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No one interest should prevail
turers and merchants. His statement is so instructive as to the purpose of the checks and balances that it deserves to be studied by all who would understand our Constitution.
“But the most common and durable source of factions, has been the various and unequal distributions of property. Those who hold and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government."
How was the balance between these various interests effected? Chiefly by making it difficult for any one interest to prevail. That is, in the words of Professor McLaughlin, by framing a government which could not “ do things," as contrasted with one which could “ do things.” Before any measure can become a law of the federal government, it must pass the House of Representatives and the Senate, be approved by the President, and finally in case it is challenged as unconstitutional, be passed upon by the courts. This would not necessarily provide for the approval of different interests, but it was evidently the supposition of the Fathers that as a matter of fact these different agencies would represent different interests. The House of Representatives would represent the mass of voters. The Senate, on the other hand, it was supposed, would represent the more conservative, property-owning class. The President, according to the original plan,
would not be chosen directly by the people, but by selected representatives who would, it was thought, naturally be more conservative than the mass of voters. Finally, the judges of the Supreme Court would be appointed by the President. They would therefore be at least as conservative as he. And besides this, the profession of Law has always been, by its very nature, adapted to make men conservative. Judges look for general rules. They study past decisions. They feel bound to decide matters and often to consider matters not in accordance with what they personally believe to be right or desirable, but in accordance with what has been established by some other authority to be the law. Hence it was a fair assumption that the Supreme Court, which would be the final authority in the case of interpreting the Constitution, would be a highly conservative body.
Property owners were given certain direct protection Protection in the Constitution. One great class of property at to that time was property in slaves. The Constitution property provided that the slave-trade should not be prohibited before 1808. More important than this, it provided that runaway slaves who escaped into another state must be returned by the authorities of that state to their owners.
A further protection against taxation of property was the provision that any direct taxes levied by the federal government must be in proportion to the numbers, that is, the great mass of the poor or comfortably situated voters could not lay taxes upon people in proportion to their wealth. Only recently has this injustice been somewhat corrected by the authorizing of an Income Tax. Finally, in an amendment adopted in the first year under the new government, the old provision that no one should be
Protection for other interests
deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” was reaffirmed. It is evident that the rights of the men of property were very carefully guarded.
Where does protection for the other interests find place? If the Constitution is a system of checks and balances, where does the mass of people who are not property holders come in? It was probably the assumption that the great mass would not need protection against the few; it would be rather the few who would need protection against the great mass. One provision was inserted which gave the House of Representatives a certain seeming advantage. It was provided that “ all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” In England the power to vote supplies to the king had been a highly important power of the House of Commons. It was doubtless thought that this provision of the Constitution would give the House of Representatives an advantage which would counterbalance the greater power of the Senate in other respects, for example, in approving treaties and confirming appointments by the President to important offices. In practice this power has not proved very important, as the Senate has frequently substituted an entirely new revenue bill of its own under the guise of an amendment to the bill prepared by the House of Representatives. Aside from this, there is little if any explicit provision for the direct benefit of the interests which Hamilton regarded as opposed to the interests of property. But here again, as will be shown more clearly in our section under Democracy, the whole
of the makers of the Constitution was that in a democratic government the danger would always be in hasty and unjust action by the majority. They had no fear that the minority could oppress the ma
jority. They were afraid that the majority would rob or oppress the minority under the powers of the government. They meant to make it impossible for the government to do anything suddenly. They meant to make it very difficult for the majority to do anything to which a minority objected. Yet they did not make this absolutely impossible. They provided for amendments to the Constitution. They made the process of amending the Constitution so very difficult that it has at times been regarded as practically impossible to secure an amendment. And yet no one can fail to see that in the century and a quarter since 1787 the popular interest has found ways to make itself felt in various lines not directly provided. The balance was not so one-sided as it may seem.
The Union of the Constitution was then a more The Union perfect union” than our country had known before. It has served was probably the most perfect union which could have well been secured at that time for the conflicting interests. It was a union which has served marvelously well for the interests which at that time came within the vision of the Fathers. If we now once more feel in many ways the need of a more perfect union it is because we are facing new conditions which the men of 1787 did not and could not foresee.
GROWTH IN THE IDEA OF UNION
OR many years after the Constitution was
adopted no great strain came to test the
Union which had been established. To be sure there were different interests in different sections of the country. New England had been a commercial region with a large shipping interest, but it suffered so severely from the hostility of England and France in the beginning of the nineteenth century that this shipping interest declined. When England and France were at war England refused to permit other countries to trade with France, and Napoleon forbade trade with England. New England therefore turned to manufacturing and wanted a protective tariff. A tariff is a duty or tax levied on goods imported from another country. A tax upon woolen clothing imported from England would allow the American manufacturer to obtain a higher price. Other parts of the country, especially the South, did not favor a tariff. Their interest was to raise cotton and sell it to England. They therefore favored freedom of trade. Another issue upon which different parts of the country had different views was that of internal improvements. The people in the newer parts of the country wanted roads and canals built to make it possible for them to travel and to take their products to market. The manufacturing communities also favored this policy. On the other