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Of Political Constitutions in General, of the nature of Colonial Governments, and of the British Colonies in North America.
BY a constitution we mean the principles on which a government is formed and conducted.
On the voluntary association of men in sufficient numbers to form a political community, the first step to be taken for their own security and happiness, is to agree on the terms on which they are to be united and to act. They form a constitution, or plan of government suited to their character, their exigencies, and their future prospects. They agree that it shall be the supreme rule of obligation among them.
This is the pure and genuine source of a constitution in the republican form. In other governments the origin of constitutions is not always the same.
A successful conqueror establishes such a form of government as he thinks proper. If he deigns to give it the name of a constitution, the people are instructed to consider it as a donation from him, but the danger to his power, generally induces him to withhold an appellation, of which, in his apprehension, an improper use might be made.
In governments purely despotic, we never hear of a constitution. The people are sometimes, however, roused to vindicate their rights, and when their discontents and their power become so great as to prove
the necessity of relaxation on the part of the government, or when a favourable juncture happens, of which they prudently avail themselves, a constitution may be exacted, and the government compelled to recognise principles and concede rights in favour of the people.
This relief is wholly dependent upon political events. In some countries the people are able to retain what is thus conceded, in others, the concession is swept away by some abrupt revolution in favour of absolute power, and the country relapses into its former condition. The mere endeavour to rectify abuses, without altering the general frame of government, is a task which though often found more difficult, yet is of less dignity and utility than the formation of a complete constitution.
To alter and amend, to introduce new parts into the ancient texture, and particularly new principles of a different and contrary nature, often produces an irregular and discordant composition which its own confusion renders difficult of execution. The formation of a constitution founded on a single principle, is the more practicable from its greater simplicity.
Whether this principle is pure monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, if it is steadily kept in view, the parts may be all conformable and homogeneous.
In a pure monarchy all the power is vested in a single head. He may be constitutionally authorized to make and expound, and execute the laws. If this is the result of general consent, such countries possess a constitution. The same may be said of an aristocracy -if the people agree to deposit all power in the hands of a select number; and of a democracy, in which they retain in such manner as they hold most conducive to their own safety, all sovereignty within their own control. The difficulty in either case is to regulate the divisions of the authority granted, so that no portion of