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Constitution

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CONSTITUTION, the fundamental law of a state, whether it be a written instrument of a certain date, as that of the United States of America, or an aggregate of laws and usages which have been formed in the course of ages, like the English Constitution. Its primitive meaning is that of any law given force by proclamation and put into effect by the power of the supreme head of the government or nation.

I. Constitutions, according to their origin or their fundamental principle, may be divided into three classes: (1) Those established by the sovereign power; (2) those formed by contracts between nations and certain individuals whom they accept as sovereigns on condition of their complying with the terms of the contract; (3) those formed by a compact between differ ent sovereign powers.

1. The first class may be again divided into (a) constitutions established by a free sovereign people for their own regulation, of which sort is the Constitution of the United States; and (b) such as have been, in some instances, granted by the plenary power of absolute monarchs to their subjects, and which in theory are the voluntary gift of the beneficence of the ruler. These are called by the French constitu tions, octroyees, from octroyer, to grant.

2. The second great class of constitutions mentioned above includes such as have been formed by a contract between the future ruler and the people. These are mutually binding on each party as long as the other fulfils his duty. Such, in a great degree, is the British Consti tution.

3. Some constitutions are compacts between several sovereign powers. Such was the Consti tution of the German Empire and that of the United Provinces of Holland, and such is also the Swiss Confederation. The Constitution of the United States, though the different States call themselves sovereign, proceeded, in point of fact, from the people of the United States collectively, as is apparent from the very begin ning of the instrument: *We, the people of the United States,* and not the States.* Moreover, the Congress, established by this Constitution, has rights and powers far exceed ing those which other confederate but entirely distinct governments are wont to allow each other. The Constitution, in short, unites all the States into one nation, the government be ing called by all parties the national govern ment. Governments entirely and virtually dis tinct from each other never would, however closely confederated, allow a government, par ticularly a national government, to be estab lished over themselves. The Constitution of the United States is more than a mere compact between independent powers, yet less than the simple constitution of an undivided nation; it ought rather to be considered as forming one whole with the different constitutions of the States which have given up to the general gov ernment most of the rights of sovereignty, as that of making war and peace, coining, etc.

II. In regard to political principles, consti tutions are: (1) Democratic, when the funda mental law guarantees to every citizen equal rights, protection and participation, direct or indirect, in the government, such as the Consti tution of the United States and those of some cantons of Switzerland; (2) aristocratic, when the constitution establishes privileged classes, as the nobility and clergy, and entrusts the govern ment entirely to them, or allows them a very disproportionate share in it; such a constitution as that of Venice, and such as, at one time, those of some Swiss cantons, for instance, Bern; (3) of a mixed character, to this latter division belonging some monarchical constitutions, which recognize the existence of a king whose power is modified by other branches of government of a more or less popular cast. The British

Constitution belongs to this last division.

III. The forms of government, established by the various constitutions, afford a ground of division important in some respects; and, lastly, IV. The principle on which a constitution establishes the representation, or the way in which the people participate in the government, furnishes an important' means of classification: (1) Some allow the people to partake in the government without representation, as was the case in many of the small states of ancient Greece, and also in the ancient Roman republic, and is still the case in several of the small Swiss cantons, in which the whole people assem ble and legislate; it being obvious that such a constitution can operate only where the number of citizens is very small, and even then will be almost always objectionable; (2) some are of a representative character; that is, all the citi zens do not take an immediate part in the government, but act by their representatives; constitutions of this sort, either establishing a general and equal representation, as those of the United States; or connecting the right of rep resentation with particular estates and corpora tions. The term representative constitution is frequently applied exclusively to the former by way of eminence.

V. Representative constitutions may be di vided into : (1) Such as are founded on the union of the feudal estates, the clergy, nobility, citizens and peasantry, the two latter of which derive their right of representation from the charters of the ancient corporations; (2) such as establish the right of a general representa tion, like the American Constitution, and such as partake of both characters, like the British Constitution. Those of the first class either originated in feudal times or have been since copied from such as did. The feudal states were conglomerates of many heterogeneous bodies; and it was reserved for later ages to unfold the true principles of government, to separate the essential from the unessential and injurious, to give stability, distinctness and ex tent to principles before unsettled, indefinite and limited in their operation. See articles on the different countries of the world for informa tion respecting their various constitutions.