .

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