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people, is therefore most conducive to their happiness and safety.
Vattel (3) justly observes, that the perfection of a state and its aptitude to fulfil the ends proposed by society, depend on its constitution--the first duty to itself is to form the best constitution possible, and one most suited to its circumstances, and thus it lays the foundation of its safety, permanence and happiness. But the best constitution which can be framed with the most anxious deliberation that can be bestowed upon it, may, in practice, be found imperfect and inadequate to the true interests of society. Alterations and amendments then become desirable-the people retains the people cannot perhaps divest itself, of the power to make such alterations. A moral power equal to and of the same nature with that which made, alone can destroy. The laws of one legislature may be repealed by another legislature, and the power to repeal them cannot be withheld by the power that enacted them. So the people may, on the same principle, at any time alter or abolish the constitution they have formed. This has been frequently and peaceably done by several of these states since 1776. (4) If a particular mode of effecting such alterations is agreed on, it is most convenient to adhere to it, but it is not exclusively binding. We shall hereafter see the careful provision in this respect contained in the constitution of the United States, and the cautious and useful manner in which it has hitherto been exercised. Indeed it is a power which, although it cannot be denied, ought never to be used without an
(3) Book I. ch. 3.
(4) New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, N have altered their
constitutions since that period.
urgent necessity. A good constitution is better understood and more highly valued, the longer it continues. Frequent changes tend to unsettle public opinion, and in proportion to the facility with which they are made, is the temptation to make them. The transactions in France since the year 1791 support these remarks.
The history of man does not present a more illustrious monument of human invention, sound political principles, and judicious combinations, than the constitution of the United States. In many other countries, the origin of government has been vaguely attributed to force, or artifice or accident, and the obscurities of history have been laboriously developed to trace the result of these supposed causes. But America has distinctly presented to view the deliberate formation of an independent government, not under compulsion, or by artifice, or chance, but as a mean of resisting external force, and with a full and accurate knowledge of her own rights, providing for, and securing her own safety. It is not however intended to assert that this instrument is perfect, although it is deemed to approach as near to perfection as any that has ever been formed. If defects are perceived, they may readily be accounted for.
Great and peculiar difficulties attended its formation. It was not the simple act of a homogeneous body of men, either large or small. It was to be the act of many independent states, though in a greater degree the act of the people set in motion by those states; it was to be the act of the people of each state, and not of the people at large. The interests, the habits, and the prejudices, of the people of the different states were in many instances variant and dissimilar, some of them were accustomed chiefly to agriculture, others to commerce; domestic slavery was reprobated by some, by
others it was held lawful in itself, and almost necessary to their existence. Each state was naturally tenacious of its own sovereignty and independence, which had been expressly reserved in their antecedent association, and of which it was still meant to retain all that it did not become unavoidably necessary to surrender. Different local positions and different interests were therefore the sources of many impediments to the completion of this great work, which at last resulted in the combination of mutual and manly concessions: the representatives of each state, deeply impressed with the necessity of giving strength and efficiency to their union, yielded those points which by them were deemed of inferior magnitude. That every state should be fully satisfied was scarcely to be expected; but every state was bound to consider that not its own peculiar interests only, but those of the whole were to be regarded, and that what might be supposed to be particular sacrifices were compensated by the general advantage, in which they were to participate.
The constitution thus became the result of a liberal and noble sacrifice of partial and inferior interests, to the general good, and the people formed into one mass, as citizens of the Union, yet still remaining distinct, as citizens of the different states, created a new government, without destroying those which existed before, reserving in the latter, what they did not surrender to the former, and in the very act of retaining part, conferring power and dignity on the whole.
It will contribute to a proper understanding of the nature of this government, to consider the political situation of the country and its colonial dependence on Great Britain before the great event of its final separation.
An explanation of the legal nature of colonies in ge
neral, will not only serve as an introduction to this view, but will be useful to the student, as the United States, possessing vast tracts of uncultivated land, are in the constant habit of forming colonies therein, under the appellation of territorial governments.
A colony is a portion of the population of a country, either expressly sent or permitted to go to a distant place for the purpose of forming a dependant, political body. Dependance necessarily enters into the description of a colony, for a body of men may emigrate, either with the view of uniting themselves to a foreign community, or of setting up a government of their own, in neither of which cases would the parent country be bound to protect them, or be entitled to interfere with their internal government or control their trade.
The Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Romans, established numerous colonies, sometimes of a military nature, to secure distant conquests, but more generally of a civil kind and for commercial purposes, or to furnish an outlet for superabundant population. In the former instance, the removal was compelled, in the two latter voluntary, but in all, the parent country retained and exercised certain rights over their colonists, founded on the express or implied engagement to protect them. The colony always continued so much a part of the parent country that, if she entered into war, the colony was rendered a party to it, and an attack upon the latter, without any hostile declaration against the parent, was held to be an attack upon the parent.
This relation produced certain consequences that were considered beneficial to both. The internal administration of the colony was either immediately directed by the parent state or subjected to her revision, and its trade was either confined to their mutual inter
course, or sparingly allowed to be shared with other countries.
We are not clearly informed in what manner a revenue for the benefit of the parent state was extracted from them; in some mode it was probably attained, since it is reasonable that those who receive protection out of the public purse, should proportionally contribute to the public expense. One important political
feature in these institutions is, that the members of the parent state are entitled to participate in the civil rights of the colony. An Athenian was received as a citizen at Crotona, and a Corinthian at Corcyra, and vice versa, the colonist continued a subject or a citizen of the parent state. A Frenchman or an Englishman, born in either of their colonies, was a natural born subject of the country from which his ancestors migrated. (5)
The Romans alone made some distinctions on this subject, which did not long continue, and are only interesting as a matter of history.
But a stranger who joined a colony gained only those rights which would have appertained to him in the parent country, and hence if an alien cannot hold lands in the United States, he cannot without an express legislative dispensation hold land in any of our territories where the feudal tenures prevail.
There are instances in ancient history of colonies increasing in population and strength so as to send out new colonies to adjacent territories, who still how
(5) The only exception that occurs with us is, as to the right of the inhabitant of a territory to maintain an action against a citizen of one of the states in the United States' courts, but this is owing to the particular structure of the Judiciary system of the United States.