« AnteriorContinuar »
THERE is no sentiment that ever gained more universal acceptance among the people of this country, than that contained in the following words : “ If our form of government can be preserved, it must be done by the intelligence and virtue of the people.”
Few, if any, have ever gainsaid this proposition, or doubted its truth, yet many have doubted the permanence of our institutions : and these doubts arise from their lack of confidence in the intelligence and rectitude of a majority of the people.
These fears are not entirely groundless, in view of the common rule of judging the future by the past; for every observer of the political actions of our people, knows that many things have been done by parties and individuals, that demonstrate the lamentable destitution of one, if not both these elements of safety. Some have intelligence, but very little virtue-others have virtue, but very little intelligence : and some have neither. Now when either of these classes, or all of them combined, bear rule, mischief must follow, and a complete overthrow may be the result.
A general knowledge of the principles and operations of our government, is a part—but by no means all-of that intelligence which is so universally admitted to be necessary to the preservation of it.
But it is no easy task for a young man to gain such an understanding of these things as will qualify him to act his part well, when he arrives at the age which allows him to enter upon his duties as a citizen of the republic, to hold-it may be-official positions in it, or at least to vote understandingly for those who sball administer its affairs.
And it is matter of some surprise that no one has taken it in hand, long before this, to write something of the nature of a text book, in which these things may be found arranged and explained, in so simple and plain a form, as to give the reader a general and comprehensive idea of the structure, institutions and plan of operating the government under which he lives. In no country is such knowledge of so great importance as in ours, where every citizen may make his influence felt in the administration of public affairs, and where that influence always tells for good or evil. Our education is very deficient if it does not embrace a knowledge of the scheme of government; and it seems to us that it is as proper a subject for the instruction of the
school-room as many others which are taught there. But if this is neglected, certainly the young man ought not to be left to pick up this knowledge, here a little and there a little, in detached portions, as he may chance to find it scattered through books, newspapers, public speeches and casual conversations; yet these are the only sources from which nine-tenths of the people have gained all they know of the political affairs of their own country; and what is thus gained is rarely acquired till middle life, and in a majority of cases not until a later period.
By these reasons we have been prompted to write the book before you, in order to place these matters, in compact and methodical form, within the reach of every one who desires to understand them. We have aimed throughout at plainness and perspicuity; not avoiding repetition whenever the subject tre ed of could be made plainer by its use. Statements will be found in one connection, and again in another, whenever the fact stated appeared to be especially applicable to the subject under consideration.
We think that an attentive perusal of these chapters will give the reader a correct idea of the organization and mode of operating the United States Government, together with an insight into the machinery by which it is done. When this is acquired, it becomes an easy task to understand the government of the thirty-seven States which compose one great Confederated Union, and to comprehend the fact that every person in the United States lives under two separate and distinct governments, and is amenable to two different codes of laws; first, that of the State in which he resides, and second, that of the United States, commonly termed the General Government. Much in both is analagous, especially the legislative and judicial proceedings. The wisdom of the framers of our Constitution adjusted these IMPERII IN IMPERIO-governments within a government, so that all work harmoniously, and with very little friction, or conflict of authority.
We have not treated of the State governments, nor could we have done so without going far beyond the limits assigned to this work. Each State is noticed, however, in some remarks, as to the time of its entrance into the Union, its size, population, circuits and districts, as prescribed by the laws of Congress. But this is to show their relations to the entire Union, and the relative influence and power they have as various parts of one great whole.