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IMPORTANT STATE PAPERS AND PUBLIC DOCUMENTS,
COMPRISING THE PERIOD FROM ocToBER 26, 1807, To APRIL 25, 180s,
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same breath strike at the independence and threaten the prostration of that power in our Constitution which alone is capable of wresting the oppressed from the fangs of the lawless spoiler. The doctrine which has been here supported comes with a very ill grace from the person who has denounced General Wilkinson for apprehending a few traitors. In our anxiety to get at the man, we have forgot our own power, and also have forgot that we have already acted on one part of this subject this session, by which proceedings a part at least of this resolution is rendered a mere surplusage. [Mr. T. then read an extract from the Message of the President of the present session, and an extract from the Journal, showing that so much of that Message as related to enterprises against the public peace had been already referred to a committee.]. This committee, if any could possess it, certainly had the power to inquire and report the result. Was it an evidence of their want of that power, that the subject had been in this manner again introduced ? The truth is, that proceeding did not contain a declaration of war against General Wilkinson; it only touched the subject generally; it was no denunciation, and therefore it was not strong enough. Mr. Elliot said he should be in favor of one part of the motion of the gentleman from North Carolina, but not of the whole, and therefore should call for a division of the question. It had not originally been his intention to take any part in this debate, and he should not now do so, were it not for the extraordinary exposition of the Constitution, which had been presented to them by the gentleman from Kentucky, in support of an extraordinary proposition indeed, take it all in all. It would be a miserable affectation in me, said Mr. E., to pretend to conceal the impression which has been long since made upon my mind in relation to the officer who is the object of the resolution under consideration; but, whatever may be my impressions, I wish nothing to be made use of against him which is not '...} Constitutional. The gentleman from Kentucky has told the House, and I hope he has told us true, that he stands here upon independent ground, and as an independent man. Iapprove and admire such conduct; but the gentleman's sentiments, yesterday expressed, provedthat independent ground is not always Constitutional ground. The ideas expressed by that gentleman, I will venture to say, will not be sanctioned by the majority of this body, or by himself upon mature reflection. He advanced some very broad and bold positions, and I will preface the remarks which I shall make by advancing one equally broad and bold, but much !. liable to objection than that which the gentleman has offered. it is this: that the House of Representatives can institute no inquiry into the public or private character or conduct of any officer or citizen of the United States, in a case in which they can neither impeach, nor punish such officer or citizen; except it be for the purpose of acquiring information to enable them to exercise their legislative functions. This is a general Constitutional proposition. But the gentleman from Kentucky has told us
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that there are certain general powers vested in Congress by the Constitution of the United States which would justify us in an act of this kind, and particularly cited the general power of providing for the public defence and general welfare. Independent, as that gentleman may be, he unquestionably means to be considered as a republican ; and I have always understood it to be the republican doctrine that it is dangerous, improper, and anti-republican to contend that these general provisions would authorize Congress to assume any powers not specially vested or necessarily incidental. Certainly the words | are not without meaning. Congress has power to provide for the general defence and common welfare of the United States. How 2 By the exercise of certain powers specially vested in them. The gentleman might have found another general provision which would have answered his purpose better: “Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the forégoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Con‘stitution,” &c. After a particular enumeration of the special powers vested in Congress, by the Constitution, a general power is vested to pass all laws necessary to carry into effect these preceding delegations of power. If there be a deficiency in the powers of the Executive department to institute an inquiry into the conduct of a military officer, we are competent to vest it with the necessary authority. But until we do exercise that power, the power is with the President, to possess and exercise it, at his discretion, conformably to the existing laws. But, not contented with telling us that this general power authorizes us to do anything we please, the gentleman says, that if we do think proper to act or institute an inquiry, on any subject; that the moment we, by a majority of perhaps a single vote, have so determined, the nation is in motion, and who shall dare to resist the nation' I do contend that we cannot put the sovereignty of this nation in motion beyond the orbit in which the Constitution has directed that we ourselves shall move; and this House can of itself do no act, except in cases particularly described by the Constitution or as incidental to them. We can set the national will in motion in cases of impeachment. The moment a majority of this House determines on the impeachment of a civil officer of the United States, that moment the national will is that such officer shall be impeached, because the Constitution has vested in this House the sole power, and we are the sole movers of the nation on this subject; but the moment we wander without the sphere of those powers specially vested—for I disclaim any general delegation of power by the Constitution farther than is necessary to carry into effect special powers and incidental powers growing out of them— the moment we wander out of it, so far from our setting the national will in motion, that will is against us, and must and will overpower us. We array ourselves against the will of the nation and its sovereignty, the moment we exercise a