ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO.
MR. JUSTICE LAMAR, after stating the case as above reported, delivered the opinion of the court.
We are unable to assent either to the conclusions of the court below, or to the positions of defendant in error. The language of the sixth section seems to be neither complicated nor doubtful; and we think it plain that what is meant is exactly what is said; no more and no less. It deals with the subject of county debts; and to begin with, assumes a unit of measurement which is one and one half dollars in the thousand of assessed values; that is, one and one half mills on the dollar. This is about equal to the average amount of taxes levied for county purposes per annum under normal conditions. The provision then proceeds as follows:
First. It provides that no county shall borrow money in any way;
Secondly. Exception is then made in favor of the erection of necessary public buildings, and the making or repairing of public roads and bridges; and,
Thirdly. The loans allowed by the foregoing exception to be taken in any one year are limited to the amount of one and one half mills on assessed values in one class of counties, and three mills in another class.
Here the matter of indebtedness by loan is completed; and the section passes to a broader subject. Manifestly, the purpose of the collocation of the two passages in one section is not that by a wrested reading the latter may yet further limit and complicate the power of borrowing; but that the meaning of the latter passage may be more sharply and clearly defined and emphasized by an antithesis. It is an example not of inadvertence, but of good rhetoric, as if special attention had been by discussion and care given to the wording of the section.
Fourthly. That the aggregate debt of any country for all purposes (exclusive of debts contracted before the adoption of the constitution) shall not at any time exceed the sum of three mills (or six, as the class might be) on assessed values; unless the taxpayers vote in favor of such excess, at some general election; and
Fifthly. That even when an election has been held, the aggregate debt so contracted shall not exceed, at any one time, the sum of six mills (or twelve, as the case might be) on the assessed values.
We are unable to adopt the constructive interpolations ingeniously offered by counsel for defendant in error. Why not assume that the framers of the constitution, and the people who voted it into existence, meant exactly what it says? At the first glance, its reading produces no impression of doubt as to the meaning. It seems all sufficiently plain; and in such case there is a well-settled rule which we must observe.The object of construction, applied to a constitution, is to give effect to the intent of its framers, and of the people in adopting it. This intent is to be found in the instrument itself; and when the text of a constitutional provision is not ambiguous, the courts, in giving construction thereto, are not at liberty to search for its meaning beyond the instrument.
To get at the thought or meaning expressed in a statute, a contract or a constitution, the first resort, in all cases, is to the natural signification of the words, in the order of grammatical arrangement in which the framers of the instrument have placed them. If the words convey a definite meaning which involves no absurdity, nor any contradiction of other parts of the instrument, then that meaning, apparent on the face of the instrument, must be accepted, and neither the courts nor the legislature have the right to add to it or take from it. Newell v. People, 7 N.Y. 9, 97; Hills v. Chicago, 60 Illinois, 86; Denn v. Reid, 10 Pet. 524; Leonard v. Wiseman, 31 Maryland, 201, 204; People v. Potter, 47 N.Y. 375; Cooley, Const. ...