America: The Great Experiment


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Gifting Information

Intel chief apologizes for reaction to summit. Intel chief's shocked reaction to Putin invite.

Democracy in America — Volume 1 by Alexis de Tocqueville

Rubio: No doubt Putin has authorized war crimes. WH: Trump disagrees with Putin proposal. Browder: Giving me to Russia is a death sentence. Listen to Trump's shifting comments about Russia. Graham: Trump won't meet Putin in private again. Trump and Putin morph into same person. Poll shows most Republicans approve of summit.

Trump: I don't want to get into whether Putin lied. Watch Trump change his words from Putin summit. Ex-Fox analyst: Watched Trump grovel at Putin. Anderson Cooper: Trump performance disgraceful. Heather Cox Richardson. Consider that in his disastrous press conference in Helsinki Monday -- and again in a comment before a Cabinet meeting Wednesday -- President Donald Trump sided with a hostile foreign oligarchy over our own democracy.

Asked by a reporter Wednesday, "Is Russia still targeting the U. Trump's alliance with Russia's Vladimir Putin, in defiance of America's own intelligence community, the Department of Justice, and the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, forces us to face that the fundamental principles of our nation are under attack. History suggests the game is not yet lost. Three times before, in the s, the s, and the s, oligarchs took over the American government and threatened to destroy democracy.

In each case, they overreached, and regular folks took back their government. Trump is not evil, just an amateur. Democracy was always a gamble. In , the founders rejected the old idea that government should be based on hierarchies according to wealth or birth or religion.

They declared it "self-evident" that "all men are created equal," and they created a popular government based on the radical idea of equality before the law. For all that they got around the problem of slavery by defining "all men" as "all white men," and that they wrote women out of self-government altogether, their vision was still astonishing.

Could regular men really govern themselves? Three times in our history, a wealthy elite has thought the answer was no. In the s, wealthy southern slaveholders laid out the argument. They said the founders were wrong: all men were not created equal. God had made some men better than others. And throughout the struggle with Great Britain, in which John Adams took a leading part, it is clear that in his mind the people of Massachusetts were endeavoring to emancipate themselves, not only from the autocratic control of the Eng- lish government, but also from the domina- tion of a Boston aristocracy; his animosity toward Thomas Hutchinson was much greater than toward King George or Lord North.

The way in which these two issues were often united is well illustrated in connection with the famous Stamp Act controversy. The Stamp Act required, among other things, that practically all legal documents should be executed on stamped paper. Almost every one in the colony, including Mr. Hutchinson, was opposed to the Stamp Act; but the Stamp Act could be resisted in one of two ways — one legal and the other illegal.

The legal way to resist it was not to execute any document which required the use of the stamped papers ; the illegal way was to go on executing docu- 43 mcnts just as if no Stamp Act existed. Thomas Hutchinson, and most men of wealth and posi- tion in the colony, preferred to resist the Stamp Act in the legal way, and they there- fore adjourned the courts of law from time to time. This method appealed to conservative men, whose incomes were assured, who were not much affected by a temporary cessation of business, and who wished not to compromise their position by any action that could be called illegal.

But rising young lawyers like John Adams found that if the courts closed their fees were cut off and their position at once became precarious. The closing of the courts, John Adams wrote in his Diary, "will make a great chasm in my affairs, if it does not reduce me to distress. And thus it happened that John Adams came to think Thomas Hutchinson as much an enemy of colonial rights as Mr. He convinced himself that Mr. Hutchinson and his wealthy friends, while professing to oppose the Stamp Act, were really tools of the British government and were trying in this indirect way to force the people to submit to the Stamp Act.

He rea- soned that the Boston aristocracy was able to maintain its privileged position in Massa- chusetts only because it was backed by the British government; and thus the struggle against parliamentary taxation came to be identified with the struggle against a privileged class in the colony. It is this aspect of the Revolution that gives it its chief significance for modern democracy. The privileged classes in the Colonies, gener- ally speaking, never really desired separation from Great Britain. They took old England as their ideal.

Outside of New England most educated men were educated in England, and wished for nothing better than to fashion their clothes, their houses, their minds, and their manners on the best English models. They opposed parliamentary taxation be- cause they wanted to manage their own affairs in miniature parliaments, where they 45 t could carry on miniature contests with the governors for the control of the purse, after the manner of the English Parliament in the seventeenth century.

