« ZurückWeiter »
would be employed to effect a change. As no form of government, particularly a new and untried one, as ours was, is likely to be perfect, it is necessary that some manner of proceeding should be established, for adopting such amendments as time and experience may render useful or necessary.
§ 580. It is the right of a free people to amend their Constitution or to alter their form of government. This right was proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and is recognised by all the States, many of which have, at different times altered their constitutions by the popular
In his Farewell Address to the American people, George Washington declares that the "basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory
§ 581. Two modes are provided in which amendments to the Constitution of the United States may be proposed. They are as follows:
(1.) By two-thirds of both Houses of Congress.
(2.) By applications to Congress from the Legislatures of two-thirds of the States, for the calling of a convention for proposing amendments.
§ 582. In either case, whether the amendments originate in Congress, or in a convention called by Congress upon the application of the legislature of two-thirds of the States, the proposed amendments, before they become valid, must be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States, or by popular conventions in three-fourths of the States, according as the one or the other mode of ratifica
tion may be proposed by Congress. In the amendments heretofore made to the Constitution, Congress has proposed a ratification by the legislatures of the States, and not by conventions
§ 583. The object of these provisions is to prevent alterations in the Constitution from being made suddenly and without due deliberation, or against the consent of a large number of States.
§ 584. It will be seen that Congress, of itself, has no power to amend or alter the Constitution, and that although an amendment may be proposed by two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, yet it cannot be adopted unless by consent of the legislatures of, or by conventions called in, three-fourths of the States. The approval of the President has not been considered necessary to amendments to the Constitution. In England, Parliament has, of itself, the legal power to alter the form of government, without regard to the expressed wish or consent of the people.
§ 585. Originally there were three provisions of the Constitution, which were placed beyond the power of alteration. The first and fourth clauses of the ninth section of the first article, were not to be affected by any amendment which might be made before the year 1808.
§ 586. The former of those clauses declares that the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to 1808; the latter provides that no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census.
§ 587. The slave-holding States were not to be prohibited from importing slaves prior to 1808. They were also chargeable with direct taxes in proportion to the census or enumeration. So long, therefore, as they were
allowed to increase their population by the importation of slaves, they were in a corresponding proportion to be subject to direct taxation. But as the limit upon that importation expired in 18. 8, the clause relative to the manner of laying direct taxes has since that time been open to amendment equally with the other parts of the Constitution.
§ 588. The third restriction upon the power of amendment is, that no State shall, without its consent, be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate. This is a permanent restriction. The object of it is to protect the smaller States.
§ 589. Since the adoption of the Constitution there have been fifteen articles added thereto, which we will consider hereafter; but no part of the Constitution, as originally framed, has been repealed or altered, except the manner of electing the President and the Vice-President, and article III., sec. 2, clause 1, so far as it authorized, or was supposed to authorize, suits against one of the United States by a citizen of another State, or of a foreign State.
This article consists of additional miscellaneous provisions.
[Clause 1.] "All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation."
§ 590. It is a general principle of the law of nations, that States are not discharged from their obligations, and
do not lose their rights, by a change in their form of go
§ 591. Without this clause the United States would, therefore, have been liable after the adoption of the Constitution, for all the debts and engagements entered into under the Confederation. The provision was inserted. expressly, doubtless from a desire to allay the fears of creditors, and to assure the world that the United States, by abolishing their old, and adopting a new form of government, did not refuse to satisfy their debts and engagements.
[Clause 2.] "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
§ 592. The federal government would have been wholly valueless and inoperative if its Constitution and laws were not to be obeyed by the States. Indeed it would not be a government in any proper sense, if the States were independent of it, and could legislate without regard to it.
§ 593. Not only are the Constitution and laws of the United States made the supreme law of the land, but all treaties under the authority of the United States are also a part of the supreme law of the land. Treaties are negotiated by the national government, and there should be gome mode of enforcing their observance upon all the States. If the States could, at their pleasure, disregard solemn treaties, foreign nations would soon cease to make
treaties with us, for there would be no assurance that our treaties would be observed. It was a serious defect of the government under the Articles of Confederation, that the States slighted the obligation of treaties.
§ 594. It is only those laws passed by Congress in pursuance of the Constitution, that become the supreme law of the land. If an act of Congress be contrary to the Constitution, it is no part of the supreme law.
§ 595. The judges of every State are bound by the Constitution, the constitutional laws, and the treaties of the United States; and every thing contrary thereto in the Constitution, laws, decisions, or proceedings of any State, or even in the Acts of Congress, is void and of no effect.
§ 596. According to law and practice in England, Parliament is supreme, and an act of Parliament once passed, becomes a part of the law of the land and demands perfect obedience. It is not always so here with an act of Congress. If it should be contrary to the Constitution of the United States, it is the right and the duty of the judiciary, to declare it void and of no effect. The reason of this is, that the written Constitution limits the powers of Congress, and if Congress may, notwithstanding, go beyond those limits, the Constitution ceases to have any binding operation in that respect.
[Clause 2.] "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legisla tures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."