CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
WHO IS FINAL JUDGE OR INTERPRETER IN CONSTITUTIONAL CONTROVERSIES
§ 373. THE consideration of the question, whether the constitution has made provision for any common arbiter to construe its powers and obligations, would properly find a place in the analysis of the different clauses of that instrument. But, as it is immediately connected with the subject before us, it seems expedient in this place to give it a deliberate attention.
§ 374. In order to clear the question of all minor points, which might embarrass us in the discussion, it is necessary to suggest a few preliminary remarks. The constitution, contemplating the grant of limited powers, and distributing them among various functionaries, and the state governments, and their functionaries, being also clothed with limited powers, subordinate to those granted to the general government, whenever any question arises, as to the exercise of any power by any of these functionaries under the state, or federal government, it is of necessity, that such functionaries must, in the first instance, decide upon the constitutionality of the exercise of such power. It may arise in the course of the discharge of the functions of any one, or of all, of the great departments of government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The officers of each of these departments are equally bound by their oaths of office to support the constitution of the United States, and are therefore conscientiously bound to abstain from all acts, which are inconsistent with it. Whenever, therefore, they are required to act in a case, not hitherto settled by any proper authority, these functionaries must, in the first instance, decide, each for himself, whether, consistently with the constitution, the act can be done. If, for instance, the president is required to do any act, he is not only authorized, but required, to decide for himself, whether, consistently with his constitutional duties, he can do the act. So, if a proposition be before congress, every member of the legislative body is bound to examine, and decide for himself, whether the bill or resolution is within the constitutional reach of the legislative powers confided to congress. And in many cases the decisions of the executive and legislative departments, thus made, become final and conclusive, being from their very nature and character incapable of revision. Thus, in measures exclusively of a political, legislative, or executive character, it is plain, that as the supreme authority, as to these questions, belongs to the legislative and executive departments, they cannot be re-examined elsewhere. Thus, congress having the power to declare war, to levy taxes, to appropriate money, to regulate intercourse and commerce with foreign nations, their mode of executing these powers can never become the subject of reexamination in any other tribunal. So the power to make treaties being confided to the president and senate, when a treaty is properly ratified, it becomes the law of the land, and no other tribunal can gainsay its stipulations. Yet cases may readily be imagined, in which a tax may be laid, or a treaty made, upon motives and grounds wholly beside the intention of the constitution. The remedy, however, in such cases is solely by an appeal to the people at the elections; or by the salutary power of amendment, provided by the constitution itself.
§ 375. But, where the question is of a different nature, and capable of judicial inquiry and decision, there it admits of a very different consideration. The decision then made, whether in favour, or against the constitutionality of the act, by the state, or by the national authority, by the legislature, or by the executive, being capable, in its own nature, of being brought to the test of the constitution, is subject to judicial revision. It is in such cases, as we conceive, that there is a final and common arbiter provided by the constitution itself, to whose decisions all others are subordinate; and that arbiter is the supreme judicial authority of the courts of the Union.
§ 376. Let us examine the grounds, on which this doctrine is maintained. The constitution declares, (Art. 6,) that "This constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties, shall be the supreme law of the land." It also declares, (Art. 3,) that "The judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States and treaties made, and which shall be made under their authority." It further declares, (Art. 3,) that the judicial power of the United States "shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts, as the congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish." Here, then, we have express, and determinate provisions upon the very subject. Nothing is imperfect, and nothing is left to implication. The constitution is the supreme law; the judicial power extends to all cases arising in law and equity under it; and the courts of the United States are, and, in the last resort, the Supreme Court of the United States is, to be vested with this judicial power. No man can doubt or deny, that the power to construe the constitution is a judicial power. The power to construe a treaty is clearly so, when the case arises in judgment in a controversy between individuals. The like principle must apply, where the meaning of the constitution arises in a judicial controversy; for it is an appropriate function of the judiciary to construe laws.3 If, then, a case under the constitution does arise, if it is capable of judicial examination and decision, we see, that the very tribunal is appointed to make the decision. The only point left open for controversy is, whether such decision, when made, is conclusive and binding upon the states, and the people of the states. The reasons, why it should be so deemed, will now be submitted.
