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§ 3. “The People.”

The opening words of the preamble proclaim that the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia is founded on the will of the people whom it is designed to unite and govern. Although it proceeds from the people, it is clothed with the form of law by an Act of the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland, the Supreme Sovereign Legislature of the British Empire. The legislative supremacy of the British Parliament is, according to Dicey and all other modern jurists, the keystone of the law of the British Constitution. John Austin holds (Jurisprudence, vol. I. pp. 251–255) that the sovereign power is vested in the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons or electors. Referring to Austin's definition, Dicey points out that the word “sovereignty” is sometimes employed in a political rather than in a strictly legal sense. That body is politically sovereign or supreme in a State, the will of which is ultimately obeyed by the citizens of the State. In this sense of the word the electors of Great Britain may be said to be, together with the Crown and the Lords, or perhaps in strict accuracy, independently of the King and the Peers, to be the body in which the political sovereignty is vested. (Dicey, Law of the Constitution, p. 67.)

SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PEOPLE.—In the United States the political as well as the legal sovereignty of the people has been generally recognized ever since the Declaration of Independence. John Wilson, one of the framers of the American Constitution, in addressing the Pennsylvania State Convention in exposition and defence of that instrument said:—

“When I had the honour of speaking formerly on the subject I stated in as concise a manner as possible the leading ideas that occurred to me to ascertain where the supreme and sovereign power resides. It has not been, nor I presume will be denied that somewhere there is, and of necessity must be, a supreme absolute and uncontrollable authority. This I believe may justly be termed the sovereign power; for, from that gentleman's (Mr. Findlay's) account of the matter it cannot be sovereign unless it is


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supreme; for, says he, a subordinate sovereignty is no sovereignty at all. I had the honour of observing that if the question was asked where the supreme power resided, different answers would be given by different writers. I mentioned that Blackstone would tell you that in Britain it is lodged in the British Parliament; and I believe there is no writer on this subject on the other side of the Atlantic but supposed it to be vested in that body. I stated further that if the question was asked of some politician who had not considered the subject with sufficient accuracy, where the supreme power resided in our Government, he would answer that it was vested in the State Constitutions. This opinion approaches near the truth, but does not reach it, for the truth is the supreme absolute and uncontrollable authority remains with the people. I mentioned also that the practical recognition of this truth was reserved for the honour of this country. I recollect no Constitution founded on this principle; but we have witnessed the improvement and enjoy the happiness of seeing it carried into practice. The great and penetrating mind of Locke seems to be the only one that pointed towards even the theory of this great truth.” (Elliot's Debates on the Federal Constitution, vol. ii., pp. 455, 456.) Cited, Roger Foster's Comment. on the Constit. (1895), I., p. 107.

The Constitution of the United States was not ordained and established by the States, but, as the preamble declares, by “the people of the United States.” It was competent for the people to invest the general government with all the powers which they might deem proper and necessary; to extend or restrain these powers, according to their own good pleasure, and to give them a paramount and supreme authority. (Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 1 Wheat. 304–324; Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419; Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 455. Noted in Baker, Annot. Const. (1891), p. 1.)

The Government of the American Union is a Government of the people. In form and in substance it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them and are to be exercised on them and for their benefit. (Per Marshall, C.J., McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316. Id.)

The expressions “the people of the United States” and “citizens” are synonymous and mean the same thing. They both describe the political body which according to American institutions, forms the sovereignty, holds the power and conducts the Government through its representatives. The members of that body are called the “sovereign people,” and every citizen is one of this people and a constituent member of the sovereignty. (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393. Id.)

AFFIRMATIONS OF THE PREAMBLE.—It will be noticed that the preamble to this Constitution contains no less than eight separate and distinct affirmations or declarations.

  • (i.) The agreement of the people of Australia.
  • (ii.) Their reliance on the blessing of Almighty God.
  • (iii.) The purpose to unite.
  • (iv.) The character of the Union—indissoluble.
  • (v.) The form of the Union—a Federal Commonwealth.
  • (vi.) The dependence of the Union—under the Crown.
  • (vii.) The government of the Union—under the Constitution.
  • (viii.) The expediency of provision for admission of other Colonies as States.

Of the above eight declaratory parts of the preamble only four, viz., the third, fifth, seventh, and eighth, find legislative expression in identifiable clauses to be found in the body of the Act. The remaining four have, therefore, to be regarded as promulgating principles, ideas, or sentiments operating, at the time of the formation of the instrument, in the minds of its framers, and by them imparted to and approved by the people to whom it was submitted. These principles may hereafter become of supreme interest and importance in guiding the development of the Constitution under the influence of Federal Statesmen and Federal Electors. They may also be of valuable service and potent effect in the Courts of the Commonwealth, aiding in the interpretation of words and phrases which may now appear comparatively clear, but which, in time to come, may be obscured by the raising of unexpected issues and by the conflict of newly evolved opinions. It may be asked, why are four at least of these momentous declarations to be found only in the preamble, and why have they no corresponding counterparts in the corpus of the Act? The answer is obvious. First as to the agreement of the people; that is the recital of a historical fact, and it could not therefore be reduced to the form in which a section of an Act of Parliament is generally cast, viz., that of a command coupled with a sanction. Then, again, their reliance on the Divine blessing is another recital of fact, incidental to the primary


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affirmation, and introduced in a participial sentence for the purpose of avoiding the suspicion of ostentation and irreverence; there would, indeed, have been not only a technical difficulty, but an absolute impropriety in attempting to frame a clause designed to give legislative recognition of the Deity. The indissolubility of the Federal Commonwealth is affirmed as a principle: the effect of that affirmation will be discussed at a later stage. The declaration that the Union is under the Crown is appropriate and fundamental; this also will be discussed at a later stage.

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