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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 toward 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 organisation 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 them
selves. 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 was finally summoned by Congress to meet at Philadelphia, in February 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation, and to report to Congress and the several States, such amendments as should be adequate to the exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union. To the meeting of this body came as delegates the most distinguished men in all the States except one, which was not represented. It was presided over by Washington, himself the most ardent advocate of union, and was an assembly of uncommon dignity and ability. Its discussions were protracted and earnest. A wide diversity of opinion appeared, principally between those disposed to conservative views, and those inclined toward democracy. There were also to be reconciled what were thought to be the conflicting interests of the different States. The Convention finally abandoned altogether the Articles of Confederation, as hopeless of amendment, and instead of them, on the 17th of September, 1787, adopted by a considerable majority the original Constitution substantially as it now stands, and submitted it to the people of the several States for ratification, under a proviso that the assent of nine States should be sufficient to render it binding between the ratifying States. Each State called a convention of its own to consider the proposal, in which prolonged discussions took place. There was more or less opposition in many quarters, and upon many grounds. But it was finally ratified and formally adopted by the thirteen States, at different times. Meanwhile, after eleven States had assented to it, and on the 30th of April, 1789, the Government it established was organised. The two remaining States ratified the Constitution and came into the Union-one in November 1789, the other in May 1790.
The State of Vermont, in which settlements had been begun before the revolution commenced, upon land titles acquired under the New Hampshire grants from the Crown, had fought through the war on the American side, without becoming a member of the Union formed by the Articles of Confederation. At the close of the war, land titles were attempted to be asserted against those of the settlers, under the grant to the Duke of York, by which a large part of New York was held. The boundaries of both grants were so loosely defined, that each covered a part of what was embraced in the other. The Vermonters resisted these claims, set at defiance the legal process from the New York courts, and in defence of their lands maintained the independence of their State, under a constitution of their own, until 1791, when their titles having been conceded, they applied for admission, and were received into the Union.
All the territory now under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, and not embraced within these fourteen States, including that afterwards derived from France, from Spain, and from Mexico, became subject to the exclusive control of the Federal Government. As the various parts of it were occupied or acquired, territorial governments were from time to time organised by Congress and administered under the national authority, until such time as these Territories, or successive portions of them, were admitted by Congress into the Union as States, on the same footing, under the Constitution, with the original States. Texas alone was admitted as a State when it was first annexed to the United States, never having been made a Territory. There are now thirty-eight States in the Union, and seven organised Territories, which will in time, as their population becomes sufficient, be admitted as States. Each State has a constitution, and a complete system of government of its own.
From this meagre outline of a most interesting chapter in history, it will be perceived that the States which originally adopted the Constitution were independent and separate, and entered the Union voluntarily, on a footing of entire equality. There was no subordinate and no superior, nor any conquest or compulsion of one by the others. And the cardinal idea upon which the Constitution is founded, is that every State which becomes subject to it is independent of the other States, and retains its full sovereignty, except so far as by the express terms of the Constitution, or by necessary implication, certain powers are relinquished by the States, or conferred upon the Federal Government. In determining therefore, in which jurisdiction any governmental power resides, the inquiry is whether it has been parted with by the States, under the provisions of the Constitution, and if so, whether it has been granted to the National Government. There are certain powers that are prohibited to the States, but which that Government has not acquired.
The most serious question under the Constitution that has ever arisen, was that which involved the nature of the compact upon which it was founded—whether the Union thus formed could be dissolved by som of the States that were parties .to it, and they allowed to withdraw without the consent of the others. No discussion of a constitutional question in America, was ever so prolonged, so excited, and so bitter as this. It culminated finally in the civil war of 1861, and then received its final settlement. It was contended on the part of the Southern States, in which slavery existed when the Constitution was adopted, that the Union was virtually a partnership of States, voluntarily entered into, and depending for its existence upon the continued consent of the parties; that those who made the compact could dissolve it; and that no power was conferred upon the Federal Government by the Constitution, to compel States to remain under its authority, or to continue an alliance from which they found it their interest to withdraw. This view was urged with great earnestness by Southern statesmen, under the leadership of Mr. Calhoun. In the earlier stages of the discussion it was plausible, and not without force, and Southern sentiment was generally, though not universally, in its favour. But in the great debate on the subject in the United States Senate, in 1830, the answer to this construction of the Constitution was brought forward by Mr. Webster with extraordinary and convincing power. No speech in America was ever so widely read, so striking in its immediate effect, so lasting in its ultimate results. From that time there has been no difference in opinion among the Northern people, as to the question involved. It was shown that the compact of the Constitution was of a far higher and more enduring character than a mere dissoluble partnership, existing upon sufferance; that it was a National Government, permanent and perpetual in its nature, not contracted for by the States, but ordained by the people; that while the assent to it in the first instance was voluntary, and was expressed through the medium of the State Governments, it was an assent that once given and acted upon, could not be recalled; from which no power of recession was reserved, or could exist, consistently with the object of the contract, or the nature of the Government; and that the States, though retaining their independence and sovereignty in many particulars, had parted with their right to a political existence separate from the Government they had created.
When this question finally came to the arbitrament of arms, there was no hesitation in the minds of the Northern people touching the merits of the quarrel, or the indispensable necessity of maintaining it. Nor did the theory of the right of secession command universal acceptance in the Southern States. Four of them declined to join the Confederacy, and remained on the Union side through the war. Since the war, this question is at an end. It is not likely ever to recur. With the disappearance of slavery, no reason for asserting a right of secession remains. No respectable vote could be obtained in any Southern State to-day, in favour of a dissolution of the Union.
The Constitution of the United States reproduces under a different form of government, and under different conditions, all the principles of English liberty, and the safeguards of English law. These are the foundations upon which it rests, and the model upon which it is constructed. It affords the highest proof that those principles are neither local nor national in their character, nor dependent upon the form of government under which they exist, so long as it is in its nature a free government. Sovereignty is distributed, as in England, among three principal and independent departments —the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.
1. The President is the head of the Government, the chief executive officer, and the commander-in-chief of the army and the navy. He is required to be of American birth, to be not less than thirty-five years of age, and a resident of the United States for fourteen years when elected. He holds office for four years, and is constitutionally eligible to repeated re-elections. No President however, has been re-elected more than once ; and political tradition, as well as general sentiment, is opposed to a second re-election. No Vice-President has ever been re-elected.
Both the President and Vice-President are elected by a College of Electors, chosen in each State in numbers corresponding to the number of senators and representatives in Congress to which the State is entitled, and in such manner as the State may by law provide. In South Carolina they have always been chosen by the legislature, and no popular election for Presidential Electors has ever been held there. In the other States they are elected by the people. The electors so chosen are required to meet in February following the election, in their respective States, and to cast their votes for President and Vice-President. The votes are transmitted to the seat of government, and are opened and counted by the president of the Senate, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives. The persons having the greatest number of votes are declared elected, provided they receive a majority of all the electoral votes, and they hold office from the 4th day of March next ensuing. If no person has a majority of votes for the office of President, the House of Representatives then elects the President from the persons-not exceeding three-who received the highest number. But in this election each State has but one vote, which is cast by the majority of its representatives. If no person has received a majority of electoral votes for the office of Vice-President, the Senate elects that officer from the two persons having the highest number. If the House fails to elect a President before the 4th of March next following, the Vice-President becomes the President.
It was intended by the Constitution that the President and the Vice-President should be chosen by the Electoral College, acting independently and in the exercise of their own judgment; but recent elections have proceeded upon the nomination in the