§ 377. In the first place, the judicial power of the United States rightfully extending to all such cases, its judgment becomes ipso facto conclusive between the parties before it, in respect to the points decided, unless some mode be pointed out by the constitution, in which that judgment may be revised. No such mode is pointed out. Congress is vested with ample authority to provide for the exercise by the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction from the decisions of all inferior tribunals, whether state or national, in cases within the purview of the judicial power of the United States; but no mode is provided, by which any superior tribunal can re-examine, what the Supreme Court has itself decided. Ours is emphatically a government of laws, and not of men; and judicial decisions of the highest tribunal, by the known course of the common law, are considered, as establishing the true construction of the laws, which are brought into controversy before it. The case is not alone considered as decided and settled; but the principles of the decision are held, as precedents and authority, to bind future cases of the same nature. This is the constant practice under our whole system of jurisprudence. Our ancestors brought it with them, when they first emigrated to this country; and it is, and always has been considered, as the great security of our rights, our liberties, and our property. It is on this account, that our law is justly deemed certain, and founded in permanent principles, and not dependent upon the caprice, or will of particular judges. A more alarming doctrine could not be promulgated by any American court, than that it was at liberty to disregard all former rules and decisions, and to decide for itself, without reference to the settled course of antecedent principles.
§ 378. This known course of proceeding, this settled habit of thinking, this conclusive effect of judicial adjudications, was in the full view of the framers of the constitution. It was required, and enforced in every state in the Union; and a departure from it would have been justly deemed an approach to tyranny and arbitrary power, to the exercise of mete discretion, and to the abandonment of all the just checks upon judicial authority. It would seem impossible, then, to presume, if the people intended to introduce a new rule in respect to the decisions of the Supreme Court, and to limit the nature and operations of their judgments in a manner wholly unknown to the common law, and to our existing jurisprudence, that some indication of that intention should not be apparent on the face of the constitution. We find, (Art. 4,) that the constitution has declared, that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the judicial proceedings of every other state. But no like provision has been made in respect to the judgments of the courts of the United States, because they were plainly supposed to be of paramount and absolute obligation throughout all the states. If the judgments of the Supreme Court upon constitutional questions are conclusive and binding upon the citizens at large, must they not be equally conclusive upon the states? If the states are parties to that instrument, are not the people of the states also parties?
§ 379. It has been said, "that however true it may be, that the judicial department is, in all questions submitted to it by the forms of the constitution, to decide in the last resort, this resort must necessarily be deemed the last in relation to the other departments of the government, not in relation to the rights of the parties to the constitutional compact, from which the judicial, as well as the other departments hold their delegated trusts. On any other hypothesis, the delegation of judicial power would annul the authority delegating it; and the concurrence of this department with the others in usurped powers might subvert for ever, and beyond the possible reach of any rightful remedy, the very constitution, which all were instituted to preserve." Now, it is certainly possible, that all the departments of a government may conspire to subvert the constitution of that government, by which they are created. But if they should so conspire, there would still remain an adequate remedy to redress the evil. In the first place, the people, by the exercise of the elective franchise, can easily check and remedy any dangerous, palpable, and deliberate infraction of the constitution in two of the great departments of government; and, in the third department, they can remove the judges, by impeachment, for any corrupt conspiracies. Besides these ordinary remedies, there is a still more extensive one, embodied in the form of the constitution, by the power of amending it, which is always in the power of three fourths of the states. It is a supposition not to be endured for a moment, that three fourths of the states would conspire in any deliberate, dangerous, and palpable breach of the constitution. And if the judicial department alone should attempt any usurpation, congress, in its legislative capacity, has full power to abrogate the injurious effects of such a decision. Practically speaking, therefore, there can be very little danger of any such usurpation or deliberate breach.
