« AnteriorContinuar »
to call a General Convention, of commissioners fioni al. the States, to meet in Philadelphia, in May, 1787, for a more effectual revision of the Articles of Confederation.
§ 37. Congress adopted the recommendation of the Report, and in February, 1787, passed a resolution for assembling a Convention accordingly. All the States, except Rhode Island, appointed delegates ; and they met at Philadelphia. After very protracted deliberations, and great diversities uf opinion, they finally, on the 17th of September, 1787, framed the present Constitution of the United States, and recommended it to be laid by the Congress before che several States, to be by them considered and catified, in conventions of the representatives of the people, to be called for that purpose. The Continental Congress accordingly took measures for this purpose. Conventions were accordingly called in all the States, except Rhode Island, and, after many warm discussions, the Constitution was ratified by all of them, except North Carolina and Rhode Island.
§ 38. The assent of nine States only being required to put the Constitution into operation, measures were ta ken for this purpose, by Congress, in September, 1789, as soon as the requisite ratifications were ascertained. Electors of President and Vice President were chosen, who subsequen:ly assembled and gave thcir votes; and the necessary elections of Senators and Representatives being made, the first Congress under the Constitution as
embled at New York, (the then seat of government,) on Wednesday, the 4th day of March, 1789, for commencing proceedings under the Constitution A quorum, however, of both Houses, for the transaction of business generally, did not assemble until the 6th of April following, wher, the votes of the Electors being counted, it was found, ihat George Washington was unanimously elected President, and John Adams was elected Vice President. On the 30th of April, President Washington was sworn into office ; and the government mmediately went into full operation. North Carolina afterwards, in a new convention, held in November, 1789, adopted the Constitution ; and Rhode Island, also by a con
potic n, held in May, 1790. So that all the thirteen States, by the authority of the people thereof, finally became parties under the new government.
39. Thus was achieved another, and still more glorious, triumph, in the cause of liberty, even than that, by which we were separated from the parent country. It was not achieved, however, without great difficulties and sacrifices of opinion. It required all the wisdom, the patriotism, and the genius of our best statesmen, 10 overcome the objections, which, from various causes, were arrayed against it. The history of those times is full of melancholy instruction, at once to admonish us of the dangers, through which we have passed, and of the neressity of incessant vigilance, to guard and preserve, wnat has been thus hardly earned. The Constitution was adopted unanimously in New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia. It was supported by large majorities in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina. In the remaining States, it was carried by small majorities; and especially, in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, by little more than a mere preponderating vote. What a humiliating lesson is this, after all our sufferings and sacrifices, and after our long and sad experience of the evils of disunited councils, and of the pernicious infuence of State jealousies, and local interests! It teaches us, how slowly even adversity brings the mind to a due sense of what political wisdom requires. It teaches us, how liberty itself may be lost, when men are found ready to hazard its permanent blessings, rather than submit to the wholesome restraints, which its permanent security demands.
§ 40. To those great men, who thus framed the Constitution, and secured the adoption of it, we owe a debt of gratitude, which can scarcely be repaid. It was not then, as it is now, looked upon, from the blessings, which, under the guidance of Divine Providence, it has bestowed, with general favor and affection. On the contrary, many of those pure and disinterested patriots, who stood forth, the firm advocates of its principles, did so at the expense of their existing popularity. They felt, that they had a higher duty to perform, than to flatter the prejudices of the people, or to subserve selfish, oi sectional, or local interests. Many of them went to their graves, without the soothing consolation, that their sei vices and their sacrifices were duly appreciated. They scorned every attempt to rise to power and influence by the common arts of demagogues ; and they were content to trust their characters, and thei: conduct, to the deiberate judgement of posterity.