In no sense were they democrats; and they were as much afraid of radical movements in the Colonies as they were of British oppression. They wanted to preserve their liberties against Parliament, without sharing their privileges with the peo- ple in the Colonies. They wanted home rule, but they wanted to rule at home. The opposition to this ideal gradually trans- formed the Revolution into a social as well as a political movement.

Men of true demo- cratic feeling came to see that the mere main- tenance of what were called English liberties would leave things much as they were, even if the Colonies should separate from Great Britain. They wanted not simply an in- dependent state, but a new kind of state. They were aiming at something more than could be justified by an appeal to the cus- tomary rights of Englishmen. Whether the customary rights of Englishmen supported the contention of the Colonies or the conten- tions of the king depended upon fine points 46 in law and history. But it was a question that could be ably argued on both sides.

In any case, there was nothing in the customary rights of Englishmen that could be used in support of equal rights for all, poor and rich alike. And so, step by step, the radical leaders broadened out their political theory, and came finally to rest their cause not merely on the positive and prescriptive rights of English- men, but upon the natural and universal rights of man as well. As the Revolution ceased to be a mere con- test for the rights of Englishmen and took on the character of a contest for the rights of man, it acquired an idealistic and semi- mystical quality and gathered to itself, as all such movements do, the emotional force of a religious conviction.

Lecky says that the American Revolution was essentially sordid, being concerned fundamentally with a mere money dispute. There was much that was sordid in the motives and the actions of many men who took part in the Revolutionary War, but nothing could be more profoundly wrong than to regard the principal leaders as in- spired by no higher motive than that of safe- guarding their property.

The conflict with Great Britain began as a money dispute; but in the end it came to be transfigured, in the minds of the American patriots, into one of the 47 great epic conflicts of the world. We have ourselves lived through such a transfiguration. The Great War began as a conflict for land and trade, but it speedily took on, in the minds of the people concerned, the aspect of a titanic struggle between the powers of light and of darkness, a struggle which men fondly, if vainly, hoped would bring in a new interna- tional order based upon the principles of jus- tice and humanity.

So it was with the American Revolution. American patriots came to think of themselves as hazarding their lives and their fortunes for the sake of a new social order, the ideal society founded upon the en- during principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. There is a striking similarity between the ideals and the language of the American pa- triots and the radical leaders of the French Revolution. They speak with the same lyrical enthusiasm, like men who are defending and propagating a new religion. This is how he thinks of the meaning of the Revolution : The form of government which you admire when its principles are pure is admirable; indeed, it is pro- ductive of everything which is great and excellent among men.

But its principles are as easily destroyed as human nature is corrupted. Such a government is only to be supported by pure religion or austere morals. Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power, and glory established in the minds of the people, or there can be no repub- lican government, or any real liberty, and this public passion must be superior to all private passions.

Is there in the world a nation which deserves this character? There have been several, but they are no more. Our dear Americans perhaps have as much of it as any nation now existing, and New England perhaps has more than the rest of America. But I have seen all along my life such selfishness and little- ness even in New England that I sometimes tremble to think that, although we are engaged in the best cause that ever employed the human heart, yet the prospect of success is doubtful not for want of power or of wisdom, but of virtue.

In no unreal sense John Adams and his as- sociates thought of themselves as undertaking something new in the history of the world; they were undertaking the novel experiment of founding that ideal community, a republic founded upon virtue and devoted to the re- generation of the human race. The Declaration of Independence reflects and ex- presses this twofold character of the Revolu- tion. On the one hand it is a declaration of So the reasons which justified the separation from Great Britain; on the other hand it is a charter of democracy, a charter which ex- presses in classic form the universal rights of mankind.

The Declaration of Independence is a short document, which may be printed in four small pages ; and the larger part of it is devoted to the specific grievances against the King of Great Britain. The Parliament is not men- tioned because the revolutionists had ac- cepted, at that time, a novel theory of the Empire — the theory that the Colonies had never been subject to the Parliament, but only to the king.

And so the Declaration, affirming that "the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyr- anny over these States," proceeds to enumer- ate a long list of such injuries and usurpa- tions, all of which have to do with specific acts : laying taxes on the Colonies or designed to limit or destroy the legislative indepen- dence of the colonial governments. This part of the Declaration is now rarely read and never remembered ; and rightly so, for these specific acts charged against George III, and once so vital, are now dead issues.

