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The rights of a citizen of this country are secured to him by our constitutions and by laws made in conformity with them. They may be divided into his Personal Rights and his Property Rights. His Personal rights may be divided into those of a Political charac. ter, and those of a private or more strictly Personal character. I here and throughout this volume, use this word "political" in its original and true meaning, which refers to civil government, without the slightest relation to partisan politics of any kind whatever. These political rights are considered in the First Book. I have written it in the belief that a book exhibiting the provisions and the principles of our national constitution, with the history of its formation, and the means by which republican institutions may be made most productive of good, and guarded from the dangers which most nearly threaten them, would be acceptable and useful.
The Second Book contains a view of the Personal rights so secured to all our citizens by our constitution and laws, that only our neglect or abuse of them can impair or imperil them.
The Third Book states in simple and untechnical language, the laws and rules, by an observance of which all the kinds of business in common use may be safely transacted.
Then follows a Treatise on the Rules of Order in Deliberative Bodies. A knowledge of these rules is especially necessary in this country, where nearly all its public business,—from Congress down to our town meetings,—and much of its private business, -as in meetings of stockholders and the like,--are governed by these rules; and all such meetings would avoid disorder, and accomplish their purposes far better, if these rules were generally known and regarded.
The volume closes with a Glossary, or Dictionary, of Law Terms in common use. The language of the law, to a large extent, may be easily taught; and as without it the rules under which we all live and act cannot be well understood, it would seem that it might be usefully learned.
All that part of this volume which is taken from my former works has been carefully revised and amended.
THEOPHILUS PARSONS. CAMBRIDGE, 1875.
OF THE POLITICAL RIGHTS OF A CITIZEN
OF THE UNITED STATES.
WHAT A CONSTITUTION IS.
The political rights of a citizen of the United States are defined, established, and protected by the Constitution of the United States, and the constitutions of the several States. Our first endeavor will be to ascertain what this word " constitution," when used in a political sense, means.
A constitution is that supreme law, which the nation itself makes, as the condition and the limitation of all the powers it will thereafter impart to its political servants. It is the guide which it gives to them all. It is the expression of the deliberate determination of the whole people, that the rights which it believes to lie at the foundation of all right, shall ever be preserved ; that certain principles, which are to be as the life and essence of all law, shall ever be maintained; and it divides and defines, and yet connects together, all the organic powers and functions of the State. It governs all legislative bodies in the exercise of their functions, for it is the law of the law of the nation. And when the constitution is thus formed, it is thereafter the supreme law of every citizen of the State, be he high or low, be it his office to make, to execute, or to judge of law, or only to assist in laying these duties upon others. To every man, and to every man alike, it is a supreme law.
The imperfect imitations of a constitution on the continent of Europe, and on this continent south of the Union, were never the expression or the creation of the deliberate reason and will of the people; they never were what constitutions should be, and nearly all of them have been torn into tatters.
We often read of the British Constitution. But Great Britain has no constitution. Let us suppose that, at the next session of the British Parliament, a rigorous censorship of the press is established, the Queen authorized to lay what taxes she will, on whom she will, and collect them as she will, the Habeas Corpus Act repealed, and all the ministers supplied with blank warrants under the privy seal, as it once was in France, which they may fill with any name, and by these means imprison any persons at their pleasure. And let us suppose that these laws pass through Parliament with precisely the same forms as those necessary for a statute to regulate the days of grace on bills of exchange, or to provide any other common mercantile or municipal measure. It is certain that no man in England would have a legal right to resist any one of these laws; and no court or magistrate in England would have a legal right to obstruct, or defeat, or annul them, or do any other thing than carry them at once into full force and effect. Of course, if the popular sentiment were not greatly changed, there would be opposition and effectual resistance somewhere. But it would be the opposition of rebellion or revolution, and not of legal right. But let any such law be passed by Congress and the President of the United States, or by the legislature and governor of any State, and it is only nothing. It is dead at its birth. The judicial body of the nation or the State is ready to declare it to be nothing. And the reason for all this is, that the law opposes the constitution, and, by the force of that fact, is nothing. If, in England, the word "constitution” may mean the whole complex of all their political and legal institutions, here it means something distinct from them all, something sovereign over them all, imparting life to all of them that live, and denying life and power to whatever opposes it.
The government of these United States is this day the strongest government in the world, for it is the organ of a nation endowed with self-government, and is invested with the nation's might, to be used for the nation's good, in whatever way may prove to be the best. It is the government of law, and its strength is in the Constitution. We are a nation that includes as wide a diversity of opinion, of sentiment, of character, and of interest, as of soil and climate. But over us all the Constitution bends like the universal sky, holding us all within its embrace, but lifted up too high for any one to reach it with a sacrilegious hand. Like the sky, it comes down as the beneficent air, which surrounds us at every step and at every moment, supplying us with the element of political life, and yet so soft, so yielding and invisible, that we do not think of it as we engage in the work or enjoy the happiness of every day. Soft, yielding, and invisible is this sweet air we breathe and live upon;