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for it. The colonies had separate territories and systems. Local self-government was exercised to the utmost limit their charters would permit. Naturally, the leading colonists became familiar with the several systems, and adopted as far as they could the best features of the best of them. Thus their systems improved side by side and became very good and very much alike. The colonies really became a nation without realizing that they had been long tending in that direction. Surely, a great people of common race origin, allegiance, language, customs, contiguity of territory, and similarity of government and institutions, lacked only the bond of a single organism for some object of general welfare to complete their national unity. They thoroughly appreciated the value of their privileges of local self-government, and were not at all disposed to submit to the oppression which threatened to subvert it; and when they found out that they all felt alike about it, they would not submit. They stretched out their hands towards each other, and needed only to close them to find union in their grasp.
When, therefore, the colonies became ripe for independence, and rebelled against King George and declared themselves free and independent, they had before them no very difficult plan of reconstruction.
They made their constitutions by declaring their rights and powers as they had been accustomed to understand and exercise them. They erased the word “ King,” and wrote
People ;” they changed their flag; and when, in the course of their struggle to make good their Declaration of Independence, they felt the importance of a compact union of the states, they tried to form a “perpetual union” by the « Articles of Confederation."
This, however, was a new government, not so much over the people as over the states, the creations of the people. They neither well understood how to make it, nor were they able to obtain the consent of all the states to make it quite equal to their own standard of excellence. They made it the creature and servant of the states. They did not see that national powers must be the powers of a sovereign, not those of the servant of many separate masters. But they were wise enough to
recognize its defects and to profit by their experience. Their
Nevertheless, when the government for national purposes
The study of the development of self-government in the United States throws light upon the same experiment in other countries. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, the government of the United States under the Constitution had just begun operation. The French people, at least the educated classes, were familiar with the completed work. They were entirely familiar with the most approved theories of the right of the people to govern themselves, and of the methods of doing it. These theories had been the favorite studies of French philosophers, and our own statesmen had been greatly instructed by their precepts. Indeed, we owe much to Montesquieu, the celebrated author of the “Spirit of the Laws.” His precepts of political science illuminated and instructed the minds of Madison, Hamilton, Randolph, Wilson, and their co-laborers in the Federal Convention. The writings and speeches of these men, and the Constitution it
ghts and Tote
self, afford ample proof of the great influence of Montesquieu. Rousseau impressed Jefferson with his precepts and enthusiasm, and the Declaration of Independence witnesses his influ
But our fathers had the practical training in self-government which the French had not, and hence they better knew how far it was safe to put theories to the test of practice, and to trust a people, accustomed to the exercise of power, to its broader exercise.
Hence independence here was a success from the day of its declaration, while in France, liberty rapidly degenerated into license, and the worst of crimes were perpetrated in its name. It was not until 1870 that a republic was really established there, if, indeed, we can be quite sure that it is now established. No doubt, we owe our success largely to our preliminary training.
A constitution implies or enumerates the powers which sovereignty exercises, or is permitted to exercise. Many efforts have been made to define “ sovereignty.” Practically, it consists in the power to originate and secure the performance of all governmental acts.
The powers of sovereignty in the United States are parcelled between the nation and the state by the creators of sovereignty itself, that is by the people. The parcel allotted to one government is, with few and not important exceptions, not used by the other. The United States is sovereign in certain particulars. The states are sovereign in certain other particulars. The people are the creators of all these powers. The people have enumerated or defined them, and distributed and deposited them among the two governments. While they remain deposited they are not retained by the people. What the people have retained is the power to resume and modify, restrict or enlarge them, and redistribute and redeposit them. The permanency of the deposit of sovereign powers without change or readjustment rests upon the wisdom and efficiency with which they are exercised. Each sovereignty has, or ought to have, the powers necessary for the complete performance of its functions, and the functions of the one should not conflict with those of the other.
A constitution may be written, as it is in the United States, or unwritten, as in Great Britain. In a certain sense, every
SOVEREIGNTY AND CONSTITUTIONS.
people, tribe, association, or family in which government is administered has a constitution. The power of one to exact obedience from another implies the existence of some rule or law conferring the right to command, imposing the duty of obedience, and reciprocally imposing upon the governor, captain, chief, or father the duty of protection, and conferring upon the follower, associate, subject, or child the right to claim justice and protection. These powers and duties are usually under unwritten constitutions very imperfectly defined; the struggle of modern times has been to so adjust and define the powers of the governors as best to promote the happiness of the governed.
The word “constitution,” as employed in modern times, usually means a system of government in which the people have some share in making the laws. Thus, every government of Europe is now a constitutional government, except those of Russia and Turkey. Some local officers are elected by the people in Russia. Brazil is the only monarchy in America, and Brazil has a Senate and Assembly chosen by the people. Most European constitutions are usually found written in some law which the king or ruler has been graciously pleased to approve, conferring this power upon the people, usually to be represented in the lower chamber of the law-making body.
A republican constitution is, or ought to be, that fundamental regulator of sovereign power which assigns the proper measure of authority to the governors, and the proper measure of liberty to the people. The problem is, so to confer authority, and so reserve liberty, that each shall serve as a check or balance upon the other, and that each, without being dangerous in itself, may help and not encroach upon the other.
Theoretically, the Constitution of Great Britain is the result of the gradual growth of customs, so long established that the memory of man does not recall their origin, so wise that they command the common assent of the good, and so well known that their record is unnecessary. It is generally known that the real administration of that kingdom is controlled by the party in power as represented in the House of Commons. The leader of the party becomes prime minister, and the prime minister, with the associates that he places in his cabinet, becomes what is called the government. When this government loses the confidence of the House of Commons, it resigns, and a government enjoying that confidence takes its place and rules the kingdom. And yet there is no written law that prescribes this most important system of parliamentary government. It has in the course of a few generations, by a very natural development, absorbed all the governmental powers of royalty. The power that remains to the queen is the power to be an imposing fiction. If the queey should be superseded by a statue of John Bull, whose assent to the will of the Parliament should be inferred from its silence, it would be difficult to distinguish between its governmental powers and hers.
The laws of Parliament are omnipotent, but no written law confers the power upon Parliament to make the laws. The Constitution is subject at any time to change by the law-making power. Its real protection from change is in the conservatism of that power and of the people. That conservatism has hitherto proved an ample protection. Such a reliance would be unsafe in this country. We seem to need written constitutions which shall plainly define and assert the limits of the law-making and other powers. The tendency of our legislators is usually in the direction of innovation, not of conservatism ; we need constitutional limitations to restrain our governmental rashness, not to say rawness. Our statesmen lack the conservative self-poise, or, if you please, self-complacency, of the educated Englishman, who has been trained in the school of her Majesty's government. He feels the influence of his training, and respects the stability of the antecedent centuries of his country's repose. For him to be rash would be a reflection upon the traditions and systems of which he regards himself a part. Here men pass from private to public employment, with but little knowledge of governmental principles, and it is needful to fence them in with the limitations which wiser men have devised.
If our national Constitution were to be amended to-day by our wisest men, they would probably write in it more restraints upon the law-making power. Possibly this tendency