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It is regarded as appropriate for the courts, and, as a matter entitled to their most careful consideration, in giving construction to the constitution; to look back at the situation of the country at the time, and antecedent to the time of its adoption; to look at its then existing institutions, at the existence and operations of the then state governments, at the powers and workings of the old confederation, and at all other circumstances which had a tendency to produce or obstruct its formation and ratification; a and it is also held, that contemporary history and contemporary interpretation may be called in to aid in arriving at just conclusions. b
"The safest rule of interpretation, will be found to be, to look into the nature and object of the particular powers, duties and rights, with all the lights and aids of contemporary history, and to give to the words of each, just such operation and force consistent with their legitimate meaning, as may fairly secure, and attain the ends proposed.c It will indeed, probably be found, when we look into the character of the constitution itself, the objects which it seeks to obtain, the powers which it confers, the duties which it enjoins, and the rights which it secures, as well as the known historical fact that many of its provisions were matters of compromise of opposing interests and opinions, that no uniform rule of interpretation can be applied to it which may not allow, if it does not positively demand, many modifications in its actual application to particular clauses."
While these aids of contemporary history and construction may be resorted to to illustrate and confirm the text, to explain a doubtful phrase, or to expound an obscure clause, they must be resorted to with great reserve and much qualification. They cannot abrogate the text; they can never fritter away the obvious sense; they can never narrow down its true limitations; they can never enlarge its natural boundaries. d The private interpretation of any particular man, must manifestly be open to much objection. The constitution was adopted by the whole people; the whole of which, was submitted as it stood in the text to the whole people who are to be presumed to have adopted it upon a just examina
a Story, § 405.
b Stuart v.
Laird, 2 Cranch. 309.
e Bigg v. Commonwealth of Penn. 16 Pet. R. 610; Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 418, per Marshall, Ch. J. d Story on Constitution, §§ 406-407.
tion of its provisions. Doubtless, in different states, different objections were raised, and different opinions may have prevailed as a reason for its adoption; and there is no certainty that different states, or conventions, gave the same uniform interpretation to its language; or that the same reasoning prevailed with a majority of any one state who supported and adopted it. Therefore the difficulty, not to say dangers, of attempting to resort to opinions of those who either assisted in forming or adopting it. Some may have implied limitations and objects, which others would have rejected, and the latter may have favored its ratification by implying entire's, lenitations and powers, from the same language of the text.
Some may have taken a cursory view of its enactments, and others have studied them with profound attention; some may have been goned by a temporary interest or excitement, and have acted on that exposition which most favored their present views; other, may have seen lurking beneath its text, what commended it
eir judgment against even present interests. Some may have erpreted its language strictly and closely, others from a differat habit of thinking, have given to it a large and liberal meaning. it is not to be presumed, that even the convention that framed it, that every sentence and expression was always understood in precisely the same sense. Every member necessarily judged for himself, and the judgment of no one could, or ought to be conclusive upon that of others. Nothing but the text itself was adopted by the people. a
The first general rule of interpretation laid down by Story, to be drawn from the nature of the instrument, is, "It is to be construed as a frame, or fundamental law of government, established by the people of the United States, according to their own free pleasure and sovereign will. In this respect it is in no wise distinguishable from the constitutions of the state governments.
Each of these are established by the people for their own purposes, and each is founded on their supreme authority. The powers which are conferred, the restrictions which are imposed, the authorities which are exercised, the organization and distribution thereof which are provided, are, in each case for the same object, a Story on Const., § 406.
the common benefit of the governed, and not for the profit or dignity of the rulers." a
When it is said, that the constitution of the United States should be construed strictly, viewed as a social compact whenever it touches the rights of property, or of personal security, or liberty; he rule is equally applicable to the state constitutions in like The principle upon which this interpretation rests, if it has any foundation, must be, that the people ought not to be presumed. to yield up their rights of property or liberty beyond what is the clear sense of the language and the objects of the constitution.
