Imágenes de páginas



The American Government. Sections 223-262; 610-613; 615-620;

655-658, 763-772. The source of the Government of the United States, and some of its leading features, are either stated or suggested in the first paragraph of the Constitution. This paragraph is commonly called the Preamble, but it is really an enacting clause, since it gives the instrument its whole force and validity.

334. The Preamble. — “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.'

The following propositions are either asserted or implied in this language :

1. The Government proceeds from the people of the United States. They ordain and establish it. It is therefore: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

2. The ends for which it is ordained and established are declared. It is to form a more perfect union, establish justice, etc. 3. It is a constitutional government.

It rests upon a written fundamental law. On the one part it is opposed

to an absolute government, or one left to determine its own powers, like that of Russia; and on the other, it is opposed to a government having an unwritten consti. tution, consisting of maxims, precedents, and charters, like that of England.

4. The terms Union and United States suggest that it is a federal government. The peculiarity of a federal state is that local powers are entrusted to local authorities, while general powers are entrusted to general or national authorities. How this division of powers originated, and how it affected the country in 1785-1789, was pointed out in the last chapter. The government of a State has been described in Part II. of this work. Part III. is devoted to the Government that is over all the States.

5. The same terms suggest that the Government is one of enumerated powers. It must be remembered that when the Constitution was framed thirteen State governments were already in existence, and that no one dreamed of destroying them or of consolidating them into one system. The purpose was rather to delegate to the new Government such powers as were thought necessary to secure the ends named in the Preamble, and to leave to the States the powers that were not delegated, unless the contrary was directly specified.

335. The Constitution in Outline.—The Constitution is divided into seven Articles, which are again divided into sections and clauses.

ARTICLE I. relates to the Legislative power.
ARTICLE II. relates to the Executive power.
ARTICLE III. relates to the Judicial power.

ARTICLE IV. relates to several subjects, as the rights and privileges of citizens of a State in other States, the surrender of fugitives from justice, the admission of

new States to the Union, the government of the National territory, and a guarantee of a republican form of government to every State.

ARTICLE V., a single clause, relates to the mode of amending the Constitution.

ARTICLE VI. relates to the National debt and other engagements contracted previous to 1789 and the supremacy of the National Constitution and laws.

ARTICLE VII., consisting of a single sentence, prescribes the manner in which the Constitution should be ratified, and the time when it should take effect.

The fifteen Amendments relate to a variety of subjects, as has been explained in Chapter XXVIII.

336. The Three Departments. It has been seen that the Constitution distributes the powers of government among three departments, which it also ordains and establishes. This was done partly to secure greater ease and efficiency of working, and partly as a safeguard to the public liberties. Absolute governments are simple in construction, concentrating power in the hands of one person, or of a few persons; while free governments tend to division and separation of powers. In the words of Mr. Madison: " The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.l

1 The Federalist, No. 47.

[blocks in formation]

337. Congress a Dual Body.-From an early time, the English Parliament has consisted of two chambers, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Such a legislature is called bicameral, as opposed to one that is unicameral. The words mean consisting of two chambers and of one chamber. The great advantage of a bicameral legislature is that it secures fuller and more deliberate consideration of business. One house acts as a check or balance to the other; or, as Washington once put it, tea cools in being poured from the cup into the saucer. Countries that Englishmen have founded have commonly followed the example of the Mother Country in respect to the duality of their legislatures. Such was the case with the Thirteen Colonies, but such was not the case with the American Confederation from 1775 to 1789. In the Convention that framed the Constitution, the question arose whether the example of England and of the Colonies, or the example of the Confederation, should be followed. It was finally decided that all the legislative powers granted to the new Government should be vested in a Congress

which should consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

338. Composition of the Two Houses.—The House of Representatives is composed of members who are apportioned to the several States according to their respective numbers of population, and are elected for two years by the people of the States. The Senate is composed of two Senators from each State who are chosen by the Legislatures thereof, and each Senator has one vote.

The composition of Congress at first sharply divided the Federal Convention. Some members wanted only one house. Others wanted two houses. Some members were determined that the States should be represented in the new Congress equally, as had been the case in the old one.

Others were determined that representation should be according to population. These controversies were finally adjusted by making two houses, in one of which representation should be equal and in the other proportional. This arrangement explains why New York and Nevada have each two Senators, while they have respectively thirty-four members and one member in the House of Representatives. This equality of representation in the Senate is the most unchangeable part of the National Government. The Constitution expressly provides that no State shall, without its own consent, ever be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate, which is equivalent to saying that it shall never be done at all. No such provision is found in relation to any other subject.

339. Qualifications of Representatives and Senators.-A Representative must be twenty-five years old, and must be a citizen of the United States of at least

« AnteriorContinuar »