Page images

ambles to their constitutions. The argument cannot, of course, be used in these States to decide the School question, or any other question involving the subject of religion.

2. The recognitions and acknowledgments of God contained in the above twenty-eight preambles are not distinctively and exclusively Christian. The Christian, whether Protestant or Catholic, has no monopoly in these acknowledgments. They belong to the rational Theist who is not a Christian, just as really as they do to the Theist who is a Christian. The aspect of God which they present is that which is furnished by the light of Nature, and not that special aspect for which we are indebted to the supernatural light of Christianity. No reference is made to God as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," or to the Word of God, or to the person or offices of Christ, or to the plan of salvation, or to the doctrine of a future life, or to anything that is peculiar to Christianity. The creed which incidentally appears in these preambles is common to the Christian, the Jew, the Mohammedan, a Socrates, a Cicero, a Plato, and, indeed, all who believe in the doctrine of a personal God, and that of his providence over the affairs of men. The Christian can heartily accept the creed, since there is nothing in it repugnant to his faith; and so can Jews or Deists for the same reason, though both of them reject the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. It seems to have been the

purpose of the framers of these preambles to avoid the use of all terms that would place upon them a specifically and exclusively Christian stamp.

It is not, therefore, logically allowable for the Christian-the Protestant, for example-to claim that King James's version of the Sacred Scriptures shall be used in the public school as the means of religious instruction and worship, and then rest the claim upon these preambles. He may not say to the Catholic: "My peculiar creed is here, and yours is not; and, hence, my Bible, and not yours, must go into the public school." He may not say to the Jew: "These preambles are my property, and not yours; and, hence, Protestant Christianity, and not Judaism, must be taught in the public school." He may not say to the Deist: "My creed in regard to God is contained in these acknowledgments and recognitions; and, hence, my specific faith as a Christian is the form of religion that should be installed in the public school." The premise proves no such conclusions. The Catholic, the Jew and the Deist have logically the same rights in the premise that the Protestant has, and may, hence, use it with the same propriety to show that the State should establish and, at the general expense, support Catholic public schools, or Jewish public schools, or Deistical public schools. The argument is just as pertinent and as powerful when employed by the Catholic, the Jew, or the Deist, as it is when employed by the Protestant.

The fact is, the religious matters about which these parties differ are not in the preambles at all; and, hence, there is no logical proprietorship specially vested in any of them. What and all that we find is that which is their common religious. property, because it is their common faith. To acknowledge God as revealed by the light of Nature is one thing: and to acknowledge him in those special aspects which are peculiar to Christianity is another and very different thing. The above preambles contain the former acknowledgment, and not the latter. They, hence, furnish no basis for any inference in respect to the latter, and give the Christian no logical advantage over the Jew or

the Deist.

3. A constitutional preamble, though a form of expressing the enactment of a fundamental law by the people, either with or without the reasons for the enactment, is not upon its very face the law itself. It describes the people of a given State as ordaining and establishing "this constitution," or "the following constitution." The thing ordained and established as a fundamental law is not the preamble, but the constitution itself. The reality and validity of a constitution do not depend upon the fact that it has a preamble, formally declaring its enactment by the people, but upon the fact that it was so enacted; and the evidence, both as to what the constitution is, and as to the fact of its adoption, is preserved in the archives of the State.

The constitutions of Vermont and West Virginia have no preamble; yet this does not affect their validity. All the preambles might be stricken out, or might have been omitted altogether, without involving the slightest change in the constitutions themselves. There is no objection to them; yet they are not at all indispensable.

It is by reading "this constitution," or "the following constitution," referred to in the preamble, and not by reading the preamble, that we ascertain what is the organization of a State, what it is as a body politic, upon what principles it is constructed, what governmental agency is established, and with what powers that agency is invested. Legislative bodies acting under it, and courts of justice in applying its principles, derive their powers from the constitution itself, and not from its preamble. The latter, independently of the former, makes no grant of substantive powers. Its contents are not laws unless they are made such by the constitution enacted. It may contain reasons for the enactment of a given constitution; yet these reasons are not the thing enacted, and have no legal effect whatever unless the constitution gives them such effect.

No inference can, therefore, be drawn as to the structure and purposes of the State governments, from the mere fact that their preambles to the constitutions under which their governments are organized, recognize the existence of God, express gratitude for his favors, and invoke his guidance and

direction. The mere fact itself simply proves the religious sentiments of the people as expressed: but it does not prove their purpose to ordain and , establish those sentiments as fundamental laws of the body politic, to clothe them with constitutional authority, or confer any power upon State legislatures to give them legal effect. Whether these sentiments enter into the organic laws of the several States expressing them in constitutional preambles, is to be ascertained by studying these laws: and this carries us beyond the preambles into the constitutions themselves.

4. Coming, then, to these constitutions, we find, as a matter of fact, that all of them—some more fully than others-so qualify and limit the powers of the State governments in respect to religion as to secure to the people the fullest exercise and enjoyment of religious liberty, and confine the action of these governments to the attainment of merely temporal and secular ends. This is one of the most characteristic features of our American State constitutions, and that, too, whether their preambles do or do not contain recognitions and acknowledgments of God. Having presented this point at large in a previous stage of this discussion, we content ourselves here with a single illustration.

The constitution of Illinois in its preamble says "We, the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which he hath so long permitted

« PreviousContinue »