§ 380. But it is always a doubtful mode of reasoning to argue from the possible abuse of powers, that they do not exist. Let us look for a moment at the consequences, which flow from the doctrine on the other side. There are now twenty-four states in the Union, and each has, in its sovereign capacity, a right to decide for itself in the last resort, what is the true construction of the constitution; what are its powers; and what are the obligations founded on it. We may, then, have, in the free exercise of that right, twenty-four honest, but different expositions of every power in that constitution, and of every obligation involved in it. What one state may deny, another may assert; what one may assert at one time, it may deny at another time. This is not mere supposition. It has, in point of fact, taken place. There never has been a single constitutional question agitated, where different states, if they have expressed any opinion, have not expressed different opinions; and there have been, and, from the fluctuating nature of legislative bodies, it may be supposed? that there will continue to be, cases, in which the same state will at different times hold different opinions on the same question. Massachusetts at one time thought the embargo of 1807 unconstitutional; at another a majority, from the change of parties, was as decidedly the other way. Virginia, in 1810, thought that the Supreme Court was the common arbiter; in 1829 she thought differently. What, then, is to become of the constitution, if its powers are thus perpetually to be the subject of debate and controversy? What exposition is to be allowed to be of authority? Is the exposition of one state to be of authority there, and the reverse to be of authority in a neighbouring state, entertaining an opposite exposition? Then, there would be at no time in the United States the same constitution in operation over the whole people. Is a power, which is doubted, or denied by a single state, to be suspended either wholly, or in that state? Then, the constitution is practically gone, as a uniform system, or indeed, as any system at all, at the pleasure of any state. If the power to nullify the constitution exists in a single state, it may rightfully exercise it at its pleasure. Would not this be a far more dangerous and mischievous power, than a power granted by all the states to the judiciary to construe the constitution? Would not a tribunal, appointed under the authority of all, be more safe, than twenty-four tribunals acting at their own pleasure, and upon no common principles and co-operation? Suppose congress should declare war; shall one state have power to suspend it? Suppose congress should make peace; shall one state have power to involve the whole country in war? Suppose the president and senate should make a treaty; shall one state declare it a nullity, or subject the whole country to reprisals for refusing to obey it? Yet, if every state may for itself judge of its obligations under the constitution, it may disobey a particular law or treaty, because it may deem it an unconstitutional exercise of power, although every other state shall concur in a contrary opinion. Suppose congress should lay a tax upon imports burthensome to a particular state, or for purposes, which such state deems unconstitutional, and yet all the other states are in its favour; is the law laying the tax to become a nullity? That would be to allow one state to withdraw a power from the Union, which was given by the people of all the states. That would be to make the general government the servant of twenty-four masters, of different wills and different purposes, and yet bound to obey them all.
§ 381. The argument, therefore, arising from a possibility of an abuse of power, is, to say the least of it, quite as strong the other way. The constitution is in quite as perilous a state from the power of overthrowing it lodged in every state in the Union, as it can be by being lodged in any department of the federal government. There is this difference, however, in the cases, that if there be federal usurpation, it may be checked by the people of all the states in a constitutional way. If there be usurpation by a single state, it is, upon the theory we are considering, irremediable. Other difficulties, however, attend the reasoning we are considering. When it is said, that the decision of the Supreme Court in the last resort is obligatory, and final "in relation to the authorities of the other departments of the government," is it meant of the federal government only, or of the states also? If of the former only, then the constitution is no longer the supreme law of the land, although all the state functionaries are bound by ah oath to support it. If of the latter also, then it is obligatory upon the state legislatures, executives, and judiciaries. It binds them; and yet it does not bind the people of the states, or the states in their sovereign capacity. The states may maintain one construction of it, and the functionaries of the state are bound by another. If, on the other hand, the state functionaries are to follow the construction of the state, in opposition to the construction of the Supreme Court, then the constitution, as actually administered by the different functionaries, is different; and the duties required of them may be opposite, and in collision with each other. If such a state of things is the just result of the reasoning, may it not justly be suspected, that the reasoning itself is unsound?
§ 382. Again; it is a part of this argument, that the judicial interpretation is not binding "in relation to the rights of the parties to the constitutional compact." "On any other hypothesis the delegation of judicial power would annul the authority delegating it." Who then are the parties to this contract? Who did delegate the judicial power? Let the instrument answer for itself. The people of the United States are the parties to the constitution. The people of the United States delegated the judicial rower. It was not a delegation by the people of one state, but by the people of all the states. Why then is not a judicial decision binding in each state, until all, who delegated the power, in some constitutional manner concur in annulling or overruling the decision? Where shall we find the clause, which gives the power to each state to construe the constitution for all; and thus of itself to supersede in its own favour the construction of all the rest? Would not this be justly deemed a delegation of judicial power, which would annul the authority
delegating it? Since the whole people of the United States have concurred in establishing the constitution, it would seem most consonant with reason to presume, in the absence of all contrary stipulations, that they did not mean, that its obligatory force should depend upon the dictate or opinion of any single state. Even under the confederation, (as has been already stated,) it was unanimously resolved by congress, that "as state legislatures are not competent to the making of such compacts or treaties, [with foreign states,] so neither are they competent in that capacity authoritatively to decide on, or ascertain the construction and sense of them." And the reasoning, by which this opinion is supported, seems absolutely unanswerable. If this was true under such an instrument, and that construction was avowed before the whole American people, and brought home to the knowledge of the state legislatures, how can we avoid the inference, that under the constitution, where an express judicial power in cases arising under the constitution was provided for, the people must have understood and intended, that the states should have no right to question, or control such judicial interpretation?
