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The following sheets are submitted to the Public in consequence of a resolution of" The American Lyceum," requesting the Author "to prepare and publish 'Outlines of the Constitutional Jurisprudence of the United States,' in a form suitable for a text book for Lectures, and a class book to be used in Academies and Common Schools."
This resolution avowedly originated from a conviction, on the part of the respectable body who adopted it, of the advantage and propriety of including the study of our political institutions in the system of general education; and the proposal seems to have been prompted by the opinion or experience of the individuals by whom it was brought forward, and who are practically engaged in the instruction of youth, that none of the existing Treatises upon Constitutional Law, were of a sufficiently popular character for the design contemplated; whilst the selection of the Author to compile such a work, is doubtless to be ascribed to his official connection with the "Lyceum," and to the circumstance of his having, to the knowledge of several of its members, been for some time previously engaged in lecturing upon Constitutional Jurisprudence in the College over which he has the honour to preside.
It was indeed at his suggestion that this branch of study had been added to the subgraduate course of instruction in that Institution, and the duty of conducting it confided to his charge; and it was with peculiar satisfaction, though not without a due sense of its responsibility, that he had engaged in a task which, grateful as it was to him from its congeniality with his former studies and pursuits, he nevertheless apprehended would prove arduous in its execution, both from the nature of the subject, and his own views of its importance.
A knowledge of the history, organization, and principles of the political institutions under which he lives, is essential to the scholar, and must necessarily be advantageous to every man, wheresoever he may have been born, and under whatsoever form of government he may dwell. But it is obviously of more immediate necessity and benefit in free States, where every citizen may exercise a voice, more or less potential, in the administration of public affairs; and it may even be deemed indispensable in our own favoured land, where the political rights of all are equal, and where the obscurest individual is eligible to the highest and most responsible stations in the government. It may therefore well be regarded as a defect in the prevailing systems of education, that this study should so generally have been either altogether omitted, or deferred to that period Of life when our youth are called on to participate in the active duties of society; or that it should be considered appropriate to those only who are designed for a particular profession, or aspire to public employments.
Necessary, however, as is a profound knowledge of the Constitution, to the lawyer and the statesman, a general acquaintance with its principles and details is requisite to all who entertain just views of liberal education, or correctly estimate their privileges as citizens of a free Republic; and the increasing interest which has of late been manifested by the more intelligent portion of the community, in discussions relative to the origin, structure, and principles of our political system, certainly evince that this class of citizens appreciate their political rights, and that so far, they are understood. But the information requisite cannot be implanted too soon after the mind has been prepared to receive it; and it should remain no longer a reproach to any of our higher seminaries of learning, that its graduates are sent forth into the world more familiar with the Constitution of the Roman Republic, and the principles of the Grecian confederacies, than with the fundamental institutions of their own country.
Recent events, moreover, demonstrate that a correct knowledge of the powers and duties of the National and State Governments cannot be too widely diffused nor too early inculcated; whilst, from the nature and value of that knowledge, the public interest and safety, if not the stability of our political institutions, no less than the happiness and security of individuals, require that it should be extended, in common with all the essential branches of general education, to every portion, and, if possible, to every member, of the community.