The writing of this book was impelled (or compelled) by the very manifest
indifference of the people of the United States to the constitutional doctrines
of their country. This had been developing so rapidly that all ideas of
constitutionalism seemed to have passed out of the American mind. That is,
indefensible proposals and practices against the plainest limitations on power
set in the Constitution provoked no objections even from the Bar. For two
decades no great debate on a constitutional subject had been heard in either
House of Congress.
The National Education Association, theoretically representing the teachers
of the country, had for years been passing resolutions favoring whatever was
before the public of un-American import, especially for getting the imperial
Government at Washington, through "Federal aid," to take over the
shaping in school of American ideas. Under the cloak of "academic
freedom" men in the universities belittled those who wrote the
Constitution and pronounced their work faulty and outmoded.
The schools, while neglecting to give thorough courses in our history, and
especially in constitutional history or the history of Liberty, admitted
objectionable textbooks and periodicals.
Laws enacted by States after the Civil War requiring the teaching of the
Constitution in the schools became dead letters. Similar laws of more than
forty States enacted after World War I became dead letters too. So the
governmental chaos, as it appears to be, came not by chance. The Commission on
Organization of the Executive Branch of Government reported in 1948 that in the
President's Department there are 1,800 different administrative units, and that
the proposals of the Commission would save the taxpayers "billions —
not millions, but billions." Plain lawlessness in taxation and a brutal
attitude toward the taxpayer were among the conditions that compelled the
writing of this book.
The principles of our Government are not outmoded, as some say. They are as
immutable as those of mathematics. The first of them, so well put by Jefferson,
is that the man to whom power is given must be chained. The profound historians
at Philadelphia who wrote the Constitution looked back over the centuries and
drew that principle from the recurring tyrannies and unfailing breakdowns of
governments. So, to prevent "the very definition of despotism," as
they termed the union of powers in one hand or body, from coming to the New
World, they separated the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial powers,
and then, by the most careful specifications, limited the application of each
The States retained sovereignty in local affairs.
During the last three decades nearly every restraint upon the man in power
has been broken. Worse than that, lawlessness provokes no reasoning objection.
In the Roman Republic there was an elaborate distribution of powers, but in
time all were gathered into one hand. First the Republic and then the Empire
fell. A historian tells us that "statesmen came to disregard all checks in
the [Roman] Constitution in order to carry a point."
What John Adams praised as the "checks and balances" in our
Government also will fail unless respect for them returns.
My book explaining 196 clauses of the
Constitution, showing their origins, their uses, and their practical values in
the development of American "life, liberty, and property," had been
received by the people to over half a million copies, and it seemed my duty to
prepare another volume to explain the causes and the consequences of departures
from constitutional principle which had been in progress for many years.
As that is done by dealing with concrete cases, the presentation of
governmental philosophy is made the easier to understand.
The reader is admonished to approach this subject not with hesitance or with
the idea that it is difficult or abstruse, but with earnest expectation. For no
novel ever had a theme as engrossing as the story of "life, liberty, and
property," which is the Constitution of the United States.
Moreover, the reader is the ruler of this land, and it is therefore his duty
to himself and his descendants to learn and ably and righteously to execute the
law of our national being.
As the constitutional system of the United States was the first that man
through all the centuries was able to formulate for the one purpose of
controlling those in power, the American should know it as he knows the
alphabet. Its study has been recommended to him by its adoption in Canada,
Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and in other countries more or less fully. It is
"the last hope of the world," Daniel Webster warned us.
Communism and other alienisms can be met and overcome, not by dollars or
arms, but only by superior doctrines, as the teaching of the kindnesses of
Christianity overcame the ideas, the brutalities, and the power of the Roman
By neglecting to indoctrinate each new generation with a knowledge of the
superior philosophy of the American system of Government, we thereby left the
people weakened to attack. Hence so many of them are taken with the false
promises of Communism. And so many others want the Government at Washington to
do things beyond its power and outside its jurisdiction.
As the provisions of the Constitution dealt with in this volume are quoted
or stated, and as they are a very small portion of the Instrument, it has
seemed best, in order to keep down the size and price of the book, to omit the
Fundamental Law as an Appendix.
Also for brevity, titles of cases cited are omitted and only the volume and
page of the report are given, enough for one desiring to look further.
A thorough Index at the end of the volume and a complete Table of Cases are
commended to the careful study of the reader and the student.
THOMAS JAMES NORTON
New York City
September 27, 1950
1. The Constitution of the United States: Its Sources
and Its Application, 1922; revised in 1941.
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