But there is another part of the Declara- 51 tion — a short ten lines of print — which every- one thinks of when the Declaration is men- tioned, and which is the only part of that famous document which most people have ever kept in mind. This part of the Declara- tion, the most significant and the most fa- mous part, is as follows : We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its founda- tions on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

On first thought it may appear strange that the part of the Declaration of Independence which is most famous and best remembered is precisely the part which fs least directly concerned with the grievances which led the Colonies to declare independence. But the reason for this is simple. It is that the specific grievances of the Colonies concern the world but little, while the principles upon which just government rests are of universal in- 52 terest. The few phrases which make the Declaration famous deal not with the rights of Americans or Englishmen only, but with the rights of man ; and in so far as the prin- ciples which they proclaim are valid, they are valid for Frenchmen, or Russians, or Chinese no less than for Americans and Englishmen.

This is why these phrases still live, and this is why the American Revolu- tion has a universal and permanent as well as a local and temporary importance. This universal significance is that for the first time in the modern world a new and potentially powerful nation was "dedicated to the prop- osition that all men are created equal," and founded upon the principle that the legitimacy of any government rests upon the will of the people instead of the will of God or of the State. And for a hundred years the example of the United States has been one of the strong- est supports of this new faith which, however often forgotten or betrayed, is now accepted by the better part of the world.

When the Revolutionary War began few people in Europe supposed that the Colonies could win their independence. If they had been entirely united their chances would have been better. But the fact is that at least one-third of the people this is the estimate of John Adams were indifferent or actively 53 opposed to the American cause. These were the Loyalists — Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain.

They were not only nu- merous, but they included many of the ablest and most influential men in the Colonies, being largely recruited from the upper classes — landowners, merchants, clergymen, and offi- cials, who had hitherto constituted the govern- ing class, and who opposed the Revolution quite as much because of their fear of democ- racy as on account of any strong attachment to Great Britain. This division within their own ranks greatly weakened the colonists and gave to the struggle something of the character of a civil war.

But besides this class division, which ap- peared in every colony, the chances of suc- cess were immensely lessened by the per- sistence and even the accentuation of the old rivalries between the different colonies. It was a noble ideal of which most men no doubt vaguely felt the force; but neither New England men nor New-Yorkers nor South-Carolinians could be wholly trans- formed overnight.

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It took a hundred years to effect this transformation; and the student 54 of the Revolution is sometimes amused, but more often amazed and disheartened, by the petty jealousies, the personal animosities, the hopeless provincialism, and the sordid cor- ruption which everywhere prevailed and which but gave an added luster to the fame of those outstanding Americans, such as Washington and John Adams and Franklin, without whose services the Revolution must have completely failed.

Of these three illustrious leaders the name of Washington stands out as a symbol of all that is heroic and admirable in the annals of his country. He was a Virginia planter, ac- counted the wealthiest man in the Colonies, whose life had been chiefly given to managing, with the most scrupulous care and with the highest efficiency, the estate which lay on the south bank of the Potomac at Mount Vernon.

Scarcely a politician, he was yet a man of broad vision, who foresaw a great future for his country and was actively in- terested in the development of the great west that lay beyond the Alleghanies. Such mili- tary experience as he possessed had been gained in the French and Indian War; and particularly in the famous Braddock Expedi- tion he had revealed a knowledge of frontier Indian fighting which the British general did not possess and declined to take advantage of, 5 55 and in this disastrous retreat he had exhibited a courage and a resourcefulness which had won him the respect of the British and the confidence of his countrymen.

It was on June 17, , that this Virginia colonel was appointed to be "General and Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the United Colonies. It was the merit of Washington that he possessed these qualities, each in perfection, and all in the happiest combination. He was the man of staid mind and impregnable char- acter who gathered all the scattered and dis- cordant forces of the Revolution and directed 56 them to the achievement of the great en so modest that he thought himself incomp tent to the task, yet of such heroic resolutic that neither difficulties nor reverses nor bt trayals could bring him to despair; a man ot rectitude, whose will was steeled to finer temper by every defeat, and who was not to be turned, by any failure or success, by cal- umny, by gold, or by the dream of empire, from the straight path of his purpose.

At the end of eight years of unremitting labor, which depleted his fortune and for which he asked no more than the payment of his personal expenses, that purpose was at last achieved. No man was ever more rightly called the father of his country; but even the indomi- table resolution of Washington, supported by the dogged persistence and garrulous common sense of John Adams and the suppleness and resource of Franklin's intelligence — even these would not have sufficed to win independence.

It was America's good fortune that in this decisive hour of her history France came to stand by her side. Without the aid of France, the men who signed the Declaration of In- dependence would have pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in vain, and would have been known to history as rebels against rightful authority instead of defenders of human liberty.

