« ForrigeFortsett »
bly disregarded, or not well understood; and, 3dly, to prevent the effects of combinations violative of the rights of minorities. In reference to the second of these objects, I may
observe that I consider it the right and privilege of the people to decide disputed points of the constitution, arising from the general grant of power to Congress to carry into effect the powers expressly given. And I believe, with Mr. Madison, “ that repeated recognitions under varied circumstances, in acts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government, accompanied by indications, in different modes, of the concurrence of the general will of the nation, as affording to the President sufficient authority for his considering such disputed points as settled.”
Upward of half a century has elapsed since the adoption of our present form of government. It would be an object more highly desirable than the gratification of the curiosity of speculative statesmen, if its precise situation could be ascertained, a fair exhibit made of the operations of each of its departments, of the powers which they respectively claim and exercise, of the collisions which have occurred between them, or between the whole government and those of the states, or either of them. We could then compare our actual condition, after fifty years' trial of our system, with what it was in the commencement of its operations, and ascertain whether the predictions of the patriots who opposed its adoption, or the confident hopes of its advocates, have been best realized. The great dread of the former seems to have been, that the reserved powers of the states would be absorbed by those of the federal government, and a consolidated power established, leaving to the states the shadow, only, of that independent action for which they had so zealously contended, and on the preservation of which they relied as the last hope of liberty.
Without denying that the result to which they looked with so much apprehension is in the way of being realized, it is obvious that they did not clearly see the mode of its accomplishment. The general government has seized upon none of the reserved rights of the states.
As far as any open warfare may have gone, the state authorities have amply maintained their rights. To a casual observer, our
system presents no appearance of discord between the different members which compose it. Even the addition of many new ones has produced no jarring. They move in their respective orbits in perfect harmony with each other. But there is still an under-current at work, by which, if not seasonably checked, the worst apprehensions of our anti-federal patriots will be realized. And not only will the state authorities be overshadowed by the great increase of power in the executive department of the general government, but the character of that government, if not its designation, be essentially and radically changed. This state of things has been in part effected by causes inherent in the constitution, and in part by the never-failing tendency of political power to increase itself.
By making the President the sole distributor of all the patronage of the government, the framers of the constitution do not appear to have anticipated at how short a period it would become a formidable instrument to control the free operation of the state governments. Of trifling importance at first, it had, early in Mr. Jefferson's administration, become so powerful as to create great alarm in the mind of that patriot from the potent influence it might exert in controlling the freedom of the elective franchise. If such could have been the effects of its influence then, how much greater must be the danger at this time, quadrupled in amount, as it certainly is, and more completely under the control of the executive will, than their construction of their powers allowed, or the forbearing characters of all the early Presidents permitted them to make? But it is not by the extent of its patronage alone that the 'executive department has become dangerous, but by the 'use which it appears may be made of the appointing power, to bring under its control the whole revenues of the country
The constitution has declared it to be the duty of the President to see that the laws are executed, and it makes him commander-in-chief of the armies and navy of the United States. If the opinion of the most approved writers upon that species of mixed government, which, in modern Europe, is termed monarchy, in contradistinction to despotism, is correct, there was wanting no other addi
tion to the powers of our chief magistrate to stamp a monarchical character upon our government, but the control of the public finances. And to me it appears strange, indeed, that any one should doubt that the entire control which the President possesses over the officers who have the custody of the public money, by the power of removal with or without cause, does, for all mischievous purposes at least, virtually subject the treasure also to his disposal. The first Roman emperor, in his attempt to seize the sacred treasure, silenced the opposition of the officer to whose charge it had been committed, by a significant allusion to his sword. By a selection of political instruments for the care of the public money, a reference to their commissions by a President would be quite as effectual an argument as that of Cæsar to the Roman knight.
