« VorigeDoorgaan »
March 13, 1826.)
Amendment of the Constitution.
[H. of R.
sentatives, shows conclusively that this was a point not to make, any one State, or portion of this Union, to the exbe conceded. Indeed, sir, the Convention repeatedly declusion of another : but upon a subject, in which the cided against any mode by which this officer should be whole People of this mighty Confederacy feel much conelected, without a participation by the States as States : cern. Yes, Sir, said Mr.P., the proposed amendments to the plan finally adopted was the result of fair compromise, the Constitution, contained in the resolutions upon your and was much complained of at the time, as giving too table, involve, as it seems to me, a question of vast intermuch influence to the large States. Let us recollect, est to the People of this country. They involve, Sir, the tvo, sir, that, by the amendment of 1804, which I before question of their sovereignty. That this is a Government mentioned, this state right has been considerably abridged. based upon the will of the People ; that all power emanates
The power of the Horise, as exercised in this election, from them; and that a majority should rule; are, as I conis really the only purely federative feature that now receive, vital principles in this Government, never to be samains. The Senate do not vote by States, but individual-crificed or abandoned, under any circumstances. In thely. But, sir, the great argument relied on is the liability ory, all sound politicians admit the abstract proposition, of this House to corruption—to undue dependency by that the People of this country are sovereign ; that they the expectation of honors and offices. I know, sir, that are the source of power ; and that, in a representative Repatronage addresses itself to some of the most powerful public like this, the majority should rule, and the minorifeelings that reign in the human breast—to hope, to ty submit. These constitute the basis, upon which rest pleasing hope—that passion which aniinates the Lottery all your political institutions. But, in practice, how does adventurer, and the Monarch on the embattled plain ; to their sovereignty operate in the election of the Chief Ma. the desire of distinction, from which the wisest and best gistrate of the Nation ? Are the People, in fact, sovereign? are not exempt; to ambition, which, however immoder- Does the power that elevates this distinguished individual ate, persuades itself that it is our country, and not our to this high station always emanate from them? Do a maselves, that we serve. I admit, sir, that the arginnents jority always prevail? The history of past events answers of the honorable gentleman from South Carolina, (Mr. the question. The possibility, much less the increased McDUFFIE) deserve great consideration ; but, sir, they probability, that it may be otherwise, under the present prove too much, if any thing—they certainly prove, as provisions of the Constitution, strongly urges the necessithe honorable gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Eve- ty of making some amendment, whereby the desirable RETT) has shown, that we ought not to be entrusted with end may be attained, that the individual who is called to the mighty powers of legislation, which the Constitution preside over the destinies of this Nation may be the choice has vested us with, and which involve the weal or woe, of a majority of its citizens. But here, Sir, I am met at not only of this nation, but perhaps of the world. I can the threshold, by the argument of the gentleman from not see those frightful omens which some gentlemen think New York, (Mr. Storns) and told, that it never was inthey can discover in the political horizon. I see no bultended, by the framers of the Constitution, that the Peo." wark of the Constitution broken down ; the ramparts are ple should exercise the important function of electing the entire, and the sentinels, I trust, are at their posts. 1 President and Vice President of the United States; that have not heard the tocsin of alarm sounded by the State the popular principle, in relation to this election, was liLegislatures, nor have I seen the Haming brand passed mited; that it was a mixed power, partaking of the pofrom hill to hill.
pular and federative principles; that it was intended that The late Presidential election duly and constitutionally there should be a great rallying point for the States, in devolved upon this House, and was duly and constitution. the House of Representatives, when the primary electors ally made, and every good citizen is, 1 trust, disposed to should fail to make a choice, and when the contingency judge “all those in authority” by their measures. should happen, that the election should devolve upon
But, sir, if the deformed features of corruption have Congress. If the gentleman be right, in the proposition been here manifested, is there no mode of expelling the which he has assumed, I am free to admit that I have been monster, but by digging up the foundations of the con- wholly mistaken, and totally wrong, in my conceptions stitutional edifice? If the golden shower has penetrated upon this subject. But, before I attempt to answer the the massy walls of the Capitol, close the avenues ; if we argument of the gentleman, suffer me here, Mr. Chaircannot resist temptation, let us fly it. Let us pass a self- | man, to make this general remark. Almost every gendenying ordinance-exclude members from office. But tleman who has addressed the Committee upon this occado not, sir, because we are frail, disfigure the monuments sion, (I believe I should not err if I were to say all) seem of our ancestors' wisdom and virtue. Let us rather en- to have viewed this subject as though we were about to deavor to elevate ourselves to their standard, than de perform an ordinary act of legislation under the Constitustroy the standard itself. I have thus endeavored, Mr. tion; as though we were about to enact an electoral law, Chairman, not only to express my opinion, but to assign to carry the provisions into effect : and not as though we my reasons. I was not disposed to shrink from responsi- were called upon, by the propositions now before us, to bility by a silent vote for these amendments. I feel a amend the fundamental law of the country—the Constituconviction, sir, that I have at least endeavored to do my tiun itself. And, if the gentleman from New York was duty: and, sir, there is no feeling I prize more highly, right in his premises, as to the intention of that bright gaor woull purchase more dearly.
