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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 176 pages of information about Elements of Civil Government.

ALIENS.

Aliens are subjects of foreign governments.  They are not citizens of this country, and, in general, have no right to take part in its political affairs.  Throughout the Union aliens have full social and moral rights; in some States their property rights are restricted; and in a few States they have certain political rights.

NATURE OF THE CONSTITUTION.

The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the whole land.  It is a written instrument, and is often called the fundamental law.

Neither the laws of any State nor the laws of the United States must conflict with the Constitution.  It is the basis of our system of government, the model upon which all State constitutions are framed, and the foundation of our greatness as a people.  It defines the limits of the national government, and enumerates the powers of each of its departments.  It declares what public interests are within the scope of the national government, reserves certain powers to the States, and provides that neither State nor nation shall enact certain specified laws.

FORMATION.—­The national Constitution was framed by a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen original States, Rhode Island alone being unrepresented.  The convention was called for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation under which the States were at the time united.

The convention met at Philadelphia, on Monday, May 14, 1787, and organized on the 25th day of the same month by electing as its president George Washington, one of the delegates from Virginia.  The Articles of Confederation were readily seen to be inadequate to the purposes of a national government, and the convention proceeded to draught a “Constitution for the United States of America.”

The convention completed its labors, submitted the Constitution to the several States for their ratification, and adjourned on the 17th of September, 1787.  All the States ratified the Constitution, the last being Rhode Island, whose convention, called for the purpose, passed the ordinance of ratification, May 29, 1790.

NECESSITY.—­The necessity for a written national constitution is readily seen.  The preamble states the purposes of the Constitution, which are also the purposes of the national government.  The Constitution defines the limits of State and of national power, and thus prevents conflicts of authority which would otherwise arise between the State and the United States.  Through the Constitution, the people, who are the sources of all just authority, grant to the government certain powers, and reserve all other powers to themselves.  The Constitution prescribes the functions of each department of the government, and thus preserves the liberties of the people by preventing either Congress, the executive department, or the judiciary from exercising powers not granted to it.

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