I am not insensible of the great difficulty that exists in devising a plan for the safe-keeping and disbursement of the public revenues, and I know the importance which has been attached by men of great abilities and patriotism to the divorce, as it is called, of the treasury from the banking institutions. It is not the divorce which is complained of, but the unhallowed union of the treasury with the executive department, which has created such extensive alarm. To this danger to our republican institutions, and that created by the influence given to the executive through the instrumentality of the federal officers, I propose to apply all the remedies which may be at my command. It was certainly a great error in the framers of the constitution, not to have made the officer at the head of the treasury department entirely independent of the executive. He should at least have been removable only upon the demand of the popular branch of the legislature. I have determined never to remove a secretary of the treasury without communicating all the circumstances attending such removal to both houses of Congress.
The influence of the executive in controlling the freedom of the elective franchise through the medium of the public officers can be effectually checked by renewing the prohibition published by Mr. Jefferson, forbidding their interference in elections further than giving their own
votes; and their own independence secured by an assurance of perfect immunity, in exercising this sacred privilege of freemen under the dictates of their own unbiased judgments. Never, with my consent, shall an officer of the people, compensated for his services out of their pockets, become the pliant instrument of executive will.
There is no part of the means placed in the hands of the executive which might be used with greater effect, for unhallowed purposes, than the control of the public press. The maxim which our ancestors derived from the mother country, that “the freedom of the press is the great bulwark of civil and religious liberty,” is one of the most precious legacies which they have left us. We have learned, too, from our own, as well as the experience of other countries, that golden shackles, by whomsoever, or by whatever pretence imposed, are as fatal to it as the iron bonds of despotism. The presses in the necessary employment of government should never be used to “ clear the guilty or to varnish crimes.” A decent and manly examination of the acts of the government should be not only tolerated, but encouraged.
Upon another occasion, I have given my opinion, at some length, upon the impropriety of executive interference in the legislation of Congress; that the article in the constitution making it the duty of the President to communicate information, and authorizing him to recommend measures, was not intended to make him the source of legislation, and, in particular, that he should never be looked to for schemes of finance. It would be very strange, indeed, that the constitution should have strictly forbidden one branch of the legislature from interfering in the origination of such bills, and that it should be considered proper that an altogether different department of the government should be permitted to do so. Some of our best political maxims and opinions have been drawn from our parent isle. There are others, however, which cannot be introduced into our system without singular incongruity, and the production of much mischief. And this I conceive to be one. No matter in which of the houses of Parliament a bill may originate, nor by whom introduced, a minister, or a member of the opposition, by
the fiction of law, or rather of constitutional principle, the sovereign is supposed to have prepared it agreeably to his will, and then submitted it to Parliament for their advice and consent.
Now, the very reverse is the case here, not only with regard to the principle, but the forms prescribed by the constitution. The principle certainly assigns to the only body constituted by the constitution (the legislative body) the power to make laws, and the forms even direct that the enactment should be ascribed to them. The Senate, in relation to revenue bills, have the right to propose amendments; and so has the executive, by the power given him to return them to the House of Representatives, with his objections. It is in his power, also, to propose amendments in the existing revenue laws, suggested by his observations upon their defective or injurious operation. But the delicate duty of devising schemes of revenue should be left where the constitution has placed it, with the immediate representatives of the people. For similar reasons, the mode of keeping the public treasure should be prescribed by them; and the farther removed it may be from the control of the executive, the more wholesome in arrangement, and the more in accordance with republican principles.
Connected with this subject is the character of the currency. The idea of making it exclusively metallic, however well intended, appears to me to be fraught with more fatal consequences than any other scheme, having no relation to the personal rights of the citizen, that has ever been devised. If any single scheme could produce the effect of arresting, at once, that mutation of condition by which thousands of our most indigent fellow-citizens, by their industry and enterprise, are raised to the possession of wealth, that is one. If there is one measure better calculated than another to produce that state of things so much deprecated by all true republicans, by which the rich are daily adding to their hoards, and the poor sinking deeper into penury, it is an exclusive metallic currency. Or if there is a process by which the character of the country for generosity and nobleness of feeling may be