laxy of statesmen who composed the convention of '87Mr. POLK then took the floor, and spoke to the follow- that framed the Constitution, (which I am far from believing effect :
ing, and cannot admit,) still I would maintain, that, after Mr. CHAIRMAN : After the able and very interesting near forty years' experience of the practical operations of discussion, with whieb we have been favored upon the this Constitution, it was sound policy, and important to the present occasion, but little remains to be said upon this stability, duration, and harmony, of the Union, to amend important subject. And I should, Sir, upon this, as 1 the Constitution, and give this important power directly bave done upon other occasions, have contented myself to the great body of the American People. But, Sir, is to have given a silent vote, but for the acknowledged im- the gentleman from New York right? Was it, as he supportance of the great question upon which we now deli- poses, never intended that the People of the United States berate, and that I represent here a portion of the free should elect the President? If, Sir, I had no other arguPeople of this country. As their humble organ, I should ment to light up my mind to a correct conclusion upon be censurable, indeed, not to express their will upon a this point, than those that are legitimately to be drawn subject which is not local in its character ; which does from the Constitution itself, I should be amply sustained not affect, in the decision which we are called upon to in the opinions I have formed. Is it reasonable th:t the
H. of R.]
Amendment of the Constitution.
(March 13, 1826.
People of the United States, who had but recently broken his influence must be co-extensive with the Continent ; the chains of their slavery, and shaken off a foreign yoke and there can be no combination between the electors, as who were about to form for themselves a system, a free and they elect him on the same day in every State. When republican system, of Government–is it reasonable, I re- this is the case, how can foreign influence or intrigue enpeat it, Sir, that they should have intended to disfranchise ter ?". The late venerable President of the United States, themselves in this important particular-the election of (Mr. Monroe) who has gone into retirement, an!, I am the first officer of the Republic ? What, Sir, is their lan- sorry to say it, Sir, in penury and want-for, whatever guage, in the preamble of this Constitution? “We, the else may be said of him, it may be truly said, he was a People of the United States," &c. “ do ordain and establish faithful and useful public servant, in those trying times this Constitution for the United States of America." But I when his country realized the value of his services_he will not fatigue the Committee, by reiterating the able ar- said, upon this occasion : “The President ought to act guments of the honorable member from South Carolina, under the strongest impulses of rewards and punishments, Mr. Draytox) drawn from the Constitution itself, upon which are the strongest incentives to human actions. this part of the subject. It is fresh in the recollection of There are two ways of securing this point. He ought to every gentleman, and proves satisfactorily and conclusive- depend on the People of America for his appointment ly, to my mind, that the framers of the Constitution con- and continuance in office. He ought, also, to be respontemplated and intended, that the People should be the sible, in an equal degree, to all the States, and to be electors of President and Vice President ; that they view. tried by dispassionate judges. His responsibility ought, ed a recurrence of this election to the House of Repre- further, to be direct and immediate." "Mr. Mason, and sentatives as a remote possibility, and one which would Mr. Madison, too, who were distinguished members of seldom, if ever, occur. We are not, however, left to fer. the Convention of Virginia, do not seem to have under. ret out their intention by the letter, or by construction of stood this subject as the gentleman from New York prothe Constitution alone. Other evidences are within our fesses to do. They maintained that “the choice of the reach. And here, Sir, suffer me to say, that, when I seek People ought to be attended to." But, at the period information upon great political questions like this, 1 when this Constitution was presented to the States for choose rather to apply to those sages who participated in ratification, it was an alarming crisis to the People of this the deliberations of the convention whose work this Con- country. The Articles of Confederation had proved inadstitution is I choose rather to be informed by the politi- equate to the great purposes of self-government. The cal writings and essays of able statesmen, who were their question presented to the states was, ratification or rejeccontemporaries, than to rely—if we are to regard the tion of the new Constitution. Rejection, and anarchy, statement of his colleague (Mr. CAMBRELENG)-upon the and confusion, with despotism in their train, were