§ 383. In the next place, as the judicial power extends to all cases arising under the constitution, and that constitution is declared to be the supreme law, that supremacy would naturally he construed to extend, not only over the citizens, but over the states. This, however, is not left to implication, for it is declared to be the supreme law of the land, "any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding." The people of any state cannot, then, by any alteration of their state constitution, destroy, or impair that supremacy. How, then, can they do it in any other less direct manner? Now, it is the proper function of the judicial department to interpret laws, and by the very terms of the constitution to interpret the supreme law. Its interpretation, then, becomes obligatory and conclusive upon all the departments of the federal government, and upon the whole people, so far as their rights and duties are derived from, or affected by that constitution. If then all the departments of the national government may rightfully exercise all the powers, which the judicial department has, by its interpretation, declared to be granted by the constitution; and are prohibited from exercising those, which are thus declared not to be granted by it, would it not be a solecism to hold, notwithstanding, that such rightful exercise should not be deemed the supreme law of the land, and such prohibited powers should still be deemed granted? It would seem repugnant to the first notions of justice, that in respect to the same instrument of government, different powers, and duties, and obligations should arise, and different rules should prevail, at the same time among the governed, from a right of interpreting the same words (manifestly used in one sense only) in different, nay, in opposite senses. If there ever was a case, in which uniformity of interpretation might well be deemed a necessary postulate, it would seem to be that of a fundamental law of a government. It might otherwise follow, that the same individual, as a magistrate, might be bound by one rule, and in his private capacity by another, at the very same moment.
§ 384. There would be neither wisdom nor policy in such a doctrine; and it would deliver over the constitution to interminable doubts, founded upon the fluctuating opinions and characters of those, who should, from time to time, be called to administer it. Such a constitution could, in no just sense, be deemed a law, much less a supreme or fundamental law. It would have none of the certainty or universality, which are the proper attributes of such a sovereign rule. It would entail upon us all the miserable servitude, which has been deprecated, as the result of vague and uncertain jurisprudence. Misera est servitus, ubi jus est vagum aut incertum. It would subject us to constant dissensions, and perhaps to civil broils, from the perpetually recurring conflicts upon constitutional questions. On the other hand, the worst, that could happen from a wrong decision of the judicial department, would be, that it might require the interposition of congress, or, in the last resort, of the amendatory power of the states, to redress the grievance.
§ 385. We find the power to construe the constitution expressly confided to the judicial department, without any limitation or qualification, as to its conclusiveness. Who, then, is at liberty, by general implications, not from the terms of the instrument, but from mere theory, and assumed reservations of sovereign right, to insert such a limitation or qualification? We find, that to produce uniformity of interpretation, and to preserve the constitution, as a perpetual bond of union, a supreme arbiter or authority of construing is, if not absolutely indispensable, at least, of the highest possible practical utility and importance. Who, then, is at liberty to reason down the terms of the constitution, so as to exclude their natural force and operation?
§ 386. We find, that it is the known course of the judicial department of the several states to decide in the last resort upon all constitutional questions arising in judgment; and that this has always been maintained as a rightful exercise of authority, and conclusive upon the whole state. As such, it has been constantly approved by the people, and never withdrawn from the courts by any amendment of their constitutions, when the people have been called to revise them. We find, that the people of the several states have constantly relied upon this last judicial appeal, as the bulwark of their state rights and liberties; and that it is in perfect consonance with the whole structure of the jurisprudence of the common law. Under such circumstances, is it not most natural to presume, that the same rule was intended to be applied to the constitution of the United States? And when we find, that the judicial department of the United States is actually entrusted with a like power, is it not an irresistible presumption, that it had the same object, and was to have the same universally conclusive effect? Even under the confederation, an instrument framed with infinitely more jealousy and deference for state rights, the judgments of the judicial department appointed to decide controversies between states was declared to be final and conclusive; and the appellate power in other cases was held to overrule all state decisions and state legislation.
§ 387. If, then, reasoning from the terms of the constitution, and the known principles of our jurisprudence, the appropriate conclusion is, that the judicial department of the United States is, in the last resort, the final expositor of the constitution, as to all questions of a judicial nature; let us see, in the next place, how far this reasoning acquires confirmation from the past history of the constitution, and the practice under it.
