The Foundations of American Nationality

By Evarts Boutell Greene | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV
REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLES IN RECONSTRUCTION

THE American commonwealths began their independent existence with great natural resources; but their prosperous development still depended in part on the kind of political institutions they could establish to replace the old colonial system. In the storm and stress of the Revolution, one state after another expressed its ideals and tried to provide for its own special needs by the adoption of a state constitution. Imperfect as these early experiments in self- government were, they were notable contributions to the science and art of politics. As such they attracted attention abroad, especially in France, where they were translated and widely read.

Constitution making in the states.

The new state constitutions began with the principle that all just governments rest on the consent of the governed and that the permanent will of the people should be expressed in a fundamental written law. These constitutions were adopted in various ways, sometimes as in Virginia by a revolutionary assembly originally chosen for a very different purpose. In 1780, however, Massachusetts inaugurated substantially the method now prevailing of having the constitution framed by a convention chosen for that specific purpose by the voters themselves, to whom it was submitted for their approval. These constitutions generally took for granted certain fundamental rights which could not be abridged or taken away even by the lawmaking power. In colonial times Americans had been accustomed to having acts of their assemblies annulled by the English Privy Council on the

Methods of adoption.

Unconstitutional legislation and the courts.

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