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The Grant And Limitations Of Power Expressed By The People In The Constitutions Of The States

Every human organization had a beginning. This is a large city in which we
now live, but there was a time within the memory of men still living when
there was nothing here but an unbroken prairie. A log cabin was the first
building where the city now stands. Then came the cultivated fields. A
flour mill was erected down on the river bank, then a blacksmith shop, a
store, a livery stable, some modest dwellings, then a schoolhouse, and a
church. Thus came the little village which through the years has slowly
grown into the present city.

Thus came all the cities, and thus came the States. There was a time not
so long ago when there were no white people within what is now the borders
of our State. There was the “first white settler”, the first cultivated
patch of ground, the first log house, the little settlements, the lonely
log cabins in between, and then the State.

Thus were the thirteen colonies founded, and thus were founded the
thirty-five States which have been admitted to the Union since the
adoption of the Constitution.

Every human organization with any degree of permanence has something in
the nature of a constitution. It may be in writing, it may be oral, or it
may rest in a mutual understanding expressed only by acts and conduct. It
may be manifest from customs which have been observed by all the members
of the group.

The proud boast of America is that it was the first Nation in the world
which adopted a complete written Constitution binding upon the Nation and
upon the people, a Constitution which provides for courts with the power
of restraining the Nation and the individual from acts or conduct which
violate its provisions, designed to guard human rights.

Until the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the colonies in their joint
efforts for liberty and justice were called the “United Colonies”; but
after independence was proclaimed, this title gave place to that of “The
United States”. Thereupon eleven of the thirteen States adopted
Constitutions. In two States—Connecticut and Rhode Island by an act of the
legislature, the existing charters were continued in force so far as
consistent with independence. These Constitutions all came into being
before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. Of course,
they were far from perfect, and all have been amended from time to time
so that now the Constitution of each State provides a truly American
system of government.(102)

Nothing in the Constitution of the United States requires that each State
shall have a written Constitution, but the wonderful achievement of the
people in creating the Constitution of the United States has been a guide
and inspiration to the people of the States, and each State has adopted a
written State Constitution, following the method and spirit of the
colonists in the long ago, drafting the Constitution in a convention of
delegates and ratifying it by another special convention or by the vote of
all the people.

Then as each new State was admitted to the Union, a Constitution was
adopted.(103) By the Constitution of the United States, Congress has the
power to admit new States, thus by implication controlling the subject
matter of the original Constitution of each State admitted.

It is not my intention to consider in detail the Constitutions of the
various States. This is not essential to the purpose which I have in
talking to you. I am very anxious that you shall realize that each State
is a separate sovereignty; that when the people created the United States,
and adopted the Constitution of the United States, they give to the United
States limited power; that the plan of government contemplated that each
State should have its own Constitution; and that in each State the people
should enact their own laws governing the conduct of the people in their
respective States.

An examination of the Constitutions of all the States will show how
carefully the people of each State incorporated in their State
Constitution the great principles of government, and the guaranties of
liberty which was so carefully provided in the Constitution of the United

Different language is used in the different State Constitutions, but in
each it will be found that the government of the State, as of the United
States is divided into three departments—the executive, the legislative,
and the judicial; that the executive power in the States is vested in a
Governor; that the legislative power rests in what is usually termed a
“General Assembly” consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives,
modeled after the Congress of the United States; that the judicial power
is to be exercised by courts—a Supreme Court and other courts designated
as District Courts, Circuit Courts, and many other titles, varying in
different States.

Public officers, servants of the people, are provided for, and usually
their selection is by vote of the people at general elections for which
provision is made.

The really important thing in the State Constitutions, as well as in the
Constitution of the United States is the Bill of Rights specifically
guarding the natural rights and liberties of the people.

The guaranties in the State Constitutions are not all uniform, but as a
general thing you will find that each State has incorporated in its
Constitution those sacred guaranties which in the Constitution of the
United States form the real foundation and protection of human liberty.

Always bear in mind that the Constitution in each State, as in the Nation,
is an instrument of fundamental law, or body of laws, which prescribes the
form of government fixes the different departments of government,
provides the agencies of government, and declares and guarantees the
rights and liberties of the people.(104)

The Constitution of the United States is the Supreme law of the land, and
the Constitution of each State is the supreme law of the State. These
Constitutions must be respected and must be obeyed, and any law enacted
by the legislature of a State or by the Congress of the United States
which is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution is null and void.

By their Constitution, the people of a State proclaim and establish their
power superior to the power of the legislature of the State or any officer
of the State. The power expressed in the Constitution is the power of the
people. They have, by their solemn document—the Constitution—established
certain rules, regulations, principles, and guarantees, which cannot be
changed by ordinary legislation.(105) Of course the people can change and
modify the Constitution of State or Nation. Every Constitution provides
some method of amendment. Some states provide for a constitutional
convention from time to time, where the people through their
representatives selected for such a purpose assemble to consider the
question of change or modification. In other States, the legislature may
propose amendments which must be submitted to the people for their
approval. In all States, some procedure is provided which requires careful
deliberation and consideration by the people before the Constitution is

Now it is very important that every citizen shall have a knowledge of the
Constitution of his State. It is of the highest importance that every man,
woman, and child shall know and feel the solicitude, the care, which has
been exercised in the framing of the Constitution to guard individual

As I have heretofore explained, the purpose of government is to guard
human rights and human liberty. This is true of the government of the
United States, and it is true of the government of each State. Always keep
in mind that in this country, what we call “the government” is merely an
agency of the people—an expression of the power of the people in a defined
way, agreed upon by them, through which they protect themselves against
wrong by the agencies of government which they have created, and against
wrong by their neighbors.

Inspiring indeed is it to contemplate the spirit in which the founders of
the American Nation and of the States of America studied the methods by
which human rights should be protected. They were unselfish; they were in
the highest degree inspired by a holy purpose to guard the people of
America against the wrongs, the abuses, the cruelty which their ancestors
in the past had suffered, and to accomplish their purpose they exercised
the greatest care to maintain the power of government in the people
themselves—the power to make laws and to enforce them.

I suppose it may be said that the highest achievement of the American
people in creating a National government and the governments of the States
is expressed in the words of Lincoln when he proclaimed this to be “a
government by the people”.


1. What is a village?

2. What is a State?

3. When were the colonies first called States?

4. What States adopted Constitutions before the adoption and ratification
of the Constitution of the United States?

5. Can the people of the State of New York enact a law punishing a person
for coining silver dollars? Why?

6. Can Congress pass a law Sting the punishment of a person for stealing a
horse in the State of Michigan?

7. When was the State in which we live admitted to the Union?

8. Who framed the Constitution of this State?


A. What is a constitution?

B. Explain fully how a Constitution of a State comes into, being.

C. Must a constitution be in writing? If not, what may be its form?

D. State how the Constitution of the United States may be amended.

E. In what way may the Constitution of a State be amended?

F. Write briefly telling the advantages of a written constitution.

G. State in writing the power of the courts in exercising their power and
duty of defending the Constitution. Give an illustration.

H. Write an explanation of the power and influence of the Constitution of
the United States in guiding the people in framing the Constitutions of
their States, and in what things the Constitution of the States follow the
Constitution of the United States.