§ 388. That this view of the constitution was taken by its framers and friends, and was submitted to the people before its adoption, is positively certain. The Federalist says, "Under the national government, treaties and articles of treaties as well as the law of nations, will always be expounded in one sense, and executed in the same manner; whereas, adjudications on the same points and questions in thirteen states, or three or four confederacies, will not always accord, or be consistent; and that as well from the variety of independent courts and judges appointed by different and independent governments, as from the different local laws, which may affect and influence them. The wisdom of the convention in committing such questions to the jurisdiction and judgment of courts appointed by, and responsible only to, one national government, cannot be too much commended." Again, referring to the objection taken, that the government was national, and not a confederacy of sovereign states, and after stating, that the jurisdiction of the national government extended to certain enumerated objects only, and left the residue to the several states, it proceeds to say: "It is true, that in controversies between the two jurisdictions (state and national) the tribunal, which is ultimately to decide, is to be established under the general government. But this does not change the principle of the case. The decision is to be impartially made according to the rules of the constitution, and all the usual and most effectual precautions are taken to secure this impartiality. Some such tribunal is clearly essential to prevent an appeal to the sword, and a dissolution of the compact. And that it ought to be established under the general, rather than under the local governments, or, to speak more properly, that it could be safely established under the first alone, is a position not likely to be combated."
§ 389. The subject is still more elaborately considered in another number, which treats of the judicial department in relation to the extent of its powers. It is there said, that there ought always to be a constitutional method of giving efficacy to constitutional provisions; that if there are such things as political axioms, the propriety of the judicial department of a government being co-extensive with its legislature, may be ranked among the number; that the mere necessity of uniformity in the interpretation of the national law decides the question; that thirteen independent courts of final jurisdiction over the same causes is a hydra of government, from which nothing but contradiction and confusion can proceed; that controversies between the nation and its members can only, be properly referred to the national tribunal; that the peace of the whole ought not to be left at the disposal of a part; and that whatever practices may have a tendency to disturb the harmony of the states, are proper objects of federal superintendence and control.
§ 390. The same doctrine was constantly avowed in the state conventions, called to ratify the constitution. With some persons it formed a strong objection to the constitution; with others it was deemed vital to its existence and value. So, that it is indisputable, that the constitution was adopted under a full knowledge of this exposition of its grant of power to the judicial department.
§ 391. This is not all. The constitution has now been in full operation more than forty years; and during this period the Supreme Court has constantly exercised this power of final interpretation in relation, not only to the constitution, and laws of the Union, but in relation to state acts and state constitutions and laws, so far as they affected the constitution, and laws, and treaties of the United States. Their decisions upon these grave questions have never been repudiated, or impaired by congress. No state has ever deliberately or forcibly resisted the execution of the judgments founded upon them; and the highest state tribunals have, with scarcely a single exception, acquiesced in, and, in most instances, assisted in executing them. During the same period, eleven states have been admitted into the Union, under a full persuasion, that the same power would be exerted over them. Many of the states have, at different times within the same period, been called upon to consider, and examine the grounds, on which the doctrine has been maintained, at the solicitation of other states which felt, that it operated injuriously, or might operate injuriously upon their interests. A great majority of the states, which have been thus called upon in their legislative capacities to express opinions, have maintained the correctness of the doctrine, and the beneficial effects of the powers, as a bond of union, in terms of the most unequivocal nature. Whenever any amendment has been proposed to change the tribunal, and substitute another common umpire or interpreter, it has rarely received the concurrence of more than two or three states, and has been uniformly rejected by a great majority, either silently, or by an express dissent. And instances have occurred, in which the legislature of the same state has, at different times, avowed opposite opinions, approving at one time, what it had denied, or at least questioned at another. So, that it may be asserted with entire confidence, that for forty years three fourths of all the states composing the Union have expressly assented to, or silently approved, this construction of the constitution, and have resisted every effort to restrict, or alter it. A weight of public opinion among the people for such a period, uniformly thrown into one scale so strongly, and so decisively, in the midst of all the extraordinary changes of parties, the events of peace and of war, and the trying conflicts of public policy and state interests, is perhaps unexampled in the history of all other free governments. It affords, as satisfactory a testimony in favour of the just and safe operation of the system, as can well be imagined; and, as a commentary upon the constitution itself, it is as absolutely conclusive, as any ever can be, and affords the only escape from the occurrence of civil conflicts, and the delivery over of the subject to interminable disputes.
