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THE CONSTITUTION OF THE

UNITED STATES

THE year that has lately closed has terminated the first century since the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In the reckoning of history the period is not a long one.

In the accelerated pace of modern times it has been long enough to form that instrument into a complete system of government, and to test pretty thoroughly its efficacy and value. In its origin it was a striking and, in many respects, an original experiment. In its republican form it was substantially without precedent. It was the product of conflicting opinion, proposed in doubt, ratified with hesitation. The States which adopted it were small and struggling, exhausted and impoverished by a long war, with no central government worth the name, no credit, no finance, no certain outlook for the future. The hundred years of its history have seen the civilization, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, of the continent on the margin of which its administration began; the increase of its subjects from three millions to nearly sixty millions; the rise and maturity under its protection of a great and powerful nation, whose growth has been phenomenal, and whose future lies beyond the field of prediction. As its institutions

sea.

have gradually taken shape, and as one after another of the dangers that menaced them has been overcome, it is natural that they should have attracted, in an increasing degree, the attention of mankind, and especially of the English-speaking race. The American nation is the first-born child of Great Britain, the first and greatest fruit of the characteristic power of the Anglo-Saxons for colonization and for going by the

The connection between the two countries grows constantly larger and more intimate. It is clearer day by day that the future of America, for better or worse, is to be the inheritance, not of a nation only, but of the race to which the nation belongs.

But it is probable that very few even among the bestinstructed Englishmen have a clear or accurate conception of the government of the United States, as it actually exists. Some features of it are conspicuous, and some qualities obvious. He who runs may read them. The real working of its institutions, the exact relations of its system of dual sovereignty, apparently complicated, in reality simple, are less easily apparent. Nor has a stranger the means of readily acquainting himself with the subject. The text of the Constitution, considering its scope, is singularly brief. Its language is terse and comprehensive. It enunciates general principles in the fewest words, and deals with details as little as possible. Its perusal is easy-even attractive—for its simplicity and dignity of expression, but leaves it obvious to the reader that its practical efficiency must depend altogether upon the construction that is given to its phraseology and the manner in which its provisions are carried into effect by legislation. An acquaintance with these results, as they have from time to time taken place, must be sought through many judicial decisions, Congressional debates, and legislative enactments; or, at least, by study of the elaborate treatises in which they have been brought together by commentators, and which are written for the lawyer rather than for the general reader. A concise and accurate outline of the Constitution of the United States, and of the system of Federal government of which it is the foundation and the supreme law, may answer many inquiries, and may, perhaps, be found useful to those interested in political science, as well as to those who care to know more about that country. Government is only one factor in the life of a nation, but it is the most important. An acquaintance with it is a large advance towards a knowledge of its people.

It is necessary to a correct understanding of the Constitution of the United States that some attention should be given to the national conditions which preceded its origin. At the close of the American Revolution, in 1783, the thirteen British colonies which, under a loose and hasty association for that purpose, had brought the war to a successful result, had become independent States, and had adopted separate constitutions of their own. Contiguous to each other, though extended along a very wide reach of coast from New Hampshire to Georgia, and inhabited by the same race, there was but little connection between them, except the bond of a common sympathy in a common cause. The attempt at a Union, formed during the progress of the war, under what were called the Articles of Confederation, was rather an association than a government. Its obligation was well described as "a rope of sand.” The central organization had no control over the States which formed it, no power to raise revenue, nor to assert any permanent authority. Trial had shown it to be destitute of the elements of self-preservation or of permanence, and had made it clear on all hands that it must be abandoned. It is unnecessary to recur to it further, since nothing came of it at last but the experience that pointed the way to a better system.

But that a union of some sort must be formed, and a government based upon it, was an obvious necessity. Neither of the States was strong enough to maintain its independence. Conflicting interests were likely to involve them in perpetual controversy among themselves. The vast territory behind them, when it should become occupied, was likely to develop into a multitude of small and independent republics, or perhaps provinces under foreign governments, and unavoidably to give rise to constant disputes between the States in regard to the possession of lands, in which some of them claimed rights indicated by vague and indeterminate boundaries, and others, without special title, would, nevertheless, have strong claims to share. There was no substantial hesitation, therefore, among the people of the States or their leaders touching the necessity of an alliance and of a national government; but the gravest difference of opinion naturally arose as to the terms upon which they should be constructed. Jealous of their dearly purchased independence, the States were reluctant to part with a sovereignty which it was much easier to discard than to recall. It was under these circumstances, and in this condition of public sentiment, that a convention

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