No one could have had less sympathy with re- bellious subjects proclaiming the doctrine of popular sovereignty than Louis XVI, the chief exemplar of autocracy in Europe ; but no one could regard with greater satisfaction the dis- ruption of the British Empire. For a hundred years England and France had struggled in peace and in war, on land and on the sea, for the possession of the New World as the basis of maritime and commercial supremacy.

And England had won. In every stage England had won; and never so completely as in the last war. The Peace of Paris of , by which France had been expelled from America and India, was the profoundest humiliation which France had suffered, and the memory of it still rankled.

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Inevitably, therefore, as a matter of prac- tical politics, the French government sought to redress the balance of power in Europe and the world by diminishing the power of Great Britain. The persistent promoter of this policy was the Foreign Minister, Ver- gennes, who watched with delight the grow- ing dispute between the mother country and the American provinces, and who labored 58 ' from the outbreak of hostilities to bring France into alliance with the revolting Colonies. Early in the war, through a fictitious business firm organized by the playwright, Beaumar- chais, the government furnished two hundred thousand dollars' worth of supplies and mili- tary stores; after the Declaration of Inde- pendence Vergennes arranged with Franklin for a regular subsidy of two hundred thousand dollars a year; and finally, after the great victory of the colonial troops at Saratoga, an open military and commercial treaty was signed between the United States of America, recently founded upon the revolutionary prin- ciple of popular sovereignty, and his Most Christian Majesty, Louis XVI, by Grace of God King of France and Navarre.

So far as the French government was con- cerned the alliance between the two coun- tries was inspired by the desire to disrupt the British Empire and thereby increase the power of France. But the Franco-American alliance was something more than a diplomatic entente. The alliance was welcomed in France with immense popular enthusiasm; and this enthusiasm was inspired, not by hatred of England never were the English more ad- mired in France than at this time , but by a profound sympathy with the ideals of liberty and human welfare upon which the Revolu- 59 tion was based and which found classic ex- pression in the famous Declaration of In- dependence.

Within half a century a new spirit had arisen in France. A generation of brilliant writers, of whom Voltaire, Montes- quieu, and Rousseau were the leaders, had transformed the thinking and the aspirations of the French people. By trenchant criticism and corrosive satire and passionate denunci- ation of corruption, hypocrisy, and injus- tice, they destroyed the moral foundations of the monarchy and the Church and prepared the way for that great Revolution which was destined to transform the old European world.

Thus it happened that in the French, like the Americans, were dreaming of a new era. They had caught the vision of a regener- ated society — a society in which enlightenment would banish ignorance and vice, in which selfishness and brutality would give way to a kindly fraternity, in which the generous and humane instincts of the natural man would find expression in law and customs designed to establish and perpetuate the general wel- fare.

And so it was that in this soft spring- time of the modern world forward-looking men observed with profound interest the birth of a new nation on the western continent. Repelled by the corrupt and artificial life of 60 Europe, everywhere encumbered with the de- bris of worn-out institutions, they turned to America as a kind of concrete example of their imagined state of nature. Their very igno- rance of America enabled them to confer upon it more virtues than it in fact possessed.

In contrast with Europe, so oppressed with de- fenseless tyrannies and useless inequalities, how superior seemed this new land of promise where every citizen was a free man, where the necessities of life were the sure reward of industry, where manners were simple, where vice and crime had almost disappeared, and where native incapacity was the only effective barrier to ambition!


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When Benjamin Franklin arrived in France in he was therefore something more than the official representive of the Congress of the United States. To the French mind he was the incarnation of the qualities which a state founded on reason and nature would tend to develop in all men. This man who had begun life as a printer's boy and was now the chosen representative of his country on a difficult mission, this self-educated philosopher whose discoveries were known to every savant in Europe, this Friend of the Human Race who had "wrested lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrant's hand" — this man was, after all, no more than one of nature's 61 noblemen, such as free institutions might be expected to produce.

And in some ways Franklin was better than his reputation.

The American Founding Fathers: Greatest Social Experiment in History

The suppleness of his plastic mind enabled him to take on without effort the external qualities of the French tempera- ment, while retaining the homely wit and wis- dom and the serene and imperturbable geni- ality which was his native character. The result was that never before nor since has any man in a foreign country received such con- tinued applause or been the object of such uni- versal affection as fell to Franklin in France. John Adams, who liked the French none too well and who might have felt the jealousy of a less successful rival, said of Franklin : His reputation was more universal than that of Leibnitz or Newton, Frederick or Voltaire; and his character more beloved and esteemed than any or all of them.

