Elements of Civil Government eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 218 pages of information about Elements of Civil Government.

PURPOSES.—­The purposes of the constitution are to guard the rights of the people, to protect the liberties of the minority, to grant authority to the government, to separate the functions of the three departments, to prescribe the limits of each, and to fix in the public policy those maxims of political wisdom that have been sanctioned by time.

The special tendency in recent amendments of State constitutions has been to limit the power of the legislature.  Constitutions, like other political institutions, are largely matters of growth, and from time to time must be revised to meet the changing wants of society.  For this purpose the constitution of almost every State contains a provision, called the open clause, which authorizes the legislature, under certain restrictions, to propose amendments to the constitution to be adopted or rejected by a vote of the people.

VALUE.—­The people of any State may, at their pleasure, frame and adopt a new constitution, which must be in harmony with the Constitution of the United States.  The right to make their own constitution is one of the highest and most important rights that freemen can possess.  It is in this and in the right of suffrage that their freedom principally consists.

The constitution protects the people by prescribing the limits of official authority.  The legislature can not legally pass a law which the constitution of the State forbids, and when such a law is passed it is declared unconstitutional by the State courts.  A provision of a State constitution becomes void when declared by the supreme court of the United States to be in conflict with the national Constitution.

CONTENTS.—­The constitutions of the several States are based upon the Constitution of the United States as a model, and are therefore much alike in their general provisions.  Each contains: 

A preamble setting forth the purposes of the constitution;

A lengthy declaration called the bill of rights;

Provisions for distributing the powers of government into three departments; and

Articles relating to suffrage, debt, taxation, corporations, public schools, militia, amendments, and other public affairs.


The bill of rights usually declares various rights of the citizen which may be classified under the heads of republican principles, personal security, private property, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom from military tyranny.

REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLES.—­Under this head the bill declares: 

That all power is inherent in the people;

That governments exist for their good, and by their consent;

That all freemen are equal;

That no title of nobility shall be conferred;

That exclusive privileges shall not be granted except in consideration of public services;

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Elements of Civil Government from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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