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latter publication has been my constant guide in what I have said on the history of the United States Constitution and the method of its formation and adoption. It was this which suggested my plan, and gave me my most prevailing ideas of the best method of getting up an elementary work on constitutional government for the schools of this country.
It is proper also to say that this work was written out before the late revolution in France, so that what is said on the government of that country does not apply to its present state. I have, however, determined to let it remain as at first written, both on account of the present unsettled state of the French constitution, and as giving some idea of its form under the recent monarchy.
It will be observed that there are some repetitions of certain parts of the British constitution. These I trust will be excused on account of the necessity, according to my plan, of exhibiting the British constitution in one place by itself, and contrasting it in another with the United States constitution.
To conclude, as I cannot claim perfection for my work, so I commend it to the candid consideration of a generous public; and I shall be very grateful for any criticisms or suggestions, from any source, which may help to increase its value, should another edition ever be called for.
Brookfield, Vt., July 12, 1848.
ONE of the first things which a man should learn, in order to discourse intelligently of state matters, is the distinction between organic and statute law. This is peculiarly important for the subjects of a popular government, whose duty it is, by the terms of the civil compact, to sit in judgment at stated times on the conduct of their rulers. Indeed, where the government is despotic, especially if it be oppressive or tyranical, the opposite of this rule may be the best; for the more ignorance the more peace. The little happiness the subjects of such a government enjoy, or fancy they enjoy, mainly depends on their not knowing their own wrongs. And "if ignorance is bliss," or the only available substitute for it, certainly "tis folly to be wise." But where it is the duty and privilege of the citizen to exercise a free censorship over public men and measures, the knowledge I begin with recommending is of prime importance. For want of it, and of other information growing directly out of it, men often act in an extravagant and ridiculous manner; they express confident opinions on matters on which they obviously have no adequate ideas; they discover their
What important distinction is named? Who especially should learn this? Where may the opposite of this rule be best? For want of this learning how do men often act?
ignorance to all but themselves; violent and capricious changes take place in the administration of government; wise and excellent men, both in and out of office, are baffled, embarrassed, defamed, abused; while the ambitious, the designing, and the unprincipled, are intrusted with the liberties of the people.
The organic law of a state is its constitution. It is not essential to the being of a constitution that it should have been formed at once, or by any body of men convened expressly for the purpose. Nor that it should be any where embodied in a single document, drawn out into articles and sections. Wherever we find established rules and principles which circumscribe the ordinary law-making power, constituting a boundary which that power cannot overstep, there we find so much constitution. And the aggregate of all such rules and principles acknowledged in any one state, is the whole constitution of that state. Whatever the law-making power may do, within the meaning of those rules, their acts will be constitutional. Hence a strictly constitutional law may be very unequal and oppressive; and a very wise and salutary rule may fail of effect for want of constitutional authority.
The constitution of a state may have been the work of ages. Like a house, which, when originally built, was according to the proprietor's notions of his own means and needs. But after inhabiting it awhile, he found enlargements and alterations desirable, which, according to his ability, he effected. Succeeding occupants, profiting by his experience, and in the exercise of their own wisdom, have made other changes; till finally the house may be an excellent one-perhaps the best in the world, though obviously not perfect;
What changes take place? What other effects? What is the organic law of a state? do we find the constitution of a state?
equal and beneficial?
What is not essential? Where
What may have been the work of ages? What simile is introduced?
but the questions, who built it? when was it built? what were the materials? and from whence did they come? would require very long answers. The British is a remarkable example. Where it began it may be hard to say; but in retracing British history, every time we come to a circumscription of the power of the monarch, or the nobles; a definition of the power of parliament; or an acknowledgement of the rights of the people, the Magna Charta of John, and the trial by jury of Alfred,-we find something of the British Constitution. And it is not necessary to suppose that all or any of these changes were either wise or beneficial. Be they what they may, they are a part of the constitution, and as such must be acknowledged.
Only a small part of mankind live under constitutional governments. A vast majority are the subjects of absolute monarchies or irresponsible oligarchies, which, however mildly they may happen to be administered, afford the people no guaranty of property, liberty, or life. The Scripture testimony concerning Nebuchadnezzar is true of a vast majority of sovereigns to this day. "Whom he would, he slew; and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he set up; and whom he would, he put down." Or if not, it is because for the time they are held in check by factions, which it is expected that they will conquer and control as soon as possible. From this kind of government there exists every grade of variety up to the most complete liberty consistent with a government of law.
It is obvious that all mankind are not fitted for the same form of government. Many tribes, from their ignorance, depravity, and utter want of civilization, are incapable of any measure of self-government. It
What remarkable example? What particular things are named as points in the British Constitution?
What part of mankind live under constitutioual governments? Of what are the majority the subjects?
For what are all mankind not fitted? What is said of many tribes?
would be no blessing to them to have any measure of their public concerns in their own hands. Hence absolute monarchy is best for them. They ought, indeed, to be taught, informed, and prepared, in the readiest way, for self-government. But they need, ad interim, to be held in their place by the strong hand of power. Parental government is of this kind. The child comes under his father's power without any of his own consent. And if that power is abused, he has no remedy. Others may, to some extent, undertake for him, but he cannot undertake for himself. This, however, is the right kind of government for the child. It results from his own nature. He is fit for nothing else. Just so many communities of men are fit for nothing but a military despotism. While others, like a child advancing toward his majority, may be trusted with more and more of their own concerns, as their characters are more and more formed by law, literature, and religion, until they can profitably enjoy the most free and popular forms of government.
Hence a constitutional government is to be sought for those who can appreciate it,-who have the means, and can use them, for enforcing its provisions. Where these conditions are not found, despotism is as good as any thing else, and possibly better.
Law, in an absolute government, is simply the published will of the sovereign. When any established restraints are imposed on him, there is an approach to constitutionality in the government. Even the law of the Medes and Persians, "that no decree nor statute which the king established might be changed," operated as a check on the monarch. Its tendency was to make him cautious in his enactments, and though obviously
What is best for them? What government is of this kind? For whom is a constitutional government to be sought? What is law in an absolute government? When is there an approach to constitutionality? What of the law of the Medes and Persians?