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No. II. Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,
86 105 107
This little work has no pretensions, save that of brevity and clearness. It is intended for the benefit of youth, of the general reader, and of foreigners. I believe that no attempt of the kind has yet been made; I mean on so limited a scale. I have endeavoured by a method of my own, to compress in plain and popular language, the prominent features of our excellent constitution in as small a space as possible, and at the same time to avoid obscurity. Whether I have succeeded or not, it is for the reader to determine.
I have addressed this essay (for it claims no higher title) to the Law Academy of Philadelphia. For more than fourteen years I have had the honour of being at the head of that useful institution, who, during that time have been zealously pursuing their steady course, and whose members have enriched the legal profession with several valuable works. It is not so much for their instruction that I have presented them with this result of my studies, as that they might see in it a tribute of friendship and a testimony of my constant attachment, and of the pleasure that I feel in being connected with them. Yet I have thought that this brief view of our constitution might not be useless to their younger members, as an introduction to the more elaborate works which they will be called upon to study. It will smooth their way to a more profound investigation of the rules and principles of our admirable form of government.
The method which I have followed to attain the object which I had in view, is, I believe, entirely new. I do not by any means pretend that it is preferable to that which has been adopted by other writers; I only can say that I found it better suited to my purpose, which I have already explained. Had I written with other and more ambitious views, I would, of course, have endeavoured to adapt my method to them, as our great writers on the constitution have very properly and successfully done.
I have treated separately and in the first place, of the organization of the government, by which I mean its great division into legislative, executive and judicial departments; its consequent subdivisions; its subordinate officers; the various modes of election and appointment to office; the periods of service; the modes of action of those different authorities, and a variety of matter of detail, constituting together what might be called the mechanical part of the government. In the text
of the constitution those matters are mixed with other provisions; I have thought best to present them in a separate view
These being disposed of, I have proceeded to the enumeration and distribution of powers, rights and duties between the general government and the states, reddendo singula singulis, and so as to give a clear view not only of the division of power between the union and the individual states, but of its distribution between the different branches which compose the aggregate authority of the former. I have classed these under general heads, with reference to the different subjects on which power is or may be exercised; in which division or classification 1 have followed no precedent, because I found none which, in my opinion, could so well answer my purpose as the arrangement which I have adopted. By this means I have been enabled to condense a great deal more matter in a small space than I could otherwise have done. I have even been able to introduce a few occasional reflections, and to deduce a few corollaries from the text of the constitution, which do not appear on the face of the instrument. But of these I have been very sparing; and the reader will recollect that it is not an abstract, but a view of the constitution that I here present to the public, and consequently, that where the text, in consequence of different opinions having been entertained about its meaning, appeared to require some explanation, it be
hoved me to give that which appeared to me to be most consonant to its spirit.
I have prefaced the whole work with two preliminary chapters, in one of which I have endeavoured to givea clear view of the politicalstate of this country under the colonial government and under the confederation, with which in the other chapter I have compared our present constitution, in order to facilitate its intelligence, by pointing out the objects that its framers had in view. In an appendix, I have given the text of the Constitution, with its amendments, and the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which preceded it. To these I have added the Declaration of Independence, and the Farewell Address of our immortal Washington, considering them as indispensable documents to the student of our constitution, and of our constitutional history.
I have not included in this short sketch much of what is called constitutional law. It is a separate science, depending on acts of legislation, which may be altered from day to day. Even the decisions of the supreme court of the United States, on constitutional points, have been questioned, after being acquiesced in for many years. I have, in a few instances, touched on some of those questions; the whole subject, however, I have not considered to be within my plan. A brief view of the constitution could not admit of it.