Origin.The Government of the United States was established by the ratification on Mardi 4, 1789, of the Constitution adopted by the thirteen American colonies of Great Britain in Congress assembled at Philadelphia on September 17, 1787.
After the ratification and the entrance into statehood of the thirteen colonies, thirty-five other states were admitted to the Union, making forty-eight in all. Nineteen amendments to the Constitution have been adopted.
The Form of Government established by the Constitution is that of a federal republic; that is to say, a republic created by the union of a number of separate states, each of which retains some powers of government, though it has yielded others to the federation as a whole.
Constitutional Principles.The Constitution prescribes (1) the structure of the federal government and the respective functions of the several parts, (2) the powers of the federal government and restrictions imposed upon it, (3) the relations of the federal government to the states and of the states to one another, (4) certain restrictions imposed upon the states. It does not specify the powers of the states, because these are presumed as pre-existingthe states when they created the federal government, having retained for themselves most of the powers which they previously enjoyed.
The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, binding everywhere upon all authorities and persons.
Amendments to the Constitution. The Constitution provides for its own amendment in either of two ways : (a) Congress may, by a two-thirds vote in each of the two Houses, prepare amendments and send them to the states. If ratified by the state legislatures or by conventions (i. e., assemblies elected by the people for the purpose) in three-fourths of the states, they take effect and become part of the Constitution. (b) The legislatures of two-thirds of the states may require Congress to call a constitutional convention to prepare amendments to the Constitution. These amendments, when ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions (as the case may be), take effect as parts of the Constitution.
The Government consists of three coordinate armsthe Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial.
The Executive Power is vested in a President, who holds his office during a term of four years, and is elected, together with a Vice-President, chosen for the same term, in the manner prescribed as follows:
“Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in Congress; but no senator or representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.” The practice is that in every state the electors allotted to the state are chosen by direct vote of the people on a general ticket. The Constitution enacts that “the Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes, which day shall be the same throughout the United States; and, further, that no person except a natural-born citizen or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of 35 years and been for fourteen years a resident of the United States.”
The Presidential election is held every fourth year. Congress has decreed that the time for choosing the electors shall be the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The electors meet and vote at their respective state capitols the second Monday in January, next following their election; the votes of the electors of all the states are opened and counted in the presence of both houses of Congress on the second Wednesday in February. The presidential term begins on March 4th in the year following leap years.
The President is commander-in-chief of the army and navy and of the militia in the service of the Union. The Vice-President is ex-officio president of the Senate; and in the case of the resignation or death of the President, he be-comes the President for the remainder of the term.
The Salary of the President is $75,000 a year. His title or address is simply “The President of the United States.”
The President’s Cabinet is composed of the heads of the several administrative departments of the Government. They are: 1. The Secretary of State. 2. The Secretary of the Treasury. 3. The Secretary of War. 4. The Attorney-General. 5. The Postmaster-General. 6. The Secretary of the Navy. 7. The Secretary of the Interior. 8.
The Secretary of Agriculture. 9. The Secretary of Commerce. 10. The Secretary of Labor.
The members of the cabinet are appointed to office by the President, but their appointment must be confirmed by the Senate. The salary of the members is $12,000 a year. The legislative power is vested in Congress, which consists of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Senate is composed of two persons from each state, and is presided over by the Vice-President of the United States. Senators are chosen in each state by the peoplesince the adoption of the XVIIth amendment to the Constitution in 1913, prior to which they were chosen by the state legislatures. Each senator is elected to serve six years and has one vote. The Senate, besides its legislative powers, which are equal to those of the House (except in one point, viz., that revenue bills must originate in the House), has also two important executive powers. One of these is the right of approving or rejecting nominations to office made by the President, a right which is freely exercised except as regards cabinet offices, which custom leaves entirely within the President’s discretion. The other is the power of approving treaties, which must be submitted by the President to the Senate, and are not valid until ratified by a majority of two-thirds of senators present. The Senate has also the judicial power of sitting as a high court to try impeachments preferred by the House of Representatives against the President or any other of the great officials, including the Federal judges. When the Senate sits in this capacity the Chief Justice of the United States presides. A majority of two-thirds is required for conviction.
The salary of a senator is $7,500 per annum and 20 cents mileage.
The House of Representatives consists of members elected by districts of’ nearly equal size, the boundaries of the districts being in each state determined by state legislation. The members are elected for two years, elections being always held in November of a year bearing an even number, i. e., 1912, 1914. Although elected in November, a new House does not come into existence till the 4th of March following. Congress must assemble at least once in every year, on the first Monday in December, unless it by law appoints a different day. The salary of a representative is the same as that of a senator-$7,500 per annum and 20 cents per mile for traveling from and to the seat of government.
How Bills Become Laws.-Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it, with his objections, to that house in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration, two-thirds of that house shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other house, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered; and if approved by two-thirds of that house, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both houses shall be determined by yeas and nays and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each house respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in a like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return ; in which case it shall not be a law.
Approval and Veto Powers of the President.Every order, resolution, or vote to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the same shall take effect shall be approved by him, or, being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two-thirds of the Senate and the House of Representatives, according to the rules and limitations pre-scribed in the case of a bill.
The judiciary.The judicial power of the United States Government is vested in a Supreme Court, a varying number of Circuit and District Courts, and a Court of Claims. The judges of each Circuit Court and the Justice of the Supreme Court for the Circuit constitute a Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of the United States consists of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices, who sit at Washington and have original jurisdiction in cases affecting ambassadors, or where a state is a party to the suit. In other cases they are a court of appeal from inferior Federal courts. The salary of the Chief Justice is $15,000, and of Associate Justices $14,500 each. The salary of the Circuit Judges is $8,500 each, and of the District Judges $7,500 each. The salary of the Chief Justice of the Court of Claims is $8,000, and of the justices $7,500 each.
All these judges are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate, and hold office for life, unless removed by impeachment after a full hearing upon the charges by Congress.
The jurisdiction of the Federal courts extends over the whole Union, but is limited in certain classes of cases, civil and criminal, the most important whereof are the following:
Cases affecting ambassadors and other foreign ministers, cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, controversies to which the United States shall be a party, controversies between states, or between citizens of different states, or between a state or any of its citizens, and any foreign state or its subjects or citizens, cases arising under the Federal Constitution, or some law or treaty duly made by the Federal Government. If, as frequently happens in the three last mentioned sets of cases, the action has begun in a state court, there is a full right to have it removed into a Federal court, and this may be done even in an action which was supposed to involve questions of state law only, if in the course of the proceedings some point of Federal law arises. The result of these arrangements is to secure to the Federal courts the cognizance not only of all international and interstate questions, but also of all those which in any way depend upon Federal legislation. Thus the arm of the National Government is extended over the whole Union, each Federal court having an officer called the United States Marshal to execute its judgments, and being entitled to demand the aid of the local authorities in case of resistance.