Our system of government is different from those of all other nations, because part of the political power is vested in the State, and part in the nation; that is, in the United States.
The national Constitution enumerates the powers which may be exercised by the national government, and reserves all other powers “to the States respectively, or to the people.” Because of this dual or double character of our system of government, John Quincy Adams called it “a complicated machine.”
PURPOSES.—The purposes of the national government are clearly and forcibly set forth in the “preamble,” or opening clause, of the Constitution of the United States;
1. “To form a more perfect union;”
2. “To establish justice;”
3. “To insure domestic tranquillity;”
4. “To provide for the common defense;”
5. “To promote the general welfare;”
6. “To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Before the Revolutionary war, the American colonies were subject to Great Britain. By the Declaration of Independence these colonies became “free and independent States.” During the period between the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the national Constitution, the union between the States was weak and unsatisfactory.
Instead of there being “domestic tranquillity,” the States were engaged in constant quarrels. There was no power to provide for the “common defense” of the people against foreign enemies; each State must protect itself as best it could. No provision could be made for the “general welfare” by the passage and enforcement of broad measures for the whole country. Under the Articles of Confederation, as was said at that time, the States might “declare everything, but do nothing.” The adoption of the national Constitution and the formation of the national government made the inhabitants of the States one people, and have since brought the United States to be “the first of the nations of the earth.”
FUNCTIONS.—The functions of the national government are numerous and important. In adopting the national Constitution, the States delegated or ceded to the United States those powers which are necessary to the strength and greatness of a nation.
The national government administers those public affairs which concern the whole people, such as the regulation of commerce, the granting of patents, and the coinage of money; and also those which pertain to the United States as a nation dealing with other nations, such as declaring war and making treaties of peace.
The subjects upon which the national Congress may enact laws, and consequently the subjects included in the functions of the national government, are enumerated in Section 8, Article I. of the Constitution.