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“THE BASIS OF OUR POLITICAL SYSTEMS IS THE
RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO MAKE AND ALTER THEIR
CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT.” -WASHINGTON.

See also the Constitution of Rhode Island, Art. 1, Sec. 1.

CONSTITUTION-MAKING

IN RHODE ISLAND

AMASA M. EATON, A.M., LL.B.

This contribution to the discussion concerning “Constitution-making in. Rhode
Island” is published by the RHODE ISLAND CONSTITUTIONAL LEAGUE; but
the League, though earnestly concurring in the arguments advanced as to the proper
and legal way to make a new constitution for our State, does not hold itself
responsible for, nor committed to, every view or conclusion therein expressed.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

1899

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CONTENTS.

the legislature, when necessity arises.

The general assembly has such implied power and should exercise it when

the necessity occurs.

It is common knowledge that public opinion has called for years for a new

constitution.

The general assembly has officially recognized such necessity by a resolution.
The right expressly stated in Art. I, Sec. 1, cannot be limited by an impli-

cation in another article.

3. Art. XIII does not therefore limit this right.

A construction to be favored that will give effect to both articles.

Instead of a construction that enlarges the operation of one to the exclusion

of the other.

The power to call a constitutional convention has been frequently exercised

by the general assembly.

4. Although these calls were before the adoption of the constitution of 1842,

the general assembly still has the same power.

Because Art. XIII is not exclusive:

That it is not exclusive is shown because it relates only to amendments

initiated by the general assembly, while Art. I, Sec. 1, relates to the

right of another party (the people) to do another thing (to make and

alter their constitution of government).

The framers of the constitution, aware of the fact that the general assembly

had called constitutional conventions repeatedly, took it for granted it

still could do so, especially in view of Art. IV, Sec. 10.
The constitution of 1842 was the work of a majority.
A majority now, as then, can make and alter their constitution of govern-

ment.

5. A statement of a way in which an agent of the people can propose amend.

ments is no limitation of the expressly stated power of the principal, the

people.

PAGE.
5. The power of the general assembly to propose amendments is extraneous

and in addition to the expressly reserved power of the people.
Art. XIII states the limitations upon the powers therein granted.
Art. I, Sec. 1, states a power without limitations.
In the absence of any limitation, the power therein expressly stated can be

exercised by a majority, as heretofore.
The framers of the constitution of 1842 had the good sense not to undertake

to limit this power.
Had they attempted it, it would have been futile.

For the same power that made can unmake. 6. A majority made the constitution in 1842; a majority can at any time un

make it and make a new constitution. By a majority of the electors, including those who will become electors

under such a new constitution.
This is what was done in 1842.
In the last analysis the power rests with those commanding the greatest

physical force, and that is the majority.
The physical majority governs, as expressed by the vote of the majority.
This constitutes the majority, the sovereign.
One of the attributes of sovereignty.
The sovereign power rules through this expression of the will of the ma-

jority.
Jameson defines sovereignty as indefeasible, i. e., incapable of abrogation.

Therefore the sovereign right of the majority to govern cannot be abrogated. 7. Sovereignty is and remains in the people. 3 Dallas, 54.

It cannot pass from the State. Lieber Pol. Ethics, 250.
A sovereign power, although it may temporarily limit itself, can, at any

time, set aside such self-imposed limitations.
Here is no contention for changing the constitution in a way not recognized

it. For, although the right of the people to make and alter their constitution of

government is expressly stated in our constitution, it is not stated how

this is to be done. Necessarily, therefore, the general assembly may call a constitutional con

vention, there being a recognized necessity. The constitution so framed by such convention should be submitted to the

vote of those who will become qualified electors under its terms. If a majority votes for it, it becomes the supreme law of the State, subject

to the constitution and laws of the United States.

This alone is a republican form of government. 8. The argument is that the power of the majority to make and alter their con

stitution of government cannot be defeated. In Maryland and in Delaware the constitutions were changed in a different

manner than that provided in the constitution.
Defence of the course adopted:

By Senator Bayard-his argument stated.
By Senator Johnson-his argument stated.

PAGE. 9. A provision in a constitution limiting the power of the majority to alter it

would be void. Art. XIII reconcilable with this, because it relates only to amendments and

was to provide against a hasty change. This is rather an excuse than a defence. It is a mistake to undertake to prevent a majority from rewriting or amend

ing their constitution. 10. If a distinction is made, the party in power will adopt the course most likely

to carry out their aim. The “Revised Constitution” so-called, by legal fiction, was really a new

constitution. It reversed the distinction between Art. I, Sec. 1, and Art. XIII of the

present constitution. It put the will of the general assembly above the will of the people. It put it in the hands of the party in power to adopt the course the most

likely to subserve their ends. 11. Constitutions are too sacred to be framed so they can be thus juggled with.

To prevent it, the majority should govern, however a change in the consti.

tution is instituted. The fundamental principle of all Anglo-Saxon government is that the

majority rule when its will is ascertained through the forms prescribed to

that end. This is what Washington meant in his language quoted in Art. I, Sec. 1. While power of general assembly to propose amendments can be limited, no

limitations can be imposed upon right of people to make and alter their

constitution of government.
Except a vote of majority of all the electors might be made requisite.
No State has yet done this.
Necessity for vote of more than bare majority to change constitution is

defended to prevent hasty action.
Such a claim involves want of faith inconsistent with faith in our system of

government. 12. The majority rules in England, without our guarantees of a written consti

tution.
In this State this want of faith is relic of policy of Anti-Dorrites.
The principles Dorr contended for were right.
His error was in appealing to arms.
The principal should be adopted that the majority shall rule when their will

is ascertained in a lawful, explicit, and authentic manner.
To deny it is to establish an obligarchic form of governmont;

One inconsistent with Art. IV, Sec. 4, constitution of the Unitǝd States. It is not a republican form of government if the majority cannot make or

alter their constitution of government. A republican form of government is one in which the majority governs. That our forefathers in this State intended the majority should govern is

evident from examination of their compacts of government. 13. These compacts examined :

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