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Constitution of the United States
Showing that it is a Development of Progressive
HISTORIES of the Constitution usually describe the labors of its framers in the Convention of 1787 and the contests of political parties over the adoption of the instrument by the requisite number of States in the following year, together with such changes or developments as have taken place since that time. The works which have touched on its sources or origin have treated it as invented by the convention which framed it, or have sought in England or other European countries for forms of government which were like it or might have suggested its various provisions.
Having for a long time been convinced that the Constitution is neither an invention nor an imitation, but almost exclusively a native product of slow and gradual growth, I have in this book undertaken to trace back, through previous American documents in colonial times, every material clause of it. These documents are very numerous, and consist of twenty-nine colonial charters and constitutions, seventeen Revolutionary constitutions, and twenty-three plans of union,—in all, sixty-nine different forms of government which were either in actual or in attempted operation in America during a period of about two hundred years, from 1584 to 1787. These constituted the school of thought, the experiments, and
the training which in the end produced the national government under which we now live.
The time of two hundred years was sufficiently long, and the sixty-nine different forms of government were certainly numerous and varied enough, to bring about the final result; and they account for the final result in a more clear, complete, and satisfactory manner than any of the theories of sudden inspiration or imitation of England or Holland that have been broached.
In order to show the evolution in all its details, I have divided two of the chapters into sections. Each section traces back a clause of the Constitution through all the previous documents, with quotations from each document showing the gradual development, the experience that was acquired, or the experiments that were made. This has made necessary a great deal of small print, and sometimes rather long quotations from the old documents, which were very verbose. But the reader has it all before him, and can, in most instances, see at a glance the nature of the development without any laborious search through the sixty-nine documents. I have also tried to lessen his efforts, wherever I could, by comments and summaries.
Besides this detailed analysis, there are chapters giving a general view of the growth and discussing the supposed resemblances to European forms of government. The last chapter deals with Mr. Campbell's theory that part of the Constitution and many other American institutions were derived from Holland.
PHILADELPHIA, February, 1897.