chapter  6
29 Pages

The American and the British Constitution Are Two Entirely Different Things

Two closely linked features of British constitutionalism in the Victorian era have long been clear: a remarkably unhistorical emphasis upon continuity, and the belief that gradual constitutional change was infinitely preferable to revolution or artificially contrived reform. Each of the views would attract numerous adherents during the final third of the nineteenth century: Theophilus Parsons’s position that the colonial experience fundamentally determined the US Constitution, and Sidney George Fisher’s stress upon the British heritage. The emphasis upon Anglo-American constitutionalism that reached its apogee during the quarter century after 1890 has not yet disappeared, and serves as a useful corrective to the more excessive impulses of American parochialism and chauvinism. The most valuable legacy of that cultural phase may well have been the inception of a serious, realistic Anglo-American dialogue about constitutional issues. Lord Birkenhead was apprehensive about the uncontrolled transition to full democracy in his country, and felt that the American system was equipped with superior brakes to the British.