Imatges de pàgina



INTRODUCTORY. A KNOWLEDGE of the history, organization, and principles of the government under which he lives, must be beneficial to every man, wheresoever he may dwell, and under whatsoever form of government his lot may have been cast, and may be regarded as peculiarly advantageous in free states, where every citizen must possess an influence more or less powerful in the administration of public affairs. It is obviously indispensable where the political rights of all are equal, and where the obscurest individual has a voice in the election of his rulers, and is himself eligible to the highest stations in the government.

It was, therefore, with reason, considered a defect in the prevailing systems of education, that the study of our constitutional jurisprudence should have been either altogether omitted, or deferred to that period of life when our youth are called on to participate in the active duties of society, or that it should have been regarded only as necessary to lawyers and politicians. For, however essential as is a profound knowledge of the Constitution to statesmen and jurists, some acquaintance with its principles and details must, in the opinion of all who entertain liberal views of public education, and correctly estimate their privileges as citizens, be requisite for those whose ambition rises no higher than the mere exercise of those privileges at elec

tions of their representatives in the government, without a wish themselves for political influence or public station. It is gratifying to find, however, that of late years a greater interest has been manifested among the more intelligent portion of the community with regard to the origin, structure, and principles of our political institutions. This certain ly evinces that one class, at least, of our citizens appreciates the value of our political system, and that so far, therefore, it is better understood.

But reason and common sense suggest that such information cannot be acquired too soon, and experience teaches us that it cannot be too widely diffused. The public interest and welfare, if not the stability of our political system, not less than the safety and happiness of individuals, and the security of their persons and property, require that, in common with other important branches of public education, the knowledge in question should be extended to every portion, and, if possible, to every member of the body politic.

Until lately, it was a reproach to our college that it sent forth its graduates more familiar with the constitution of the Roman Republic, and the principles of the Grecian confederacies, than with the fundamental laws of their own country. To remedy this evil, it was proposed to ingraft this new branch of study upon the general course pursued in this institution; but in preparing my lectures I shall not lose sight of their possible usefulness to foreigners ; for it will hardly be denied that more accurate information in regard to the organization and powers of the Federal Government is desirable in European statesmen, ministers, and lawyers, while their want of it is not only mortifying to our national pride, but prejudicial to our national interests. Much vexatious difficulty and fruitless negotiation would doubt

less have been prevented, had the public men of Great Britain and France been better informed in regard to them.

By way of introducing the subject to your notice, I shall present you with a rapid sketch of the origin and progress of the American Confederation, until it reached a result so auspicious as the establishment of the present Federal Constitution; and this historical review will, I trust, prove the more useful, as it will serve not only to exhibit the genius and practical excellence of the government, but also to facilitate the study of its organization and powers.

While the American people were subjects of the British crown, and the elder of these states were as yet British colonies, it was perceived that their union was essential to their safety and prosperity. Both general and partial associations were accordingly formed among them for temporary purposes, and on sudden emergencies, long before their permanent union to resist the claims and aggressions of the mother-country, a measure which produced the Rev. olution, and ended in the acknowledgment of the colonies as free and independent states. The common origin and interests of the New-England provinces, the similarity of their manners, laws, religious tenets, and civil institutions, naturally led to a more intimate connexion among themselves, and induced, at a very early period, the habit of confederating together for their common defence. These colonies, as far back as the year 1643, apprehending danger from the warlike and formidable tribes of Indians by which they were surrounded, entered into an offensive and defensive league, which they declared should be firm and perpetual, as well as that they should thenceforth be distinguished as “ The United Colonies of NewEngland” In this transaction, the provincial gove

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