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THE WOMAN VOTER'S
A GOVERNMENT which receives its powers from the people is a democratic or popular government, and a state in which popular government prevails is a democracy. The United States is a democracy, for here political power everywhere flows from the people. The President of the United States, the Congress, and the national Supreme Court, all receive their powers from the Constitution of the United States, and this Constitution is a creation of the people (1)1 of the United States; the government of a State ? receives its powers from the people of the State; a city or a town or a county is governed by the people who reside within its borders. Thus in the United States the will of the people prevails not only in the country taken as a whole but in all its parts as well. This is the fundamental principle of the American government.
1 The numbers in heavy-faced type refer to passages in the Constitution of the United States (Appendix A) which are distinguished by corresponding nun on the margin.
2 In this book when the word "state" begins with a capital letter one of the members of the American Union is meant.
A popular government may have the form either of a pure democracy or of a representative government. In a pure democracy the voters transact the business of government in person; they not only choose the officers of government but they enact laws as well. A representative government is a popular government in which power is exercised by chosen agents (representatives of the people, instead of being exercised directly by the people. A country which is governed by representatives elected by the people is a representative democracy or republic. In a representative democracy the people rule no less than in a pure democracy, but they rule indirectly.
The United States is a representative democracy. Our President and our governors and mayors and, in most instances, our judges, are chosen agents of the people. The officers of government who are not directly elected by the people are appointed by direct representatives, and are thus not far removed from the voters.
The people of a free state will not confer all the power of government upon one person, or upon one body of persons. Experience has taught that it is better to divide governmental power into three portions, and to establish three departments of government, allotting to each department its own peculiar portion. The three departments of a popular government are: (1) The legislative department, upon which is conferred the power of making laws; (2)
the judicial department, which is entrusted with the power of deciding how the law shall apply in particular cases when disputes arise; (3) the erecutive department, which is vested with the power of enforcing laws.
A government may be democratic in form and spirit, it may be thoroughly representative, it may have the three branches clearly separated, and still there may be no guarantee that civil liberty will be permanently enjoyed. For officers of government are liable to abuse power, or to choose a wrong or unjust course of action. Americans have been taught by experience that rights may be safeguarded and civil liberty preserved by imposing upon themselves a fundamental law in the form of a written constitution.
The fundamental law of our country, taken as a whole, is the Constitution of the United States. Each State also has a constitution which it has framed for itself. Government in America, therefore, is everywhere conducted according to the written word; it is everywhere constitutional.
The first American constitutions were promulgated in the name of the people, yet they were not as a rule the direct creations of the people. The statesmen who framed them did not have a very strong faith in the wisdom of the people, and were not quite willing to submit a fundamental law to a popular vote. As democracy grew more fashionable, and as the people came to be more fully recognized as the real masters of government, the custom of submitting constitutions to voters for their approval became general. At the present time a constitution is usually ratified by the people at the polls before it is put into operation. This popular ratification clothes the constitution with all the authority that a law can possibly have, for it is a law passed by the people themselves acting as legislators. A constitution, therefore, is a solemn and deliberate expression of the popular will, and as such it is a fixed, permanent law which all citizens and all officers of government must obey.
Although a constitution is a fixed law, it may not remain unchanged forever. A provision in a constitution which was wise and just fifty years ago may be harmful now. Every constitution recognizes this fact, and provides for making changes, when these may seem necessary. These changes or amendments are effected in various ways, the usual procedure being as follows: the amendment that is thought to be desirable first passes the legislature of the State and is then submitted to the people for their approval. If it receives the required number of votes—frequently a majority of all the votes cast-it becomes a part of the constitution and cannot be repealed by the legislature.
Constitutions provide not only for their own amendment, but also for their own complete revision. They provide for the calling of a constitutional convention, which shall have power to revise the old constitution and frame a new one. A general revision of a State constitution is usually accomplished in the following way: The legislature submits to the people the ques
tion whether or not a convention shall be called to frame a new constitution. In several States this question must be submitted to the voters every twenty years; in Michigan it must be submitted every sixteen years; in Iowa every ten years. If the vote is in favor of a convention, delegates are elected, and the work of revision begins. It is the custom to submit the revised constitution to the people for their approval, although this is not always done.
There are four processes by which the Constitution of the United States may be amended. These are: (1) and (2) Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both houses, may submit an amendment to the States for ratification (122) and if the amendment thus submitted is ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States, or by Conventions in three-fourths of the States, it becomes a part of the Constitution; (3) and (4) a national Constitutional Convention, called by Congress upon the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the States, may submit an amendment to the States for ratification and if the amendment thus submitted is ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States, or by Conventions in three-fourths of the States, it becomes a part of the Constitution (123).