Imágenes de páginas


department by their exposition of the laws, which involved a power of deciding on their constitutionality;" and that "it was quite foreign from the nature of their office to make them judges of the policy of public measures." He moved, therefore, “that the National Executive shall have a right to negative any legislative act which shall not be afterwards passed by — parts of each branch of the National Legislature.'

Mr. King seconded this motion, “observing that the judges ought to be able to expound the law, as it should come before them, free from the bias of having participated in its formation.

Col. Hamilton was against the latter part of the amendment, and in favor of giving the Executive "an absolute negative on the laws." He thought "there was no danger of such power being too much exercised," and said "that the king of Great Britain had not exerted his negative since the revolution."

Dr. Franklin thought " this was. a mischievous sort of check. If the Executive was to have a council, such a power would be less objectionable. It was true, the king of Great Britain had not, as was said, exerted his negative since the revolution ; but that matter was easily explained. The bribes and emoluments now given to the members of Parliament rendered it unnecessary, everything being done according to the will of the ministers. He was afraid, if a negative should be given as proposed, that more power and money would be demanded, till at last enough would be got to influence and bribe the Legislature into a complete subjection to the will of the Executive."

Mr. Sherman was “against enabling any one man to stop the will of the whole. No one man could be found so far above all the rest in wisdom. He thought we ought to avail ourselves of his wisdom in revising the laws, but not permit him to overrule the decided and cool opinions of the Legislature."

Mr. Madison supposed that, if a proper proportion of each branch should be required to overrule the objections of the Executive, it would answer the same purpose as an absolute negative. It would rarely, if ever, happen that the Executive, constituted as ours is proposed to be, would have firmness enough to resist the Legislature, unless backed by a certain number of the body itself. The king of Great Britain, with all his splendid attributes, would not be able to withstand the unanimous and eager wishes of both Houses of Parliament."

Mr. Butler “had been in favor of a single Executive magistrate; but could he have entertained an idea that a complete negative on the laws was to be given him, he certainly should have acted very differently." “Gentlemen seemed to think that we had nothing to apprehend from an abuse of the executive power. But might not a Cataline or Cromwell arise in this country as well as in others ?


Mr. Bedford "was opposed to every check on the Legislature, even the council of revision first proposed. He thought it would be sufficient to mark out in the Constitution the boundaries to the legislative authority, which would give all the requisite security to the rights of the other departments. The representatives of the people were the best judges of what was for their interest, and ought to be under no external control whatever. The two branches would produce a sufficient control within the Legislature itself.”

Col. Mason said, “The probable abuses of a negative had been well explained by Dr. Franklin, as proved by experience, the best of tests. Will not the same door be opened here? The Executive may refuse its assent to necessary measures, till new appointments shall be referred to him; and, having by degrees engrossed all these into his own hands, the American Executive, like the British, will, by bribery and influence, save himself the trouble and odium of exerting his negative afterwards." “Notwithstanding the oppression and injustice experienced among us from democracy, the genius of the people is in favor of it, and the genius of the people must be consulted.” 5 Elliott's Debates, 153.

The Convention having, by a unanimous vote of the States, rejected the proposition to give the Executive an absolute negative, Mr. Butler moved, and Dr. Franklin seconded it, to give the Executive power to suspend legislative acts for a limited period, whereupon Mr. Gerry remarked that this power "might do all the mischief dreaded from the negative,” and it was likewise unanimously rejected, after which Mr. Gerry's proposition was amended so as to enable two-thirds of both houses of Congress to overrule the President's veto, and then passed as amended, Connecticut and Maryland only voting against it. Ibid., 155.

Towards the close of the Convention, Mr. Williamson “moved to reconsider the clause requiring three-fourths of each house to overrule the negative of the President, in order to strike out three-fourths and insert two-thirds. He had, he remarked, himself proposed three-fourths instead of two-thirds ; but he had since been convinced that the latter proportion was the best. The former puts too much in the power of the President." Mr. Sherman was of the same opinion." Mr. Hamilton “added his testimony to the fact, that two-thirds in New York had been ineffectual, either where a popular object, or a legislative faction, operated ; of which be mentioned some instances.” Mr. Gerry said, “ It is necessary to consider the danger on the other side also. Two-thirds will be a considerable, perhaps a proper security. Three-fourths puts too much in the power of a few men.” Mr. Williamson “ was less afraid of too few than of too many laws." Col. Masou “ had always considered this as one of the most exceptionable parts of the system.” Mr. Gouverneur Morris "dwelt on the danger to the public interest, from the

instability of laws, as the most to be guarded against. On the other side there could be little danger. If one man in office will not consent where he ought, every fourth year another can be substituted.” Mr. Pinckney "was warmly in opposition to three-fourths, as putting a dangerous power in the hands of a few senators, headed by the President." Mr. Madison said, “When three-fourths was agreed to, the President was to be elected by the Legislature, and for seven years. He is now. elected by the people, and for four years. The object of the revisionary power is two-fold-first, to defend the Executive rights; secondly, to prevent popular or factious injustice. It was an important principle, in this and in the State constitutions, to check legislative injustice and encroachments. The experience of the States had demonstrated that their checks are insufficient. We must compare the danger from the weakness of twothirds with the danger from the strength of three-fourths. He thought, on the whole, the former was the greater. As to the difficulty of repeals, it was probable that, in doubtful cases, the policy would soon take place of limiting the duration of laws, so as to require renewal, instead of repeal.”

