SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, The, is a cardinal feature of our Federal representative government, balancing and harmonizing all its parts, a tribunal which has received the general approval and admira tion of foreign jurists and statesmen, and com mands the universal respect and confidence of the people for whom it administers justice. The Federal Convention of 1787, which framed our Constitution and created this unique tri bunal, was composed mostly of members of the legal profession, which has always in America been the chief nursery of statesmen; but Wash ington, the soldier, presided and Franklin, the philosopher, advised at every step. The mem bers of the convention were undoubtedly chosen from the best qualified men that the country could furnish for the momentous work which was set before them, and their merits have been so universally recogniied that it is not necessary to repeat any of the emphatic tributes which many great Englishmen have paid to the results of their labors. Their work was finished in four months' secret session at Philadelphia, but most of them had been in training for it through 20 !..ng vc.irs f trial ai I trouble. From 1765. the time of the passage of the Stamp Act, which was passed through both Houses of Par liament with little opposition, the colonists, and especially the lawyers of the Colonies, had been careful and earnest students of the principles of free government.
In 1774, having exhausted in vain all appeal; to king and Parliament for .L redress of their grievances, they sent delegate.; to a Continental Congress to deliberate on the state of public affairs, and in this Congress, which lasted for seven years, many of the future framers of the Constitution who were members of it found a most instructive school. of statesmanship, and constantly devoted themselves to the social and political education of the colonists in matters of government and of public law and popular rights. In 1776, as the representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions, they did, "in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies, solemnly pub lish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are, and of right ought to he, absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown ; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved)) They declared that as free and independent States they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do," and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protec tion of Divine Providence, they mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. From the hour of the Declara
tion, the men who made it, and all the other statesmen of the Colonies, had to Five renewed and constant study to the whole science of gov ernment. As they proved able by force of arms to make good this declaration, the United Colonies became from its date a new nation, over which Congress, by general consent And acquiescence, exercised the powers of a general government, for all the purposes of the very serious exigency which had called it into exist ence. But it was a government by Congress only, with feeble and undefined powers, without an executive and without a judiciary. While the war lasted it barely sufficed, and afforded daily object lessons of its own defects and of what was required for a better government when better days should come.
The several individual States, being absolved from the royal charters under which they had before practically managed their own affairs, adopted written constitutions, based in each case upon the sovereignty of the people, to take the place of the former dominion of Parliament. An epoch of constitution making set in, during which the principles of representative popular government were discussed and understood. Virginia, the largest of the States, the home of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, who were to be four out of the first five Presi dents of the United States, took a leading part. New Hampshire had already framed a tempo rary form of government °during,* as they said, °the unhappy and unnatural contest with Great Britain." South Carolina and New Jersey had followed, but in the case of the former it was expressly declared that the Constitution estab lished was °established until an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Bri tain and America could be obtained.* Massachusetts, in 1780, with the utmost pains and deliberation prepared and adopted a com plete Constitution, in which the powers of gov ernment were carefully distributed, with the solemn declaration that neither the legislative, executive or judicial department should ever exercise the powers of either of the others *to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.* During the war the other colonies were engaged in the same business of founding States upon the principles of civil and religious liberty, embodied in written constitu tions. Rhode Island alone, founded by Roger Williams, the great apostle of toleration, having received from Charles II in 1603 a royal char ter, subsisted under it until 1842 without adopt ing any written Constitution.