“The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of
every individual to claim the protection of the laws whenever he receives
an injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that
The Government of the United States has been emphatically
termed, a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to
deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the
violation of a vested legal right.”
These words of Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch,
137, are the most significant and far-reaching in their effect upon human
government that were ever uttered by the lips of man.
“A government of laws and not of men.” This expresses the fundamental
difference between the government of this great American republic and all
other systems of government devised by man before the Constitution of the
United States came into being.(113)
Government has been the great problem of the human race throughout all the
ages since mankind first started out upon the great highway of life. The
greatest problem men have ever been called upon to solve is “how they
might live together in communities without cutting each others throats”.
As we look back at the warring world of yesterday, yea as we look at the
warring world to-day (1920), we are reminded that the history of the human
family tells a long, sad story of war and bloodshed and death. The path
which humanity has traveled stretches back into the dim distance, a long
gleaming line of white human bones. The flowers, the trees, and the shrubs
along the way have been nurtured by the red blood that flowed from human
hearts. All over the world the battle has waged; away down in Egypt where
the Nile scatters her riches; upon the banks of the Tiber which for
centuries has reflected the majesty of Rome; upon the heights above the
castle crowned Rhine; on the banks of the peaceful Thames; and upon the
prairies that sweep back from the Father of Waters, men have fought and
died. In the field and in the forest, by the sweet running brook, and upon
the burning sands, in the mountain pass, and in the stony streets of the
populous city, within the chancel rail of holy churches, and at the dark
entrance to the Bastile—in all these places, and in a thousand more, the
hand of the oppressed has been lifted against the oppressor, the right to
be free that God gave to men has struggled with the power which might has
given, and, alas! so often might has triumphed, and the slave, sick at
heart, has been scourged to his dungeon. On a thousand hillsides burning
fagots have consumed men who dared to dream of freedom, and in dark and
slimy prison cells where God’s sunlight seldom entered, men have rotten
with clanking chains upon their limbs because they dared to ask for the
rights of freemen.
In the olden days force ruled the world; the king, the crown, the scepter,
were the insignia of power. All about were the instruments of force, the
cannon, the moated castle, the marching armies of the king.
And so it was until the American Nation was born, a Nation founded by
exiles who were fleeing from oppression, from unrestrained power, exiles
who dreamed of establishing a Nation, exiles with stout hearts and with
strong hands with which to build it—a Nation where there would be no
master and no slaves, where the citizen would rule and not the soldier,
where the home and the school and not the castle would stand as the
citadel of the Nation, where the steel would at last be molded into
plowshares, and not into swords, where, instead of martial music, the song
of the plowboy and the hum of the spinning wheel would greet the ear,
where lust for power would be dethroned and brute force strangled, where
love would rule and not brutality, where justice and not vengeance would
be the end of judicial investigation, where the rights of men to live and
to enjoy the fruits of their labor would be recognized. This was the dream
of the fathers of the republic as they laid the foundation in the long
But this dream never would have been realized had it not been for the
recognition of that great constitutional principle, announced by Chief
Justice Marshall, that in this Nation the law is supreme; not supreme
alone with the citizen, but supreme with the Nation and the States that
compose the Nation; not supreme with the humble toiler, but supreme with
the richest and the strongest; not supreme in theory, but supreme in truth
and in fact.
This great principle of the supremacy of the law finds its origin in that
immortal document, the Constitution of the United States.(114)
Few there are in these modern days who fully appreciate the wonderful
blessings of a written Constitution which gives recognition to the
fundamental natural rights of man, and provides guaranties against the
invasion of these rights.
Gladstone, the eminent statesman, said:
It (the American Constitution) is the greatest work ever struck
off at any one time by the mind and purpose of man.
An eminent lawyer has said:
It has been the priceless adjunct of free government, the mighty
shield of the rights and liberties of the citizen. It has been
many times invoked to save him from illegal punishment, and save
his property from the greed of unscrupulous enemies, and to save
his political fights from the unbridled license of victorious
political opponents controlling legislative bodies; nor does it
sleep, except as a sword dedicated to a righteous cause sleeps in
Horace Binney says:
What were the States before the Union? The hope of their enemies,
the fear of their friends, and arrested only by the Constitution
from becoming the shame of the world.
Sir Henry Maine gives the following estimate of the Constitution:
It isn’t at all easy to bring home to the men of the present day,
how low the credit of the Republic had sunk before the
establishment of the United States.... Its success has been so
great and striking, that men have almost forgotten, that if the
whole, or the known experiments of mankind in governments be
looked at together, there has been no form of government so
successful as the republican.