His name was familiar to government and people, to kings, courtiers, nobility, clergy, and philosophers, as well as plebeians, to such a degree that there was scarcely a peasant or a citizen, a valet de chambre, a coachman or footman, a lady's chamber- maid or a scullion in a kitchen, who was not familiar with it, and who did not consider him as a friend of humankind.

When they spoke of him, they seemed to think he was to restore the Golden Age. The Golden Age! This phrase gives us indeed the secret of Franklin's popularity. The enthusiasm of the French people for America and for Franklin was but the measure of their passionate desire for the re- generation of France, a symbol of the com- munity of hopes and ideals which bound the two countries together. Europeans were prepared to regard the event as a forecast of a new era in human history; but it would have been an optimist indeed who could have seen in even the most favored of the thirteen little states that com- posed the new nation that ideal republic, founded upon virtue and assuring the reign of felicity, which John Adams in his generous moments had professed to believe in.

On the contrary, the country was exhausted and de- moralized. The poverty and destitution which everywhere prevailed among the mass of the people was only thrown into stronger relief by the prosperity of those who had somehow managed to preserve their estates, or of those newly rich whose swollen fortunes were the 64 reward of shameless profiteering.

The sense of public probity had been immensely weak- ened by the unrestrained lawlessness of many years as well as by the unlimited issue of government obligations that were scarcely worth the paper they were printed on. Re- spect for law had been half destroyed by the feebleness of governments which, under the stress of civil war, had fallen to the level of imbecility. For many years after the treaty of 1 there was no question of an ideal state or of the regeneration of the human race ; the ques- tion was of any tolerable state, of any stable government.

The ideal republic might come, it might conceivably come in America; but the immediate task which confronted the United States was to demonstrate to the world's satis- faction that any republic could endure for a generation. The question of government was one of the questions that drove men out of Europe into America in the seventeenth century.

The colonial assemblies were perpetually quarreling with the governor over their respective powers. The Revolution 65 turned upon a question of government; and throughout the Revolutionary War and for some years after, one chief occupation of the people was the manufacture of constitutions. Having finally adopted a federal constitution in , the people and their leaders began to discuss the question of how it ought to be in- terpreted.

They adopted the constitution first and then tried to find out what it meant, but never could agree, and at last had to fight a desperate civil war to determine the matter. Nevertheless, these constant wrangles about the form of the government, at least since the Revolution, have not, for the most part, had to do with fundamental questions. The French people have in the nineteenth century dis- cussed the question of government as much as Americans have; but in France the dispute has involved fundamental issues, such as the question of whether a divine-right monarchy or a democratic republic is better.

Such a dis- pute never has nor ever could exist in America ; and this is a fact of fundamental importance for an understanding of American history and institutions- —namely, that in all of our his- tory few people have ever seriously pro- posed that a divine-right monarchy or any other kind of monarchy should be established.

The only king which Americans were ever willing to recognize, even in colonial days, was 66 a king who was too far away to have any power over them. The most deep-rooted political instinct which Americans have, an instinct which determines all their thinking, is the feeling that they can and will, as a mat- ter of course, govern themselves. This idea is so fixed and so universally held that if any one should suggest any kind of government other than self-government as proper for Ameri- cans the proposal would be taken as a species of joke.

The traditions of monarchy and Church and nobility, which are such powerful influences in Europe because they are so inter- woven in all European history — these tradi- tions simply do not exist in the United States.

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Not only have Americans always been vio- lently opposed to monarchical government, they have always been opposed to a highly centralized government, exercising its au- thority from a great distance and through officials unknown in the community where they act. In America the burden of proof commonly rests on the government. The American, therefore, likes to have a govern- ment that is limited as much as possible, that is nicely checked and balanced; and for this reason he likes to have a government that is close at hand, where it can be carefully watched and kept in its proper place.

From the beginning of American history the people 67 have accordingly been disposed to retain as much local government as possible, and have surrendered only gradually and under pres- sure any powers to the central government, whether state or national. Such an attitude toward government is likely to be developed in any new country where people have to depend upon themselves and where individual initiative is at a pre- mium; but the trait was already ingrained in the first settlers.

America was settled, in large part, by people who left Europe in order to free themselves from the oppression of monarchy and Church. Separatists, Puri- tans, Nonconformists, Quakers, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Mennonites, Dunkers — these names are associated with those Europeans who were so eccentric in their views that they could not live comfortably at home.

