Party Government in the United States of America

By William Milligan Sloane | Go to book overview

It was the envenomed bitterness of this strife which made the name and the idea of party so hateful to Americans at the close of the war of the Revolution. The home rule which was really wanted was thoroughly British: to wit, kingship in some form controlled by separate powers interacting to check excess. Feudalism meant instability and chaos; royalty meant order and stability. To the medieval dogma of unity in Church and State was opposed that of nationality and dynastic rule. Popular liberties endangered by absolutism could be saved by checks on royalty. Montesquieu saw what did not exist-- the estates of a realm interacting to check excess in each other; Blackstone and Burke made the doctrine of the division of powers, of checks and balances, the political gospel of English-speaking peoples. Puritan theocracy in conflict with royal absolutism took refuge in popular liberties as a war-cry.

The spirit of the Constitution--unwritten British or written American--is a basic contract between ruler and ruled; when government trespasses on the subject's rights the contract is annulled. To modern thought this seems antiquated, if not absurd, but not one of the pretexts put forward by rebellious colonists could stand except as we see the British government in perspective violating what had become a political instinct: that no department of government, not Parliament nor even the venerated kingship, could assume complete control. Not one, but all American liberties were jeopardized in the control which Parliament arrogated in legislating for the colonies. It was not that they had laid an intolerable burden of taxation nor that there was no representation; it was the violation of home rule, by which alone American liberties could be safeguarded.

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