most Auctuating and uncertain political notions of the gentle likely to be the consequences ; and though some objecman from New York. What were the opinions of a dis- tions might have existed to the Constitution, in this partinguished member of that convention, as contained in the ticular, as possible, in a remote degree, yet, under the writings of the Federalist, so frequently referred to in the circumstances, ratification was better than rejection. At course of this debate—the opinions, too, of an individual that period, it was thought by the sages of that day, diswho had no predilections for democracy; no partialties tinguished for their talents and political sagacity, that it in favor of extensive powers, vested in the People; who was barely possible that the election could devolve on had a strong bias in favor of aristocracy, and more ener- Congress. They had fixed their eyes upon that distingetic Government; who was said to bave been even fa- guished man, " the Father of his Country,” as the first vorably disposed to limited monarchy-what, Sir, were who was to fill this high office-an individual upon whom the opinions of Alexander Hamilton! With all his anti- all united with one voice. They could not pierce the democratic principles, did he contend, in the numbers of veil of futurity, and see the new system fully develop the Federalist, written by himself, and designed, togeth- itself. What they could not anticipate or foresee, we er with the numbers of his able coadjutors, (Mr. Madisou have realized. Is there any gentleman here, with his and Mr. Jay) to furnish to the American People a fair past observation and experience, who will hazard the exposition of the new Constitution-written at that criti- opinion, that this election will hereafter but seldom decal period, too, when this Constitution was suspended be. volve upon Congress? Is there any gentleman here, fore the Conventions of the States, for ratification or rejec. who will deny that, under existing circumstances, this tion? Did he contend that the President was not to be important election, under the present provisions of elected by the People ? No, Sir! Whatever might have the Constitution, must, in all probability, most generalbeen his own individual opinion of what the Constitution ly, terminate in this House? if such must probably be ought to have been, he knew too well the intention of the the result, is not the intention of the Constitution, and Convention as to what it was. In the 68th No. of that of its framers, that the People should elect the Presiwork, he says, it was desirable that the sense of the Peo-dent, defcatedIf, by the unforeseen operations of the ple should be ascertained in this important election ; that, Constitution, the People have, in effect, been deprived for this purpose, the election was not made to depend on of an important right, which they ought to possess and any pre-existing or pre-established body of men, who exercise, and which I maintain was intended to be given might be tampered with, to prostitute their votes ; but to them, are we not called upon, by the most solemn obthe choice was referred to an immediate act of the People ligations, to restore it to them? of America ; and that it was intended that the President But, to consider this subject more systematically-the should be independent of all others, but the People, for resolutions under consideration naturally divide themhis election. I have not the number to which I reter, be- selves into two distinct propositions : 1st. That the Confore me, but I state it substantially correct. In the Constitution shall be so amended, that the election of Presivention in Virginia, to whom this Constitution was sub-dent and Vice President shall, in no event, devolve upmitted, for ratification or rejection, what were the opin- on the respective Houses of Congress. And, 2d. That ions entertained by its distinguished members ? Did They the Constitution shall be so amended, that each State in understand that the People were not to elect the Presi- the Union shall be divided into as many districts as there dent? No, Sir. Governor Randolph, in'answering an are Senators and Representatives in Congress, from each objection which had been made to this part of the Consti- respective State, and that each district shall give one vote. tution—that foreign influence would operate in the elec- In examining these two propositions, although distinct tion of the President-says : “ The electors must be elect- in themselves, I shall not view them as distinct and subed by the People at large. To procure his re-election, stantive propositions, unconnected with each otber in March 13, 1826.)
Amendment of the Constitution.
(H. of R.
their effects and operations, as some gentlemen have done.
No. of Reps. In the view which I take of this subject, they are inti- Misssissippi has 1, a majority is 1 mately connected and blended together, in their effects ; Ilinois
1 and it will be necessary to take this view of them, in order Missouri
1 to appreciate, properly, the respective amendments which Delaware
do. they propose.