They were opposed to monarchy, opposed to heredi- tary nobility, opposed to bishops, opposed to May-poles, opposed to lawn sleeves, opposed to almost all the prevailing ideas and customs. Being temperamentally cantankerous, people with whom it went against the grain to submit to outward constraint, they were disposed to look within for some "inner light" or "scru- ple of conscience" which might serve as a guide to action.

And so, in order to be free from the outward constraint of king or priest 68 or social custom, they came to America where there was room for all and no one to care what they thought or how they worshiped or whether they had much or little government. Inevitably such eccentric people founded small and dispersed communities.

The Pil- grims, asserting that it belongeth not to the magistrate "to compel religion, to plant churches by power, and to force submission to Ecclesiastical Government by laws and penalties," first went to Holland ; but when they could not be sufficiently "separated" there, they lifted up "their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits. They preferred not to unite with the Puritans who settled Massa- chusetts Bay, although the difference between the Puritans and the Separatists seems to the modern mind very slight.

The Puritans them- selves were no sooner established at Boston than they began to quarrel over the precise nature of that "due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical" which they came to America to establish ; and some of them, being expelled, went off with Roger Williams to found another tiny commonwealth at Providence 69 Rhode Island , while others followed Thomas Hooker into a new wilderness and founded the colony of Connecticut.

Still another group of Puritans, coming from London to Boston, but not finding the due form of government precisely right in every detail, went on to New Haven and founded there a Bible common- wealth that suited them. In origin and in their ideas of religion and government, all of these people were very much alike. Had they chosen to live together under one state, that state, seventy years after the first settle- ment, would have had a population of less than eighty thousand. But in spite of the extreme hardships of the wilderness, in spite of the danger from the Indians, these eighty thousand eccentrics could not possibly sub- ordinate themselves to a single government.

They preferred to live separated, according to the "strong bent of their spirits," in five distinct and independent states, each one an ideal commonwealth. During a century and a half of colonial history the jealousy of local liberties and the practice of local government became firmly established, and each colony as a matter of course managed its own affairs in complete independence of every other colony.

The only bond of union between the colonies was the British government, and the people of 70 the various colonies had usually but little intercourse with one another. When John Adams went to Philadelphia in to attend the first Continental Congress, he had never before been outside of New England. He entered New York with the same interested curiosity with which an American now goes for the first time to London; and he noted in his Diary, as the European tourist might do, his impressions of the people, of their dress and manners, of how their political in- stitutions differed from those of New England, and commented upon the several kinds of food which he had for breakfast at the country seat of Mr.

John Morin Scott. This provincial point of view was not radi- cally changed by the Revolution; and when independence was declared each colony re- garded itself as an independent and sovereign state. It is true that independence was de- clared by the Continental Congress, but it was an associated declaration of the thirteen states.

No colony was bound by the act of Congress until it gave its adherence to that act; and, in fact, the colony of New York did not vote for independence until July 9th, seven days after the resolution was voted in Congress. The resolution by which Congress voted in favor of independence included a recom- 6 71 mendation to the effect that each state should proceed forthwith to form a new state govern- ment; and in fact each state, assuming full sovereign rights, established a government to suit itself. The Revolution thus created thir- teen independent states, each with its own constitution and its own government; and this system of state governments became and has remained to this day the foundation of the United States and of its political system.

The original state governments were modeled upon the old colonial governments the col- onies of Connecticut and Rhode Island in- deed retained for many years their old colonial charters as constitutions , and the structure of these governments, in its essential features, was much the same in all the states. There were the county or town officials for purely local affairs ; there were the elected assemblies, in most cases of two houses, for the making of state laws; and there were the governors, elected directly by the people except in New York , to whom were intrusted the adminis- trative and executive functions.

There are now forty-eight states in the Union. Each one has a written constitution, in accordance with which its government is organized; and although in the course of time the trend toward a greater degree of democracy has brought about many modifications in detail, 72 the structural features of municipal, county, and state governments remain what they were at the close of the eighteenth century. It was upon this foundation that the United States government was erected. While the sovereignty of the states was the accepted idea at the close of the Revolution, every one felt that the people of the Colonies were in some measure a common people with a common destiny, and that, as they had united for defending their rights and the winning of independence, so they must continue to act to- gether in their dealings with the outside world.

In other words, it was agreed that the thir- teen independent states ought to unite in a federation. This union had been achieved during the war by means of the Continental Congress; but the Continental Congress was only a temporary body with no specifically determined powers — an assembly of deputies acting only upon instruction from their own governments, its authority limited to recom- mendations, and its influence such as the prestige of its members or the exigencies of war might give to it.

