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N 6

Copyright, 1922,


All rights reserved

Published June, 1922







WE THE PEOPLE of the United States,

It is important to notice that this is a government of the people, not of the States. Under the Articles of Confederation, in effect as our first. form of government from 1781 to 1789, the States as political entities, and not the people, entered into “a firm league of friendship”, each State retaining “its sovereignty, freedom and independence.” The new Constitution brought in a new Nation, deriving its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”

"The people, the highest authority known to our system,” said President Monroe, "from whom all our institutions spring and on whom they depend, formed it.”

"Its language, ‘We the people,' is the institution of one great consolidated National government of the people of all the States, instead of a government by compact with the States for its agents,” exclaimed Patrick Henry in the Virginia ratifying convention while leading opposition to its adoption. "The people gave the Constitutional] Convention no power to use their name." Some States restricted the authority of their delegates to revising the Articles Confederation. It was claimed that the Conan ng aside of the Articles of Confederation (which

Constitution: of the United States

could be astered or amended only by the concurrence of every State) for a constitution to become effective when adopted by nine of the thirteen States was revolutionary. Revision only was uppermost in the minds of many. On February 21, 1787, the Congress existing under the Articles called a convention "for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.” But it was the belief of the Constitutional Convention that as the new instrument was to go to the people for ratification or rejection, the objections stated by Henry and others were really unimportant. in order to form a more perfect Union,

2 Meaning “a more perfect union” than had been achieved by the Articles of Confederation.

“In the efficacy and permanency of your Union," wrote Washington in his Farewell Address, “a government for the whole is indispensable. ... Sensible of this momentous truth you have improved upon your first essay (the Articles of Confederation) by the adoption of a Constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union and for the efficacious management of your common concerns."

The Union, made "more perfect” by the Constitution, was nevertheless in later times said to be dissoluble at the pleasure of any State that might desire to secede. In his Farewell Address (1796) Washington had called upon the people “indignantly” to frown "upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.” To put the question beyond



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controversy it required a four-year Civil War, after the secession of the southern States, beginning with that of South Carolina in December, 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in the preceding month.

In a great debate in the Senate between Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, the former contended that the National Government, through its Supreme Court, is the ultimate expounder of its own powers, while the latter stood for what was known as the doctrine of States' Rights and argued for the right of the individual State, under its reserved sovereignty (Note 163), to determine such questions for itself, as South Carolina had done (1832) by an ordinance declaring null a tariff law of Congress. Secession, he said, was the State's remedy of last resort.') Of Calhoun's theory, and of the historic facts with which it assumed to deal, President Lincoln said, in a message (July 4, 1861) to a special session of Congress called to prepare for the Civil War:

"The States have their status in the Union, and they, have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of independence and liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States, and, in fact, it created them as States."

The citizen was not, under the theory of States' Rights, in contact with the National Government. He owed allegiance to his State, and the State, in turn, dealt with the Nation. After the Civil War the Fourteenth Amendment set that theory aside by declaring: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Every citizen now owes an allegiance to the Nation as well as to the State.

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