Knowledge of our Government.

KNOWLEDGE of the nature and operation of the government under which we live is necessary for the successful prosecution of the business of life, and to secure the happiness of ourselves and of those dependent upon us. We can thus adapt ourselves to the circumstances in which we are placed, and avoid those perplexities and difficulties in which one ignorant of the laws and institutions of his country is liable to be involved. The fact that a man is subject to a government is a sufficient reason for studying its character and workings, although he may have no participation in its management.

In a republican government the importance of such knowledge is still greater, because the people are not only amenable to the laws, but also have a voice in electing those who make and execute them. He who lives under a despotism should acquaint himself with its character and workings for his own protection; a citizen of a republic should do the same, because he is to some extent responsible for the government.

Until within the last few years, Americans have been lamentably ignorant of their National government, both as to its history

and its operation. The War of the Rebellion, which could hardly have occurred had the whole people understood the true relation of the States to the National government, has had the effect to direct attention to governmental questions. There is probably a stronger desire for such knowledge now than at any previous time, and a corresponding demand for the introduction of such studies into all our schools of higher grade.

Two circumstances facilitate the acquisition of a competent knowledge of our government. First, our national existence extends over a comparatively brief period. But little more than a hundred years have passed since we became an independent people, while most of the civilized nations of the world have had a long and checkered history. Secondly, our Constitution is a written instrument, framed with the utmost care, and adopted by the people after the most careful deliberation. No other nation has a constitution that can compare with it, either in its comprehensiveness and completeness of subject, or in the precision of its language.

of Civil

The object of civil government can not be better expressed than in the words of our Constitution. It is to establish jusThe Object tice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and Government. secure the blessings of liberty." These were the express ends to secure which the people of the United States ordained and established our National Constitution. These are the ends which all governments, of whatever form, are under obligation to seek. Civil governments are not established for the good of the rulers, but for the good of the people. They are not for the good of one or a few, at the expense of the others, but for the good of all. The general good could not be secured without government. Civil government is thus a necessity. Without it, justice could not be established, or domestic tranquillity insured, or the common defense provided for, or the general welfare promoted, or the blessings of liberty secured.




Law is the guardian of liberty. Without law there would be no liberty, but in its stead, anarchy. One object of civil gov. ernment is to protect us in our rights. It does this by restraining those who would interfere with these rights. Civil government is thus rendered necessary by the disposition of some to do wrong to others, and it can not be dispensed with so long as this disposition to interfere with the rights of others continues.



But government is not merely repressive. Its necessity is not wholly owing to the fact that there are wicked men in every community. Law and government are essential for Is More the good as well as for the bad. The "general welfare" is to be promoted, as well as the individual to be protected in his rights. There are many things to be done for the advancement of a nation, which could not be done without that combination and co-operation which are found only in governments. Science and art are to be fostered, education is to be encouraged, civilization to be advanced. Government has thus more to do than to restrain violence, to redress wrongs, and to punish the transgressor. There is government in heaven as well as on earth.

Is not a Necessary


It is sometimes said that government is a necessary evil; and that that government is best which governs least. The tendency of such language is to excite distrust and aversion, whereas governments should be respected, obeyed, and loved. A government founded in justice and administered with wisdom is always a good. Were government a necessary evil, it would be impossible to account for the existence and strength of patriotism. The love of country, which is stronger than the love of kindred, or any other of the natural affections, is itself a proof that by nature we regard government as a good and not as an evil. There may be abuses, but men look forward to the time when they will be remedied. That is not the best government which governs least; though, other things being equal, that may be the best which makes the least show of governing. A wise ruler, whether in the family

or the state, will never give needless prominence to the fact that he is a ruler, while an unwise ruler is disposed to make a display of his authority. In a good government, if the law is broken punishment must follow; but the better the government, the less will be the tendency to break the law, and therefore the less the necessity of inflicting punishment. In a well-regulated school or family we see no manifestation of government, and apparently no government is needed; but this apparent absence of government is itself a proof of the excellent manner in which the government is administered.

Society is the natural state of man. His whole constitution shows that the intention of his Maker was that he should live in Society the


society and under government. History testifies that such has been the case from the beginning.


every age, and in every part of the earth, men have lived together in families, tribes, nations. They have been under some authority. Civil society is thus a universal fact. It is not the result of any agreement among men, but it is the natural working out of the human constitution. We are born into the nation as into the family. We do not make society,— we find it already existing. We are to obey the laws of the land because they are the laws, just as the child is to obey the law of the family. In neither case is any consent asked.

It is not correct to say that civil society derives its authority through any compact or agreement, for then the power possessed Civil Author- by society would be limited to that received from ity not from the individual men composing the society. But the any Compact. powers of government include those which never belonged to the individual man, and therefore could never have been conferred by him upon society. Indeed, if there ever was a state of nature, as some have supposed, prior to the existence of civil society, when men lived without government, all possessing equal rights, there could manifestly have been no right to govern, since no one could have had authority over another who was his equal. Men can not give what they do not possess,

and society could never obtain its right to govern from the individual citizens, since they never had such a right.

Suppose, however, that this idea of a state of nature antecedent to civil society were fact and not fiction, and that men lived without government, all possessing equal rights; what is to be done with those who do not choose to give up their rights? Plainly, the majority could have no authority to coerce the minority, and government would be an impossibility. Nor could one generation bind the one succeeding it; and each newborn citizen would be rightfully independent of all governmental control until his individual rights should be voluntarily deposited in the common stock.

The authority of civil society is not, then, derived from the individal citizens composing that society. They surrender nothing; society receives nothing. The fallacy in the theory of the "social compact," considered as an explanation of the origin of civil government, consists in confounding men as individuals with men as constituting a community. Wherever an independent community of men can be found, there is already civil society. There is no necessity for men to surrender a part of their rights in order to form a basis for authority; the authority exists without any such surrender. In society, man has all the rights which he could have in any state of nature, if any such state of nature out of society can be conceived of. As has already been said, society is the natural state of man.

Society of Divine Origin.

Hence, society is of divine origin. It is the intention of our Creator that we should live in society and under government, as it is that the race should be grouped into families, and the child be subject to his parents. "The powers that be are ordained of God." "There is no power but of God." No individual man has any divine right to be a king; but as civil government is of divine origin, society has a divine right to have rulers. Whoever, therefore, exercises legitimately any function of the civil ruler, whether he be king or president, legislator or judge, is exercising an

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