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GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
INTRODUCTORY OUTLINE. - FREE INSTITUTIONS IN THE COLONIES.
- FUNCTIONS OF THE NATIONAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTS.
THE Constitution of the United States provides for the national government of all the states, as though all formed one. The constitution of every state provides for its domestic government as though it stood alone. Supplementing but not conflicting with one another, the two governments complete one system of national and domestic government, in which the liberty and security of the individual promote the power and security of both nation and state. Tested by the experience of a century, the system is approved by its practical results. Improvements in details may be suggested by the reformer, but not in the scheme itself.
Before the American experiment was initiated, it was a cardinal rule of the political philosopher that a republic was practicable only in a state of very small territorial extent. But the American republic seems to gain in vigor and solidity with territorial expansion. Her people are satisfied with the system and proud of it. This pride and satisfaction are elements alike of its strength and its excellence. It may not be the best scheme for every people who wish self-government; but in this age, no people intelligent enough to adopt self-government would undertake to do it without first making a careful study of our system. To the American youth about to pass from his college into active life, the like study may be earnestly commended.
I shall first speak of the constitutions of the states and that of the United States historically.
I shall try to give some idea of the governmental condition of the colonies while dependent upon Great Britain ; of the Union formed to resist the aggressions, and to throw off the yoke of that government; of the establishment of our national independence, and the formation of our state governments; of the kind of national government which existed during and after the war of the Revolution ; of the imperfections of that government and the distress and anarchy which it promoted; of the events which led to the meeting of the convention of delegates from the states to form our present Constitution; of some of the plans and measures which were discussed, and the manner in which differences in interest and opinions were compromised and expressed in constitutional form; of the contentions which followed in the different states upon the question whether the Constitution proposed should be adopted or not; of its final adoption ; and then of some of the leading questions in our constitutional history which divided parties, agitated the country, and at times threatened the dissolution of the government from the day of the adoption of the Constitution down to the present time.
This recital, in which causes will be indicated rather than explored, will serve to show how the Constitution, which in the beginning was practically very weak and feeble as a system of government, gradually attracted to itself the confidence and respect of the people, and finally attained great strength and solidity. There will be occasion to speak of the action of presidents, statesmen, political parties, courts of justice, and especially of that potent restorer of harmony amidst contention and of system out of confusion, the Supreme Court of the nation, and of our dual system of government under both pational and state governments; how each government has its proper sphere and is helpful to the other, but how difficult it bas sometimes proved, under the stimulus of interest and partisanslıip, to discover and respect the line that divides the state from the national authority.
It will, I think, also appear that these constitutions were not to any great extent inventions, but the natural develop
DEVELOPMENT OF SIMPLE SYSTEMS.
ment of the simple systems by which our forefathers were permitted to manage their colonial and township affairs, and which they adapted and conformed to their situation, necessities, spirit, and character, and then perfected and expanded with their growth and changing circumstances.
The early colonists were here in the wilderness. Other colonists had preceded them. They too sought new homes, but most of them found their graves instead. When these came, they could not know whether they would plant a nation, or share the fate of those who had gone before. Surely, no king over the wide ocean could have had the heart to wish these exiles ill. If when first they ventured forth, or after they had gone, charters were asked in their behalf, well might the king bave exclaimed, “ Charters! God pity the miserable wanderers! Charters are only parchment. Give them charters."
But the exiles prospered. They were nominally under the government of the English crown, but they were so insignificant and far away that they were as much out of the royal mind as out of sight. Their weakness and their wants required them to unite and protect each other. Their equality of condition led them to be kind and just to each other. Equality of condition led to equality of inheritance, and prevented the growth of an aristocracy. They desired liberty of conscience for themselves, and were slowly and finally led to secure it by conceding it to others. After the family and the church, the township was the nearest object of their care and interest, and the welfare of the township required their attention to the colony. Profiting by the neglect of the mother country, they took large liberties in making their own laws, and soon found it hard to distinguish between the liberties tolerated by the crown and those it had conceded.
Their laws were adapted to their situation. But to make laws and secure obedience to them is to exercise the functions of government. And from the first half of the seventeenth until the last quarter of the eighteenth century - a period of at least four generations — they were trained and developed in the theory and practice of self-government.
The opportunity for self-government developed a capacity