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subversion of the Saxon institutions, effected by William, the practice was, at least, suspended until the reign of Henry IlI. The provincial constitutions of America were, with two exceptions, modelled with some conformity to the English theory; but the colonists of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations were empowered to choose all their officers, legislative, executive, and judicial; and about the same time a similar charter was granted to Connecticut. “And thus,” complains Chalmers, a writer devoted to regal principles, "a mere democracy or rule of the people was established. “Every power deliberative and active was invested in the “i freemen or their delegates, and the supreme executive magis"trate of the empire, by an inattention which does little honour " to the statesmen of those days, was wholly excluded." He expresses his own doubts whether the king had a right to grant such charters. *
But, although in all the other provinces, the charters were originally granted or subsequently modified so as to exclude the principle of representation from the executive department, these two provinces, at the time of our revolution, retained it undiminished. The suggestion of the full unqualified extension of the principle of representation may therefore be justly attributed to the example of Rhode Island and Connecticut, which, when converted into States, found it unnecessary to alter the nature of their governments, and continued the same forms, in all respects, except the nominal recognition of the king's authority, until 1818, when Connecticut made some minor changes and adopted a formal Constitution. Rhode Island,
* Political Annals of the British Colonies.
however, is still satisfied with the charter of Charles II. from which it has been found sufficient to expunge the reservation of allegiance, the required conformity of its legislative acts to those of Great Britain, and the royal right to a certain portion of gold and silver ores, which happily for that state, have never been found within it.
As representation is sometimes partial in respect to the proportion of the powers of government to be exercised, so it is sometimes confined to a portion only of those governed. In this respect it is perhaps still more objectionable. The power of electing the great officers of the state belonged in Venice to a few families; the people at large had no voice, and it was therefore indifferent to the Venetians, whether they became the subjects of France, or were ceded by her to Austria, or whether they continued to be governed by those in whose appointments they had not the least share. With us, representation is in its nature universal, but in practice there are some exceptions which will be noticed in a subsequent place. They are few, and do not impair the principle.
It is not necessary that a constitution should be in writing ; but the superior advantages of one reduced to writing over those which rest on traditionary information, or which are to be collected from the acts and proceedings of the government itself, are great and manifest. A dependence on the latter is indeed destructive of one main object of a constitution, which is to check and restrain governors. If the people can only refer to the acts and proceedings of the government to ascertain their own rights, it is obvious, that as every such act may introduce a new principle, there can be no stability in the government. The order of things is inverted; what ought to
be the inferior, is placed above that which should be the superior, and the legislature is enabled to alter the constitution at its pleasure.
This is admitted by English jurists to be the case in respect to their own constitution, which in all its vital parts may be changed by an act of parliament; that is, the king, lords, and commons may, if they think proper, abrogate and repeal any existing laws, and pass any new laws in direct opposition to that which the people contemplate and revere as their ancient constitution. No such laws can be resisted or disobeyed by the subject, nor declared void by their courts of justice as unconstitutional. A written constitution which may be enforced by the judges and appealed to by the people, is therefore most conducive to their happiness and safety.
Vattel* justly observes, that the perfection of a state, and its aptitude to fulfil the ends proposed by society, depend on its constitution—the first duty to itself is, to form the best constitution possible, and one most suited to its circumstances; and thus it lays the foundation of its safety, permanence and happiness. But the best constitution which can be framed with the most anxious deliberation that can be bestowed upon it, may, in practice, be found imperfect and inadequate to the true interests of society. Alterations and amendments then become desirable—the people retains--the people cannot perhaps divest itself, of the power to make such alterations. A moral power equal to and of the same nature with that which made, alone can destroy. The laws of one legislature may be repealed by another legislature, and the power to repeal
* Book I. ch. 3.
them cannot be withheld by the power that enacted them. So the people may, on the same principle, at any time alter or abolish the constitution they have formed. This has been frequently and peaceably done by several of these states since 1776.* If a particular mode of effecting such alterations has been agreed on, it is most convenient to adhere to it, but it is not exclusively binding. We shall hereafter see the careful provision in this respect, contained in the Constitution of the United States, and the cautious and useful manner in which it has hitherto been exercised. Indeed it is a power which, although it cannot be denied, ought never to be used without an urgent necessity. A good constitution is better understood and more highly valued, the longer it continues. Frequent changes tend to unsettle public opinion, and in proportion to the facility with which they are made, is the temptation to make them. The transactions in France since the year 1791 support these remarks.
The history of man does not present a more illustrious monument of human invention, sound political principles, and judicious combinations, than the Constitution of the United States. In many other countries, the origin of government has been vaguely attributed to force, or artifice or accident, and the obscurities of history have been laboriously developed to trace the result of these supposed causes. But America has distinctly presented to view the deliberate formation of an independent government, not under compulsion, or by artifice, or chance, but as a mean of resisting external force, and with
* New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, and Connecticut, have altered their constitutions since that period. .
a full and accurate knowledge of her own rights, providing for, and securing her own safety. It is not, however, intended to assert that this instrument is perfect, although it is deemed to approach as near to perfection as any that has ever been formed. If defects are perceived they may readily be accounted for.
Great and peculiar. difficulties attended its formation. It. was not the simple act of a homogeneous body of men, either large or small. It was to be the act of many independent states, though in a greater degree the act of the people set in motion by those states; it was to be the act of the people of each state, and not of the people at large. The interests, the habits, and the prejudices of the people of the different states were in many instances variant and dissimilar. Some of them were accustomed chiefly to agriculture, others to commerce; domestic slavery was reprobated by some, by others it was held lawful in itself, and almost necessary to their existence. Each state was naturally tenacious of its own sovereignty and independence, which had been expressly reserved in their antecedent association, and of which it was still meant to retain all that it did not become unavoidably necessary to surrender. Different local positions and different interests were therefore the sources of many impediments to the completion of this great work, which at last resulted in the combination of mutual and manly concessions: the representatives of each state, deeply impressed with the necessity of giving strength and efficiency to their union, yielded those points which by them were deemed of inferior magnitude. That every state should be fully satisfied was scarcely to be expected; but every state was bound to consider, that not its own peculiar interests only, but those of the whole were to be regarded, and that what