THE following from Harper’s Weekly, of December 8, we republish as an important piece of news, as well as for the worth of the discussion itself:—
“Attorney-General Griggs is quite sure that the Constitution will have no application to the territories of the United States acquired by the war, beyond the grant to Congress to make only needful rules and regulations respecting the territory of the United States. In making these rules and regulations, according to Attorney-General Griggs, Congress is not bound by any of the limitations imposed by the Constitution upon the exercise of its power over the States.
“It is true that Congress has, in general, although not always acquired from the original States, by conquest, or by purchase; and it has never attempted to deprive the citizens of our territories of any of the fundamental personal rights which seem to be guaranteed by the Constitution. But the time is evidently at hand when a strong party in the nation will make a point of insisting that territories may be ruled by Congress outside of the Constitution, and even against the instrument which Mr. Gladstone declared to be the most perfect of human political institutions made at a single moment.
“It is not so long ago that this great instrument, for it is very great, was established and ordained. In the life of the nation the time that has elapsed between the days of our fathers and our own days is but an instant. Times have not so changed, men have not so developed, conditions have not so revolutionized, that the essential truths of the eighteenth century have lost their character in the nineteenth. What was true as a political institution in 1789 is true to-day; and this is recognized even by those who are contending that the Constitution will not apply to the Philippines, or to Puerto Rico, or to Hawaii, although it is impossible to believe that they still recognize the truths of the Declaration of Independence.
“The theory that all governments ought to exist by the consent of the governed has been dropped, but the belief holds that the Constitution did not establish a government capable of ruling over distant territories and alien peoples. Therefore it is that Attorney-General Griggs and other expansionists take the ground that the new colonies lie outside of the Constitution, and may be ruled without regard to its provisions, whether these limit the powers of Congress, define the jurisdiction of courts, or guard the rights of the individual.
“If the Constitution does not apply or does not rule, what power is the last resort? Congress undoubtedly. If Congress possess the necessary two-thirds vote to override the President, it may establish governments for those distant islands in which the executive and judicial powers of the federal authority will have no place. Even without such a vote, its will, perhaps, must be a law; for to it alone is given the power to rule and regulate territory, and Attorney-General Griggs, and those who think as he does, may successfully contend that the President has not the power to veto an act establishing a fundamental government, or legislation of any sort, for a territory. If they are right, then it follows that taxes and imposts collected in the Philippines and in other colonies need not be uniform with those collected at home. A despotic form of government may be established within the law. Even a king may be set up if Congress thinks well of kings for distant savages. The blessings of the writ of habeas corpus may not be extended to our subjects. The right to trial by jury may not be granted to them. Their houses may be searched at the will of any United States official, important or petty. They may be legally arrested without warrant, their liberty and property may be taken away from them without due process of law or without just compensation. They may be denied the right to bear arms. The forms of justice common to civilized lands may be refused them, and judicial functions may be lodged in the hands of the executive.
“We do not contend that the rights which the Anglo-Saxons wrung from the king at Runnymede, and which are preserved as sacred in every American constitution, Federal and State, are to be bestowed carelessly upon barbarians; but we are simply pointing out that when our Government was formed certain rights were regarded as fundamental and essential, and an equal as well as a just rule was to be the central idea of the new republic. It is now discovered that the Constitution is incompatible with the government of colonies of savages, and naturally the effort is being made to evade or destroy it, and to place absolute power in the hands of Congress. Practically, the question, as presented by Mr. Griggs, is, Shall we beat the Constitution by interpretation, or shall we amend it frankly, if we can, and remain a constitutional power a little longer?”
When the Government of the United States reaches the point where it seriously proposes, and sets about, to govern anybody without the Constitution it will be in principle no different from Russia. All that Russia does is to govern without a constitution.
That the chief law officers of the Untied States should take such a position is ominous enough. Yet since the Declaration of Independence has been renounced, it is not at all surprising that the Constitution should be abandoned. These two documents belong together. And the same spirit that will set aside the Declaration of Independence, is at once ready to abandon the Constitution. The United States is fast repudiating every principle of a republican government.
Harper’s Weekly, of December 24, says that the above is a mistake as to Attorney-General Griggs, but is all true “of many expansionists, if not of Attorney-General Griggs.” The Weekly was misled by an “interview published in a daily newspaper.” As this is the opinion of many expansionists, the principle is worthy of serious consideration even though the attorney-general has not so expressed himself.
A. T. J.