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CONTENTS OF VOLUME XXIX.
Our Literature-To-Day, To-Morrow. By Joseph S. Hawks.
Major General John E. Wool, U. S. A..
DURING the last ten years the attention of the people of the United States has been powerfully drawn to the subject of their constitutions, and within the last five years eleven State Conventions have been held, for the formation of eleven constitutions, for eleven of the old independent states, while many other states are still agitating the question ; and seven conventions in new states have provided as many new constitutions for an equal number of new independent sovereignties. In all these constitutions many improvements, suggested by the working of the old ones, have been made upon the instruments; and the constitutions of the new states, having the advantage of the experience of the old ones, contain all the " latest improvements” adapted to the new state of things. The old constitutions which have been revised are as follows:
Constitution. New Hampshire 1792.
Michigan Louisiana... ...1812...... 1846 Kentucky... Missouri.... ...1820...... 1847
Some of these instruments were of venerable dates, and had not been influenced by the political experience accumulated in half a century of selfgovernment. In all that time the fierce strife of parties in town, county, state, and federal elections, have conspired to interest the great body of the people in questions of government, and to impress upon them in a greater or less degree the theory of government, continually illustrated in its practical administration. The power has thus settled, as it were, more firmly into the hands of the people, who are more fully recognized as the depository of the great residuum of power. The circumstances under which this country was settled by colonists, who were so widely separated by time and distance from the mother country, compelled them to depend upon themselves for local government. The habit being thus forced upon them, the principles of governinent were evolved from the daily experience of
new one. 1850 1844 1846 1851
new. 1802. 1851 1816. 1851 1818
1850 1799...... 1850
those who were at the same time the governors and the governed. By the time that the increase of population compelled the meetings of delegates to supersede the town meetings of all the people, the electors of delegates were as well versed in the duties of legislatures as those whom they elected. But it became obvious, that as the people, in whom the whole power rested, and who exercised it in town meetings, now met only by delegations, that a written organic law should exist for the guidance of those delegates, and Virginia has the honor of being the first nation of the earth which assembled a convention of its most sagacious citizens, to draw up an instrument which was to form a fundamnental law for the guidance of legislation, and which should be deposited among the archives of the state, where every one should be free to appeal to its text. This example was followed by all the other states, and by them collectively certain powers were granted to form a central government; as far as those powers go, the great residue of the power remaining with the states. All these state constitutions, not having had the benefit of much experience, were necessarily imperfect. That of the federal government has proved the best of all the constitutions, and its excellence will be found, probably, upon strict analysis, to rest upon the limited number of powers granted in it, and the precision with which the remainder are reserved to the several states, each of which has a political interest in jealously guarding the line of its own rights. This interest was actively present at the formation of the instrument, and was the conservative principle which, by compelling precision in the specification of powers granted directly to the federal government, and those prohibited to the states by the federal Constitution, has been the main cause of its durability. The powers granted in it are iinportant and well-defined. They are kept actively in operation, and are of a nature to undergo very little change in the lapse of time, either in themselves or in their relation to the circumstances in which they operate.
The state constitutions, on the other hand, had no such opposing outside interests, which sought actively to restrict the powers which the legis. latures were to derive from them. On the other hand, the politicians who formed the conventions sought rather to aggregate to the legislature, of which they might be called upon to form a part, or from which, by peculiar combinations, they might desire honor or profit, or both, at the expense of the people, more power than was either safe or proper. In professing to divide the governments into the three leading branches of executive, legislative, and judiciary, they aggregated to the executive the appointing power, in such a degree as to destroy the fancied security which was to be derived from the supposed separation. When the constitutions of the states were formed, at the close of the revolutionary war, or what might, with greater propriety, be called the war of resistance, English ideas of government beset our statesmen, and the importance of separating the three powers of government was every where admitted. When, however, a constitution, which is an act of the people in their original character of sovereignty, was to be formed, the executive, or lawexecuting power was made a part of the legislative or law-making power, by making his assent necessary for a bill to become a law; and to him, also, was given the appointment of the judges who were to expound and execute the law, under his superintendence. Having thus not only the appointment of all the executive officers of the state, the number of which was increased at the expense of the reserved rights of the people, and also of the judiciary, who were to administer the laws, to the inaking