2 In support of the first proposition, it will be necessary Alabama
2 briefly to notice some of the defects of the present Con- Louisiana
2 stitution, and why it is that the election of this high offi- Indiana
do cer should, in no event, devolve upon Congress. The Vermont
do. first reason which suggests itself to my mind, why it New Hampshire
do. should not there devolve, is, that the President is not an Connecticut
do. officer of Congress ; he is not an officer of the House of New Jersey Representatives, but he is the Chief Magistrate of the Maine
4 whole People of the Union, and should be directly responsible to the People for his conduct in office, and be
31 dependent upon them for his re-election. The surest Thus the whole number of Representatives upon this guarantee that, in his administration, he will consult the floor, from thirteen of the smaller States in the Union, is interests of his constituents, and, to the extent of his ability, only forty-five. A majority of the representation from pursue a wise policy, is the certainty, that, at the expira- each State have it in their power to control, and give the tion of his term, he must return again to the body of so- vote of that State ; and thirty-one Representatives here ciety, and submit his public conduct to the scrutiny of constitute the sum of the majorities of the delegations of impartial examination ; is the certainty that, if he has dis- thirteen States of the Union. Thus C, with only twen. regarded or negligently mistaken the best interests of the ty-one electoral votes, against the remaining two hundred country, he will not be again elevated to that high sta- and forty electoral votes, and with thirty-one Represention, but must seek the "s post of honor in a private sta- tatives, against the remaining one hundred and eightytion;" must share with the body of bis fellow-citizens two Representatives, may be elected the President of the their burdens, and must participate with them, the evil United States. But suppose a case still more extremeeffects of his own policy. But if he is remotely respon- it is certainly possible it may occur, and therefore I am sible to the People, and dependent directly upon a select justifiable in using it-suppose C receives but one solitaor pre-existing body of men for his appointment, it is hu- ry electoral vote, and the remaining two hundred and sixman nature, and he will study more to conciliate his im- ty are equally divided between A and B. In this event meiliate electors, than to advance the interest of the com- Čis constitutionally presented to the House of Represen. munity. But, sir, the election ought, in no event, to de- tatives as one of the three highest on the list. With but volve upon the House of Representatives, for a much one single electoral vote, thirty-one gentlemen upon this more important reason, and one which, with me, is con- Poor, have it in their power to elect him the President of clusive. It is, because a minority as well in the Electoral the United States... Will gentlemen say these are exColleges, under the present provisions of the Constitution, treme cases, and will probably never occur ? I answer, it as a minority of Representatives in Congress, may elect is possible they may occur, and cases approximating to him, and thereby destroy and overturn in practice what them, and the same in principle, will, in all probability, of. all admit in theory--that a majority should rule. Accord ten occur. But shall i be told that the Representatives ing to the present provisions of the Constitution, there of freemen will never be so lost to a sense of duty and are as many electors for President and Vice President, as responsibility to the People, as to disregard their will, there are Senators and Representatives in Congress. By and palm upon them a President nut of their choice? the last apportionment, which I shall take, as an example, Experience is the best of tutoresses, and from her we for the purpose of illustrating the argument, the number may learn many salutary lessons. I refer gentlemen to of eleciors is 261. A majority of the whole number of the memorable contest in the House of Representatives, electors is necessary to a choice in the primary Colleges ; of 1801, between the venerable Jefferson and Aaron and if the Colleges of Electors fail to elect, then, out of Burr. The latter had not received a single vote in the the three highest on the list of those voted for by the contemplation of the People, or of the electors, for the electors, the House of Representatives, voting by states, Presidency; the friends of the former for the Presidenis to choose the President. Suppose, for example, sir, cy, had supported the latter for the Vice Presidency. that A and B are the prominent candidates before the Yet, having received an equal number of votes, the one People for the Presidency. C is likewise a candidate. A evidently intended to be President, and the other Vice receives 120 electoral votes, B receives an equal num- President, under the then provisions of the Constitution ber, and C receives the remaining 21 votes ; C may have it became necessary for the House of Representatives to been supported by one or two of the states, or may have determine, voting by States, which of them should be received the votes of a part of the People of soine one of President. With all these facts staring them in the face, the larger States. A, B, and C, in this event, are pre- a portion of the Representatives of the People at that sented to the House of Representatives, the three highest day, were not so scrupulous of violating the People's on the list of the electoral votes, out of whom the House is will, as to surrender, without a struggle, the Chief Magisto choose the President. An election, under these cir- tracy to the man of their choice. No, sir ; a doubtful iscumstances, takes place in the House, where the votes sue ensued, when the sable curtains of the night were are taken by States; and C, who has received a small drawn around; midnight balloting after balloting followed; minority of electoral votes, may be elected President of this mighty Confederacy was shaken to its centre : for the United States by thirty-one Representatives, upon this days the result was suspended. Fortunately, the Amerifloor, out of two hundred and thirteen, the whole number can People in that struggle ultimately prevailed; a victoof Representatives : for thirty-one Representatives here, ry of principle and of the People was obtained ; a majorfrom the thirteen smaller States in the Union, have it in ity still ruled. And who can tell, sir, what might have their power to control and to give the votes of thirteen been the consequences, if it had terminated otherwise ? States, and thereby elect the President against the will of I shudder to contemplate what might have been the fate the remaining one hundred and eighty-two Representa- of this happy country. But I shall not fatigue the Com. tives, as is demonstrable thus :
mittee, by indulging in conjecture upon this unpicasant