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The chief differences between the South African and the American system are the following:
The President has, in the South African republics, far less independence than belongs in the United States to either a Federal President or to the Governor of a State. He has no veto on acts of the legislature, and less indirect power through the patronage at his disposal. Moreover, the one-chambered legislature is much stronger as against him than are the two-chambered legislatures of America, which may, and frequently do, differ in opinion, so that the President or Governor can play off one against the other. Further, as already observed, an American Federal President has a cabinet of advisers whom he has himself selected, and an American State governor has usually officials around him who, being elected by a party vote at the same election, are probably his political allies; whereas a South African President might possibly have an Executive Council of opponents forced on him by the Volksraad. And even in negotiations with foreign states, he cannot act apart from this Executive Council.
The distinctive note of both these South African Constitutions is the kind of relation they create between the Executive and the Legislature. These powers are not disjoined, as in the United States, because a South African President habitually addresses and may even lead the Volksraad. Neither are they united, as in Britain and her colonies, where the Executive is at the same time dependent on the legislature, and also the leader of the legislature, for the South African President is elected by the people for a fixed term, and cannot be displaced by the Volksraad. He combines the inde
pendence of an American President with the opportunities of influencing the legislature enjoyed by a British, or British colonial, Ministry. For nearly all practical purposes he is at the mercy of the legisla ture, because he has neither a veto, like the American President, nor a power of dissolution, like the British Ministry. The Volksraad could take all real power from him, should it be so minded. But he is strong by the possession of the two advantages just mentioned. He can persuade his Volksraad, which has not, by forming itself into organized parties, become inaccessible to persuasion. He can influence the opinion of his people, because he is their choice, and a single man in a high place fixes the attention and leads the minds of a people more than does an assembly.
It must, however, be remembered that the featuresperhaps one may say the merits-which I have noted as shown in the working of the South African system, belong rather to small than to large communities. The Free State had in 1895 only some seventeen thousand voting citizens, the Transvaal not many more. Athens in the days of Themistocles had about thirty thousand. In large countries, with large Legislatures, whose size would engender political parties, things would work out differently. Furthermore, in a large State, the administrative departments would be numerous and their work heavy. The President could not discuss departmental affairs with the Raad, and could not easily be made personally responsible for all that his administrative officers did. And the less knowledge he had of affairs and of persons, the less influence he exerted over the Raad, the more would his Executive Council tend to
check him. Its members would probably intrigue with the leaders of parties in the Volksraad, and make themselves a more important factor in the government than they have been while overshadowed by his personality.
Any one who, knowing little or nothing about the social conditions and the history of these two republics, should try to predict the working of their governments from a perusal of their constitutions, would expect to find them producing a supremacy, perhaps a tyranny, of the representative assembly; for few checks upon its power are to be found within the four corners of either instrument. He would be prepared to see party government develop itself in a pronounced form. Power would be concentrated in the party majority and its leaders. The Executive would become the humble instrument of their will. The courts of law, especially in the Transvaal with its Flexible constitution, would be unable to stem the tide of legislative violence. The President might perhaps attempt to resist by producing a deadlock over appointments; and he would have a certain moral advantage in being the direct choice of the people. But the one-chambered Legislature would in all probability prevail against him.
Is this what has in fact happened? Far from it. Party government, in the English and American sense, has not made its appearance. The Legislature has not become the predominant power, subjecting all others to itself. It has, in general, followed the lead of the Executive. The Courts of law, though (in the Transvaal) at one moment menaced, have administered justice with fairness and independence. But in order to describe what has happened, I must, in a very few sentences,
deal separately with the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, for though their constitutions are similar and the origin of their respective populations nearly identical1, their history has been very different.
The Orange Free State had, for many years prior to 1899, a comparatively tranquil and uneventful career. One native war inflicted some injury upon it, but the result of that war was to give it a strip of valuable territory. It had joined the British colonies in a South African Customs Union, had placed its railroads under the management of the Cape Government, had maintained friendly relations with the two British self-governing colonies, had extended the franchise to immigrants on easy terms, and was at all times recognized as absolutely independent by the British Government. Internally its development, if not rapid, was both steady and healthful. There was no poverty among the people, and hardly any wealth. No exciting questions arose to divide the citizens, and no political parties grew up. The Legislature, although too large, has been a sensible, businesslike body, which wasted no more time than debate necessarily implies. From 1863 to 1888 it was guided by the counsels of President Brand, whom the people elected for five successive terms, and whose power of sitting in it and addressing it proved of the utmost value, for his judgement and patriotism inspired perfect confidence. His successor Mr. Reitz, who was obliged by ill-health to retire from office in 1895, enjoyed equal respect and almost equal influence, when he chose to exert it, with the Volksraad, and things went smoothly
1 The British element is larger among the citizens of the Orange Free State than it is in the burgher population of the Transvaal.
under him, as they promised to do under President Steyn, who was elected in 1896, for the latter also was believed-so I heard when visiting the Free State in 1895-to possess the qualities which had endeared his predecessors to the community. The Executive Council has not proved to be a very valuable part of the scheme of government; and some judicious observers thought the constitution ought to be amended by strengthening the position of the courts and introducing provisions for a popular vote on constitutional amendments, similar to those which exist in American States and in Switzerland. But, on the whole, the system of government worked smoothly, purely and efficiently; the Legislature was above suspicion, and the people were content with their institutions.
Very different had been the annals of the South African Republic. Soon after the Grondwet was adopted in 1858, a civil war broke out; and from that time onward factions and troubles of all kinds were seldom wanting. In 1877 the country, then threatened by native enemies, was annexed to the British dominions against the will of the people: in 1881 its autonomy was restored, subject to British suzerainty1. Its government, however, continued to be pressed by financial and other difficulties, till the discovery of rich gold-fields in 1884-6, while suddenly increasing the revenue, drew in a stream of immigrants which has steadily continued to flow, and therewith raised that new crop of political troubles of which all the world has
1 A further convention was made in 1884, whose articles, omitting all reference to 'suzerainty,' conceded an independence qualified only in respect of the veto retained by Britain over treaties with foreign powers.