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Old South Leaflets.

No. 106.


The Govern

ment of the United States.



Ours is a system of government, compounded of the separate governments of the several States composing the Union, and of one common government of all its members, called the Government of the United States. The former preceded the latter, which was created by their agency. Each was framed by written constitutions; those of the several States by the people of each, acting separately, and in their sovereign character; and that of the United States, by the same, acting in the same character,- but jointly instead of separately. All were formed on the same model. They all divide the powers of government into legislative, executive, and judicial; and are founded on the great principle of the responsibility of the rulers to the ruled. The entire powers of government are divided between the two; those of a more general character being specifically delegated to the United States; and all others not delegated, being reserved to the several States in their separate character. Each, within its appropriate sphere, possesses all the attributes, and performs all the functions of government. Neither is perfect without the other. The two combined, form one entire and perfect government. With these preliminary remarks, I shall proceed to the consideration of the immediate subject of this discourse.

The Government of the United States was formed by the Constitution of the United States; and ours is a democratic, federal republic.

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It is democratic, in contradistinction to aristocracy and monarchy. It excludes classes, orders, and all artificial distinctions. To guard against their introduction, the constitution prohibits the granting of any title of nobility by the United States, or by any State.*The whole system is, indeed, democratic throughout. It has for its fundamental principle, the great cardinal maxim, that the people are the source of all power; that the governments of the several States and of the United States were created by them, and for them; that the powers conferred on them are not surrendered, but delegated; and, as such, are held in trust, and not absolutely; and can be rightfully exercised only in furtherance of the objects for which they were delegated.

It is federal as well as democratic. Federal, on the one hand, in contradistinction to national, and, on the other, to a confederacy. In showing this, I shall begin with the former.

It is federal, because it is the government of States united in a political union, in contradistinction to a government of individuals socially united; that is, by what is usually called, a social compact. To express it more concisely, it is federal and not national, because it is the government of a community of States, and not the government of a single State or nation.

That it is federal and not national, we have the high authority of the convention which framed it. General Washington, as its organ, in his letter submitting the plan to the consideration of the Congress of the then confederacy, calls it, in one place," the general government of the Union; "-and in another,- "the federal government of these States." Taken together, the plain meaning is, that the government proposed would be, if adopted, the government of the States adopting it, in their united character as members of a common Union; and, as such, would be a federal government. These expressions were not used without due consideration, and an accurate and full knowledge of their true import. The subject was not a novel one. The convention was familiar with it. It was much agitated in their deliberations. They divided, in reference to it, in the early stages of their proceedings. At first, one party was in favor of a national and the other of a federal government. The former, in the beginning, prevailed; and in the plans which they proposed, the constitution and government

1st Art., 9 and 10 Sec.

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are styled "National." But, finally, the latter gained the ascendency, when the term "National" was superseded, and "United States" substituted in its place. The constitution was accordingly styled," The constitution of the United States of America; ". and the government,-" The government of the United States; leaving out "America," for the sake of brevity. It cannot admit of a doubt, that the Convention, by the expression "United States," meant the States united in a federal Union; for in no other sense could they, with propriety, call the government, "the federal government of these States," and "the general government of the Union," as they did in the letter referred to. It is thus clear, that the Convention regarded the different expressions," the federal government of the United States; -"the general government of the Union,”— and,-" government of the United States," as meaning the same thing,- a federal, in contradistinction to a national government.

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Assuming it then, as established, that they are the same, it is only necessary, in order to ascertain with precision, what they meant by "federal government," to ascertain what they meant by "the government of the United States." For this purpose it will be necessary to trace the expression to its origin.

It was, at that time, as our history shows, an old and familiar phrase,- having a known and well-defined meaning. Its use commenced with the political birth of these States; and it has been applied to them, in all the forms of government through which they have passed, without alteration. The style of the present constitution and government is precisely the style by which the confederacy that existed when it was adopted, and which it superseded, was designated. The instrument that formed the latter was called, "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union." Its first article declares that the style of this confederacy shall be, "The United States of America; " and the second, in order to leave no doubt as to the relation in which the States should stand to each other in the confederacy about to be formed, declared,—“Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence; and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not, by this confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled." If we go one step further back, the style of the confederacy will be found to be the same with that of the revolutionary government, which existed when it was adopted, and which it

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superseded. It dates its origin with the Declaration of Independence. That act is styled, "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America." And here again, that there might be no doubt how these States would stand to each other in the new condition in which they were about to be placed, it concluded by declaring,-"that these United Co nies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States"; "and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do." The "United States" is, then, the baptismal name of these States,- received at their birth; - by which they have ever since continued to call themselves; by which they have characterized their constitution, government and laws; and by which they are known to the rest of the world. The retention of the same style, throughout every stage of their existence, affords strong, if not conclusive evidence that the political relation between these States, under their present constitution and government, is substantially the same as under the confederacy and revolutionary government; and what that relation was, we are not left to doubt; as they are declared expressly to be "free, independent and_sovereign States." They, then, are now united, and have been, throughout, simply as confederated States. If it had been intended by the members of the convention which framed the present constitution and government, to make any essential change, either in the relation of the States to each other, or the basis of their union, they would, by retaining the style which designated them under the preceding governments, have practised a deception, utterly unworthy of their character, as sincere and honest men and patriots. It may, therefore, be fairly inferred, that, retaining the same style, they intended to attach to the expression," the United States," the same meaning, substantially, which it previously had; and, of course, in calling the present government,- "the federal government of these States," they meant by "federal," that they stood in the same relation to each other,— that their union rested, without material change, on the same basis,-as under the confederacy and the revolutionary government; and that federal, and confederated States, meant substantially the same thing. It follows, also, that the changes made by the present constitution were not in the foundation, but in the superstructure of the system.

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We accordingly find, in confirmation of this conclusion, that the convention, in their letter to Congress, stating the reasons for the changes that had been made, refer only to the necessity which required a different "organization" of the government, without making any allusion whatever to any change in the relations of the States towards each other, or the basis of the system. They state that, "the friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace, and treaties; that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the Government of the Union: but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trusts to one body of men is evident; hence results the necessity of a different organization." Comment is unnecessary.

We thus have the authority of the convention itself for asserting that the expression, "United States," has essentially the same meaning, when applied to the present constitution and government, as it had previously; and, of course, that the States have retained their separate existence, as independent and sovereign communities, in all the forms of political existence, through which they have passed. Such, indeed, is the literal import of the expression,-"the United States,”—and the sense in which it is ever used, when it is applied politically, I say, politically, because it is often applied, geographically, to designate the portion of this continent occupied by the States composing the Union, including territories belonging to them. This application arose from the fact, that there was no appropriate term for that portion of this continent; and thus, not unnaturally, the name by which these States are politically designated, was employed to designate the region they occupy and possess. The distinction is important, and cannot be overlooked in discussing questions involving the character and nature of the government, without causing great confusion and dangerous misconceptions.

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But as conclusive as these reasons are to prove that the government of the United States is federal, in contradistinction to national, it would seem, that they have not been sufficient to prevent the opposite opinion from being entertained. Indeed, this last seems to have become the prevailing one; if we may judge from the general use of the term national," and the almost entire disuse of that of "federal." National is now commonly applied to "the general government of the Union,"


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