Constitution of the United States and the operations of the government. by Noah Webster 1832 in his History of the United States (In plain English anyone can understand, even Barack Obama and Members of Congress)
See also ADVICE TO THE YOUNG.
558. Different forms of Government. In Asia the governments are all despotic; whole nations being subject to the arbitrary will of one man, under the denomination of Emperor, Sultan, King, Nabob or other title. In Europe, some nations are governed by the absolute sway of Emperors or kings; some are subject to a body of nobles; others are subjects of forms of government of a mixed character, consisting of a King, of nobles and representatives of the people. When the sole power of making laws is in the hands of one person, the government is called a monarchy, or an empire; the chief is called a monarch, emperor or autocrat; and the government is arbitrary or despotic. When the powers of government all center in a body of nobles, it is called an aristocracy, or oligarchy. The government of England is a mixed form, consisting of a King, lords and commons.
559. Republican Government. These United States present the first example, in modern times, of a government founded on its legitimate principles. By the laws of nature, reason, and religion, all men are born with equal rights. Every person is equally entitled to the protection of his person, his liberty, and his property; and of course is entitled to have a voice in forming the government by which this protection is to be secured. In this country, the people all enjoy these inestimable rights and privileges; and the constitution of the United States, formed by the delegates of the people, and ratified by the people represented in conventions, guaranties to them the enjoyment of their rights. This constitution is truly republican, and forms a splendid era in the history of man.
560. Distribution of the powers of government. In the constitution of the United States, as in most of those of the several states, the government is divided into three branches, a House of Representatives, a Senate, and a President, or executive power. The House of Representatives and the Senate form the legislative power, or power of enacting laws. The president is the chief magistrate, in whom is vested the power of executing the laws; that is, the power of enforcing them, or carrying them into effect. The reasons why the legislative power is vested in two branches or houses, are, that there may be a more full discussion of bills or proposed laws, for the purpose of ample deliberation, and a clear understanding of their nature and tendency; and also that one house may check, if necessary, any hasty or partial measures proposed by the other. The two houses are called the Congress of the United States.
561. Article I. The House of Representatives is composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states. The citizens who have the right of choosing, are called electors; and to be electors, they must have the qualifications which entitle citizens to vote for representatives in the several states; such as suitable age and character, and in some states, property. A representative in Congress must be twenty-five years of age, and have been seven years a citizen of the United States; and at his election, must be a citizen of the state in which he is chosen. The reasons are obvious. The age of twenty-five years is necessary to prevent young men, not mature in judgment, from being elected to one of the most important offices in government: and a man cannot represent a state, unless he is an inhabitant.
562. Apportionment of Representatives. The number of representatives in each state is according to the number of its free persons, and three fifths of all other persons, Indians not taxed being excluded. For the purpose of ascertaining the number of persons, a census or enumeration of inhabitants is taken every ten years; and Congress by law determine the number of inhabitants which entitles to a representative. This number is enlarged every ten years, to prevent the House of Representatives from being too numerous. The house establishes rules of proceeding in conducting debates, and elects a speaker, who presides for keeping order, and enforcing the rules.
563. Senate. The Senate of the United States is composed of two senators from each state, chosen by its legislature for six years, and each senator has one vote. The senators are divided into three classes, and one class or third go out of office every two years, and the vacancies are supplied by new appointments. A senator must be thirty years of age and an inhabitant of the state, and he must have been a citizen of the United States nine years, at the time of his appointment. The Vice President of the United States is president of the Senate, and has no vote, except when the votes of the Senate are equally divided. The smallest states have two senators, and the largest have no more; the senators being considered as representatives of the states, rather than of the people.
564. Distinct powers of the two houses. The House of Representatives has the sole right of impeachment, that is, the right or power to accuse officers of the government for maladministration, or for crimes, offenses, or neglect of duty in their offices. The Senate has the sole right and power to try offenders impeached. Each House is the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members; each determines the rules of its proceedings, and punishes or expels its own members for disorderly conduct. Senators and representatives receive a compensation for their services which is ascertained by law. They are privileged from arrest, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace, during their attendance in the session, and in going to and returning from the same. Officers of government cannot hold a seat in either house.
565. Money Bills. All bills for raising a revenue must originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments to such bills, as in other cases. This restriction in regard to the raising of money, is founded on the principle that the House of Representatives is strictly the representation of the people, and is intended to prevent undue appropriation of money, which might be made by a house less dependent on the people. In Great Britain the right of originating money-bills is solely in the House of Commons; but for stronger reasons, as the House of Lords is a body wholly independent of the people, by hereditary right or royal grant of title.
566. Mode of passing bills. Bills, when presented to either house, must be read three times. On the first reading, no debate is had, but a vote is taken for a second reading; and on this reading, the bill, if opposed, is discussed, and then by vote is passed to a third reading, or rejected. Three readings,and regularly on different days, are required, and then, if not rejected, the bill passes to be engrossed. It is then engrossed on parchment, and passed to be enacted. The bill is then presented to the President of the United States, whose signature completes the act, and the bill becomes a law. But if the President objects to it, he returns the bill to the house in which it originated, with his objections in writing; and the bill is reconsidered. If on reconsideration, two thirds of the members are in favor of it, it becomes a law; if not, it dies.
