On Constitutional Government

2002-04-21

Someday I would like to do some in-depth research on the history of constitutional government, especially the constitutions of the American states. These days constitutions are not well-respected (politicians don't like them, since strictly following the constitution would severely limit their pursuit of power), but in olden times they were taken very seriously indeed. The Framers wrote constitutions to limit the power of government. The constitutions of some states go so far as to contain explicit provision for the right of revolution! For instance, here is Article 10 of the New Hampshire bill of rights:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

Article 7 of the same document also defines clearly that the people of New Hampshire are fully sovereign:

The people of this state have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisd iction, and right, pertaining thereto, which is not, or may not hereafter be, by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in congress assembled.

Given that "the United States of America in congress" has arrogated to itself vast powers that were never expressly delegated to it by the people of the several states, I'm coming to think that it is an open question whether the Federal government is at root legitimate. But that's a large topic for another time, I suspect....


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal