CHAPTER I.

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.

THE government, formed under the appellation of the United States of America, is declared in the solemn instrument which is denominated the Constitution, to be "ordained and established by the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity."

In this distinct exposition of principles, most of which are common to all freemen, and some peculiar to the situation of our country, we perceive the motives, and are guided in the construction of the instrument. We find the intention to create a new political society; to form a new government which the necessities and dangers of our country loudly required. The imperfect and inefficient confederation of 1779, is intended to be abandoned. The states are no longer to be known to each other merely as states. The people of the states unite with each other, without destroying their previous organization. They vest in a new government, all the powers necessary for the attainment of the great objects to which the states separately or confederated. had been found incompetent. They reserve to the state governments, or to themselves, only what is not necessary for the attainment of those objects. In all other respects the sovereignty of the states is unaltered. The obligations of duty and allegiance to them are not impaired; but in all those instances which are within the sphere of the general government, the higher obligations of allegiance and duty to it, supersede what was due to the state governments, because from the nature of the case they cannot be co-equal. Two governments of concurrent right and power cannot exist in one society. Superiority must, therefore, be conferred on the general government, or its formation, instead of promoting domestic tranquillity, would produce perpetual discord and disorder.

The principles of this constitution to be thoroughly understood should be frequently contemplated. The composition of such a government presents a novel and sublime spectacle in political history. It is a society, formed not only out of the people of other societies, but in certain parts, formed by those societies themselves. The state is as much a member of the Union, and forms as much a part of the greater society as the people themselves, yet the state does not enter into the Union upon federate principles; it does not send representatives in the nature of federal delegates, or ambassadors; it cannot, at its own pleasure, increase or diminish their number. When the appointment is made, the person appointed becomes an officer of the United States, not of the state which sends him, and he is not politically responsible to his immediate constituent. In one case only is a vote taken by states, and the immediate representatives of the people, in that case, represent the state.

It will be seen that in some cases a state has the right to claim the aid of the judicial power of the Union, and in all, it is bound to support the legislative and executive acts of the general government when consistent with the constitution. As therefore it is neither a stranger, nor properly speaking a confederate, it seems to follow that it must be considered as part of the greater nation, a term, which in the course of this work we shall chiefly use in reference to the United States, because although every political body, governed only by its own laws or internal regulations, may be denominated a nation, yet the states, not possessing that absolute independence, cannot with full propriety be so designated. But a name is of little importance if the substance be retained; and if Virginia or Pennsylvania are not known abroad as nations, it does not affect their power at home as states. In this relation every state must be viewed as entirely sovereign in all points not transferred by the people who compose it, to the government of the Union: and every exposition that may be given to the constitution, inconsistent with this principle, must be unsound. The supremacy of the Union in all those points that are thus transferred, and the sovereignty of the state in all those which are not transferred, must therefore be considered as two co-ordinate qualities, enabling us to decide on the true mode of giving a construction to the constitution. As different views have prevailed, different theories of construction have been formed. Some have contended that it should be construed strictly; others have asserted, that the most liberal construction should be allowed. By construction we can only mean the ascertaining the true meaning of an instrument, or other form of words, and by this rule alone ought we to be governed in respect to this constitution. A strict construction, adhering to the letter, without pursuing the sense of the composition, could only proceed from a needless jealousy, or rancorous enmity. On the other hand, a liberal construction may be carried to an injurious extreme; concessions of power may be conceived, or assumed, which never were intended, and which therefore, are not necessary for its legitimate effect. The true rule therefore seems to be no other than that which is applied in all cases of impartial and correct exposition; which is to deduce the meaning from its known intention and its entire text, and to give effect, if possible, to every part of it, consistently with the unity, and the harmony of the whole.

In many respects we have the benefit of the learned elucidations of judicial tribunals, and wherever the supreme court of the United States has pronounced its solemn decision upon constitutional points, the author has gladly availed himself of this irrefragable authority; but where a guide so certain, cannot be found, recourse can only be had, to an anxious and serious endeavour to display and expound, with truth and justice, the main features of a constitution, which must always be more admired, as it is more considered, and better understood. If these examinations produce the same effect upon the reader, that they have upon the author, the attachment to it, of our native citizens, and its attractions to foreigners will be increased; and those who are now here, and those who may hereafter be here, will concur to venerate and support a government, eminent above all others in promoting the freedom and the happiness of man.


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