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as well as of Congress, which are inconsistent with the Constitution. Such laws are usurpations, and in no just sense obligatory; for there never can be two supreme laws existing at the same time on the same subject, which are inconsistent with each other.
Oath of Office. - Religious Test. — Ratification of the
§ 248. The next clause is — The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, (that is, in Congress) and the members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and
of the several States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation 'to support this Constitution. But no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public • trust under the United States.'
§ 249. No one will doubt the utility of an oath, or solemn affirmation, on the part of all public officers in the legislative, executive, and judicial departments of the State and National Governments, who will admit the sanctity of an oath or affirmation on any occasion whatsoever. It surely cannot be too much, for the people to require from all persons in authority a solemn guaranty of their fidelity to the Constitution. And every one, who believes in this responsibility to the Supreme Being for his actions, cannot but feel a more lively sensibility in the discharge of his duties, from this deep and affecting appeal to his conscience, made in the
presence of God. While oaths and affirmations ought not to be unnecessarily multiplied, there is a peculiar propriety in thus bringing religious obligation in support of the
laws on such solemn occasions, as the discharge of constitutional duties.
$ 250. The remaining part of the clause prohibits any religious Test from being imposed, as a qualification to any office, or trust under the United States. This clause is recommended by its tendency to satisfy many delicate and scrupulous minds, which entertain great repugnance to religious Tests, as a qualification for civil power, or honor. But it has a higher aim in the Constitution. It is designed to cut off every pretence of an alliance between the Church and the State in the administration of the National Government. The American People were too well read in the history of other countries, and had suffered too much in their colonial state, not to dread the abuses of authority resulting from religious bigotry, intolerance, and persecution. They knew but too well, that no sect could be safely trusted with power on such a subject; for all had in turns wielded it to the injury, and sometimes to the destruction of their inoffensive, but in their judgment, erring neighbors. And we shall presently see, that, by an aniendment to the Constitution, evils of this sort in the National Government are still more effectually guarded against.
The seventh and last article of the Constitution is · The ratification of the Conventions of nine States
shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.'
It is unnecessary now to comment upon this article, as all the States have ratified the Constitution. But we know, that if an unanimous ratification of it by all the States had been required, it would have been rejected; for North Carolina and Rhode Island did not at first accede to it.
$ 252. And here closes our Review of the Constitution in the original form, in which it was adopted by the people of the United States. The concluding passage of it is valuable as an historical reminiscence. • Done in Convention by the
'unanimous consent of all the States present, the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thou'sand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and of the Independ'ence of the United States the twelfth. At the head of the illustrious men, who framed and signed it, stands the name of 'George Washington, President, and Deputy from Vir'ginia,' a name at the utterance of which it is impossible not to feel the liveliest sense of gratitude to a gracious Providence, for a life of so much glory, such spotless integrity, and such exalted patriotism.
Amendments to the Constitution.
§ 253. When the Constitution was before the People for adoption several of the State Conventions suggested amendments for the consideration of Congress, some of the most important of which were afterwards acted upon by that body at its first organization ; and having been since ratified, are now incorporated into the Constitution. They are mainly clauses, in the nature of a Bill of Rights, which more effectually guard certain rights already provided for in the Constitution, or prohibit certain exercises of authority supposed to be dangerous to the public interests. We have already had occasion to consider several of them in the preceding pages; and the remainder will now be presented.
$ 254. The first amendment is --Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of • speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peace'bly to assemble, and to petition the Government for a re. • dress of grievances.'
§ 255. The same policy, which introduced into the Constitution the prohibition of any religious Test, led to this more extended prohibition of the interference of Congress in religious concerns. We are not to attribute this prohibition of a national religious establishment to an indifference to Religion in general, and especially to Christianity, (which none could hold in more reverence, than the framers of the Constitution) but to a dread by the People of the influence of ecclesiastical power in matters of Government; a dread, which their ancestors brought with them from the Mother Country, and which, unhappily for human infirmity, their own conduct after their emigration had not in any just degree tended to diminish. It was also obvious, from the numerous and powerful sects existing in the United States, that there would be perpetual temptations to struggles for ascendency in the national councils, if any one might thereby found a permanent, and exclusive national establishment of its own; and religious persecutions might thus be introduced to an extent utterly subversive of the interests, and good order of the Republic. The most effectual mode of suppressing the evil was, in the view of the people, to strike down the temptations to its introduction.
$ 256. The next clause respects the liberty of speech, and of the press.
That this amendment was intended to secure to every citizen an absolute right to speak, or write, or print, whatever he might please, without any responsibility, public or private, therefor, is a supposition too wild to be indulged by any reasonable man. That would be, to allow every citizen a right to destroy at his pleasure, the reputation, the peace, the property, and even the personal safety of every other citizen. A man might then, out of mere malice or revenge, accuse another of infamous crimes; might excite against him the indignation of all his fellow-citizens by the most atrocious calumnies; might disturb, nay, overturn his domestic peace, and embitter his domestic affections ; might inflict the most distressing punishments upon the weak, the
timid and the innocent; might prejudice all the civil, political, and private rights of another; and might stir up sedition, rebellion, and even treason, against the Government itself, in the wantonness of his passions, or the corruptions of his heart. Civil society could not go on under such circumstances. Men would be obliged to resort to private vengeance to make up for the deficiencies of the law. It is plain, then, that this amendment imports no more, than that every man shall have a right to speak, write, and print his opinions upon any subject whatsoever, without any prior restraint, so always that he does not injure any other person in his rights, property, or personal reputation ; and so always that he does not thereby disturb the public peace, or attempt to subvert the Government. It is in fact designed to guard against those abuses of power, by which in some foreign Governments men are not permitted to speak upon political subjects, or to write or publish any thing without the express license of the Government for that purpose.
$ 257. The remaining clause secures the right of the ‘people peaceably to assemble and petition for a redress of 'grievances,' a right inestimable in itself, but often prohibited in foreign Governments, under the pretence of preventing insurrections, and dangerous conspiracies against the Government.
$ 258. The next amendment is — 'A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the ' right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be in'fringed.' One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is by disarming the people, and making it an offence to keep arms, and by substituting a regular army in the stead of a resort to the Militia. The friends of a free Government cannot be too watchful, to overcome tthe dangerous tendency of the public mind to sacrifice to mere private convenience this powerful check upon the designs of ambitious men.