$ 41. If, upon a close survey of their labors, as developed in the actual structure of the Constitution, we shall have reason to admire their wisdom and forecast, to observe their profound love of liberty, and to trace their deep sense of the value of political responsibility, and their anxiety, above all things, to give perpetuity, as well as energy, to the republican institutions of their country ; then, indeed, will our gratitude kindle into a holier reverence, and their memories will be cherished arnong those of the noblest benefactors of mankind.
Exposition of the Constitution.— The Preamble. $ 42. Having given this general sketch of the origin of the Colonies, of the rise and fall of the Confederation, and of the formation and adoption of the Constitution of the United States, we are now prepared to enter upon ar examination of the actual structure and organization of that Constitution, and the powers belonging to it. We shall treat it, not as a mere compact, or league, or confederacy, existing at the mere will of any one or more of the States, during their good pleasure ; but, (as it purports on its face to be,) as a Constitution of Governinent, framed and adopted by the people of the United States, and obligatory upon all the States, until it is altered, amended, or abolished by the people, in the manner pointed out in the nstrument itself. It is to be interpreted, as all other solenn
instruments are, by endeavoring to ascertain the true sense and meaning of all the terms; and we are neither to narrow them, nor to enlarge them, by straining them from their just and nutural import, for the purpose of adding to, or diminishing its powers, or bending them to any favorite theory or dogma of party. It is the language of the peoile, to be judged of according to common sense, and not by mere theoretical reasoning. It is not an instrument for the mere private interpretation of any particular men. The people have established it and spoken their will; and their will, thus promulgated, is to be obeyed as the supreme law. Every department of the Government must, of course, in the first instance, in the exercise of its own powers and duties, necessarily construe the instrument. But, if the case admits of judicial cognizance, every citizen has a right to contest the validity of that construction before the proper judicial tribunal; and to bring it to the test of the Constitution. And, if the case is not capable of judicial redress, still the people may, through the acknowledged means of new elections, or proposed amendments, check any usurpation of authority, whether wanton, or unintentional, and thus relieve themselves from any grievances of a political nature.
$ 43. For a right understanding of the Constitution of the United States, it will be found most convenient to examine the provisions, generally, in the order, in which they are stated in the instrument itself; and thus, the disferent parts may be made mutually to illustrate each other. This order will, accordingly, be adopted in the ensuing commentaries. .
§ 44. We shall begin then, with the Preamble, which is in the following words :
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, 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.”
$ 45. This Preamble is very important, not only as explanatory of the motives and objects of framing the Constitution ; but, as affording the best key to the true interpretation thereof. For it may well be presumed, that the language used will be in conformity to the motives, which govern the parties, and the objects to be attained by the Instrument. Every provision in the instrument may therefore fairly be presumed to have reference to one or more of these objects. And consequently, if sny provision is susceptible of two interpretations, that ought to be adopted, and adhered to, which best harmonizes with the avowed intentions and objects of the auchors, as gathered from their declarations in the instrument itself.
§ 46. The first object is, “ to form a more perfect union." From what has been already stated, respecting the defects of the Confederation, it is obvious, that a further continuance of the Union was impracticable, unless a new government was formed, possessing more powers and more energy. That the Union of the States is in the highest degree desirable, nay, that it is almost indispensable to the political existence of the States, is a proposition, which admits of the most complete moral demönstration, so far as human experience and general reasoning can establish it. If the States were wholly separated from each other, the very inequality of their population, territory, resources, and means of protecting their local interests, would soon subject them to injurious rivalries, jealousies, and retaliatory measures. The Weak would be wholly unable to contend successfully against the strong, and would be compelled to submit to the terms, which the policy of their more powerful neighbois should impose upon them. What could Rhode Islaud, or New Jersey, or Delaware, accomplish against the will, or the resentments, of the formidable States, which surround them? But, in a more general view. the remark of the Abbe Mably may be appealed to, as containing the result of all human experience. “Neighboring states (says he) are naturally enemies of each other, unless their common weakness forces them to league in a confederatis e republic, and their Constitution prevents the differences, that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing