Sunday, December 19, 2010

"What is a Constitution to Americans? Historical Quotes from Developments in American Constitutional Thought."

This is a note I feel all must read, Americans and non-Americans.

The following quotes are from the American Revolutionaries of the 1780's who created, debated about, defined, and ratified in both the Federal Constitutional Convention and the different state constitutional ratification conventions of the 1787 Federal Constitution. 

They are these men's definitions on what a constitution is to Americans, or more specifically, what exactly the 1787 Federal Constitution was and what is in it and what is not, the one Constitution we still live under and uphold, and are all subsequently bound by, both the people and the three branches, executive, legislative, and judicial, as well as all the departments within each of those three branches.

1.) "It [the Constitution] is a declaration of particular powers by the people to their representatives [legislative, executive, and judicial] for particular purposes. It may be considered as a great power of attorney, under which no power can be exercised but what is expressly given"

-James Iredell, North Carolina Constitutional Ratification Convention.

Taken from "The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Volume IV," pg. 148.

2.) "A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and whenever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is the creature of a constitution. It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organized, the powers it shall have, the mode of elections, the duration of parliaments [congresses], or by what other name such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of the governments shall have; and in fine, everything that relates to the complete organization of a civil government, and the principles by which it shall be bound. A constitution, therefore, is to a government what the laws made afterwards by that government are to a court of judicature. The court of judicature does not make the laws, neither can it alter them; it only acts in conformity to the laws made: and the government is in like manner governed by the constitution."

-Thomas Paine, "Rights of Man," pg. 29.

3.) The following quote is by Oliver Ellsworth, given on Jan. 7th, 1788, in a debate in the Connecticut Constitutional Ratifying Convention, for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

"This Constitution defines the extent of the powers of the general government. If the general legislature [Congress] should at any time overleap their limits, the judicial department is a constitutional check. If the United States go beyond their powers, if they make a law which the Constitution does not authorize, it is void; and the judicial power, the national judges, who, to secure their impartiality, are to be made independent [from the legislative and executive branch], will declare it to be made void. 

On the other hand, if the states go beyond their limits, if they make a law which is a usurpation upon the general government, the law is void; and upright, independent judges will declare it to be so."

"Still, however, if the United States and the individual states will quarrel, if they want to fight, they may do it, and no frame of government can possibly prevent it. It is sufficient for this Constitution, that, so far from laying them under a necessity of contending, it provides every reasonable check against it. But perhaps, at some time or other, there will be a contest; the states may rise against the general government. If this do take place, if all the states combine, if all oppose, the whole will not eat up the members, but the measure which is opposed to the sense of the people will prove abortive. In republics, it is a fundamental principle that they majority govern, and that the minority comply with the general voice."

-Oliver Ellsworth, Jan. 7, 1788; in the Connecticut Ratifying Convention for the U.S. Constitution.

Taken from Jonathan Elliot's "The Debates In the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, pg. 196-197

Olliver Ellsworth was a lawyer and politician from Conn, a delegate to the Continental Congress as well as the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, a drafter of the U.S. Constitution, and the third Chief Justice of the United States, being appointed by George Washington and unanimously approved and confirmed by the Senate. I think he knows what he is talking about concerning the Constitution, it's intentions, and the role of the judiciary branch in the federal and state governments.

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