To take the place of the Continental Congress, the states finally adopted, after much wrangling, the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation created a federal government without any effective 73 power. The states were as Jealous of their sovereign rights then as states are now; and the creation of a strong federal government was contemplated with the same hesitancy with which the states of Europe now contem- plate the creation of a strong League of Na- tions.

It was somehow imagined that an effective United States could be formed with- out depriving the individual states of any sovereign rights. The Articles of Confedera- tion made no provision for a federal executive, and upon the federal Congress which was created they conferred nothing more than the right of recommending laws which the separate states were expected to enforce, but which in fact they enforced or not, as they saw fit. Such a federal union proved a complete failure.

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A government which could negotiate treaties, but could not execute them ; which could levy taxes, but could not collect them, merited and received the contempt of every one both at home and abroad. Within a few years it was found that in order to avert the dissolu- tion of the confederation, as well as to protect the common interests of the states against foreign aggression, a more perfect union would have to be formed.


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This more perfect union was achieved by the adoption of the Constitu- tion of , which went into effect in and has remained in force until the present time. Gladstone to be the "grandest work ever struck off by the hand of man at a given The Constitu- tion was a compromise between many diver- gent interests, and the result was that almost no one was very well satisfied with it. Some thought it created a government which was too weak to be effective, and some thought it created a government so strong as to be dangerous.

James Madison defended the Constitution by saying that under all the cir- cumstances "Ji was the best we could do. If it could have been foreseen how much power the federal government would be able to assume, the Constitution would have been rejected by a great majority of the people; for the states were still unwilling to surrender the principle of sovereignty. In the new Constitution, therefore, no more power was conferred upon the federal government than was thought to be absolutely necessary; and 75 hence the fundamental legal principle which governs the distribution of the power between the federal and the state governments, re- spectively, is this: The states were intended to have all powers not conferred by the Con- stitution upon the federal government, or not denied by the Constitution to the states.

That there might be no doubt about the matter, this principle was formulated and adopted as the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution in the following terms: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people! There are the state governments, each having jurisdiction within its own terri- tory, and there is the federal government at Washington having jurisdiction over the whole territory of the United States.

The federal government exercises such powers only as are conferred upon it by the Constitution; while the state governments exercise all powers not denied to them or conferred upon the federal government. The federal government, upon which the Constitution conferred certain powers, is in 76 its structure similar to the state governments. It is a government of three branches — execu- tive, legislative, and judicial — intended to be so nicely checked and balanced, in respect to the powers conferred upon each branch, that no one branch could usurp the powers conferred upon either of the others.

The executive branch is intrusted to the President, originally elected by an electoral college, but now in fact elected directly by the people, for a term of four years. Aside from a limited right of vetoing laws passed by Congress, the chief function of the President is to " take care that the laws be faithfully executed. In addition, the President negotiates all treaties with for- eign powers; but both the treaties negotiated and the appointments made by the Presi- dent become valid only when approved by the Senate. The legislative branch of the federal govern- ment consists of the Congress, composed of an upper house called the Senate, and a lower house called the House of Representatives.

The Senate is composed of two members from 77 each state, whether large or small, chosen originally by the state legislatures, but now in all states by the people, for a term of six years. The Senate was a concession to the small states, which wished to preserve their equality with the large states, so that even to-day a state like Rhode Island, with a popu- lation of about six hundred and fifty thousand, has equal weight in the Senate with a state like New York, with a population of over ten millions.

But the Senate was also a conces- sion to those who feared the unchecked power of the people. Chosen by the state legislatures, for a long term of service, and made up pre- sumably of older men, the Senate was de- signed to prevent over-hasty action by the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is composed of men chosen directly by the people for a term of two years. The number from each state is determined according to the popu- lation of the state, and in each state every one has a right to vote for members of the House of Representatives who has a right to vote for the members of the lower house of the legislature of that state.

The House of Representatives was thus a concession to the large states; but it was also a concession to the principle of democracy. It was and is as democratic a body as the states respectively 78 wish to make it. In two respects, indeed, the states have been deprived by the Consti- tution of their power to restrict the suffrage. The fifteenth amendment prohibits the states from denying the ballot to any person on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; the nineteenth amendment for- bids a similar restriction on account of sex.

The third branch of the federal government is the judicial branch, "which is vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. At present the chief of these inferior courts are the District Courts and the Cir- cuit Courts of Appeal. There is at least one District Court in each state; but the large and the thickly populated states ordina- rily have more than one. Thus, for example, New York is divided into four districts and Texas into four.

