Government of laws, NOT of men

When we consider the nature and the theory of our institutions of government, the principles upon which they are supposed to rest, and review the history of their development, we are constrained to conclude that they do not mean to leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power. Sovereignty itself is, of course, not subject to law, for it is the author and source of law; but, in our system, while sovereign powers are delegated to the agencies of government, sovereignty itself remains with the people, by whom and for whom all government exists and acts. And the law is the definition and limitation of power. It is, indeed, quite true that there must always be lodged somewhere, and in some person or body, the authority of final decision, and in many cases of mere administration, the responsibility is purely political, no appeal lying except to the ultimate tribunal of the public judgment, exercised either in the pressure of opinion or by means of the suffrage. But the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, considered as individual possessions, are secured by those maxims of constitutional law which are the monuments showing the victorious progress of the race in securing to men the blessings of civilization under the reign of just and equal laws, so that, in the famous language of the Massachusetts Bill of Rights, the government of the commonwealth "may be a government of laws, and not of men." For the very idea that one man may be compelled to hold his life, or the means of living, or any material right essential to the enjoyment of life at the mere will of another seems to be intolerable in any country where freedom prevails, as being the essence of slavery itself. (Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356. 1886)


The Constitution of the United States as well as the Constitution of each of the states of the United provide that the government shall be divided into three departments: executive, legislative, and judicial. George Washington, who was the President of the Constitutional Convention which adopted the United States Constitution, in a letter written to his friend Lafayette in 1788, referring to the complete separation of the powers of the government, said: "These powers are so distributed among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, in which the powers of the government are arranged that it can never be in danger of denigrating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic form of government as long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people."Mr. Thomas Jefferson, who has been quoted on questions relating to the meaning, force and application of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States perhaps more than any other one person, said: "The great principle established by the Constitution of the United States which was never before fully established, was the separation of the delegated power into the hands of the executive, the legislative department, and the judiciary. This is our system of check and balances which makes ours a government of laws and not of men." On another occasion Mr. Thomas Jefferson said, in discussing the necessity of limiting the power of government: "When it comes to a question of power — trust no man, bind him down from mischief, by the strong chains of the Constitution." (G.R. No. L-26979. April 1, 1927)


It has been said that this is a government of laws and not of men; that there is no arbitrary body of individuals; that the constitutional principles upon which our government and its institutions rest do not leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power, but that all in authority are guided and limited by these provisions which the people have, the through the organic law, declared shall be the measure and scope of all control exercised over them. In particular the fourteenth amendment, and especially the equal protection clause, thereof, forbids that the individual shall be subjected to any arbitrary exercise of the powers of government; it was intended to prohibit, and does prohibit, any arbitrary deprivation of life or liberty, or arbitrary spoliation of property.

As we have seen, a statute which makes a purely arbitrary or unreasonable classification, or which singles out any particular individuals or class as the subject of hostile and discriminating legislation, is clearly unconstitutional as being opposed to the fourteenth amendment and especially to the equal protection clause thereof. This is a plain case, and requires no further discussion. (G.R. No. L-14078. March 7, 1919, citing Vol. 4, Encyclopedia of U.S. Supreme Court Reports, p. 366.)