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Liberty through union
courts, caring for estates, building roads, maintaining universities, are usually under the care of larger unions, counties, or states. But for certain great enterprises, such as building the Panama Canal, irrigating great tracts of dry land, preserving forests and the great water powers, aiding farmers by investigation of soils, seeds, and insects; for the supervision of banks, railways, and of the great business corporations which extend over the whole country; for the more familiar purposes of carrying on the post office, aiding commerce both in this country and in foreign countries, preserving fisheries and providing for the defense of the country against possible foreign enemies—for all these purposes the still larger union of the nation is necessary.
In the second place, not only has the idea of the ends to be secured expanded; but also the methods for securing common action have undergone a great change since the Constitution was adopted. At first the fear of tyranny by the government or by some class was so great that men chiefly sought to keep the government from doing too much. They were afraid union might interfere with liberty and they wanted to make sure of liberty. The method taken for preventing the government from endangering liberty was called the system of checks and balances. Later it came to be felt that the only way to secure liberty was through union. Our demand today is for a government that can do things. The rise of political parties, the emphasis upon the “police power” of the government, the movement for conservation of resources and conservation of the lives and health of the people, for state systems of education, are some of the steps forward in methods of union. We shall consider (1) early
steps toward union; (2) the Constitution with its “divided powers,” its “ checks and balances”; (3) the enlargement in the idea of union; (4) present problems.
As the early comers to America sought a more favorable spot in which to enjoy liberty, so they framed a union which was more democratic than the government which they left behind. One of their early unions is worth dwelling upon, for it had so much of the spirit of the larger union that was to follow.
The little band of Pilgrims who came over on the Early Mayflower, intending to settle in Virginia, were steps largely members of a church in Leyden, Holland, having
union gone there from England a few years before. There were, however, on board the ship several who were not members of the Pilgrim church, and it was feared that some of them might make trouble. Governor Bradford speaks of
"ye discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them had let fall from them in ye shipThat when they came ashore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them.”
To make sure that there should not be quarreling and lawlessness, something had to be done. The Pilgrims had originally intended to settle in Virginia, where there was a government; but in the region of Cape Cod, where they were now about to land, they were outside the jurisdiction of the company from which they had obtained their grants. Belonging as they did to a church community which had separated from the Church of England, they had already signed a church covenant or agreement. It was natural to think of signing an agreement as a company of
colonists. The old gilds were in many respects similar associations formed by a compact. At any rate, this is what the Pilgrims did:
This day before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unitie and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governours as we should by common consent agree to make and chose, and set our hands to this that followes word for word. (Quoted by Dexter in his The Story of the Pilgrims.)
So they drew up and signed the following Constitution, which is famous as the first in the long series of compacts or constitutions that have been formed in this country. It was signed by heads of families and included the names of common sailors and of servants.
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten the loyall Subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord King James, by the grace of God of Great Britaine, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c.
Having under-taken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and honor of our King and Countrey, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civill body politike, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equall Lawes, Ordinances, acts, constitutions, offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the generall good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obediance. In witness whereof we have here under subscribed our names, Cape Cod, 11. of November, in the yeare of the raigne of our soveraigne
Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland 18. and of Scotland 54. Anno Domini 1620. (Quoted by Dexter.)
We are all familiar with the story of the growing colonies, of their occasional contributions for defense against the Indians, and then of their more important union in the Revolutionary War. We are familiar also with the unsatisfactory character of the Confederation under which the states continued after the close of the war until they were compelled to realize that a closer union was necessary. The result of the dangers and demands of the hour was the Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in order to form a The Conmore perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic stitution Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
So begins the great document under which, with scarcely any important changes except at the close of the Civil War, our country has been governed. During most of this time it has seemed to the people of our country and to statesmen of other countries a wonderful and beneficent charter of government. To most it has never occurred to question the disinterestedness or the wisdom of those who formed this plan for a
more perfect union.” At two periods only has there been criticism. In both cases the root of the criticism has been the feeling that the Constitution is in some respects not in harmony with the need and spirit of the time.
The first period was before the Civil War. Many in the North condemned the Constitution because it
(2) as to other property interests
protected slavery to the extent at least of requiring the return of fugitive slaves. On the other hand, the slave-owners of the South believed that they were not sufficiently protected by it and so determined to leave the union which the Constitution provided. After the war the Constitution was changed to make it conform to the changes in the spirit and purpose of the people. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments gave legal form to the abolition of slavery.
The second period of criticism is the present. It is felt by some that the Constitution prevents people from obtaining certain reforms which are needed. And that it makes it possible for a few to block the will of the majority. It is claimed that instead of being adopted by the whole people, the Constitution was really adopted by a very small majority who formed perhaps only about one-sixth of all male adults. It is claimed that it was not made by men who were thinking first of all of the welfare of the whole country but by men of property who were thinking of their own interests.
We may as well face these questions frankly. It may be we shall find that precisely the same thing was true of the Constitution which we have found true of other institutions. Men “ builded better than they knew.” In the struggle for liberty and justice, some men have been moved chiefly by their own wrongs or their own advantage. Nevertheless, in securing justice for themselves they have made it possible for others to gain justice. On the other hand, some have always fought the battle of justice and liberty because they loved their fellow-men and believed this to be a cause worthy of their efforts, and if need be of their lives. So in the union which was secured by our Constitution.