567. Powers of Congress. The powers of Congress are specified in the constitution. They extend to the general concerns of the United States; leaving to the several states the right of making laws respecting their own local interests. The Congress can lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, pay the debts, and provide for the defense and welfare of the United States; but all such duties must be uniform throughout the United States. Congress can borrow money, regulate commerce, coin money, establish post-offices and post roads, institute courts, declare war, raise and support armies, provide a navy, organize the militia, secure to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their writings and discoveries for a limited time, and punish crimes or a violation of their laws.
568. Restrictions of power. Congress cannot pass any ex post facto law, that is, they cannot pass a law to punish a crime after it has been committed; they cannot lay a direct tax, unless in proportion to the census or number of inhabitants; they cannot lay any tax or duty on exports, nor give any advantage to one state over another in commercial regulations; no money can be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of an appropriation by law; no title of nobility can be granted, nor can any officer of the government accept any present, emolument, office or title, from any King, prince or foreign state. No state can enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal, coin money, emit bills of credit, make any thing except gold and silver a tender in payment of debts, or pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts; nor can it lay any imposts or duties on exports or imports, without the consent of Congress.
569. Article II. The executive power is vested in a President, who, with the Vice-President, is elected for the term of four years. These officers are chosen by electors appointed by the states in such manner as the legislatures prescribe. The number of electors in each state is equal to the joint number of senators and representatives in that state. By an amendment to the constitution, the electors meet on the same day, in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom must not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves. They must name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots, the person voted for as Vice-President. They make a certified list of all persons voted for,and transmit the same to the President of the Senate, who opens the certificates, in the presence of both houses of Congress, and the votes are counted. The person who has a majority of all the votes is declared President; or if no person has a majority, then from the persons having the highest number of votes, not exceeding three, the House of Representatives elect a President by ballot. In this case the votes are taken by states, each state having one vote. If no person has a majority of votes for Vice-President, then from the two highest on the list, the Senate elect one to be Vice-President.
570. Qualifications of the President. The President must be a natural born citizen of the United States, or a citizen at the time the constitution was adopted: and no person is eligible to that office unless he is thirty years of age and has been fourteen years a resident of the United States. In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the duties of the office, the powers of the President devolve on the Vice-President. The President receives a compensation ascertained by law. He takes an oath to execute his office with fidelity, and to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution, to the best of his ability.
571. Powers and duties of the President. The President is commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the states, when called into actual service of the United States. With the advice and consent of the Senate, he has power to make treaties; he nominates, and with the advice and consent of the Senate he appoints ambassadors and other public ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law. He fills vacancies in offices, which happen during the recess of the Senate, but their commissions expire at the end of the next session. He has power to convene Congress on extraordinary occasions, and it is his duty to give information to Congress of the state of the Union, to recommend measures to their consideration, and in general to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.
572. Article III. Judiciary. The judicial power is that which consists in courts of law appointed to try and determine causes between individual persons and corporations. The constitution vests this power in one Supreme Court, and such inferior courts as the Congress shall ordain and establish. The judges of these courts hold their offices during good behavior. Their powers extend to all cases in law and equity, arising under the constitution and laws of the United States, and to treaties made under their authority; to cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States are a party; to controversies between states, between a state and citizens of another state, between citizens of different states, between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state or its citizens and foreign states, citizens or subjects. Trials of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, must be by jury.
573. Crimes, and rights of citizens. Treason against the United States consists only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. Citizens of each state are entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens of the several states. A person charged with a crime, fleeing from justice, and found in another state, must, on demand of the executive of the state from which he fled, be delivered up to be returned to that state, which has jurisdiction of the crime.
Congress may admit new states into the union; and the United States guaranty to every state in the Union, a republican form of government. The constitution and laws of the United States, made in pursuance of it, and all treaties made under the authority of the United States, are the supreme law of the land. Congress cannot make any law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise of it; nor can they abridge the freedom of speech and of the press.
In comparison to other forms of government:
574. Advantages and evils of Monarchy. The advantages claimed for a government by a single person are secrecy and promptness in decision, and energy in action. A single man makes a law or decree without obstacles or delays, from opposing wills or opinions, and without liability to a disclosure of his designs. Hence in war monarchs have sometimes an advantage over republics; and in cases of extreme danger republics have sometimes created a dictator with unlimited powers for a time, to call into action the forces of the state. This was the fact in Rome, and during the war of the revolution Congress invested Gen. Washington with absolute command. But the danger of monarchy, is, that the monarch will, as he always can, oppress his subjects with arbitrary and unreasonable taxes, or violations of their rights. It has been found that few monarchs have exercised a paternal care over their subjects—Most of them have been tyrants, or have wasted the revenue of their kingdoms in luxury and vice and war.
