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word federal is derived from the Latin word fædus, signifying a league or covenant.] This government was destitute of executive and judicial powers, which are no less necessary in giving to a government a national character, than in forming an efficient government. It consisted only of a legislative power, the power of enacting laws: it wanted an executive power to execute the laws, and a judicial power to judge of, to expound, and to apply them. Congress had no power of raising a revenue or of collecting taxes. Congress had the power of making treaties, but not the power of fulfilling them—that rested with the several states. Congress had the power of declaring war, but had not the means of maintaining a war. It had the power merely to ascertain the sum required for the public service, and to apportion it according to a prescribed rule among the several states, with a request that they should raise and pay over to the general treasury the amount of their respective quotas; but as an independent sovereign, each might choose or refuse, and sometimes did refuse, to comply with the requisition. Congress was authorized to borrow money, and to emit bills of credit, but had not the command of funds to pay the one, or to redeem the other. Nothing but the pressure of war, and the patriotic zeal of the citizens in a common cause, in which so much was at stake, could keep the country united.
When peace was restored, the imperfections of this system of government were fully developed. It was these imperfections, and the evils resulting from them, that led to the formation and adoption of a new and more effective system of national government; the nature and powers of which are briefly expressed in the preamble:
“We, the people of these United States”-words con
tute! By what means was the country kept united? What are
veying the idea of nationality~"in order to form a more perfect union"_intimating the former to have been but a partial and imperfect union—"to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity''--objects to which the confederation had proved incompetent—"do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America."
But, although there can be little difference of opinion as to the objects of the constitution, the nature of this instrument is very differently interpreted by different indiriduals. It has been held to be, (1.) a contract between sovereign and independent states, to establish and maintain a government for the common good of the states; (2.) a contract between each state and all the other states, for the same purposes; each state reserving to itself the right of judging of the meaning of the contract, and whether it has been kept or broken; (3.) a contract between each citizen and all other citizens of the United States, to es tablish and maintain a government for the good of the whole, with limited and defined powers; providing that all powers not expressly given, nor necessarily flowing from those which are so given, are reserved to the states or to the people; and that the authority of interpreting the meaning of the contract, or of expounding the powers of the government, instead of belonging to the states, resides in the government itself.
Without undertaking to decide which of these opinions is correct, it may be proper to state, that, in this latter sense, the constitution is understood by the supreme court of the United States, which, in the last resort, is to ex
the expressed objects of the constitution? What are the different interpretations of the nature of the union? Which of these opinions is sanctioned by the supreme court? In what manner was the coustitution ratified by the people? Which of these opinions is sup
pound the constitution, and the laws made under its authority. It is argued in favor of this opinion, that in adopting the constitution, the people of the several states, by their representatives in the state conventions, acted separately for themselves, not in the character of that sovereignty which they had entrusted to their respective state governments. And as the constitution was rati fied by the people of each state, in concurrence with the people of all the states, it thus became a mutual compact between all, binding upon all, and upon their respective state governments.
A similar view of the subject was taken by the presi. dent of the United States, in his proclamation of December, 1832, occasioned by the hostile stand assumed by South Carolina against the general government; that state threatening to resist a law of congress which she deemed unconstitucional, and claiming for herself, as an indepep. à dent state, the right to judge of the constitutionality of the law, as well as to secede from the union; a right which she claimed as being reserved to the states, and never surrendered to the general government. A few short extracts from that document are here given. · The opinions they express were at that time approved by a large majority of the people of the union.
“The people of the United States formed the constitution, acting through the state legislatures in making the compact, to meet and discuss its provisions, and acting in separate conventions when they ratified those provisions ; but the terms used in its construction, show it to be a government in which the people of all the states collectively are represented. We are one people in the choice of the president and vice president. Here the states have no
other agency than to direct the mode in which the votes shall be given. The people, then, and not the states, are represented in the executive branch.
- The constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league; and, whether it be formed by compact between the states, or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the states : they retained all the power they did not grant. But each state having erpressly parted with so many powers as to constitute, jointly with the other states, a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation."
The most able men have differed widely on this subject; and this diversity of opinion will probably continue to exist. These different views of the national compact are therefore given to lead the mind to inquire into the nature of the union, rather than to excite a spirit of controversy, which should always be discouraged. The people of the United States are indebted for the blessings enjoyed under their admirable system of government, to that spirit of compromise and mutual concession which prevailed so universally among the members of the body that framad the constitution. It is indeed remarkable, that an assembly of men from so wide a territory, entertaining views, and representing interests, so varied and opposite, should have agreed on a form of government which should receive the assent of so large a majority of the people. And
ported by the proclamation of 1832? How was that document regarded by the people? To what are the people of this country indebted for their system of government? What is the result of the experiment of this form of government?
it is more remarkable still, that any system, adopted under these circumstances, should have been found, on an experiment of almost half a century, so fully competent to all the purposes for which it was intended. May the same spirit of forbearance and good will which governed those who framed and adopted our invaluable constitution, be cherished by their descendants !
Of the Legislative Power.--House of Representatives.
"ALL legislative powers granted in the constitution shall be vested in a congress of the United States, which shall consist of a senate and house of representatives."
The propriety of dividing the legislature into two coordinate branches, is obvious. It was intended, by this division, to guard against the evil consequences of hasty action by a single legislative body. The proceedings of some of the state legislatures, consisting of a single house, as well as the proceedings of congress under the confed. eration, had furnished examples of the ill effects of precipitate legislation. A basty decision is not likely to be made, when a measure is liable to be arrested in its pro. gress, and to be subjected to the critical revision of another body, in which it must pass through the same forms of deliberation before it can become a law. But there was another reason for this division of the national legislature.
Wherein is the legislative power vested? Why is the legislature divided into two branches? What principles are combined in the constitution?