I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms

Catechism of the Constitution Book CoverLast week I introduced an Elementary Catechism on the Constitution by Arthur J. Stansbury. The Federalist Papers has made a PDF copy of it available, and on Mondays I will be posting part of it. There are no sections or chapters in the book, so I’m dividing it by any natural breaks of topics. Any emphases within the text are Stansbury’s. Here is section I with my title for it.

I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms

Question. In what country do you live?
Answer. In the United States of America.

Q. Why is this country called the United States?
A. Because it is made up of a number of States which were once separate, but afterwards agreed to unite together.

Q. What do you mean by a State?
A. I mean any district of country whose people are all under one government.

Q. Had then the different States which united together, each a government of its own?
A. Yes; but they agreed to put themselves all under one general government.

Q. Why did they do this?
A. Because it would promote their general welfare-.

Q. Is some government necessary in every country?
A. Certainly; without it nobody would be safe: not only our property, but our lives would be in danger.

Q. Cannot all the people of a country govern themselves?
A. If every man was perfectly virtuous, and knew what would be best for himself and others, they might. But this is far from being the case; and therefore the people of every country are and must be governed?

Q. How is this done?
A. Laws are made which all must obey; whoever disobeys them is punished.

Q. Who makes these laws ?
A. They are made in different ways, under different governments. In some countries a single man makes the laws according to his own pleasure.

Q. What is such a government called?
A. A Despotism, or absolute monarchy: and the person who thus rules is a Despot, or absolute monarch. In other states a certain number of persons belonging to ancient or wealthy families make the laws.

Q. What is such a government styled?
A. An Aristocracy or oligarchy. In other cases the people themselves meet to make the laws. This is called a pure Democracy.

Q. A state must be very small where all the people can meet in one assembly.
A. This form of government is only suited to a small city, or rather village, and can never take place in a state of any extent. One other form remains; that is, where the people, too numerous to meet, themselves, choose certain of their own number to meet for them. This is called a REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT, because those who meet represent all the rest. It is also called a REPUBLIC.

Q. Which of these ways of governing a nation is the best?
A. The last. A country thus ruled is said to be free, or to enjoy liberty: but where a single man may make what laws he pleases, and all the rest must obey him, the people are no better than slaves.

Q. Why do they obey him?
A. Because he has an army of soldiers whom he pays, and who force the people to obedience.

Q. Cannot they raise an army too, and resist him?
A. This has sometimes been done, and after much bloodshed and confusion, the people have partially succeeded; but they have more frequently failed, and then they were more oppressed than before.

Q. How is this country governed?
A. It is a Republic, and is governed by persons whom the people choose from time to time to make the laws.

In the heading under Charters of Freedom, you will find a copy of the Constitution as well as links to other pertinent primary documents and commentary on the Constitution.

Elementary Catechism on the Constitution posts:
Elementary Catechism on the Constitution (Preface)
I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms
II. The American Revolution
III. The Occasion and Purpose of the Constitution
IV. State and National Laws
V. The House of Representatives
VI. The Senate
VII. Impeachment
Image from The Federalist Papers.


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