575. Advantages and evils of Aristocracy. When the nobles of a state have the whole government in their hands, and have no dependence on the people for the possession of their power, they are often disposed, like monarchs, to oppress the people by taxes and unjust laws. In addition to this evil, their councils are often distracted with party spirit, by means of the jealousy, selfishness, and ambition of the different members of the government, by which such states are often kept in agitation, and the public interest is sacrificed. To counterbalance these evils, aristocracy may embody much wisdom; as nobles may have the advantage of a good education.
576. Advantages and evils of a Republic. The great benefit of a republican form of government is, that the people, being the source of all authority, elect their own rulers, who, after a limited time, for which they are elected, return to the condition of private citizens. In this case the rulers and ruled have a common interest. If the representatives of the people enact unjust or oppressive laws, the people have a remedy, in the power of electing different men for representatives at a subsequent election, who may repeal such laws. The evils of this form of government are, that ambitious and unprincipled men, in their strife for office, may and often do deceive and mislead the people, or corrupt them by offers of money and offices. In this case, the government often falls into the hands of wicked and profligate men.
577. Success of the Constitution of the United States. As soon as the constitution of the United States was ratified, and organized, the Congress took effectual measures to give it due effect. They passed laws distributing the powers of the government into several departments. They established a department of state, to carry on a correspondence with foreign powers,—a department of the treasury, to manage all the concerns of the revenue,—a department of war, to superintend the affairs of the army,—and a department of the post-office, to conduct the concerns of the public mails. They afterwards established the department of the navy. At the head of each department was placed a head or chief officer. They also passed a law for collecting revenue by duties or imposts on foreign goods imported. They funded the debt of the United States, by appropriating money to pay the interest. They assumed a part of the debts of the states, contracted during the war of the revolution, and provided for the payment of the interest. They established courts for the decision of causes; one in each state, called a district court; and a supreme court, with jurisdiction over the United States. These measures revived public credit, put in motion the enterprise and industry of our citizens, and gave these states rank and honor among the powers of the earth. From that time commenced the prosperity of the United States, which, with little interruption, has continued to this day.
The Origins of Civil Liberty:
578. Origin of Civil Liberty. Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its origin to the principles of the Christian religion. Men began to understand their natural rights, as soon as the reformation from popery began to dawn in the sixteenth century; and civil liberty has been gradually advancing and improving, as genuine Christianity has prevailed. By the principles of the christian religion we are not to understand the decisions of ecclesiastical councils, for these are the opinions of mere men; nor are we to suppose that religion to be any particular church established by law, with numerous dignitaries, living in stately palaces, arrayed in gorgeous attire, and rioting in luxury and wealth, squeezed from the scanty earnings of the laboring poor; nor is it a religion which consists in a round of forms, and in pompous rites and ceremonies. No; the religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.
579. Character of the Puritans. For the progress and enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, in modern times, the world is more indebted to the Puritans in Great Britain and America, than to any other body of men, or to any other cause. They were not without their failings and errors. Emerging from the darkness of despotism, they did not at once see the full light of Christian liberty; their notions of civil and religious rights were narrow and confined, and their principles and behavior were too rigid. These were the errors of the age. But they were pious and devout; they endeavored to model their conduct by the principles of the Bible and by the example of Christ and his apostles. They avoided all crimes, vices, and corrupting amusements; they read the scriptures with care, observed the sabbath, and attended public and private worship. They rejected all ostentatious forms and rites; they were industrious in their callings, and plain in their apparel. They rejected all distinctions among men, which are not warranted by the scriptures, or which are created by power or policy, to exalt one class of men over another, in rights or property.
580. Institutions of the Puritans in America. The Puritans who planted the first colonies in New England, established institutions on republican principles. They admitted no superiority in ecclesiastical orders, but formed churches on the plan of the independence of each church. They distributed the land among all persons, in free hold, by which every man, lord of his own soil, enjoyed independence of opinion and of rights. They founded governments on the principle that the people are the sources of power; the representatives being elected annually, and of course responsible to their constituents. And especially they made early, provision for schools for diffusing knowledge among all the members of their communities, that the people might learn their rights and their duties. Their liberal and wise institutions, which were then novelties in the world, have been the foundation of our republican governments.
581. Effects of the principles and institutions of the Puritans. The principles of the Puritans fortified them to resist all invasions of their rights; and prepared them to vindicate their independence in the war of the revolution. That war ended in the establishment of the independence of the United States. The manifestos, or public addresses of the first American congress, and the act declaring independence, proclaimed to all the world the principles of free governments. These papers circulated extensively in foreign countries. The French officers who assisted in the defense of American rights, became acquainted in this country with the principles of our statesmen, and the blessings of our free institutions; and this circumstance was the germ of a revolution in France. The constitution of the United States is made the model of the new governments in South America; and it is not without its influence in Greece, and in Liberia in Africa. It is thus that the principles of free government, borrowed from the Puritans, have been conveyed to foreign countries, and are gradually undermining arbitrary governments, with all their oppressive institutions, civil and ecclesiastical.
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