The reconsideration being agreed to, two-thirds was inserted instead of three-fourths, by the following vote : Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, (Mr. McHenry, no,) North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, 6 yeas ; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, (Col. Mason and Mr. Randolph, yes, and Gen. Washington, Mr. Madison, and Mr. Blair, no,) 4 nays, and New Hampshire, divided. Ibid., 536.



ANOTHER great conservative feature, not at all in accordance with the democratic notions of modern reformers, but in entire harmony with the republican system the framers of the Constitution sought to establish, is to be found in the provision for future amendments to the Constitution. The first proposition agreed to was, that “on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the States in the Union, for an amendment of this Constitution, the Legislature of the United States shall call a Convention for that purpose;" but this was afterwards reconsidered, and on motion of Messrs. Madison and Hamilton, was amended so as to read as follows : “The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem necessary, or on the application of two-thirds of the Legislature

[ocr errors]

of the several States, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part thereof, when the same shall have been ratified by three-fourths at least of the Legislatures of the several States, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress : Provided, that no amendment which may be made prior to the year 1808, shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of article 1." Ibid., 532. Subsequently, Mr. Sherman “expressed his fears that three-fourths

, of the States might be brought to do things fatal to particular States; as abolishing them altogether, or depriving them of their equality in the Senate. He thought it reasonable that the proviso in favor of the States importing slaves should be extended, so as to provide that no State should be affected in its internal police, or deprived of its equality in the Senate." Col. Mason "thought the plan of amending the Constitution exceptionable and dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, and in the second ultimately, on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case." Mr. Gouverneur Morris and Mr. Gerry moved to amend the article, so as to require a Convention on application of two-thirds of the States. Mr. Madison "did not see why Congress would not be as much bound to propose amendments applied for by two-thirds of the States, as to call a Convention on the like application. He saw no objection, however, against providing for a Convention for the purpose of amendments, except only that difficulties might arise as to the form, the quorum, &c., which in constitutional regulations ought to be as much as possible avoided." The motion of Gouverneur Morris and Mr. Gerry was agreed to, nem. con. Ibid., 551.



VARIOUS other features of the Federal Constitution, and of the State Constitutions then in existence, might be referred to, in further corroboration of the conservative views of our early statesmen, showing that they had no design to establish a pure democratic form of government, and showing also that, though they were the champions of religious as well as civil liberty, they all acknowledged their dependence on God, and did not deem one of an irreligious character a proper person to be entrusted with important public duties. . On this subject, the following extract from an article in the American Review for July, 1849, is to the point:

The pure principles of evangelical Christianity; of which nearly all the primary States made striking recognition, and even insisted upon it, as a condition of eligibility to office, that their servants in political life should do the same. The people required that evidence, along with others, that the men they voted for were honest and would be faithful. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, seven States of the regularly constituted eleven, were imperative in this, and others went close to the mark. Sects and establishments were out of the question. Christianity in general, the religon of the country's morals, was the thing they wanted. The only doubt is, whether it was possible to make sure of the object in that way. Again, it was specially inserted in numbers of these early Constitutions, that persons selected to administer the government, must be “wise, virtuous, discreet" men, “men of experience,” the best that could be found. The same object was in view here as before. And two things are, I think, implied: one, that of all safeguards against abuse, the solid worth of those who were to have the power of committing it, was most to be relied on; the other, that in taking such pains to bring men of great personal fitness and competency into public life, it was intended that they should use the power of their stations according to their own judgment and discretion, undisturbed. from any quarter. Persons of such eminent qualities could not be wanted for electoral tools. Thirdly, various oaths were also required to be taken by the officers of the government, especially an oath of fidelity and an oath of allegiance to the State. To which in some cases was added an oath of abjuration, not only as to Great Britain, but as to “every other foreign power whatsoever, political or ecclesiastical.

The religious influences which operated upon the revolutionary patriots, and characterized all their acts, are forcibly portrayed, as well as the dangers to be apprehended from the influx of foreign infidels with which the land is now flooded, in an eloquent address delivered by the Rev. Dr. Tyng, at the anniversary of the American Sunday School Union, in May, 1848, from which the following extracts are made:

“What was it, Mr. Chairman, that led our glorious Revolution to its happy result; which has guarded that result in the confirmation of the happiness and prosperity of the country; that has established us as a people, able to maintain our hold against the thousand evils and wickedness upon every side, working, diverting, distracting and overturning, apparently every influence for good? I answer, sir, beyond all other causes comhined, was the deep and universal acquaintance with the Sacred Scriptures, scattered among the children of a former generation—the training of mind and heart and spirit, by which they were prepared and enabled to understand for what they must contend, and to contend successfully and triumphantly for the rights that they had established. It is not surprising that our Congress, in its very first assembling, should have ordered an edition of the Sacred Scriptures to be imported, I will not say printed. It is not surprising that a spirit like that should have governed in the minds of the men then gathered together; for every man of them had undoubtedly been taught from their very youth—from the beginning of their days—the power of those lively oracles. The land was inhabited by

« AnteriorContinuar »