All governments are founded upon a surrender of some natural rights; and they impose some restrictions. Therefore-in construing a constitution of government, framed by the people for their own benefit and protection, for the preservation of their rights, and property, and liberty, where the delegated powers are not, and cannot be used for the benefit of their rulers who are but their temporary servants and agents, but are intended solely for the benefit of the people, no presumption arises of an intention to use the words of the constitution in the most restricted sense. The strict, or most extended sense, being equally within the letter, may be fairly held to be within their intention, as either shall best promote the very objects of the people in the grant, and as either shall best promote or secure their rights, property or liberty. b
"The words, are not, indeed, to be stretched beyond their fair sense; but within that range, the rule of interpretation must be taken which best follows out the apparent intention." c This is the mode (it is believed), universally adopted in construeing the state constitutions. It has its origin in common sense. And it can never be an object of just jealousy, because the rulers can have no permanent interest in a free government distinct from that of the people, of whom they are a part, and to whom they are responsible.
This view, is in no danger of producing a conflict between the ederal and the state governments, for if the powers of the general government are of paramount and supreme obligation; if they constitute the supreme law of the land; no conflict as to obedience
c Rawle on Constitution, Ch. 7, p. 31.
a Story, § 409.
b Story on Constitution, § 413.
can be found. Whenever the question arises, as to whom obedience is due, it is to be judicially settled; and being settled, it regulates at once, the rights and duties of all the citizens.
Thus adopting a uniform rule of interpretation for national and state constitutions, neither is to be construed alone, or without reference to the other. Each belongs to the same system of government; each is limited in its power; and within the scope of its powers, each is supreme. Each by the theory of our government is essential to the existence and due preservation of the powers and obligations of the other. The destruction of either would be equally calamitous, since it would involve the ruin of that beautiful fabric of balanced government which has been reared with so much care and wisdom, and in which the people have reposed their confidence, as the truest safeguard of their civil, religious and political liberties. a
In McCulloch v. Maryland, b Chief Justice Marshall said, "The government of the Union is emphatically a government of the people. In form and substance it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them and for their benefit." "But the question respecting the extent of the powers, actually granted, is perpetually arising, and probably will continue to arise as long as our system shall exist." "In discussing these questions, the conflicting powers of the general and state governments must be brought into view, and the supremacy of their respective laws, when they are in opposition, must be settled." "If any one proposition could command the universal assent of mankind, we might expect it would be this-that the government of the Union, though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action. This would seem to result from its nature. It is the government of all; its powers are delegated by all; it represents all; and acts for all."
Judge Story, in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, c says, "the constitution of the United States was ordained and established, not by the states in their sovereign capacities, but emphatically as its preamble declares, by the people of the United States. There can be no doubt that it was competent for the people to invest a Story on Constitution, § 416, Federalist, No. 37. b 4 Wheat. 404-5.
c 1 Wheat. 324
the general government with all the powers which they might deem proper and necessary; to extend or restrain these powers according to their own good pleasure, and to give them a paramount and supreme authority. As little doubt can there be, that the people had the right to prohibit to the states the exercise of any powers which were in their judgment incompatible with the objects of the general compact; to make the power of the state governments, in given cases, subordinate to those of the nation, or to reserve to themselves those sovereign authorities which they might not choose to delegate to either. The constitution was not therefore necessarily carved out of the existing state sovereignties, nor a surrender of powers already existing in the state institutions, for the powers of the states depend upon their own constitutions; and the people of every state had the right to modify and restrain them according to their own views of policy or principle. On the other hand it is perfectly clear, that the sovereign powers vested in the state governments, by their respective constitutions, remained unaltered and unimpaired, except so far as they were granted to the government of the United States."
The government of the United States then, it is seen, is limited in its powers. It can exercise no power not conferred by the constitution, either in express terms, or by necessary implication. Like every other grant, this instrument is to have reasonable construction according to the import of its terms, and words are to be taken in their natural sense, not unreasonably restricted or enlarged.
The severest struggles, and most earnest controversies that have arisen, and which the courts have been called upon to settle, are such as have arisen between the advocates of the different theories of construction; between the two extremes; the advocates of a narrow and strict construction, and those of a more enlarged and liberal one. Each extreme perhaps equally dangerous and impracticable. Such as contend for the narrowest construction, that of confining the government to such powers as the express letter of its language imports, would cripple its powers and render it unequal to the objects for which it was instituted; the other extreme would by construction, so enlarge and extend the meaning of words beyond their natural and obvious import, as to destroy