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took so long to make up its mind, but that it made it up as quickly and, on the whole, as decisively as it did.
The federal system, with its checks and balances, although it often seems rather slow and clumsy, is nevertheless pretty well adapted to this large and diverse country in which the formation of a national opinion is a slow and often a clumsy process. It is often said that the government of Great Britain responds much more quickly to the pressure of public opinion than the government of the United States does. This is perhaps true, but it is not so true as it seems to be. What seems to be a more ready response to public opinion is often only a more rapid formation of public opinion itself. England is a small country, about the size of the state of Kansas. The political and industrial and intellectual life of the nation centers in London, where the government sits. The whole country reads the same papers—the London papers on the same day they are printed; discusses the same events, the same men, the same measures, the same speeches, the same scandals. Nothing like this happens, or can happen, in the United States. Strictly speaking, the United States has no capital, no dominating center of industrial, political, or intellectual life. Particularly, there is no center of intellectual life.
The last place to go to find out what the people are thinking about is Washington, as President Wilson himself has found out; and it is easier to predict the result of a general election in Kansas City than in New York. East of the Alleghany Mountains the people read the New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or the Washington papers, and they never see any other. In the Middle West the people read the Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, or Kansas City papers. They can't get the New York papers until the day after they are printed, and no one likes to read old news. If you go still farther west—to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco—you are again in a new country, where a New York paper, if one is ever seen, is four days behind the times.
Of course the newspapers all carry much the same press matter; and events of world importance, or of great national significance, are similarly presented, and read on the same day, the country over. But what the people think about these events in any particular section, and how their particular interests are involved—this is differently reflected in the different sections; so that to a considerable extent the people of the different sections read and think about different men and different events and different issues. Under these circumstances it is no wonder that it takes a long time to form a thoroughly consolidated opinion on any vital matter.
It not infrequently happens that the people elect in one year a Republican President and a Republican majority in Congress, but two years later, in the congressional elections, elect enough Democrats to place the Republicans in a minority in Congress. The result seems an absurd one, for then there are two parties, with different ideas and policies, in power, one in control of the executive and another in control of the legislative branch of the government. In that case it would seem that the government could not reflect the will of the people. But it is possible that it reflects it perfectly. It is possible that the country is slowly changing its mind, that it does not yet know certainly what it wants. This is not always the case, but it is often the case; and when it is the case the deadlock in the government is a good reflection of the popular will, or lack of it. At least, until it is certain that the country has thoroughly made up its mind one way or another, it is perhaps not a bad thing for the government to go a bit slow.
As we look back over American history, it is clear that there has been an ever-increasing number of questions about which the people, as a whole, have come to think alike, about which a consolidated national public opinion has been formed; and in proportion as this has come about the powers of the federal government have increased and the powers of the state governments have diminished. Whenever the people come to think nationally about any question they usually transfer the control of that question to the national government. The result, after a century and a quarter, is that the power and the prestige of the federal government are enormously increased. If the framers of the Constitution could come back to earth and see what the federal government is doing to-day, they would all agree that this monstrous thing was no child of theirs; for to-day the federal government exercises as a matter of course powers which they never dreamed of giving to it. This result has been the consequence of changing conditions and ideas; it is the result of an ever-increasing nationalism, a constant extension of the sphere of social and political questions in respect to which there is a consolidated national public opinion.
But since we have a written constitution, and the powers of the federal and state governments are defined in the Constitution, how does the federal government acquire new
power? The obvious way is, of course, by changing the Constitution, by adopting amendments to it. The Constitution can, however, be amended only when the House of Representatives and the Senate, each by a two-thirds vote, proposes such an amendment, and when this proposed amendment is approved by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. This would seem to make the amendment of the Constitution extremely difficult, and, in fact, until recently it was generally supposed it would require something like a revolution, something like the Civil War, to get the Constitution amended.
There is, however, another way in which the power of the federal government has been increased, and that is by what is called a “liberal interpretation” of the Constitution. As has been seen, it falls to the Supreme Court to determine whether a statute of the federal government is or is not constitutional; and it is obvious that the power of the federal government can be restricted or extended by the simple process of interpreting the terms of the Constitution as strictly or as liberally as possible. Some of the terms of the Constitution are very elastic in this respect. It will be remembered that after defining the specific powers of Congress, the Constitution says, “And to make all laws which may be necessary and proper for