Abbildungen der Seite

over the question of representation in congress, arising from the partial disfranchisement of the colored race, that might rekindle the fast dying flames of '61 to '65. This might hazard the existing amendments which define citizenship in the United States and prohibit the states from denying equal rights to any citizen on account of race, color, or previous condition of serv itude.

The widespread divergence in sentiment over the right, expediency, or wisdom of acquiring outlying territory or islands in the Pacific and the governing of races of people not of our language and civilization, would be certain to carry into such a convention all the acrimony now prevalent in political discussions both within and without our congress, and which can not be silenced even by the vote of the whole people at the coming presidential election.

Every disputed question of the construction of the present Constitution, and the power of congress acting under it, as well as the scope of the powers of the several departments of the gov ernment-and they are manifold-would have its respective adherents, and they would advocate and endeavor to incorporate their respective views into the new fundamental law, and those who failed would become its enemies, detractors and opponents.

There does not now exist the supreme exigency of forming a stable government that confronted the convention of 1787, and forced unwilling concessions and compromises of opinion among its members. There was then a distracting and disheartening condition of the Union, and a disposition abroad to take advantage of its incapacity, and to speculate on its approaching disruption. At that time some men were becoming distrustful of the efficacy of popular rule, and were yielding to anticipations of a government more congenial to their tastes and opinions. while others were still devoted to the principles and forms of republics, and were alarmed for the cause of liberty itself, at stake in the American experiment.

Madison said: "It was known that there were individuals who had betrayed a bias toward monarchy, and there had always been some not unfavorable to a partition of the Union into several confederacies; either from a better chance of figuring on a sectional theatre, or that the sections would require stronger governments, or by their hostile conflicts lead to a monarchia! condition."

It was the danger of ruin, and destruction, and dissolution, under the articles of confederation that forced the adoption of the Federal Constitution. There is no such pressing exigency now to induce the people to ratify a new Constitution. Notwithstanding the emergency that then existed, there were Clintons and Henrys who opposed its ratification, and jeopardized the work of the convention of 1787. And if we were to adopt a new charter of liberty, we might need the vigorous, encouraging and hopeful assistance of a Madison, a Jay, a Hamilton, and a Washington to have it approved by the people.


Our controversies over the Constitution mostly arise from disputations over its construction, in ascertaining the meaning of its clauses, and the scope of its general provisions. We frequently are prone to look on that great charter as the work of men, limited in their views on the general scope of government in the degree that the country was small and sparsely settled. We are at times disposed to assume to ourselves a greater wisdom, as the product of a larger experience, and a wider mission, as the result of present environments. In this may we not be mistaken?

The statesmen of that period were not acting for the hour. They gathered lessons from the history of governments that had risen in splendor and sunk into decay. They guarded against the errors of the past and provided for fluctuating changes of centuries to come. They builded as best they knew, a permanent and well proportioned structure.

Mr. Madison said: "In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we must not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce." Mr. Hamilton said: "He concurred with Mr. Madison we were now to decide forever the fate of republican government; and if we did not give to that form due stability and wisdom, it would be disgraced and lost among ourselves, disgraced and lost to mankind forever."

All through the debates of that convention are found illus. trations drawn from all history, and all the nations that had arisen and gone into decay, as well as lessons gathered from the existing powers of Europe. Its members were scholars and statesmen in the broader sense. They knew themselves, they

knew mankind, they knew the history of the world. They had studied the march of civilization from Western Asia through Egypt and Greece and Rome to Western Europe and its passage across the Atlantic ocean, and their vision was not dimmed to its further progress in the centuries to follow.

They knew that in forming a government the crimes of the past should be remembered and pondered. They believed, as Motley wrote, that "tyranny ever young and ever old, constantly reproducing herself with the same stony features, with the same imposing mask which she has worn through all the ages, can never be too minutely examined, especially when she paints her own portraits, and when the secret history of her guilt is furnished by the confession of her lovers. The perusal of her traits will not make us love popular liberty the less."

