Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833)

by Joseph L. Story

Preliminary Chapter and Plan of the Work

The principal object of these Commentaries is to present a full analysis and exposition of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America. In order to do this with clearness and accuracy, it is necessary to understand, what was the political position of the several States, composing the Union, in relation to each other at the time of its adoption. This will naturally conduct us back to the American Revolution; and to the formation of the Confederation consequent thereon. But if we stop here, we shall still be surrounded with many difficulties in regard to our domestic institutions and policy, which have grown out of transactions of a much earlier date, connected on one side with the common dependence of all the Colonies upon the British Empire, and on the other with the particular charters of government and internal legislation, which belonged to each Colony, as a distinct sovereignty, and which have impressed upon each peculiar habits, opinions, attachments, and even prejudices. Traces of these peculiarities are every where discernible in the actual jurisprudence of each State; and are silently or openly referred to in several of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States. In short, without a careful review of the origin and constitutional and juridical history of all the colonies, of the principles common to all, and of the diversities, which were no less remarkable in all, it would be impossible fully to understand the nature and objects of the Constitution; the reasons on which several of its most important provisions are founded; and the necessity of those concessions and compromises, which a desire to form a solid and perpetual Union has incorporated into its leading features.

The plan of the work will, therefore, naturally comprehend three great divisions. The first will embrace a sketch of the charters, constitutional history, and ante-revolutionary jurisprudence of the Colonies. The second will embrace a sketch of the constitutional history of the States during the Revolution, and the rise, progress, decline, and fall of the Confederation. The third will embrace the history of the rise and adoption of the Constitution; and a full exposition of all its provisions, with the reasons, on which they were respectively founded, the objections, by which they were respectively assailed, and such illustrations drawn from contemporaneous documents, and the subsequent operations of the government, as may best enable the reader to estimate for himself the true value of each. In this way (as it is hoped) his judgment as well as his affections will be enlisted on the side of the Constitution, as the truest security of the Union, and the only solid basis, on which to rest the private rights, the public liberties, and the substantial prosperity of the people composing the American Republic.