The Government Class Book eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 386 pages of information about The Government Class Book.

Sec.10.  But the political right of establishing a constitution or form of government, is not enjoyed by the people of that country.  They have no written instrument, like ours, called constitution, adopted by the people.  What is there called the constitution, is the aggregate or sum of laws, principles, and customs, which have been formed in the course of centuries.  There is therefore no restraint upon the power of parliament; hence no law which may be enacted is contrary to the constitution; and the people have not the same security against the enactment of unjust laws as the people of the United States.

Chapter VI.

Qualifications of Electors; or, by whom Political Power is exercised in the States of this Union.

Sec.1.  One of the first provisions usually inserted in a constitution of a free state, is that which declares who shall be allowed to take a part in the government; that is, to whom the political power shall be intrusted.  As this power is exercised by voting at elections, the constitution very properly prescribes the qualifications of electors, or, in other words, declares what shall be necessary to entitle a man to the right of voting, or the right of suffrage.  When, therefore, we speak of the people politically, we mean those only who are qualified electors.

Sec.2.  To be competent to exercise the right of suffrage, a person must be a freeman, or, as we sometimes say, he should be his own master.  While under the control of a parent or guardian, he might be constrained to act contrary to his own judgment.  All our state constitutions, therefore, give this right only to free male citizens of the age of twenty-one years and upwards; twenty-one years being the age at which young men become free to act for themselves.

Sec.3.  But even if this freedom were obtained at an earlier age, it would not be expedient to bestow this right upon persons so young.  They have not the necessary knowledge and judgment to act with discretion.  Some are competent at an earlier age; but a constitution can make no distinction between citizens.  It has therefore, in accordance with the general opinion, fixed the time at the age of twenty-one, when men shall be deemed capable of exercising the rights and performing the duties of freemen.

Sec.4.  That a man may vote understandingly, he must have resided long enough in the state to have become acquainted with its government and laws, and to have learned the character and qualifications of the persons for whom he votes.  State constitutions therefore require, that electors shall have resided in the state for a specified period of time, varying, however, in the different states from three months to two years.  In most of the states, they must also have resided for some months in the county or district, and be residents of the town in which they offer to vote.

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