From the height of their wisdom and learning they saw the history of the world spread out before them from the beginning of historic time as a cyclorama, and they determined to fashion a new government upon new lines, based upon the inalienable and equal rights of men. They had in their minds an ideal government, perfect in form, in which all should be equal and all should be sovereigns.

They believed they were being guided by the voice of an overruling Providence. Dr. Franklin said: "I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.'"

Evidence is seen in every line that they felt themselves forming a constitutional government to last through coming time, not trusting to future amendments or expecting subsequent revisions. Hamilton wisely said: "We should run every risk in trusting to future amendments." And again, "It is a miracle that we are now here, exercising our tranquil and free deliberations on the subject. It would be madness to trust to future miracles; a thousand causes must obstruct a reproduction of them."

It is not too much to say of them that they were born philosophers of the future. The United States, grand and glorious and powerful as she is, had just begun her career. The future, vast, dim and immeasurable, was all before her. The ship of state had

just been launched, and they were the statesmen who were to act as pilots. They knew what reefs were to be avoided and where safe harbors were to be found. In this broad and comprehensive mould, they formed the Constitution. If we, in this day and generation, shall sustain and interpret their grand work with equal generosity of spirit and nobleness of purpose, and breadth of vision, may we not find it equal to the demands of the conflicting and uncertain conditions of the present, and may it not be to us as the light upon the shore that shall guide us through the darkness and storms of the future?


Those who believe the Constitution is too narrow, and limited, and restraining, to permit a proper solution of the urgent questions of the day, and not broad enough and comprehensive enough for a country so large as the United States has become, adhere too closely to the letter of the instrument, and overlook its implied powers, and the sovereign power of the nationality that rises above it. These questions of construction and interpretation are not new, but were ably stated by statesmen who lived in the time of its adoption.

Mr. Hamilton, in a cabinet discussion of the bank question, read a paper in which he said: "If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provisions of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority."

This interpretation of Mr. Hamilton was substantially fol lowed a little later by Chief Justice Marshall, who said that if the end to be accomplished was within the scope of the Consti tution, "all the means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, and which are not prohibited, but are consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional."

In the practical workings of the government from time to time, there are found many instances where the end desired has been accomplished to the advantage of the people and the strengthening of the country under the rule of construction admitting implied powers. Other difficulties have been overcome by the recognition and the calling into operation the sovereign power of the nation. Mr. Justice Bradley said: "The United

States is not only a government, but it is a national government, and the only government in this country that has the character of nationality."

This does not necessarily depend upon either the terms of the Constitution or upon the liberal interpretation of its clauses, but upon the ulterior fact that the United States is a nation clothed with all the powers of sovereignty. In the contests of the world it recognizes no superior. It owes no allegiance to any earthly power. It speaks and acts for itself as a nation of supreme power, and accountable to neither king nor czar nor potentate for anything it may do, except under the principles and rules of international law, which treat and regard all nations as equal in rank, whether republic, or kingdom, or empire.

This sovereignty was created by the birth of the nation as an essential and inherent power. It was not a grant under the Constitution. It would have existed when the nation was formed if there had been a simple union of the people and no Constitution. It is true the Constitution recognizes the sovereignty of the nation, but it puts no limitations on such power in so far as our dealings with other nations are concerned, and it could not do this in fact, even though it did in terms. It can, and in some respects does, regulate the manner in which that power shall be exercised by and through the different departments of the gov ernment; but these are but constitutional rules for the guidance of those agencies through which the powers of sovereignty are to be exercised.

These limitations on the political power of the president and of congress relate to their relationship to our own people, to our domestic concerns and institutions. The Magna Charta and the Petition of Right did not limit or destroy the sovereignty of England, but only restrained the powers of the king in dealing with his own subjects. The same is the true construction to be put upon the scope and purpose of our Constitution.

This thought was expressed in the Legal Tender cases, when the court ruled that congress had "the power to make the notes of the government a legal tender in payment of private debts, being one of the powers belonging to sovereignty in other civilized nations, and not expressly withheld from congress by the Constitution."

It is the misconception of the powers of our government and of the character and aim of the constitutional restrictions that is

« ZurückWeiter »