The United States and Canada; a political study
By George M. Wrong (1921)


In this series of six lectures delivered by Professor Wrong at the Wesleyan University under the George Slocum Bennett foundation, the author has examined the conditions under which has arisen the dominance of the English-speaking peoples in America; he has placed in contrast the divergences and noted the similarities of their institutions; and, last but not least, he has clearly outlined Canada’s status in the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is beyond question that in this respect Professor Wrong has rendered an international service. We are not surprised to find in Continental Europe little comprehension of the relations which seem at once to unite and to separate the British communities throughout the world; but perhaps Canadians may be pardoned for a little surprise that those relations are so imperfectly realized by their neighbours. It is barely twenty-five years since a distinguished American statesman could hardly be induced to believe that Canada possessed and exercised the right of levying customs duties upon products of the United Kingdom imported into the Dominion. A quarter of a century previously Sir John Macdonald had encountered a similar lack of comprehension during the negotiation of the Treaty of Washington.

The author has given in broad but clear outline the distinguishing features of each form of government. He recognizes that while the British North America Act avows the purpose of establishing a constitution for Canada similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom, yet many leading features of our system were drawn from the constitution of the United States. It is not necessary to concern oneself with Lord Haldane’s niceties as to the character, federal or otherwise, of the Canadian constitution. In truth, it is federal in the ordinary acceptance of the term; and the principle of federalism was drawn wholly from the example of the United States.

Professor Wrong lays emphasis upon the consideration that the constitution of the United States was framed in idealism, while that of Canada has grown out of tradition. The framers of the American constitution were necessarily influenced by the tendencies of political thought in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In Great Britain the same tendencies almost succeeded in eliminating from the British system a feature which strongly marks its divergence from that of the United States: namely, the presence of responsible ministers in parliament amenable to the will of the people’s representatives. In one aspect it is curious, but in another perfectly natural and logical, that the United States, as Professor Wrong points out, have never established and apparently never desired that form of direct legislative control over the executive for which Canadians contended nearly one hundred years ago, even to the point of rebellion. The American theory of checks and balances requires an executive independence which the Canadian scheme of government could hardly afford.

Within the nations of the British Commonwealth the formal executive is not a party leader; he stands apart from all parties, and acts by the advice of his ministers under the conventions of the constitution as the will of the people directs. The real executive is to be found in his advisers. In the United States the President is at once the executive and the leader of the dominant political party. He fulfills the functions of both King and Prime Minister, and he exercises greater power than either. He attains the position through the seventies of an election contest, 'n which neither party spares the other. When the battle is over, he stands before the whole country as the head of the nation, and is recognized as such by all parties.

Professor Wrong’s lectures are well conceived and instructive. When a large and complex subject is treated in narrow compass one would naturally expect an occasional omission or expression that might give rise to misunderstanding. In discussing the omnipotence of parliament it might have been useful to explain that the legal power of the British parliament with respect to the Dominions is overridden and controlled by constitutional conventions. Perhaps, also, the author should have-made it perfectly clear that in Canada, as in the United Stares, it is for the courts to determine whether any legislative body has overstepped the limits of its jurisdiction.

The author’s words respecting the opportunities of democracy on this continent and with regard to the overwhelming responsibility which rests upon the British and American Commonwealths for the peace of the world are timely and impressive. His contribution to the political thought of both countries must be of service to each.

Our neighbours have given us a worthy example in establishing foundations such as that under which these lectures were delivered. One recalls the William Earl Dodge foundation at Yale, which has brought forth excellent fruit, and doubtless there are others. It is to be hoped that the wealth of Canada will seek opportunity fur usefulness in the establishment of such foundations in this country.

R. L. Borden

You can read this book here in pdf format


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