Page images

“ The

of its authority as the fundamental law. people of the United States ” ordained and established it in the first instance, and provided by the peaceful process of amendment for any changes therein which they might see fit to make. The sovereign authority of this people, taken collectively, and not as separate individuals, is hence, the sole foundation of all the powers conferred and all the restraints imposed by the Constitution. Their authority is the only authority upon which it rests. It contains not the slightest intimation of any theocratic element as lying at its basis, or of any divine right relating to the powers which it bestows. It is a human constitution, originated and adopted by men, and built upon the self-assumed and self-asserted sovereignty of “the people of the United States.”

So, also, the agency, provided for carrying into effect the purposes of this Constitution, is simply a government of appointees, directly chosen by the people or selected by those thus chosen. It is a purely representative agency. No one holds or can hold any office under the Constitution except as he derives the right from the action of the people, either directly electing him or indirectly appointing him to the office. The ruler, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, is, hence, the servant of the people, entirely dependent upon them for his power to rule and responsible to them for the manner in which he exercises this

power. The people, taken in their collective and corporate character, are the only sovereign known to the Constitution.

The objects to be attained by the adoption of the Constitution, as comprehensively summarized in its preamble, were "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The legal machinery provided for in the three co-ordinate departments of the General Government is adjusted to the accomplishment of these ends and these only. It looks no further. The avowed purpose of the Constitution, is, hence, wholly secular, since it relates exclusively to the temporal interests of the body politic known as "the people of the United States." The purposes of a bank corporation or a railway company are not more strictly temporal and secular than those set forth in the preamble of the Constitution, and to secure which a governmental agency is chartered, with powers appropriate to the end.

The Constitution thus appears as “ the supreme law of the land," enacted by the sovereign authority of “the people of the United States," containing provisions for the organization and continuance of a government, vesting in that government certain powers, and by the nature of the powers bestowed and also the recitals of the preamble limiting itself exclusively to the attainment of purely temporal ends. The conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that those who framed and those who adopted the Constitution meant to exclude religion wholly from its scope, and thus make the instrument entirely secular and political in its objects. Whatever may have been their belief or practice as religionists, they did not think it necessary or wise to incorporate their religion or any of its doctrines into the “ supreme law of the land.”

The only provisions in which any reference is made to religion in the Constitution, as originally adopted, are those that relate to the oath of office prescribed to be taken by the President, by Senators and Representatives in Congress, and by officers of the United States and of the several States.

respect to the President, it is required that before entering upon the execution of his office he shall take the following oath or affirmation :

“ I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United



The last clause of the sixth article reads as fol

lows :

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several State legis. latures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution ; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The promissory oath for which provision is here made is a solemn appeal to the Supreme Being in respect to the sincerity of the party taking the oath, and a virtual imprecation of the divine curse if he speaks falsely. Recognizing the fact that men so

. regard it, as well as the general practice of governments in regard to oaths, the Constitution provides for an official oath. It does not require that this oath shall be a Christian oath, or that in its administration any use shall be made of the Sacred Scriptures. It does not absolutely require any oath at all, since the person to be inducted into office may simply affirm that he will support the Constitution. A solemn affirmation to this effect is, at his option, the constitutional equivalent of an oath. The first section of the Revised Statutes of the United States provides that “the requirement of an oath shall be deemed complied with by making affirma tion in judicial form.” An affirmation is distinguished from an oath in containing no appeal to God, or any sanctions growing out of his existence and attributes. In administering an affirmation the officer simply says to the party making it : “ You do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that,” etc. Whether, then, a person, in entering upon the duties of any office to which he may have been elected or appointed, shall make an

appeal to God in the form of an oath, or affirm without such an appeal, is a question which the Constitution leaves him to decide for himself. It does not force an oath upon him as a condition of receiving office, and performing its duties. If he were an atheist, he is competent to affirm, and, hence, he would not, by his faith or want of faith, be excluded from any office on account of a constitutional requirement.

Moreover, to guard against the possibility of any exclusion from office on religious grounds, whether in an oath or an affirmation, the Constitution immediately adds these very significant words : “But no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Religious tests, in respect to matters of faith, or modes of worship, or both, or in respect to adherence to some specific sect of religionists, form one of the means by which tyrannical governments have proscribed and excluded certain classes of persons, otherwise qualified, from holding office and enjoying the emoluments thereof. This had been done in England by what were called test-acts; and as learned a jurist as Blackstone defends such acts. The framers of the Constitution designed to cut up the whole principle, root and branch, so far as the General Government is concerned ; and, hence, they provided that “no religious test”-that is to say, no test of any kind founded upon religion, or having reference thereto-"shall ever be re

« PreviousContinue »