The People Rule (5 of 20)

The people order and the king obeys. The people speak and the crown gives ear. The people are the masters, the king their servant. This is the true order of civil government.

The government of the United States of America is the first one in civil history in which this true basic principle has been effectively established. The history of kingdoms has been one in which the kings were almighty and the citizens of the realm were their serfs. The development of the common law is the story of freemen wrenching from their kings the rights of self government which those kings had usurped and assumed by force of arms.

This story is generally considered to have its beginning with the Norman Conquest in 1066. William the conqueror was in very deed a conqueror. He took over England both the people and their lands and their wealth. All things were his and behind him stood a conquering army to enforce his will. He was the Sovereign.

He set up his own government and personally issued the laws administered them, and when disputes arose between his subjects, he assumed the power to judge them. All legislative, executive and judicial functions were centered in him.

Naturally he divided the lands and wealth of the kingdom among his captains and noblemen, and appointed various of them to act as his representatives in performing governmental acts. He appointed tax collectors and sheriffs, chancellors, and judges of lower courts, but to each appointee the authority to act was delegated from the King and they performed their functions in his name. sovereignty thus was centered in one man and its exercise was delegated by him to various agents who were responsible solely to him for their acts.

This type of absolute monarchy inevitably incurred the opposition of the people. And for generations and centuries they resisted absolutism and demanded rights and guarantees of freedom from their sovereigns. By 1215 the Barons were able to force King John to sign the Magna Charta, which is the first written constitutional document developed in the common law.

Later came the Petition of Rights and the English Bill of Rights, and various enactments of parliament. Each placed restrictions on the exercise of the sovereign power by the King. Trial by jury was guaranteed. The House of Commons gained the right to initiate all revenue bills and to specify the uses for which appropriated money might be used, and so forth.

By continual struggle and at least two revolutions, and the execution of some of their kings the people finally established reasonably secure guarantees against encroachment upon their basic liberties. But still sovereign power rested with the king and the rights of English freemen were protected only by restrictions upon the exercise of that power. This was the state of affairs in the 1770s when George III was attempting to impose his sovereign will upon the American colonies.

The American Revolution severed the political ties of the colonies with the mother country. No longer were they subject to the sovereign will of the English throne. The pendulum swung completely over and the colonists determined and announced that sovereignty now rested with the people as a whole. And the people were to be the protectors of their own rights.

The Declaration of Independence, after affirming the existence of inalienable rights, states, “That to secure these rights. governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The people are sovereign. They say what form of government they will have and what powers it may exercise. The functions of government are to be delegated by them to their representatives and only such of the powers of government as are delegated can be exercised. Sovereignty is to flow from the people to their governments and no longer from the government to the people.

The first words of the Constitution affirm this new theory. “We the people” ordained and established the Constitution. Such powers as may be exercised under the Constitution are the direct result of the delegation of the right to so act by the people.

The philosophy of limited sovereignty for the government is evident throughout the whole document. But as if to make more sure that which was already certain, the colonists included in two of the ten articles of their Bill of Rights the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution. By them they declare as plainly as language allows the supremacy of the people and the limited authority of the people’s government.

These state: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Thus the people order and the government obeys.

This Article was serialized in 20 segments
which appeared on the editorial page (page 4) of
The Deseret News, 19 March 1945 through 10 April 1945.

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