Altogether there are in the United States some eighty Federal judicial districts, there being in each district at least one district judge. The states are also grouped into nine divisions, called circuits; in each of these regional divisions there is a Circuit Court of Appeals, and there arc three or four circuit court of appeals judges for each of these appellate courts. The 79 jurisdiction of the federal courts extends to "all cases. Aside from the power of the President to negotiate treaties, the f powers which the Constitution confers upon the federal government are essentially all con- tained in Section VIII, which defines the legis- lative authority of the federal Congress.

This section is of sufficient importance to quote at length: The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general wel- fare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

To borrow money on the credit of the United States. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. To establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcy through- out the States. To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States. To establish post offices and post roads. To promote the progress of science and the useful 80 arts, by securing for limited times to authors and in- ventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court. To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations. To declare war, grant letters of Marque and Reprisal, to make rules concerning captures on land and water. To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years. To provide and maintain a navy. To make rules and regulations for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrection and repel invasion,.

Such are the powers expressly conferred upon the United States government by the Constitution. The powers expressly denied to the states are to make treaties with one another or with foreign states, to coin money or issue bills of credit, pass bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, or laws impairing the ob- ligation of a contract, to levy import or export duties, to keep ships of war in time of peace, or to grant titles of nobility.

But suppose the Congress should not observe the limits set in the Constitution? Who would restrain it? It was easy to say that the states should not pass such and such laws — for example, a law impairing the obligation of a contract. But suppose some state should pass a law im- pairing the obligation of a contract? Where virtually sovereign powers are divided between two distinct gov- ernments, conflict is sure to arise. The dis- 4 tribution of powers between the states and the federal government is an essential feature of the American federal system, and conflicts have often arisen between the states and the federal government in respect to their proper sphere of activities.

Some method of de- termining these questions without resorting to war was therefore necessary. As a matter of fact, it fell to the Supreme Court to decide these disputed questions. If the Congress passes a law, or if any state legis- lature passes a law, in either case any one may refuse to obey the law; and if he is arrested in consequence and brought to trial, he may plead that the law in question is unconstitu- tional — that is, that the Congress or the state legislature is forbidden by the Constitution 82 of the United States to pass such a law.

Such a plea, if it is allowed, brings the case before a federal court, and may ultimately bring it before the Supreme Court, because the juris- diction of the federal court extends to "all cases arising under the Constitution of the United States"; and it then becomes the duty of the court, if the case cannot be de- cided on some other ground, to raise and to decide the question of the constitutionality of the law in question. Acting in this way, the Supreme Court has often declared laws of Congress null and void on the ground that the Congress has exceeded the powers given to it by the Constitution; and it has still more frequently declared state laws null and void on the ground that the state is exercising powers denied to it by the Constitution.

Thus the Supreme Court is not only a strictly judi- cial body; it is also a kind of umpire or arbi- trator which sett4es disputes in respect to the respective powers of the federal and state governments. In settling such disputes, it often has to declare what is or is not law, and so it becomes in fact a lawmaking body as well as a law-interpreting body. Such in brief outline is the framework or structure of the American political system. It must be confessed that it is not simple. The principle for determining the distribution 83 of power between the various governments may be clear enough, but the machinery itself is complicated, and there is a great deal of it.

The number of elections to be held, of offices to be filled, of legislative bodies to be kept going, is something wonderful. Consider the lawmaking bodies alone! To say nothing of county and municipal governments through- out the Union, there is the Congress of the United States assembling every year, and forty-eight state legislatures assembling at least once in two years, to make more laws. A more extensive plant than we have in America for the manufacture of statutes does not exist on the earth.

Every year thousands of new laws, state and national, are made — very soon forgotten, most of them, it is true, and most of them useless. But then most of them are harmless also, because most statutes become obsolete unless the people are inter- ested in their enforcement, since no one in America imagines that laws can have any force if they are not an expression of the public will. IV In America the enforcement of law as well as the making of law rests with the people; but the will of the people is not quite the same thing in both cases.

Laws that are made are 8 4 the expression of the popular will in the sense that all statutes are formulated and passed, and all executive decrees are issued, by assem- blies elected by the people, or by officials ap- pointed by some one who is himself elected by the people. But who are the people? And do the legislative bodies and executive officials always represent -the wishes of the people? The people, so far as the making of laws is concerned, have never been in America, or in any other country, composed of all the citizens. No form of government works perfectly.

Democratic government does not work perfectly; and democratic government in the United States is no exception to this rule.

America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment America: The Great Experiment
America: The Great Experiment

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