A POLITICAL party in Maine—which one is not a material question here—at its State convention held recently adopted resolutions in which it is stated that—
“Congress may be safely depended upon to secure to all who accept its sovereignty the blessings of a just government and a progressive civilization.”
The noteworthy point in this is the idea it puts forth of the sovereignty of Congress. This is strange political doctrine for this country. If Congress is the sovereign, what are the people? It has been understood heretofore that the sovereignty of the United States resides in the people, and the Congress has only such power and authority as are expressly granted to it by the Constitution. Now we have it plainly asserted that Congress possess sovereignty in itself.
If this were the first appearance of the doctrine of sovereignty in the United States other than that of the people, it might be taken for a mere mental slip on the part of its authors. But this doctrine has become too prominent to warrant such a view of this assertion of congressional sovereignty. For years there has been a plain tendency towards the transference of power from the people to certain classes and parties in the Government, to such a degree as even to suggest the coming of an absolute monarchy. We are hearing of “government without the Constitution” and even of “government by a single mind” as conditions at which, if realized here, the American people should not be greatly surprised. And with this the idea of the sovereignty of Congress is in perfect harmony.
The people do not appreciate the importance of retaining the sovereignty in their own hands. They are, for the most part, absorbed in getting rich, as Jefferson prophesied would be the case; and unscrupulous men of ambition, realizing their opportunity, are robbing them of their power and undermining the structure of American constitutional government.
“Government without the Constitution,” and the “sovereignty of Congress” are expressions meaning one and the same thing. The Constitution is the rule of government declared by “we, the people of the United States.” The “sovereignty” of Congress must necessarily exist outside the Constitution; and it can exist at all only by superseding the sovereignty of the people and setting aside the Constitution; for this country, like the world in Alexander’s day, “does not admit of two suns or two sovereigns.” Shall the sovereignty remain in the people? or shall it be transferred from the many to a few—to Congress, then to a clique, to a triumvirate, and finally to an emperor? This is no idle question. It is one to which the American people must give an answer.