Justice Mitchell of Pennsylvania, some twenty odd years ago said:
A century and a decade has passed since the Constitution of the
United States was adopted. Dynasties have arisen and fallen,
boundaries have extended and shrunken ’till continents seem almost
the playthings of imagination and war; nationalities have been
asserted and subdued; governments built up only to be overthrown,
and the kingdoms of the earth from the Pillars of Hercules to the
Yellow Sea have been shaken to their foundations. Through all this
change and obstruction, the Republic, shortest lived of all forms
of government in the prior history of the world, surviving the
perils of foreign and domestic war, has endured and flourished.
And yet, it is true, “and pity ’tis, ’tis true”, that in these days there
seems to be a great lack of confidence, nay even a feeling of contempt
existing in the minds and hearts of many men for this great charter of
human liberty. Men born to the blessings of freedom, men who do not stop
to think about the cost of freedom, men who do not realize that this
Nation is not the child of chance, but that it is the outgrowth of
centuries of tears and blood and sacrifice in the cause of human
freedom—these men assume an attitude of criticism, and would, by
destroying the Constitution, fly from the “ills we have” and open their
arms to evils “we know not of”.
And this feeling, this unrest, this spirit of criticism, is not limited to
the ignorant, nor the lowly. Many men and women of education and culture
are prominent in the ranks of those who raise their voices in reckless
What is the source of this widespread feeling?
For several years before the World War, we were passing through a period
of readjustment in the political and social life of the Nation. Many
people felt that privilege was too strongly entrenched in governmental
favor. A noble feeling of sympathy for the weak and the unfortunate
created a demand for social justice. A great political party was thrown
out of power. Out of all this came appeals for legislation, most of it
inspired by the highest motives, but much of it impractical and visionary,
some of it so framed that in providing a benefit for a certain class, the
rights of some other class were forgotten. Often it became necessary to
recall the provisions of the Constitution, and some times it was used as a
bar to the enactment of measures which were inspired only by the loftiest
motives. Under such circumstances it is only natural that those intensely
interested, seeing only from one standpoint, not understanding perhaps the
far reaching effect of their favorite measures, should cry out at the
limitations imposed by the Constitution.
Then again courts are sometimes compelled, under their sworn duty to
defend the Constitution, to hold that a legislative enactment is
unconstitutional and void, because it violates some of the principles of
that great document, created, not by courts, not by presidents, but by the
people themselves for their own guidance and protection.
But Chief Justice White gives the strongest reason for this feeling of
contempt for the Constitution. He says:
There is great danger, it seems to me, to arise, from the constant
habit which prevails where anything is opposed or objected to, of
resorting without rhyme or reason, to the Constitution as a means
of preventing its accomplishment, thus creating the general
impression that the Constitution is but a barrier to progress,
instead of being the broad highway through which alone true
progress, may be enjoyed.
Not only is this true, but unfortunately it is also true that every base
murderer who begins to feel the rope tighten about his neck can find some
lawyer who can devise some alleged constitutional reason why his client
should not hang. The courts are constantly engaged in defending the
Constitution against these base and unworthy attempts to defeat justice.
Then upon every hand are those who hate authority, who despise law and
order, and who denounce the Constitution because it stands between them
and a realization of their greedy, vicious purposes.
Justice White further says that there is “a growing tendency to suppose
that every wrong that exists, despite the system, and which would be many
times worse if the system did not exist, is attributable to it, and
therefore that the Constitution should be disregarded or over-thrown”.
The foregoing are some, but not all of the causes which weaken the faith
of the people in the Constitution.
Now recognizing that there is in this Nation a lack of respect for the
Constitution, and knowing something of the causes which underlie this
feeling, and realizing that the Constitution is in very truth the fortress
and the glory of our republic, what is our duty?
The duty of every man, woman, and child in America is to defend the
Constitution with his life, if necessary, against those who condemn and
traduce and seek to destroy.
But how shall we defend it? Shall we oppose all amendments of the
Constitution? No, by its very terms it is subject to amendment; but in
contemplating its amendment, we should approach this sacred document in
the same reverent spirit we would have if we were entering upon some holy
shrine. It is the people’s Constitution; it is their right to amend it.
Yea, it is their duty to amend it, if upon due deliberation, the rights of
the whole people can be better protected or enforced.
Complaint is sometimes made because of the delay involved in its
amendment; but the provisions of the Constitution requiring deliberation
were wisely inserted. It was intended that fundamental principles should
not be changed under the inspiration of sudden passion. It contemplated
mature deliberation. The fathers of the Republic were mindful of the
storms which at times in the history of the world had swept the people to
Shall we rebuke the people who seek reforms? _Shall we decry progress or
change?_ No, we should be the leaders in all such reforms. We should aid
in guiding public sentiment along channels safe and sound and
constitutional. We should give recognition to the appeals of those who
would lighten the burdens of our brothers who may be heavy laden. We
should aid in convincing the people that the Constitution is no restraint
upon their aspirations for higher and better things; that it is in truth
the guide and inspiration to better things.
