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THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS ; NOVEMBER 19, 1863.
FOURSCORE and seven years ago our fathers brought forth
upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived 5 and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should 10 do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we 15 say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that 20 from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion ; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government 25 of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION AND GOVERNMENT.
The English speeches contained in this volume make frequent reference to a structure of government and to forms and usages unlike those with which we are familiar in the United States. Information upon these subjects is absolutely necessary to an intelligent reading of these speeches, and yet it is not always readily accessible. It has therefore been thought best to embody in succinct statement the peculiar features of the English Constitution, government, and procedure touched upon in the speeches, and incidentally to point out the pitfalls which lurk under the guise of terms and expressions similar in form to our own, but different in content and meaning. It should be noted that the point of view in the following sketch is that of the present status in England. Historical differences within the period covered will be noticed as they occur in the speeches themselves.
THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION.
When a new organization of government was adopted and put upon trial in the United States in 1789, the special features of that organization were set forth in a well-known document, which, by a natural transfer of meaning, took the name of the order and organization which it described; that is, the Constitution of the United States of America. Ever since that time the extraordinary interest centring in this document has, in the usage of American speakers and writers, tended steadily to shift the meaning of the word Constitution to this narrower base; that is, from the actual order and organization of government to the document in which that order is officially described and promulgated. This limitation of meaning is by no means prevalent outside the realm of American politics; and the young American student should be specially cautioned against interpreting in any such narrow sense the frequent reference made by Englishmen to the British Constitution. England has no written Constitution ; nor, under the circumstances, could she well have one. Her government is the outcome of ages of experiment and struggle; of incessant re-adjustment of conflicting powers and interests ; sometimes of sharp and decisive action ; more frequently of insensible but irresistible drifting upon the current of national tendency. Questions of constitutionality, therefore, are settled in England, not by appeal to a state-paper like ours, since none exists, but by appeal to unchallenged usage, to precedents not reversed, or to legislation not repealed, wherever these are to be found in the centuries between Magna Charta and the present time. Even in cases where we find citation of what is claimed to be the very language of the Constitution, we are not to understand anything more than that the language is that of some document of acknowledged authority in determining usage; as, for example, an Act of Parliament. And the English Constitution is altered, not through the formality of an amendment voted upon by the people, but by embodying the innovation directly in legislative act, — subject, of course, to prompt ratification or rejection by the people in their next return of members to Parliament. To Englishmen, then, the Constitution means primarily the established order of government, whether this be (1) with reference to its organization, its actual structure, and the relation of its parts; or (2) with reference to usage, precedent, and law; or (3) with reference to its genius and spirit. In the first sense the word is often loosely synonymous with our use of the word government; but for this last word English usage has developed a special meaning (see below), which excludes it in certain connections. Examples of these several uses of the word may be found on p. 257, 1. 32; p. 50, 1. 15; p. 79, 1. 35; and p. 42, l. 25.
In England the executive power, as of old, is vested nominally in the Crown, but really in the Cabinet, or Ministry, with which body the sovereign is associated, both as its honorary head and as a permanent councillor; influential indeed, but without vote, responsibility, or place in its sessions. Whenever a decisive change of party or of policy becomes apparent in the votes of the House of Commons, the old Cabinet resigns, and a new one is formed to put the new policy into operation. Theoretically the Queen is free to choose whom she will to become Prime Minister and form the new Cabinet; but practically the choice is limited to a single person, the acknowledged leader of the party which has become uppermost in the Commons. The Prime Minister selects his colleagues from among the ablest men of his party and its allies in both Houses, a significant feature of the scheme being the fact that the Ministers are actually members of Parliament, are present at its sessions, and play a most important part in its deliberations. The Cabinet so constituted is, therefore, a committee of the majority. But it is more than this. It is a committee “with power," charged with the duty of acting in momentous affairs, and often without previous consultation with Parliament. Upon it devolves, furthermore, nearly the whole initiative in legislation, — the duty of planning, introducing, and bringing to decision almost all measures discussed in Parliament. The promptness and completeness with which this body of men is vested with imperial power, in every realm save that of the Judiciary, is startling indeed to American ideas. The Ministry becomes at once both heart and brain of the government, and during its tenure of office wields a power far transcending that of our Presidential Administration. A sufficient safeguard against abuse of this power is found in the immediate responsibility of the Ministry to the Commons; that is, in the swiftness and certainty of its downfall if it fails to carry the majority with it. Out of the feeling that the Ministry is the vital centre of government, Englishmen have come to call it “ Her Majesty's Government,” “ the Government,” or simply “ Government.” In these expressions there is often an implied reference to that other equally important and equally recognized part of the system, “ the Opposition; " that is, the organized minority, in its character of critic and advocate for the other side, charged with the duty of allowing nothing to pass without challenge and efficient scrutiny.