International Executive Agreements: Democratic Procedure under the Constitution of the United States

By Wallace McClure | Go to book overview

Chapter 4 CONSTITUTIONAL USAGE IN GENERAL

IF THE Constitution cannot "stretch itself to the measure of the times," said Woodrow Wilson, more than fifty years ago,1 "it must be thrown off and left behind, as a by-gone device." In the same passage the discerning young political scientist, destined in later years to become President, remarked:

The Constitution itself is not a complete system; it takes none but the first steps in organization. It does little more than lay a foundation of principles. . . The growth of the nation and the consequent development of the governmental system would snap asunder a constitution which could not adapt itself to the new conditions of an advancing society.

There has been he further observed,

a constant growth of legislative and administrative practice, and a steady accretion of precedent in the management of federal affairs, which have broadened the sphere and altered the functions of the government without perceptibly affecting the vocabulary of our constitutional language.

These words, from a thinker who has been deemed worthy by one of his ablest contemporaries2 to be known as a Father of the Constitution in the broader sense of the term, because he "demonstrated the latent powers of the chief executive and set presidential leadership upon a new plane," have become more comprehensively true with each succeeding generation.

In the opening words of his chapter on "The Development of the Constitution by Usage," in The American Commonwealth,3 Lord Bryce indicates that such development may be accomplished by

. . . laying down rules on matters which are within its general scope, but have not been dealt with by its words, by the creation of machinery which it has not provided for the attainment of objects it contemplates, or, to vary the metaphor, by ploughing and planting ground

____________________
1
Congressional Government, pp. 7, 8, 9.
2
Munro, The Makers of the Unwritten Constitution, pp. 22, 23.
3
I, 392, et sqq.

-193-

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