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Giving Our Government the Authority Needed for Its


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights, that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to
secure these rights, governments are instituted among
men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the
governed—That whenever any form of government be-
comes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the
people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new gov-
ernment, laying its foundation on such principles and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem
most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
-From the Declaration of Independence,

July 4, 1776.

* In chapter 9 you learned how our National Constitution has grown. In chapter 10 we studied the Bill of Rights, which was added to the Constitution shortly after it was adopted and which declared certain basic principles and standards as the foundation of our whole plan of government. Now we are ready to study the authority of our Government. We are going to learn where the many units of our Government get their right to do things and how they use that right. Remember, this is one of the factors which runs through all our group life. (Review Figure 6.)


We have learned that in almost all groups there is final authority (what we called in chapter 3 the “last word) and also delegated authority (authority especially given or passed on to some person or persons). Very often the final authority belongs to all the members of the group. But the members of nearly all groups delegate some of their authority to chosen representatives.

There must be some authority in every business. Think about the grocery store in your own neighborhood. Would you want to do business there if no one had final control over it? You probably know the owner of the business—the person with final authority. He has the last word in buying and selling his goods. He has the final word when he hires or "fires” his helpers, and he is responsible for the kind of store he runs. You can go and complain if you are not satisfied. If no one had final control, the store would soon close. People would not have enough confidence in it to buy groceries there. However, if the man who owns the grocery store has other persons working for him, he must delegate some of his authority to them. He must delegate to his clerks the right to sell groceries to customers. Perhaps he delegates to someone the right to buy groceries at wholesale prices. So here again we find both final and delegated authority.

Or let us take the example of the milkman who delivers milk to our homes. This milkman must get a permit stating his right to sell and deliver milk; and this permit will be his written authority to do his work. It is issued by the town health officer or some other representative of the final authority, which belongs to all the people of the community. Because a milkman has been given such a permit we say that he is properly authorized to sell and deliver milk.

If a friend of yours happens to own a farm, he has the final authority to make a decision to sell it, or even to give it away. If someone tells him that he does not have this final authority (called ownership) to sell the farm, he can ask a government official in his county to help him prove his authority through records of ownership kept by the county government. These records are his proof of authority and ownership. If he rents the farm to somebody else, he delegates enough authority so that the tenant can use his farm buildings and cultivate the land. However, final authority to sell or give away the farm remains with the owner.

Even a small girl who is sent by her family group to a grocery store to buy a pound of coffee has had some authority delegated to her. She has been given the authority to buy the coffee. The groceryman believes that she has been given this authority or he would not sell her the coffee on credit.

There is delegated authority in every branch of the government. If you are planning to take the examination for United States citizenship, you will want to be sure that you are being examined by the proper official, who has the delegated authority to do his work. Certainly you would be very sorry if you were to take your examination and find later that the person who gave it was not properly authorized as an examiner. But because you have confidence in our Government, you feel sure that the examiner who talks to you has had authority properly delegated to him by the people's Government. The examiners of applicants for naturalization are only a small part of our Government, but every single part of it must have authority to do its work.

You depend on the policemen in your community to keep order and to arrest criminals. Suppose a group of gangsters were to dress as policemen and come into your neighborhood. They might enter your home, arrest you, and even take your life. They would be a group of persons doing things without authority. The real policeman usually wears some sort of badge and carries some kind of card or paper which tells who he is and proves that he has been authorized to do his work.


When we come to consider where our government groups get their authority, we remember that the people of the country have the last word. (See Figure 26.) It was “The People” who adopted the Constitution and gave the Government its authority to do things. Since then every

Location Of Final Authority In The Government of The United States

*We the people of the United States“ bold the final authority. We delegate, (pass on) some authority to our representatives who serve us.

About 131 million inhabitants

of the United States

of whom

About 60 million make up the


which selects

Our legislative & executive


who serve

About 131 million inhabitants

of the United States

Figure 26

Final Authority in the Government of the United States

voting member of our national group has had a voice in deciding what the Government shall do.

We explained earlier that in most groups in this country we decide questions by the “rule of the majority” (which means that the side which gets more than half the votes wins). This way of deciding things is a democratic way. If we believe in it, clearly we believe in the good judgment of the plain citizen, for we accept the judgment of the majority as binding on all of us.

Some of our groups are not democratically controlled. In families, for instance, it would be very unusual to make decisions by the rule of the majority. Experience has fully proved that the parents are better fitted to exercise authority than one or more of the children. In some other groups it may be unwise for every member to have an equal share of the final authority.



As we have learned, our Constitution has been interpreted by many court decisions, has been changed by 21 amendments, and has been developed by many new laws and treaties and regulations. But the simple fact has remained true throughout the years, that no interpretation or change has ever been suggested which would take the final authority of our Government out of the hands of the people.

The Constitution outlines a division of the delegated authority to different government groups. The Constitution speaks for the people in dividing up the delegated authority. It states which parts of the Government shall have the authority to do this thing or that thing. The people make up too large a group to decide matters in some great mass meeting, as they used to do 300 years ago in their small town meetings.

The Constitution has worked out a plan of representative government to take the place of our earlier mass meetings of the people. When people were few, nobody needed

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