American government v British government: political fiction?

Toward the end of Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children, an American intellectual, Mr. Boncassen, whose daughter is about to marry Silverbridge, the Duke’s son, engages in an after dinner political conversation.

In one of Trollope’s complex but explicit descriptions of Parliamentary action, it has been determined that the Conservative majority officials (what we call our Cabinet) will be stepping down and the Liberals will probably be taking over.

The following exchange — with which I am enraptured — is among Mr. Boncassen, Silverbridge and Tregear, another young Member of Parliament. It should sound familiar to us Americans; indeed, you may be able to put some names to the generalities and events.

The Duke’s Children was published in 1880, when Rutherford B. Hayes was our president.

Mr. Boncassen begins the conversation:

“But of this I am sure, that the facility which exists here for a minister or ministers to go out of office without disturbance of the Crown, is a great blessing. You say the other party will come in.”

“That is most probable,” said Silverbridge.

“With us the other party never comes in, — never has a chance of coming in,–except once in four years, when the President is elected. That one event binds us all for four years.”

“But you do change your ministers,” said Tregear.

“A secretary may quarrel with the President, or he may have the gout, or be convicted of peculation.”

“And yet you think yourselves more nearly free than we are.”

“I am not so sure of that. We have had a pretty difficult task, that of carrying on a government in a new country, which is nevertheless more populous than almost any old country. The influxions are so rapid, that every ten years the nature of the people is changed. It isn’t easy; and though I think on the whole we’ve done pretty well, I am not going to boast that Washington is as yet the seat of a political Paradise.”


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