Page images







Address delivered before the Political and Social Education League, May 13th, 1903.


INVITE your attention to a brief study of the Supreme Court of the United States, a cardinal feature of our Federal representative Government, balancing and harmonizing all its parts, a tribunal which has received the general approval and admiration of foreign Jurists and Statesmen, and commands the universal respect and confidence of the people for whom it administers justice.

The Federal Convention of 1787, which framed our Constitution and created this unique Tribunal, was composed mostly of members of the legal profession, which has always in America been the chief nursery of Statesmen; but Washington, the soldier, presided, and Franklin, the philosopher, advised at every step. The members of the Convention were undoubtedly chosen from the best qualified men that the country could furnish for the momentous work which was set before them, and their merits have been so universally recognized that I need not repeat any of

the emphatic tributes which many great Englishmen have paid to the results of their labors.

Their work was finished in four months' secret session at Philadelphia, but most of them had been in training for it through twenty long years of trial and trouble.

From 1765, the time of the passage of the Stamp Act, which was passed through both Houses of Parliament with little opposition, the Colonists, and especially the lawyers of the Colonies, had been careful and earnest students of the principles of free government.

In 1774, having exhausted in vain all appeals to King and Parliament for a redress of their grievances, they sent delegates to a Continental Congress to deliberate on the state of public affairs, and in this Congress, which lasted for seven years, many of the future framers of the Constitution who were members of it found a most instructive school of statesmanship, and constantly devoted themselves to the social and political education of the Colonists in matters of government and of public law and popular rights.

In 1776, as the representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions, they did, " in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are, and of right ought to be, absolved from all alle

giance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." They declared "that as free and independent States they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do," and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, they mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.


From the hour of the Declaration, the men who made it, and all the other Statesmen of the Colonies, had to give renewed and constant study to the whole science of government.

As they proved able by force of arms to make good this declaration, the United Colonies became from its date a new Nation, over which Congress, by general consent and acquiescence, exercised the powers of a general Government, for all the purposes of the very serious exigency which had called it into existence. But it was a Government by Congress only, with feeble and undefined powers, without an Executive and without a Judiciary. While the war lasted it barely sufficed, and afforded daily object lessons of its own defects, and of what was required for a better Government when better days should come.

The several individual States, being absolved from the Royal Charters under which they had before practically managed their own affairs,

« PreviousContinue »