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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

This part of their work endures


the rest two great practical measures which involved no overbold challenge to State Sovereignty were wisely planned to buttress the Union and render it permanent. A clause in the Constitution forbade tariffs between the States and established complete Free Trade within the limits of the Union. An even more important step was that by which the various States which claimed territory in the as yet undeveloped interior were induced to surrender such territory to the collective ownership of the Federation. This at once gave the States a new motive for unity, a common inheritance which any State refusing or abandoning union must surrender.

Meanwhile it would be unjust to the supporters of State Rights to deny the excellence and importance of their contribution to the Constitutional settlement. To them is due the establishment of local liberties with safeguards such as no other Constitution gives. And, in spite of the military victory which put an end to the disputes about State Sovereignty and finally established the Federalist interpretation of the Constitution, this part of their work endures. The internal affairs of every State remain as the Constitution left them, absolutely in its own control. The Federal Government never interferes save for purposes of public taxation, and, in the rare case of necessity, of national defence. For the rest nine-tenths of the laws under which an American citizen lives, nearly all the laws that make a practical difference

to his life, are State laws. Under the Constitution, as framed, the States were free to form their separate State Constitutions according to their own likings, and to arrange the franchise and the test of citizenship, even for Federal purposes, in their own fashion. This, with the one stupid and mischievous exception made by the ill-starred Fifteenth Amendment, remains the case to this day, with the curious consequence, among others, that it is now theoretically possible for a woman to become President of the United States, if she is the citizen of a State where female suffrage is admitted.

Turning to the structure of the central authority which the Constitution sought to establish, the first thing that strikes us--in the teeth of the assertion of most British and some American writers--is that it was emphatically _not_ a copy of the British Constitution in any sense whatever. It is built on wholly different principles, drawn mostly from the French speculations of that age. Especially one notes, alongside of the careful and wise separation of the judiciary from the executive, the sound principle enunciated by Montesquieu and other French thinkers of the eighteenth century, but rejected and contemned by England (to her great hurt) as a piece of impracticable logic--the separation of the executive and legislative powers. It was this principle which made possible the later transformation of the Presidency into a sort of Elective Monarchy.


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