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A HISTORY OF THE CONSTITUTION OF MINNESOTA

INTRODUCTION

The study of the history and interpretation of our state constitutions is more and more receiving the attention it deserves. During the nineteenth century one able treatise after another on federal constitutional law received wide recognition from the reading public. In each of these, however, while federal and state relations were usually treated at some length, the state constitutions themselves were very largely ignored. The causes of this widespread indifference to state institutions were undoubtedly numerous, two broadly inclusive factors standing out above all the others. First, the materials necessary to an adequate study of the subject nowhere existed. Every American knew more or less about the history of the federal constitution and there was an attractive simplicity in the task of compiling and interpreting the decisions of one supreme court, rendered in its attempts to elucidate a single document. Very little if anything had to be done outside of a few historical works, the federal constitution and statutes, and the decisions of the United States Supreme Court. It was quite otherwise in the study of the state constitutions. Their histories were little known, even in the states concerned. Long and arduous labors on the part of scholars, many of whom unfortunately had to remain obscure on account of the narrow scope of their studies, were necessary before anything like a composite state constitutional history could be attempted. The study of the cases themselves involved the making of researches into the judicial reports of an increasing number of states, a fact which, considering the early lack of any adequate national digests of the law, placed almost insuperable obstacles in the path of the scholar who was minded to make the study. Today this condition is changing. The lawpublishing firms, despite the rigidity and formalism of their classifications, are doing splendid work in collating cognate decisions, while at the same time an increasingly large number of scholars connected with our state historical societies and universities are laying bare one point after another in the political and constitutional histories of our states.

Another important cause of the long neglect of state constitutional law was the mistaken notion that, following the creation of the federal government and the shifting of the political center of gravity from the states to the national authorities, the powers and functions of government were destined to be drawn one by one away from the local centers to the dominant though distant national capital. The idea seems to have prevailed that there is, for all time, a fixed quantum of governmental functions and powers: add a power to the central government, and the local units must of necessity have less to do. The states were looked upon, therefore, as if they were upon the road

to paralysis, to be followed by decay and compleie extinction. The economic and social tendencies of the last century, coupled with the demand for more government interference in all the common affairs of life, should have demonstrated the falsity of this opinion. If not these facts, then the commonly observed truth that local self government is attended with a great variety of local experiments, which, when successful, are quickly copied in other localities, should have proved the possibility, at least, of such an increase in the functions of local government as would more than make good the losses occasioned by transfers of power to Washington. It took, however, the emphatic proof of the rapidly increasing quantity of social and economic legislation in the past generation to convince men anew that the states have in fact the reserved powers under our constitutional system. Limited they are, it is true, by specific provisions in the federal constitution,—and the state legislatures are further limited by clauses of the state constitutions. Yet it requires more than a few stakes set here and there in the ground to hold back the tide or the flood. The commonwealths have sovereign powers of government, and it is in the nature of sovereignty to be all-pervasive. It circumvents obstacles; it fills up all void places; and when things stand in its way, it removes or crushes them. It has indeed its limitations; it must keep within its proper sphere. For example, it cannot control our thoughts save indirectly through processes of education and censorship. It is like the air and the water at their respective levels upon the earth; confined only within the broadest limits, it permeates everything within its zone.

Our modern demands for increased and improved social legislation simply cannot be satisfied by the federal Congress, working within the narrow circumscription of its powers. Not even judicial implication of powers has served to render congressional authority adequate to the new demands. In consequence of this, the states are today finding a new importance and a new life. We are once more becoming conscious of them; they are impressing themselves upon our lives as never before. Scholars have for some years been sensitive to this new condition of affairs, and many of them have already turned their attention to the many problems of state history and government. As the result of their labors, we are already becoming aware of the rich constitutional history which lies behind our state governments of today. We begin to see what queer "mixed goods" the fabrics of our constitutions are. Very ancient and very modern principles are like threads lying side by side ; important provisions are woven in with trivial, wise clauses with absurd, in the ever-increasing amplitude of the cloth. Every clause, we now observe, has its own history,—not in every state, of course, for one state copies from another; but somewhere it must have originated, and connected with its origin will usually be found some interesting event or circumstance. beginnings of some clauses, particularly in our bills of rights, lie far back

in Saxon or Norman history, hid almost in “Gothic night.” Others are of more recent origin, fresh products of the local soil. Many of them spell the results of political contests within our own state and time.

The history of the constitution of Minnesota herein briefly narrated adds something toward the literature from which will some day be written the composite constitutional history of the states referred to above. Minnesota has had an instructive constitutional history. Her forty-year experience with the simplest amending process then in existence in the states was followed by a rejection of that method and the adoption of one more difficult, with a significant change in results. The history of the taxing clauses of the constitution, of the prohibition of state participation in works of internal improvements, and of many another portion of the constitution must needs throw much light on the experiences of other states and should be a guiding lamp for the feet of future legislatures and constitutional conventions in this and other commonwealths. It is only to be regretted that the narrative could not have been written in greater detail and with a more trenchant pen.

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