The "Higher Law" Background of American Constitutional Law

By Edward S. Corwin | Go to book overview
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Prefatory Note

THE hard core of the American tradition is a belief in constitutional government. When the American pledges his allegiance to democracy, as he so often must in this age that mingles triumph and frustration, he means constitutional democracy, a system of government in which political power is diffused by a written constitution and the wielders of power are held in check by the rule of law. In his opinion, there is no inherent conflict between democracy and constitutionalism. The latter is simply a guarantee that the former will be carried on through safe, sober, predictable methods. Since men, even the thrice-blessed Americans, can always be led into temptation and thence into corruption by the taste and touch of power, they must agree to govern themselves under self-imposed restraints or lose their freedom. And since democracy is based on common agreement to proceed slowly through discussion and compromise and to avoid bold steps that cannot be retraced, they must recognize that the complex of ideas and procedures known as "constitutionalism" strengthens rather than frustrates the democratic process.

The American, like men of other nations and cultures, expresses his most precious beliefs with the help of symbols. The symbol of his constitutionalism, and its instrument as well, is

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