§ 392. In this review of the power of the judicial department, upon a question of its supremacy in the interpretation of the constitution, it has not been thought necessary to rely on the deliberate judgments of that department in affirmance of it. But it may be proper to add that the judicial department has not only constantly exercised this right of interpretation in the last resort; but its whole course of reasonings and operation has proceeded upon the ground, that, once made, the interpretation was conclusive, as well upon the states, as the people.
§ 393. But it may be asked, as it has been asked, what is to be the remedy, if there be any misconstruction of the constitution on the part of the government of the United States, or its functionaries, and any powers exercised by them, not warranted by its true meaning? To this question a general answer may be given in the worlds of its early expositors: "The same, as if the state legislatures should violate their respective constitutional authorities." In the first instance, if this should be by congress, " the success of the usurpation will depend on the executive and judiciary departments, which are to expound, and give effect to the legislative acts; and, in the last resort, a remedy must be obtained from the people, who can, by the election of more faithful representatives, annul the acts of the usurpers. The truth is, that this ultimate redress may be more confided in against unconstitutional acts of the federal, than of the state legislatures, for this plain reason, that, as every act of the former will be an invasion of the rights of the latter, these will ever be ready to mark the innovation, to sound the alarm to the people, and to exert their local influence in effecting a change of federal representatives. There being no such intermediate body between the state legislatures and the people, interested in watching the conduct of the former, violations of the state constitution are more likely to remain unnoticed and unredressed."
§ 394. In the next place, if the usurpation should be by the president, an adequate check may be generally found, not only in the elective franchise, but also in the controlling power of congress, in its legislative or impeaching capacity, and in an appeal to the judicial department. In the next place, if the usurpation should be by the judiciary, and arise from corrupt motives, the power of impeachment would remove the offenders; and in most other cases the legislative and executive authorities could interpose an efficient barrier. A declaratory or prohibitory law would, in many cases, be a complete remedy. We have, also, so far at least as a conscientious sense of the obligations of duty, sanctioned by an oath of office, and an indissoluble responsibility to the people for the exercise and abuse of power, on the part of different departments of the government, can influence human minds, some additional guards against known and deliberate usurpations; for both are provided for in the constitution itself. "The wisdom and the discretion of congress, (it has been justly observed,) their identity with the people, and the influence, which their constituents possess at elections, are, in this, as in many other instances, as, for example, that of declaring, war; the sole restraints; on this they have relied, to secure them from abuse. They are the restraints, on which the people must often solely rely in all representative governments."
§ 395. But in the next place, (and it is that, which would furnish a case of most difficulty and danger, though it may fairly be presumed to be of rare occurrence,) if the legislature, executive, and judicial departments should all concur in a gross usurpation, there is still a peaceable remedy provided by the constitution. It is by the power of amendment, which may always be applied at the will of three fourths of the states. If, therefore, there should be a corrupt co-operation of three fourths of the states for permanent usurpation, (a case not to be supposed, or if supposed, it differs not at all in principle or redress from the case of a majority of a state or nation having the same intent,) the case is certainly irremediable under any known forms of the constitution. The states may now by a constitutional amendment, with few limitations, change the whole structure and powers of the government, and thus legalize any present excess of power. And the general right of a society in other cases to change the government at the will of a majority of the whole people, in any manner, that may suit its pleasure, is undisputed, and seems indisputable. If there be any remedy at all for the minority in such cases, it is a remedy never provided for by human institutions. It is by a resort to the ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases to resist oppression, and to apply force against ruinous injustice.
§ 396. As a fit conclusion to this part of these commentaries, we cannot do better than to refer to a confirmatory view, which has been recently presented to the public by one of the framers of the constitution, who is now, it is believed, the only surviving member of the federal convention, and who, by his early as well as his later labours, has entitled himself to the gratitude of his country, as one of its truest patriots, and most enlightened friends. Venerable, as he now is, from age and character, and absolved from all those political connexions, which may influence the judgment, and mislead the mind, he speaks from his retirement in a voice, which cannot be disregarded, when it instructs us by its profound reasoning, or admonishes us of our dangers by its searching appeals. However particular passages may seem open to criticism, the general structure of the argument stands on immovable foundations, and can scarcely perish, but with the constitution, which it seeks to uphold.