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Article Index

Chapter V

The Nature and Objects of a Constitution, and the Manner in which it is made.

§1. Of all the different forms of government which have existed, a republican government, on the plan of that which has been established in this country, is believed to be best adapted to secure the liberties of a people, and to promote the general welfare. Under the reign of a wise and virtuous ruler, the rights of person and property may be fully enjoyed, and the people may be in a good degree prosperous. But the requisite virtue and wisdom have seldom been found in any one man or a few men. And experience has proved that the objects of civil government may be best secured by a written constitution founded upon the will or consent of the people.


§2. The word _constitute_ is from the Latin, and signifies _to set_, to fix, to establish. _Constitution_, when used in a political sense, means the established form of government of a state. In a free government, like ours, it is properly called the _political law_, being established by the people as a body politic, or political body. (Chap. III, §5.) It is also called the _fundamental law_, because it is the _foundation_ of all other laws of the state, which are enacted by the legislature for regulating intercourse between the citizens, and are called the _municipal_ or _civil_ law, and must conform to the fundamental, or political law.

§3. A constitution is in the nature of an agreement between a whole community or body politic and each of its members. This agreement or contract implies, that each one binds himself to the whole, and the whole bind themselves to each one, that all shall be governed by certain laws and regulations for the common good.

§4. The nature of a constitution will further appear from the manner in which it is made. It is evident that a people, in establishing a constitution, must have some right or authority to act in the business. Whence this right is derived, we will not now stop to inquire. There is, however, somewhere power to enact a law authorizing the people to make a constitution and prescribing the manner in which it is to be made.

§5. In forming a constitution, the people must act collectively. But their number is too large to meet in a single assembly. Therefore they choose a small number to act for them. One or more are chosen in each county, or smaller district, and are called delegates. A _delegate_ is a person appointed by another with power to transact business as his representative. The assembly composed of the delegates so elected, is called _convention_; a name given to most public meetings other than legislative assemblies. Delegate and representative are words of nearly the same meaning. The latter, however, usually designates a person chosen to assist in making the laws of the state.

§6. The rules agreed upon by the convention as a basis of government, are arranged in proper form. The several portions relating to the different subjects are called articles, and numbered; and the articles are divided into sections, which also are numbered. But what has been thus prepared by the convention is not yet a constitution. It is only a draft of one, and can not become a constitution without the consent of the people to be given at an election. If a majority of the persons voting at such election vote in favor of the proposed constitution, it is adopted, and becomes the constitution of the state.

§7. One of the most valuable rights of the people under a free government, is the right to have a constitution of their own choice. Indeed it is in this right that their freedom principally consists. It is by the constitution that their rights are secured. All the people join in establishing the constitution; but they do not all unite in making and executing the laws; in other words, they do not themselves administer the government; this is done by their representatives. But if these should enact unjust and oppressive laws; the people, having by their constitution reserved the right to displace them, may do so by electing others in their stead.

§8. In an absolute monarchy the people have no political rights--the right to establish a form of government for themselves, and the right to elect those who are to make and administer the laws. The monarch has entire control over his subjects. He can take their lives and property when he pleases. His will is their law; and he has at command a large force of armed men to keep his people in subjection.

§9. In a limited monarchy, the people have some political rights. Such a monarchy is Great Britain. The king or sovereign is in a measure restrained by laws; and he can not make laws alone. The laws are framed and agreed to by parliament, and must be approved by the king or queen. Parliament consists of two bodies of men, the house of lords and the house of commons. The members of the latter are elected by the people, who, in such election, exercise a political right.

§10. But the political right of establishing a constitution or form of government, is not enjoyed by the people of that country. They have no written instrument, like ours, called constitution, adopted by the people. What is there called the constitution, is the aggregate or sum of laws, principles, and customs, which have been formed in the course of centuries. There is therefore no restraint upon the power of parliament; hence no law which may be enacted is contrary to the constitution; and the people have not the same security against the enactment of unjust laws as the people of the United States.