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I have hitherto considered each state as a separate whole, and I have explained the different springs which the people sets in motion, and the different means of action which it employs. But all the states which I have considered as independent are forced to submit, in certain cases, to the supreme authority of the Union. The time is now come for me to examine the partial sovereignty which has been conceded to the Union, and to cast a rapid glance over the federal constitution.[119]

 

HISTORY OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.

Origin of the first Union.--Its Weakness.--Congress appeals to the constituent Authority.--Interval of two Years between the Appeal and the Promulgation of the new Constitution.

The thirteen colonies which simultaneously threw off the yoke of England toward the end of the last century, possessed, as I have already observed, the same religion, the same language, the same customs, and almost the same laws; they were struggling against a common enemy; and these reasons were sufficiently strong to unite them one to another, and to consolidate them into one nation. But as each of them had enjoyed a separate existence, and a government within its own control, the peculiar interests and customs which resulted from this system, were opposed to a compact and intimate union, which would have absorbed the individual importance of each in the general importance of all. Hence arose two opposite tendencies, the one prompting the Anglo-Americans to unite, the other to divide their strength. As long as the war with the mother-country lasted, the principle of union was kept alive by necessity; and although the laws which constituted it were defective, the common tie subsisted in spite of their imperfections.[120] But no sooner was peace concluded than the faults of the legislation became manifest, and the state seemed to be suddenly dissolved. Each colony became an independent republic, and assumed an absolute sovereignty. The federal government, condemned to impotence by its constitution, and no longer sustained by the presence of a common danger, saw the outrages offered to its flag by the great nations of Europe, while it was scarcely able to maintain its ground against the Indian tribes, and to pay the interest of the debt which had been contracted during the war of independence. It was already on the verge of destruction, when it officially proclaimed its inability to conduct the government, and appealed to the constituent authority of the nation.[121]

If America ever approached (for however brief a time) that lofty pinnacle of glory to which the proud fancy of its inhabitants is wont to point, it was at the solemn moment at which the power of the nation abdicated, as it were, the empire of the land. All ages have furnished the spectacle of a people struggling with energy to win its independence; and the efforts of the Americans in throwing off the English yoke have been considerably exaggerated. Separated from their enemies by three thousand miles of ocean, and backed by a powerful ally, the success of the United States may be more justly attributed to their geographical position, than to the valor of their armies or the patriotism of their citizens. It would be ridiculous to compare the American war to the wars of the French revolution, or the efforts of the Americans to those of the French, who, when they were attacked by the whole of Europe, without credit and without allies, were still capable of opposing a twentieth part of their population to their foes, and of bearing the torch of revolution beyond their frontiers while they stifled its devouring flame within the bosom of their country. But it is a novelty in the history of society to see a great people turn a calm and scrutinizing eye upon itself when apprised by the legislature that the wheels of government had stopped; to see it carefully examine the extent of the evil, and patiently wait for two whole years until a remedy was discovered, which it voluntarily adopted without having wrung a tear or a drop of blood from mankind. At the time when the inadequacy of the first constitution was discovered, America possessed the double advantage of that calm which had succeeded the effervescence of the revolution, and of those great men who had led the revolution to a successful issue. The assembly which accepted the task of composing the second constitution was small;[122] but George Washington was its president, and it contained the choicest talents and the noblest hearts which had ever appeared in the New World. This national commission, after long and mature deliberation, offered to the acceptance of the people the body of general laws which still rules the Union. All the states adopted it successively.[123] The new federal government commenced its functions in 1789, after an interregnum of two years. The revolution of America terminated when that of France began.

SUMMARY OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.

Division of Authority between the Federal Government and the States.--The Government of the States is the Rule: the Federal Government the Exception.

The first question which awaited the Americans was intricate, and by no means easy of solution; the object was so to divide the authority of the different states which composed the Union, that each of them should continue to govern itself in all that concerned its internal prosperity, while the entire nation, represented by the Union, should continue to form a compact body, and to provide for the exigencies of the people. It was as impossible to determine beforehand, with any degree of accuracy, the share of authority which each of the two governments was to enjoy, as to foresee all the incidents in the existence of a nation.

The obligations and the claims of the federal government were simple and easily definable, because the Union had been formed with the express purpose of meeting the general exigencies of the people; but the claims and obligations of the states were, on the other hand, complicated and various, because those governments penetrated into all the details of social life. The attributes of the federal government were, therefore, carefully enumerated, and all that was not included among them was declared to constitute a part of the privileges of the several governments of the states. Thus the government of the states remained the rule, and that of the confederation became the exception.[124]

But as it was foreseen, that, in practice, questions might arise as to the exact limits of this exceptional authority, and that it would be dangerous to submit these questions to the decision of the ordinary courts of justice, established in the states by the states themselves, a high federal court was created,[125] which was destined, among other functions, to maintain the balance of power which had been established by the constitution between the two rival governments.[126]

PREROGATIVE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

Power of declaring War, making Peace, and levying general Taxes vested in the Federal Government.--What Part of the internal Policy of the Country it may direct.--The Government of the Union in some respects more central than the King's Government in the old French monarchy.

The external relations of a people may be compared to those of private individuals, and they cannot be advantageously maintained without the agency of the single head of a government. The exclusive right of making peace and war, of concluding treaties of commerce, of raising armies, and equipping fleets, was therefore granted to the Union.[127] The necessity of a national government was less imperiously felt in the conduct of the internal affairs of society; but there are certain general interests which can only be attended to with advantage by a general authority. The Union was invested with the power of controlling the monetary system, of directing the post-office, and of opening the great roads which were to establish communication between the different parts of the country.[128] The independence of the government of each state was formally recognized in its sphere; nevertheless the federal government was authorized to interfere in the internal affairs of the states[129] in a few predetermined cases, in which an indiscreet abuse of their independence might compromise the security of the Union at large. Thus, while the power of modifying and changing their legislation at pleasure was preserved in all the republics, they were forbidden to enact _ex post facto_ laws, or to create a class of nobles in their community.[130] Lastly, as it was necessary that the federal government should be able to fulfil its engagements, it was endowed with an unlimited power of levying taxes.[131]

In examining the balance of power as established by the federal constitution; in remarking on the one hand the portion of sovereignty which has been reserved to the several states, and on the other the share of power which the Union has assumed, it is evident that the federal legislators entertained the clearest and most accurate notions on the nature of the centralisation of government. The United States form not only a republic, but a confederation; nevertheless the authority of the nation is more central than it was in several of the monarchies of Europe when the American constitution was formed. Take, for instance, the two following examples:--

Thirteen supreme courts of justice existed in France, which, generally speaking, had the right of interpreting the law without appeal; and those provinces, styled _pays d'etats_, were authorized to refuse their assent to an impost which had been levied by the sovereign who represented the nation.

In the Union there is but one tribunal to interpret, as there is one legislature to make the laws; and an impost voted by the representatives of the nation is binding upon all the citizens.

In these two essential points, therefore, the Union exercises more central authority than the French monarchy possessed, although the Union is only an assemblage of confederate republics.

In Spain certain provinces had the right of establishing a system of customhouse duties peculiar to themselves, although that privilege belongs, by its very nature, to the national sovereignty. In America the congress alone has the right of regulating the commercial relations of the states. The government of the confederation is therefore more centralized in this respect than the kingdom of Spain. It is true that the power of the crown in France or in Spain was always able to obtain by force whatever the constitution of the country denied, and that the ultimate result was consequently the same; and I am here discussing the theory of the constitution.