Constitutionalism is a form of political thought and action that seeks to prevent tyranny and to guarantee the liberty and rights of individuals. Constitutionalism is the conduct of politics in accordance with a constitution.
From the eighteenth century the essential element in modern constitutionalism is the doctrine of limited government under a written fundamental law. Limited government means that officials cannot act arbitrarily when they make and enforce public decisions. Public officials cannot simply do as they please. The Constitution is the supreme law that guides and limits the exercise of power by government officials.
In 1787 representatives of the people of the United States drafted and ratified a Constitution. Article 6 of the Constitution states this principle: “The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” All laws, passed either by Congress or by state legislatures, must conform to the supreme law—the Constitution. As Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist No. 78: “No legislative act contrary to the Constitution, therefore, can be valid.” Actually, a legislative or executive action that violates the Constitution can be declared unconstitutional, or unlawful, by the Supreme Court.
Constitutionalism is a form of government that lies between absolutism and monarchy, backed by a parliament. In absolutism, the monarch is free to do what he likes, and there is no way to contol him. In a parliamntary moarchy, the monarch has his power bound by parliament, and is accountable for what he does.
- Gerhard Casper, Changing Concepts of Constitutionalism: 18th to 20th Century, Supreme Court Review (1989): 311–332.
- Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (1988).
- Sylvia Snowiss, From Fundamental Law to Supreme Law of the Land: A Reinterpretation of the Origins of Judicial Review, Studies in American Political Development 2 (1987): 1–67.
- Gerald Stourzh, Constitution: Changing Meanings of the Term from the Early Seventeenth to the Late Eighteenth Century, in Conceptual Change and the Constitution, edited by Terence Ball and J. G. A. Pocock (1988), pp. 35–54