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CHAPTER 19

The Objectives of Our National (Federal) Government

“Each of our 48 States yields to the general interest of the entire Nation in recognizing the National Government as the one which holds the Nation together and promotes the welfare of all of the people."

* In the last three chapters we have been reading about the objectives and services of our State, city, and local governments, and about their organization.

Now we come to a study of the National Government. This is the government which holds the whole Nation together as one great republic and which is organized to serve the general needs of all the people throughout the Nation. Many Americans have the habit of calling it the “Federal” Government, as a name to distinguish it from State and local governments. Do you remember what "Federal” means?

In the early chapters of this book you learned how 13 colonies along the American shore of the Atlantic Ocean were governed by the King and the Parliament of Great Britain and how they declared their independence because of the unfair treatment which they received from the British Government of that time. You learned how the new States, after living through nearly 13 years of war and stormy peace under a weak central government, held a convention at Philadelphia and finally agreed upon a National (or Federal) Constitution and a union of all the States. Naturally the first thing the Fathers of the Constitution wrote on paper was a statement of their objectives—how they expected the people to profit and get advantage from a new central government.

HOW THE CONSTITUTION EXPLAINS THE OBJECTIVES OF THE

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT In chapter 8 you learned very briefly about the Preamble of the Constitution. It contains only 52 words and is so short that, in the hand-written document which was signed at Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, and which may now be seen in the Library of Congress at Washington, it fills only three lines of writing. Yet in it is the combined wisdom and experience of the 39 signers, led by such farseeing statesmen as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, who were able to set down with unmistakable clearness the great objectives of our Federal Union. These objectives every American citizen should understand and remember.

Look again at Figure 15, which quotes the Preamble of the Constitution in full. You will see that the Fathers of the Constitution had the courage and self-confidence to speak for the whole American people. It begins: “We the People of the United States." Then it states six purposes or objectives which the people had in mind in establishing the Constitution. These objectives have been the guiding principles of the Government of the United States ever since.

(I) WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, IN ORDER TO FORM A

MORE PERFECT UNION This matter of a “more perfect union” was one of the hardest problems facing the 13 new States in 1787. We explained in chapter 7 how many difficulties blocked the path of the Fathers of the Constitution. It was quite clear, of course, that almost any union would be more “perfect” than that which had existed under the Articles of Confederation. The union between independent States, which was put into effect in 1789, however, has lasted over 150 years, has grown to include 48 States, and is today strong and effective in doing many valuable services for the whole American people.

The Constitution makers let the States keep all the powers required to meet their local needs and to do those things which their people especially needed and wanted in their every-day life provided that such powers did not interfere in a few specified ways with the needs and welfare of the whole people. This was THE UNION, about which the men of 1787 thought and argued so long and so patiently and which the American people have valued so dearly ever since. The power of each State over its local affairs—matters such as business organization, work conditions, marriage and divorce, local taxation, and the ordinary "police powers" (which we have already explained)—is so fully recognized and accepted that often we find two States situated side by side which have widely differing laws on the same subjects.

About 80 years ago, in the days when Negro slaves did most of the heavy labor in the southern part of this country, this question of “States' rights” led to a long and bloody war between the States; for the people of the Northern States claimed that the Federal Government should regulate slavery in new States, while those of the Southern States insisted that the ownership of slaves was a matter about which each State, old or new, had the authority to decide for itself. It was proved then that a majority of the American people favored an undivided Union of all the States and were willing to fight a long war to save the Union from being broken up. At the end of the war, all of the States were held together in the Union under the Federal Constitution; and since the Constitution guaranteed to each State a republican form of government, the States continued, after this stormy time, to manage their own affairs as before, with the single exception that before the end of the war slavery had been abolished by an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

A Union of 48 States, spread out over a great country like ours, with so many different problems and interests, can never be "perfect”; but the Union planned by the Fathers of the Constitution has been of immense and lasting value to the people of the United States, and the objective of maintaining and improving the Federal Union is worthy of the loyalty and untiring efforts of all our government groups.

(II) WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, IN ORDER TO ...

ESTABLISH JUSTICE

We have learned that one of the most important guides followed by the Fathers of the Constitution was the Declaration of Independence. This great document of human liberty announced the principle that “all men are created equal” and that they have certain rights which should never be taken away from them, among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In the United States all persons are equal in the eyes of the law. Even though one person may be rich and another poor, or one person may be a famous public character and another a quiet worker who is known only to his neighbors, both are equal before the law. Both must obey the law and both have an equal right to its protection.

All persons who are found guilty of disobeying the law are held, according to the objectives of the Constitution, to be equally subject to punishment, whether they are rich or poor, famous or obscure. When a law is broken, the government must punish the lawbreaker, whoever he is. The same spirit of fairness is guaranteed to the people in settling their personal or business disagreements in the law courts. In old times when people disagreed they often settled their disputes with swords or pistols or by assembling groups of friends or followers and fighting it out among themselves. Then the man who had the strongest arm or the sharpest eye or the most friends or followers could seemingly prove that he was right, whether he really was or not. Under our form of government we insist that people shall settle their disputes peaceably, and we maintain courts of justice for that purpose. “We the People of the United States” wish and plan that everybody shall receive equal justice from our laws and our courts.

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