“The Rights of the People” American Sentinel 11, 41, pp. 325, 326.

October 15, 1896

WHEN the servants of the people who have been selected and sworn for the sole purpose of maintaining the constitutional provisions which the people have established for the security of their rights, fail so completely to do what they have been appointed to do, and really subvert the Constitution instead of supporting it, then the right to do this themselves, in their own proper persons, rests by a double tenure with the people.

First, it is always the right and just prerogative of the people to set the actions of these servants alongside of the Constitution and judge whether they have indeed supported it or failed to support it. Remember the words of Dickinson, that “the people must restore things to that order from which their functionaries have departed;” and of Wilson, that “the supreme power resides in the people, and they never part with it;” the words of Bryce, that “the people censure any interpretation which palpably departs from the old lines;” and the words of Lincoln, that “the people of these United States are the rightful masters of both Congresses and courts; not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”

This right rests always with the people, for them freely to exercise. But when the agents which they have appointed for the very purpose of detecting unconstitutional laws and protecting the people from their injustice—when these agents themselves not only fail to do this, but actually aid in fastening unconstitutional statutes upon the people, then the right of the people to test the statutes by the Constitution, being “incapable of annihilation,” returns to the people, and rests with them, by additional tenure, and it then of right devolves upon the people, themselves and for themselves, and each one for himself, to decide the case, declare such law unconstitutional and void, and treat it so in all their actions.

This is not to say, nor even to imply, that every man is at liberty to disregard, or disrespect, whatever action of the government he may not personally agree with. It is to say that it is absolutely incumbent on every citizen to be so well read in the Constitution and the Declaration that he shall know for himself the limitations upon the government, and act accordingly. Every citizen must hold himself, as well as the government, strictly to the Constitution. The Constitution is a limitation, not, indeed, upon the power of the people, except in the prescribed way, but [326] upon the passions and caprices of the people. This is sound American principle. It is the fundamental principle of a government of the people. Let it not be forgotten that one of the chief fathers of this nation, Alexander Hamilton, in persuading the ratification of the Constitution, declared that—

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society…. In a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.—Federalist L.I.

And another of these, James Madison, nobly said:—

An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits.—Federalist XLVIII.

And when the agents of the people, appointed under the forms of constitutional government, take the very unconstitutional course that brings about just the anarchy and elective despotism here pointed out, then it is the right of the people, by this double tenure, to see to it that such unconstitutional laws and proceedings are disregarded, and the Constitution made to prevail.—Alonzo T. Jones, inRights of the People,” 1895, pp. 258-260.

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