Shall we condemn those who through lack of knowledge do not appreciate the
great value of the Constitution? No, we should teach them. We should lead
them. We should inspire them with love and veneration for this great
bulwark of human freedom.
We must in very truth become teachers of all the people. We must carry to
them the light of our knowledge. We must point out to them the rocks upon
which other republics have been wrecked.(116)
We must teach them that in the Constitution we find an absolute guaranty
of protection for life, for liberty, and for property rights. That there
is no man so lowly, that he cannot point to the Constitution as his shield
from the acts of the tyrant, that he cannot point to his humble home as
his “castle”, and under the sacred guaranties of the Constitution defy all
the unlawful force of the world.
We must teach them that it guarantees the inviolability of contracts, that
it prevents even a great State from taking the life or property of its
humblest citizen without a trial under due process of law, that trial by
jury is preserved, and that no man can be convicted of a crime without the
privilege of being represented by counsel, and that no man can be
compelled to be a witness against himself.
We must recall to them the awful tragedies enacted in the days of old,
where, under Star Chamber proceedings, men were deprived of their property
and their lives upon charges of treason, which were never proven; and then
we must point out to them the burning words of the Constitution, which
provides that no man can be found guilty of treason without at least two
witnesses to the overt act.
We must impress upon them the great truth, that there is not now, and
never has been, a system of government which can abolish sorrow, or
sickness, or stay the hand of death. That no government can help men who
will not help themselves; that there is no way in which any government can
bring riches to the indolent, nor bread to those who will not toil. We
must combat the false philosophy which assumes that all men are equal in
all things, because men are not equal, except as under the Constitution
they are equal before the law. No system of legislation and no method of
government can equalize the strong with the weak, the wise with the
simple, the good with the bad. While God gives to some men wisdom and
shrewdness which others do not possess, while some are broad shouldered,
with muscles of steel, and others are frail, and tremble as they walk,
there will always be riches, there will always be poverty, and any scheme
for equalizing the possessions of men is but an idle dream which never can
be realized until men are made over into beings without passion or pride
or ambition or selfishness. Do not let them feel that its provisions are
intended to protect only the rich and powerful. If the right of a railway
corporation to certain lands is sustained under some constitutional
provision, do not allow the people to assume that this provision exists
only for corporations, but impress upon them that the same constitutional
provision which protects the railway company in its rights, may be invoked
in defense of the little homestead out upon the prairies.
If some desperado should be acquitted because he invoked the
constitutional requirement that he upon his trial must be confronted by
the witnesses against him, remind those who criticise that this same
provision is made for their sons who may to-morrow be unjustly charged
with a crime; impress upon them that it is impossible to have one law for
the guilty, and another for the innocent; and that under our Constitution,
every man is presumed to be innocent until proven to be guilty.
Then impress upon the people something of the wonderful growth of the
Nation, the development of the Nation, and the progress of the Nation—all
under the wise protection of the Constitution. To those who may be
discouraged in the battle of life, and who may attribute their failure to
the injustice of social conditions, point out what other men have done
under the same conditions, with no better opportunity, and ask them to
ponder the question as to whether their failure is not to be attributed
largely to their own lack of energy and determination.(117)
And if they point out abuses which do exist, ask them to aid in
eliminating these abuses. If half the energy which is exerted by earnest,
but misguided people, in efforts to tear down our form of government, were
honestly applied in an effort to remedy existing evils in a constitutional
way, these people would show that they were patriots, and at the same time
they would accomplish something for their country and their
_Too long have we been silent_ while the enemies of our country have
poisoned the minds of youth, yea, and of manhood and womanhood, with the
gospel of treason.
Those who despise and condemn the Constitution have in the past ten years
had more earnest students of their vicious doctrines than have those who
uphold the Constitution and prize their liberties which the Constitution
guards and protects.
All over the land earnest men and women are endeavoring to teach the great
truth of Americanism, and with substantial success; but those who
understand human nature realize that the faith of our fathers can only be
firmly established by lighting the fires of patriotism and loyalty in the
hearts of our children. Through them the great truths of our National life
can be brought into the homes of the land.
And the Nation will never be safe until the Constitution is carried into
the homes, until at every fireside young and old shall feel a new sense of
security in the guaranties which are found in this great charter of human
liberty, and a new feeling of gratitude for the blessings which it assures
to this, and to all future generations.