Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1883

Abstract

The fundamental idea underlying the government of every State of the American Union is that the people rule. Upon this the American people have erected their constitutional structure, and to thi!J thcir laws and their conduct are supposed to conform. Their constitutions, State and National, tho they may be said to have grown out of their circumstances, were not forced upon them by the circumstances, and simply accepted with little or no volition on their part, as has very commonly been the case with government in other countries; but the controlling principle was adopted deliberately by them, from a conviction that it was exactly suited to their condition, their political traditions, their habits of thought and action, and their needs. They therefore made formal agreement that not only were the people of a country the rightful source and fountain of all legitimate authority in government, but that in the United States it was proper and expedient that they should retain in their own hands this authority, and ecxercise it. They had by their Declaration of Independence rejected as unfounded the assumption that by divine selection, or othcrwise. anyone without their consent had been made their rightful master, and they perpetuated in their constitutional system the "self-evident" truth that all men by naturc are equal in right and privilege. Conceding the impossibility of all the functions of government being exercised by themselves directly, they created trusts and provided for their being performcd by officers, but these officers were to be chosen by themselves in strict subordination to the principle that sovereignty belonged to and was to be retained by the people. and that all governmental powers in the hands of individuals were to be exercised by mere delegation. The underlying principle of their political structure was, therefore, not a mere invention of convenience to meet a temporary necessity and provide for a crisis in public affairs, like the theory of original contract in England, but through constitutional forms it was given such effective vitality and force that the validity of legislative enactments and of other governmental action could be determined by it. The body that made the laws under the delegated authority must keep within the delegation, or its enactments would be mere idle fulminations, to which no one would owe obedience or need give any attention. Officers of all grades were to have their authority carefully measured out and limited; and this authority the people would not only recall if they saw reason for so doing, but while it continued they would periodically pass judgment upon the official conduct of those exercising it, and displace them if dissatisfied. Even the courts, with power to decide upon and apply the law, were, like all other agencies, to be under the law, and the restraints thrown around them were such as to make them understand and feel at all times their subordination to the sovereign power.


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