Friday, September 21, 2018

U.S. government, made in Britain?

A review of "Congresional Government: A Study in American Politics" by Woodrow Wilson

I skimmed this material, available free for download. Woodrow Wilson, the future U.S. president, published “Congressional Government” in 1885. This is a reissue from 1900, with a short introduction by the author. Wilson describes the functioning of Congress and the Executive as it looked like in 1883-84, when Chester Arthur was president and civil service reform was the most important political issue. Wilson believes that most effective power is in the hands of Congress, and that the so-called balance or division of powers laid down in the Constitution no longer functions. At the same time, power has become ineffective, being diffused on many different Congressional committees. The Executive and the Legislative are frequently in conflict, the Secretaries are semi-independent, and the two political parties are little more than coalitions of very disparate groups. The Judiciary is really subordinate to Congress. Wilson also points out that federal power has increased at the expense of the states.

Interestingly, Wilson's solution isn't to go back to a “strict construction” of the Constitution. Instead, he wants the United States to introduce the British parliamentary form of government. The Executive would be a Cabinet directly responsible to Congress. At the same time, Congress would presumably function in a more supervisory way than hitherto. Also, the political parties should become more homogenous. Civil service reform would make sure that only the top tier of the administration would consist of partisan political appointees. The power of the states would remain small. Indeed, Wilson's proposals would centralize power even further on the federal level. Despite being directly responsible to Congress, the president would probably be stronger than before. Wilson envisions the president to be a former Cabinet minister (rather than some random guy selected by a convention) and hence well-informed about all major policy issues – and presumably how to make Congress adopt them.

Not the most interesting material around, perhaps, but if you're into U.S. constitutional history, I suppose this could be for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment