A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE GROWTH OF THE CONSTITUTION

The Constitution in Its Broadest Sense

WHEN an American uses the term "the Constitution" he usually has in mind the written fundamental instrument of the Federal government, framed at Philadelphia together with its amendments. This is, of course, a perfectly proper use of the word. The student of government must, however, also be familiar with that other meaning of the term "constitution" comprehensive enough in its scope to be applicable to governments of every kind and description, including those governments that have no written constitution whatever. Of this all-inclusive sense Edward M. Sait has written: "A constitution may be defined as the sum of laws and practices which regulate the fundamental concerns of government."1 A classic comment on this broader meaning of "constitution" is that of the late Judge T. M. Cooley: "We may think we have the Constitution all before us; but for practical purposes the Constitution is that which the government in its several departments and the people in the performance of their duties as citizens recognize and respect as such, and nothing else is. . . ." This, of course, would comprise far more than the Constitution of 1787 and its amendments.


Elements of the Constitution Today

In so far as our Constitution consists of "the sum total of the laws and practices that regulate the fundamental concerns of government," it stands today as the aggregate of five principal elements: first, the Constitution framed at Philadelphia in the summer of 1787; second, twenty-one amendments to the Constitution; third, the statutes enacted by Congress, particularly those dealing with the organization of the government and the

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1
Edward M. Sait: Government and Politics of France ( Yonkers-on-the-Hudson, 1920), p. 17.

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