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NATURE OF THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT.
763. The United States a Federal Republic.From the beginning of Colonial history, government in the United States has been dual. From the beginning, also, it has been largely republican, and since 1776 wholly so. Accordingly, the United States are a federal state, or, more narrowly, a federal republic. Again, government, both National and State, is constitutional; in no other country is so much stress laid on written constitutions. A prescriptive constitution may be better for England, but nothing short of written constitutions, ordained in the most formal and solemn manner, would satisfy the American people. The central idea of the English constitution the sovereignty of Parliament - is thoroughly repugnant to them.
764. Features of Federal States.--Federal States are of several classes, but the class to which the United States belong presents the following features:
Each member of the union is wholly independent of the other members and of the union in all matters which concern itself only, but is subject to the national government in all matters which concern the members collectively. In its own sphere it is wholly independent and sovereign ; in the national sphere, it has no independence or sovereignty whatever. It makes its own constitution and enacts and executes its own laws; but this constitution and these laws must be in conformity with the National Constitution and laws.
765. Origin of Federal States. These States are almost always formed by integration, rarely by disintegration. They commonly result from uniting states part'y or wholly independent, not from dividing States before consolidated. This is shown by the names applied to them : federation, confederation, and union. Of this process no better example can be given than the origin of the United States as traced in Part I. of this work.
766. Advantages of Federal States. Such states, when they work successfully, combine in large measure the advantages that are claimed for large and small states respectively. These are strength, permanence, and freedom from internal strife and faction, on the one hand; the adaptation of government to local wants, liberty, and high political intelligence and public spirit, on the other. If it is held that federal states do not combine these excellencies in the highest degree, the reply may be made that they do avoid the peculiar dangers of large and small consolidated states, oppression and local strife.
767. Disadvantages.—The principal disadvantages of a federal state arise from the complexity of its machinery; to adjust the two jurisdictions, or what Mr. Bryce calls the two loyalties and the two patriotisms, in a manner to avoid friction and to secure harmony and efficiency, is one of the most difficult of political problems. Dr. E. A. Freeman, the distinguished historian of Federal Government, says: “The federal idea, in its highest and most elaborate development, is the most finished and the most artificial production of political ingenuity. It is hardly possible that federal government can attain its perfect form except in a highly refined age, and among a people whose political education has already stretched over many generations,
That ideal is so very refined and artificial that it seems not to have been attained more than four or five times in the history of the world."'1
768. The Dual Constitution of the United States. -This is thus described by Judge Jameson : " And here I may remark that the Constitution of the United States is a part of the constitution of each State, whether referred to in it or not, and that the constitutions of all the States form a part of the Constitution of the United States. An aggregation of all these constitutional instruments would be precisely the same in principle as a single constitution, which, framed by the people of the Union, should define the powers of the General Government, and then by specific provisions erect the separate governments of the States, with all their existing attributions and limitations of
1 History of Federal Government, pp. 3, 4.
769. Relations of the Two Systems.-Neither part of this complicated system is a complete government; neither one can be understood without the other; each one is essential to the other, and to society, and neither one is more essential than the other. The citizen is always subject to two jurisdictions. Were the National jurisdiction destroyed, he would have no protection against foreign pow
Were the State jurisdiction withdrawn, he would be at the mercy of internal faction and anarchy. The Nation might assume the powers of the States, the States might become independent nations ; or, as Jameson puts it, the American people might'melt down their forty-five constitutions, and cast the material into a new mold, thus constituting a consolidated system like that of France. But were they to do this, they would destroy the characteristic features of their political system, and sacrifice those political functions upon which they have always most prided themselves.
770. Relative Prominence of the Two Jurisdictions.—This has undergone considerable change since 1776. At first the Union was more conspicuous than the States; but when the States reorganized their governments, and especially when Congress fell into contempt at the close of the Revolution, the States quite overshadowed the Union. With the Constitution, the Union assumed a new importance, which slowly increased down to the Civil War; that event gave it a place which it had never had before, and which it is not likely to lose. 1 771.
1 The Constitutional Convention, p. 87.
Nature of the National Government.-As remarked in various chapters, there has been much disputing whether the National Constitution established a State system or a National system. It is strictly neither a National nor a State system, but a combination of the two. In its foundation the Constitution is partly National and partly State, because ratified by the people, but by the people as constituting thirteen States and not one consolidated nation. In the sources of its powers, it is partly National and partly State, because one branch of the Legislature represents the people, and one the States, while the two elements blend in the election of the Executive. In the operation of its powers—which was the great defect of the Confederation—it is National and not State, because it acts on the people as individuals and not as States. In the extent of its powers it is partly National and partly State, because the powers granted are limited in number, leaving a great mass of powers to the people and to the States, but unlimited in application. In the mode of amendment it is neither wholly State nor wholly National, because both Houses of Congress and the State Legislatures are necessary to effect amendments.
772. Complexity of the System.-Perhaps there is no government in the world that is more difficult to explain intelligently, and particularly to foreigners, than the American Government. John Quincy Adams called it a “complicated machine"; "it is an anomaly," said he,
1 In 1795 John Jay resigned the office of Chief Justice to accept the Governorship of New York, and in 1800 declined a second appointment, assigning this reason :“I left the bench perfectly convinced that under a system so defective it would not obtain the energy, weight, and dignity which was essential to its affording support to the National Government; nor acquire the public confidence and respect which as the last resort of the justice of the Nation it should possess.”—Pellew : John Jay, pp. 337, 338.
2 See the Federalist, No. 35.
in the history of the world, It is that which distinguishes us from all other nations, ancient and modern." No other government is so highly specialized. It combines the complexities of both the dual and the republican systems. But complexity of governmental machinery appears to be essential to liberty. With a brief passage from Mr. Webster touching this point, this work may fitly close.
Nothing is more deceptive or more dangerous than the pretense of a desire to simplify government. The simplest governments are despotisms; the next simplest, limited monarchies ; but all republics, all governments of law, must impose numerous limitations and qualifications of authority, and give many positive and many qualified rights. Every free government is necessarily complicated, because all such governments establish restraints, as well on the power of government itself as on that of individuals. If we will abolish the distinction of branches, and have but one branch; if we will abolish jury trials, and leave all to the judge; if we will then ordain that the legislator shall himself be that judge ; and if we will place the executive power in the same hands, we may readily simplify government. We may easily bring it to the simplest of all possible forms, a pure despotism. But a separation of departments, so far as practicable, and the preservation of clear lines of division between them, is the fundamental idea in the creation of all our constitutions; and, doubtless, the continuance of regulated liberty depends on the maintaining of these boundaries.” 1
1 Works: Vol. 4, p. 122.