America: Curator Of British Political Relics

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This is why conflicts between Crown and Parliament used to be so prolonged and bitter—compromise of a particular matter, perhaps not difficult on its merits, might by acting as a precedent tilt the whole balance of the system permanently to the Crown’s disfavor. James I was perfectly correct, in his pedagogical way, in his listing of the royal prerogatives, but by writing them down and deducing a theoretical system of royal right from them he imperiled every privilege of Parliament. The same dilemma prevails under the American system, since although the Constitution helps to police the battle it does not avoid it. Thus, the President conducts foreign policy, while Congress has the right to declare war and to vote money; but foreign policy might lead to war. And not only war but foreign policy itself, in these days of multi-billion-dollar foreign aid, requires money, and it may even, as the debate on the Eisenhower Doctrine illustrates, require a conditional declaration of war.

But it does not require matters of this moment to set senators off referring sententiously to “a grave constitutional issue” or savoring the oft-repeated tag, “This is a government of laws, not of men.” Many times I have sat at the press table in a committee room of Congress listening to an apparently straightforward investigation only to find it veering off suddenly into a phase of the unending struggle between executive and legislature. It is then that I feel a new sense of reality breathed into English constitutional conflicts of an earlier age.