The Constitutional Convention took up a task such as had never before been performed.
It was known by the historians at Philadelphia that alliances of States, or confederations or confederacies, had always bred dissensions and fallen apart. Indeed, it was because their own Confederation had been sinking and was practically gone that they were in convention working for "a more perfect Union."
They knew also that in anything tighter than a confederation the individual States forming it had always lost identity through absorption in the central organization. Thus, the Confederacy of Delos (about 480 B. C.), which was formed by Aristides to consolidate Greek cities and colonies in defense against Persia, and which was to last until the pieces of iron thrown into the sea should float, was before long weakened by secessions. "The confederacy of equal states," says the historian Betten in Ancient World, "became an empire, with Athens for its 'tyrant city.'"
Against this loss of identity, in particular, they were determined to guard. The units in the failing Confederation had, by the Declaration of Independence, proclaimed themselves to be "free and independent States."
And in the Articles of Confederation, their first Constitution, they declared that "each State retains its sovereignty and independence." So the individuality of the State in this Union never should have been treated lightly.
The delegates from all of the States represented were of one mind for preserving perpetually the identity and sovereignty of their commonwealths, so far as that could be worked out. They organized a Union (as distinguished from a confederation, which they then were) which would present a front for them to the nations of the world in negotiations and in defense and offense. It would also take over the home concerns which were essentially national, and especially those respecting which there had been lack of harmony among them, as in the case of commerce across State lines.
So, by section 8 of Article I of the Constitution which they drafted, they gave to the Congress of the Union (what that of the Confederation lacked) power to raise money by taxation "to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare." They gave Congress power to borrow money on the credit of the Union, and the next important grant of power was to regulate commerce among the States and with foreign nations. After those grants came authority for uniform laws for naturalization and bankruptcy, for coinage, weights and measures, counterfeiting, post office, declaring war, raising armies and navies (but for not longer than two years), and for laws making those grants effective.
Then, by section 10, the States surrendered to the Nation the power to make treaties, to coin money, and a few others.
Thus, the lines between the governments of the States and that of the Union had been very clearly drawn. And thus there had been blended the Confederation and the Nation. But both remained in their respective individualities. By the organization the Confederation would be prevented from falling apart. And the Nation would let the States of the confederation alone.
It was to this system, by which men attempted for the first time successfully to strip themselves of the features of power that tend to tyranny, that Senator Hoar paid this tribute:
"The most sublime thing in the Universe, except its Creator, is a great and free people governing itself by a law higher than its own desire."
That arrangement has, of late years, been failing.
It was to make clear to the reading American the causes of the decline of the constitutional system as set up, and the course which should be taken to stop it, that this book was written.
The three most important conclusions to be derived from this study are these:
1. A Government erected by deep scholarship upon a Fundamental Law must fail without sufficient scholarship in the people who choose its officers to sense instantly and resist courageously every proposal to depart from its principles; and to operate as inoculation against notions, foreign and domestic, for governmental paternalism.
2. The States, which insisted during the writing of the Constitution, and afterward by demanding a Bill of Rights, that their complete independence in all but international and strictly national affairs should be respected forever, must recover the constitutional position which, through the incompetence of their representatives in Congress, they have too much given over to Federal control.
3. As the Judiciary is the keystone of the American arch, only the most experienced and capable legal scholars should be appointed by the President to judicial seats; and it is the high constitutional duty of the Senate to refuse confirmation of appointments of any other kind.
With those three essentials brought into effect, our Republic should serve mankind perpetually.
Remarking that if angels were caring for us there would be no need for the devices which we employ "to control the abuses of government," a writer of The Federalist (No. 51) added:
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men, over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and, in the next place, oblige it to control itself."
That is the surpassing task confronting the American today to compel his Government to control itself.
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