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PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS. ORGANIZATION OF THE CONVENTION. - POSITION OF THE STATES. RULE OF INVESTI
AFTER long wanderings through the struggles, the errors, and the disappointments of the earlier years of our constitutional history, I now come to consider that memorable assembly to which they ultimately led, in order to describe the character of an era that offered the promise of a more vigorous nationality, and presented the alternative of final dissolution. How the people of the United States were enabled to seize the happy choice of one of these results, and to escape the disasters of the other, is to be learned by examining the mode in which the Constitution of the United States was framed.
In approaching this interesting topic, I am naturally anxious to place myself at once on a right understanding with the reader, to apprise him of the purpose of the discussions to which he is invited, and to guard against expectations which might be entertained, but which will not be fulfilled.
In a work designed for general and—as I venture to hope it may prove for popular use, it would be out of place, as it certainly would be
impracticable within the limits of a single volume, to undertake the explanation and discussion of all those particular questions of construction that must constantly arise under almost every clause and feature of such an instrument as the Constitution of the United States, and which, as our whole experience has taught us, are fruitful both of extensive debate and of wide as well as honest diversities of opinion. I shall consider questions of construction only so far as may be necessary to elucidate my subject; for I propose, in writing the history of the formation of the Constitution, to describe rather those great modifications in the principles and structure of the Union that took place in the period at which we have now arrived in the course of this work; to state the essential features of the new government; and to trace the process by which they were evolved from the elements to which the framers of that government resorted.
Happily for us, the materials for such a description are ample. The whole civil change which transformed the character of our Union, and established for it a national government, took place peacefully and quietly, within a single twelvemonth. It was attended with circumstances which enable us to ascertain its character with a high degree of certainty. The leading purposes that were entertained and carried out were not left to the conjecture of posterity, but were recorded by deliberative assemblies, whose acts of themselves expressed and ascertained the objects and intentions of the national
will. First framed by an assembly in which the States participating in the change were fully represented, and subsequently debated and ratified in conventions of the people in the separate States, the general nature and design of the Constitution may be traced and understood without serious difficulty.
But to the right understanding of its nature and objects, a careful examination of the proceedings of the national Convention is, in the first place, essential. Before we enter, however, upon this examination, there are certain preliminary facts that explain the circumstances in which the Convention was assembled, and which will enable us to appreciate the results at which it arrived. To these, therefore, the reader is now desired to turn.
First of all, then, it is to be remembered that the national Convention of 1787 was assembled with the great object of framing a system of government for the united interests of the thirteen States, by which the forms and spirit of republican liberty could be preserved. The warnings and teachings of the ten preceding years, which I have attempted to describe in a previous volume, had presented to the people of these States the serious question, whether their system of conducting their common affairs then rested upon principles that could secure their permanent prosperity and happiness. That the States had national interests; that each of them stood in relations to the others, and to the rest of the world, which its separate and unaided power was unable to manage with success; and that even its own
internal peace and prosperity required some external protection, - had been brought home to the convictions of the people by an experience that commenced with the day on which they declared themselves independent, and had now forced upon them its last stern and sorrowful lesson in the general despondency of the national heart. As they turned anxiously and fearfully to the near and dear interests involved in their separate and internal concerns, they saw that self-government was a necessity of their existence. They saw that equality before the law for the whole people; the right and the power to appoint their own rulers; the right and the power to mould and form and modify every law and institution at their own sovereign will, to lay restraints upon their own power, or not to lay them, -to limit themselves by public compact to a particular mode of action, or to remain free to choose other modes, -were the essential conditions of American society. In a word, they beheld that republican and constitutional liberty, which, with all that it comprehends and all that it bestows, was not only altogether lovely in their eyes, but without which there could be no peace, no social order, no tranquillity, and no safety for them and their posterity.
This liberty they knew must be preserved. They loved it with passionate devotion. They had been trained for it by the whole course of their political and social history. They had fought for it through a long and exhausting war. Their habits of thought
and action, their cherished principles, their hopes, their life as a people, were all bound up in it; and they knew that, if they suffered it to be lost, there would remain for them nothing but a heritage of shame, and ages of confusion, strife, and
Great as was their devotion to this republican liberty, and ardent as was their love of it, they did not value it too highly. The doctrine that all power resides originally in the people; that they are the source of all law; that their will is to be pronounced by a majority of their numbers, and can know no interruption, -was not first discovered in America. But to this principle of a democracy the people of the American States had added two real and important discoveries of their own. They had ascertained that their own power might be limited by compacts which would regulate and define the modes in which it shall be exercised. Their written constitutions had taken the place of the royal charters which formerly embraced the fundamental conditions of their political existence, but with this essential difference, that whereas the charter emanated from a foreign sovereign to those who claimed no original authority for themselves, the constitution proceeded from the people, who claimed all authority to be resident in themselves alone. While the charter embraced a compact between the foreign sovereign and his subjects who lived under it, the constitution, framed by the people for their own guidance in exercising their sovereign power, became a com