The nineteenth-century French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, asserted, in an often quoted epigramme, that the English Constitution does not exist. This affirmation is calculated to result in no little consternation for a person desirous of studying the English system of government. Such a student, in his earliest bibliographical efforts, will find numerous works, some of them running to a large number of volumes, that contain somewhere in their titles the very locution English Constitution. The question not unnaturally suggests itself whether all the writings listed actually deal with something that has no existence.
Without too curious an examination of de Tocqueville's probable meaning, the assumption may be safely ventured that he had in mind a different concept of the English Constitution from that entertained by authors who write books about it. These writers must certainly believe that the English Constitution exists.
Where people have different concepts of the same thing and, more especially, where the concepts in question raise the problem of existence, experience and reason combine to suggest that much importance attaches to a careful examination of the elementary principles and the fundamental considerations involved.
An examination of some part of the age-old attempts to deal with the problem of existence will suggest that such attempts are inevitably and inextricably interconnected with the grammatical concept of time, or tense. A fundamental enquiry about anything tends to view the thing in terms of one, two, or all three of the simple tenses,--present, past, and future. In terms