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It has been my purpose, in the preparation of this volume, to set forth in a concise form the substance of the leading decisions of the Supreme Court, in which the several articles, sections, and clauses of the Constitution of the United States have been examined, explained, and interpreted.
The inquiry covers the full period of a hundred years. In that time the more important, and the most important, provisions of that instrument have been discussed at the bar, and the questions arising from business transactions, from the relations of States to each other, from the relations of States to the national government, and questions growing out of our treaties with Indian tribes and with foreign nations, have been adjudicated by the Court.
An examination of the authorities so created justifies and renders unavoidable the conclusion that the Constitution of the United States, in its principles and in its main features, is no longer the subject of controversy, of debate, or of doubt.
The line of sovereignty in the States and the nature, extent, and limits of the sovereignty of the national government have been distinctly marked; and thus the gravest questions that have arisen under the Constitution -questions that disturbed the harmony and threatened the existence of the Union - have passed from the field of debate into the realm of settled law.
It is a fortunate circumstance in the history of the Supreme Court and of the country that the conclusions were not reached by the concurrent action of judges taken from one section of the Union, nor by the concurrent action of judges who had entertained kindred opinions in partisan warfare. Indeed, as the text will show, the crucial and most important case — the case which recognized and established the supremacy of the national government -- was decided in a divided court, upon the opinion of judges, a majority of whom were from the section of the Union where the extreme doctrine of State rights was accepted generally.
The supremacy of the national government has been established, but within hits well defined; while to the States every power, all dignity, all sovereignty essential for the administration of governments within States, remain undisturbed.
At the end of a century this result has been reached : The action of the general government is applied to all the external concerns of the nation, and to those internal concerns which affect the States generally, but not to those which are completely within a particular State, which do not affect other States, and with which it is not necessary to interfere for the purpose of executing some of the general powers of the national government.
I have not sought to adapt this work to any class of readers, either student or professional, but to present the Constitution of the United States to whatever public I may be able to reach, and as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court.
At the close of my self-imposed task, which from the beginning to the end has been instructive and agreeable to me, I cannot omit the expression of my reverent admiration for the foreseeing genius of the men who created the Supreme Court, made it independent in its organization, infallible as an instrument of government, and the final arbiter in the determination of the rights of citizens and of controversies between States.
GROTON, MASS., March, 1895.
THE ORGANIC LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES.