Imágenes de páginas




The Constitution of a nation is the fun


tion, damental regulation that determines the manner in which the public authority is to be executed.* This may either be in writing, as in this country, or depend upon custom and long established usage, as in most other parts of the world. Our Constitution is, in a peculiar manner, the expression of the will of the people of the United States, as to the powers with which their government shall be invested, and the manner in which those powers shall be executed. It therefore deserves the careful consideration of every citizen.

The ob

The object of a preamble is, to state the parties to an instrument, and to declare, in preamble.

ject of a general terms, its meaning. Although placed at the commencement, it is usually composed after all the rest has been completed, and, if properly framed, is of great use in leading to a right construction of it, especially of those parts which might otherwise appear doubtful.

In an instrument prepared with so much care as the Constitution of the United States,

* Vattel, b. I. ch. iii. $ 27.

which occupied, for several months, the exclusive attention of many of the first men of the country, and was at last produced as the result of a compromise of conflicting interests, and finally adopted by thirteen distinct conventions, in which every clause was severely scrutinized, and every possible objection raised; we are to expect that every part has a meaning, and that nothing is redundant. Accordingly the preamble contains much important matter. In order to understand it fully, it is necessary to recollect the situation of affairs before it was adopted.

The im- The thirteen States were loosely connectperfection of the Arti ed together by a federal compact, in which cles of Con- they were regarded as independent sove

reignties, and to which the people, as individuals, were not parties. The mutual jealousy of the parties to the old confederation appeared in the second article of the league, which declared that, “ each State retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which was not, by that confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” This bond, slight as it was, was sufficient to hold them together, dụring the struggle for independence, while they were striving for the same object, and united by a sense of common danger. But no sooner was this pressure removed by the restoration of peace, than the insufficiency of the connexion was sensibly felt. The States had different, and apparently clashing interests, which threatened a speedy disunion. The government had no power but what was derived from the respect of the

community, and that was daily diminished by the impunity with which its authority was disregarded. It had incurred pecuniary responsibilities to its own citizens, and to foreigners, which it was unable to meet, without contributions from the States, which it had no means to enforce. It had no control over individuals :. a requisition on the several States terminated its legislative power; and it was almost entirely destitute of executive or judicial authority. With no superior to restrain them, and no common tribunal to which to appeal, the States could , not long continue united : internal dissension, and external violence, were alike to be apprehended, and anarchy, confusion, perhaps subjugation, might be the ultimate result. In this state of things, the Constitution was adopted by the People, acting in their sovereign capacity; and the preamble asserts their supremacy, and announces, in general terms, the objects of their action.

Many of the evils of the old confedera- 'The tion arose from its nature, as an association source

the present of sovereign States, and the tenacity of its members, in maintaining and adhering to ment. their real or supposed rights. To eradicate this source of evil, the present Constitution commences with a declaration, that it is formed by “the People of the United States," and not, as the former confederacy, by the several States. Indeed it might well be doubted whether the State legislatures could form such a union as the government of the United States. Their powers are defined in their respective constitutions, and are to be exercised by them, in the mode there pre



scribed, not delegated to a distinct and independent sovereignty, created by themselves. There is no doubt of their competency to form a league, such as the former confederation ; but it is by no means clear, that they could create a new government, with extensive powers, acting directly upon the people, and essentially altering and controlling their own delegated authority. However this may be, the origin of the general government, the source of all its power, was a matter too important to be left in doubt, and it is therefore declared to be ordained and established by “the People of the United States."


The ob- Their design in establishing it, is also jects of the

stated. 1st. To form a more perfect union. Constitution,

2d. To establish justice. 3d. To insure domestic tranquillity. 4th. To provide for the common defence. To

promote the general welfare, and 6th. To secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity.

The limits of this work do not permit a minute examination of each of these items; but it is evident that they were intended to remedy the evils experienced under the former confederation ; and that they comprised every thing requisite, with the blessing of Divine Providence, to render a people prosperous and happy.

It is evident, then, that the Constitution neral gove of the United States was established, not by not formed the States in their sovereign capacities, but by, or, de- emphatically, as the preamble declares, by pendent upon, the the People ; the same people who, in their

respective States, formed the State constitu

The ge



« AnteriorContinuar »