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under standing and fundamental laws, changeable only in a prescribed form, and being so far what is called a constitution, it is apparent that there must be a "form of government" possessed of these distinct agencies.
There must be, moreover, not only this "form of government," but it must be a "republican" form; and in order to determine the sense in which this term qualifies the nature of the government in other respects besides those already referred to, it is necessary to take into view the previous history of American political institutions, because that history shows what is meant, in the American sense, by a "republican" government.
History, then, establishes the fact, that, in the American system of government, the people are regarded as the sole original source of all political authority; that all legitimate government must rest upon their will. But it also teaches that the will of the people is to be exercised through representative forms. For even in the exercise of original suffrage, which has never been universal in any of the States of the Union, and in the bestowal of power upon particular organs, those who are regarded as competent to express the will of society are, in that expression, deemed to represent all its members; and those who, in the distribution of political functions, exercise the sovereignty of the people, so far as it has been thus imparted to them, exercise a representative function, to which they are appointed, directly or indirectly, by popular suffrage, that may be more or less restricted,
according to the public will. It may be said, therefore, with strictness, that in the American system a republican government is one based on the right of the people to govern themselves, but requiring that right to be exercised through public organs of a representative character; and these organs constitute the government. How much or how little power shall be imparted to this government, what restrictions shall be imposed upon it, and what the precise functions of its several departments shall be, with respect to the internal concerns of the State, the Constitution of the United States leaves untouched, except in a few particulars. It merely declares that a government having the essential characteristics of an American republican system shall be guaranteed by the United States; that is to say, that no other shall be permitted to be established.
The provision by which the State is protected against domestic violence was necessary to complete the republican character of the system intended to be upheld. The Constitution of the United States assumes that the governments of the States, existing when it goes into operation, are rightfully in the exercise of the authority of the State, and will so continue until they are changed. But it means that no change shall be made by force, by public commotion, or by setting aside the authority of the existing government. It recognizes the right of that government to be protected against domestic violence; in which expression is to be included every species of force directed against that government, excepting the will
of the people operating to change it through the forms of constitutional action.
The next topic on which the Convention was required to act was the question whether the Constitution should be made capable of amendment, and in what mode amendments were to be proposed and adopted. The Confederation, from its nature as a league between States otherwise independent of each other, was made incapable of alteration excepting by the unanimous consent of the States. It affords a striking illustration of the different character of the government established by the Constitution, that a mode was devised by which changes in the organic law could become obligatory upon all the States, by the action of a less number than the whole.
The frame of government which the members of the Convention were endeavoring to establish, if once adopted, was to endure, as a continuing power, indefinitely; and that it might, as far as possible, be placed beyond the danger of destruction, it was necessary to make it subject to such peaceful changes as experience might render proper, and which, by being made capable of introduction by the organic law itself, would preserve the identity of the government. The existence and operation of a prescribed method of changing particular features of a government mark the line between amendment and revolution, and render a resort to the latter, for the purpose of melioration or reform, save in extreme cases of oppression, unnecessary. According to our American theory of government, revolution and amendment both rest
upon the doctrine, that the people are the source of all political power, and each of them is the exercise of an ultimate right. But this right is exercised, in the process of amendment, in a prescribed form, which preserves the continuity of the existing government, and changes only such of its fundamental rules as require revision, without the destruction of any public or private rights that may have become vested under the former rule. Revolution, on the contrary, proceeds without form, is the violent disruption of the obligations resting on the authority of the former government, and terminates its existence often, without saving any of the rights which may have grown up under it. The question, there fore, whether the Constitution should be made capa ble of amendment, was identical with the question whether some mode of amending it should be prescribed in the instrument itself, since, without an ascertained and limited method of proceeding, all change becomes, in effect, revolution; and this was accordingly, in substance, the same as the question whether revolution should be the only method by which the American people could ever modify their system of government, when in the progress of time changes might become indispensable.
It was originally proposed in the Convention, that provision should be made for amending the Constitution, without requiring the assent of the national legislature.1 But this was justly regarded as a very important question, and the Convention came to no
1 Elliot, V. 157.
other decision, when the committee of detail were instructed, than to declare that provision ought to be made for amending the Constitution whenever it should seem necessary. The mode selected by the committee, and embraced in the first draft of the instrument, was to have a convention called by the Congress, when applied for by the legislatures of two thirds of the States; but they did not declare whether the legislatures were to propose amendments and the convention was to adopt them, or whether the convention was both to propose and adopt them, or only to propose them for adoption by some other body or bodies not specified. There lay, therefore, at the basis of this whole subject, the very grave question whether there should ever be another national convention, to act in any manner upon or in reference to the national Constitution, after its adoption, and if so, what its functions and authority were to be. There would follow, also, the further question, whether this should be the sole method in which the Constitution should be made capable of amendment. Several reasons concurred to render it highly inexpedient to make a resort to a convention the sole method of reaching amendments, and we can now see that the decision that was made on this subject was a wise one. It was a rare combination of circumstances that gave to the first national Convention its success. The war of the Revolution, and the exigencies which it caused, had produced a class of men, possessing an influence, 1 Elliot, V. 376.