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" Or any compact or engagement by which the United States shall be pledged to the Spanish American states, to maintain, by force, the principle that no part of the American continent is henceforward subject to colonization by any European power."
The preceding motions to amend being under consideration, Mr. Webster addressed the committee as follows.
Mr. CHAIRMAN, — I am not ambitious of amplifying this discussion. On the contrary, it is my anxious wish to confine the debate, so far as I partake in it, to the real and material questions before us.
Our judgment of things is liable, doubtless, to be influenced by our opinions of men. It would be affectation in me, or in any one, to claim an exemption from this possibility of bias. I can say, however, that it has been my sincere purpose to consider and discuss the present subject with the single view of finding out what duty it devolves upon me, as a member of the House of Representatives. If any thing has diverted me from that sole aim, it has been against my intention.
I think, Sir, that there are two questions, and two only, for our decision. The first is, whether the House of Representatives will assume the responsibility of withholding the ordinary appropriation for carrying into effect an executive measure, which the executive department has constitutionally instituted. The second, whether, if it will not withhold the appropriation, it will yet take the responsibility of interposing, with its own opinions, directions, or instructions, as to the manner in which this particular executive measure shall be conducted.
I am, certainly, in the negative, on both these questions. I am neither willing to refuse the appropriation, nor am I willing to limit or restrain the discretion of the executive, beforehand, as to the manner in which it shall perform its own appropriate constitutional duties. And, Sir, those of us who hold these opinions have the advantage of being on the common highway of our national politics. We propose nothing new; we suggest no change; we adhere to the uniform practice of the government, as I understand it, from its origin. It is for those, on the other hand, who are in favor of either, or both, of the propositions, to show us the cogent reasons which recommend their adoption. It is their duty to satisfy the House and the country that there is something in the present occasion which calls for such an extraordinary and unprecedented interference.
The President and Senate have instituted a public mission, for the purpose of treating with foreign states. The Constitution gives to the President the power of appointing, with the consent of the Senate, ambassadors and other public ministers. Such appointment is, therefore, a clear and unquestionable exercise of executive power. It is, indeed, less connected with the appropriate duties of this House, than almost any other ex ecutive act; because the office of a public minister is not created by any statute or law of our own government. It exists under the law of nations, and is recognized as existing by our Constitution. The acts of Congress, indeed, limit the salaries of public ministers; but they do no more. Every thing else in regard to the appointment of public ministers, — their numbers, the time of their appointment, and the negotiations contemplated in such appointments, - is matter for executive discretion. Every new appointment to supply vacancies in existing missions is under the same authority. There are, indeed, what we commonly term standing missions, so known in the practice of the government, but they are not made permanent by any law. All missions rest on the same ground. Now the question is, whether, the President and Senate having created this mission, or, in other words, having appointed the ministers, in the exercise of their undoubted constitutional power, this House will take upon itself the responsibility of defeating its objects, and rendering this exercise of executive power void?
By voting the salaries in the ordinary way, we assume, as it seems to me, no responsibility whatever. We merely empower another branch of the government to discharge its own appropriate duties, in that mode which seems to itself most conducive to the public interests. We are, by so voting, no more responsible for the manner in which the negotiation shall be conducted, than we are for the manner in which one of the heads of department may discharge the duties of his office.
On the other hand, if we withhold the ordinary means, we do incur a heavy responsibility. We interfere, as it seems to me, to prevent the action of the government, according to constitutional forms and provisions. It ought constantly to be remembered, that our whole power in the case is merely incidental. It is only because public ministers must have salaries, like other officers, and because no salaries can be paid but by our vote, that the subject is referred to us at all. The Constitution vests the power
appointment in the President and Senate; the law gives to the President even the power of fixing the amount of salary, within certain limits; and the only question here is upon the appropriation. There is no doubt that we have the power, if we see fit to exercise it, to break
up the mission, by withholding the salaries. We have power also to break up the court, by withholding the salaries of the judges, or to break up the office of President, by withholding the salary provided for it by law. All these things, it is true, we have the power to do, since we hold the keys of the treasury. But, then, can we rightfully exercise this power? The gentleman from Pennsylvania,* with whom I have great pleasure in concurring on this part of the case, while I regret that I differ with him on others, has placed this question in a point of view which cannot be improved. These officers do, indeed, already exist. They are public ministers. If they were to negotiate a treaty, and the Senate should ratify it, it would become a law of the land, whether we voted their salaries or not. This shows that the Constitution never contemplated that the House of Representatives should act a part in originating negotiations or concluding treaties.
I know, Sir, it is a useless labor to discuss the kind of power which this House incidentally holds in these cases. Men will differ in that particular; and as the forms of public business and of the Constitution are such that the power may be exercised by this House, there will always be some, or always may be some, who feel inclined to exercise it. For myself, I feel bound not to step out of my own sphere, and neither to exercise or control any authority, of which the Constitution has intended to lodge the free and unrestrained exercise in other hands. Cases of extreme necessity, in which a regard to public safety is to be the supreme law, or rather to take place of all law, must be allowed to provide for themselves when they arise. Arguments drawn from such possible cases will shed no light on the general path of our constitutional duty.
Mr. Chairman, I have an habitual and very sincere respect for the opinions of the gentleman from Delaware. And I can say with truth, that he is the last man in the House from whom I should have looked for this proposition of amendment, or from whom I should have expected to hear some of the reasons which he has given in its support. He says, that, in this matter, the source from which the measure springs should have no influence with us whatever. I do not comprehend this; and I cannot but think the honorable gentleman has been surprised into an expression which does not convey his meaning. This measure comes from the executive, and it is an appropriate exercise of executive power. How is it, then, that we are to consider it as entirely an open question for us, - as if it were a legislative measure originating with ourselves? In deciding whether we will enable the executive to exercise his own duties, are we to consider whether we should have exercised them in the same way ourselves? And if we differ in opinion with the President and Senate, are we on that account to refuse the ordinary means ? I think not; unless we mean to say that we will ourselves exercise all the powers of the government.
* Mr. Buchanan. 16
But the gentleman argues, that, although generally such a course would not be proper, yet in the present case the President has especially referred the matter to our opinion; that he has thrown off, or attempted to throw off, his own constitutional responsibility; or at least, that he proposes to divide it with us; that he requests our advice, and that we, having referred that request to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, have now received from that committee their report thereon.
Sir, this appears to me a very mistaken view of the subject; but if it were all so, if our advice and opinion had thus been asked, it would not alter the line of our duty. We cannot take, though it were offered, any share in executive duty. We cannot divide their own proper responsibility with other branches of the government. The President cannot properly ask, and we cannot properly give, our advice, as to the manner in which he shall discharge his duties. He cannot shift the responsibility from himself; and we cannot assume it. Such a course, Sir, would confound all that is distinct in our respective constitutional functions. It would break down all known divisions of power, and put an end to all just responsibility. If the President were to receive directions or advice from us, in things pertaining to the duties of his own office, what would become of his responsibility to us and to the Senate? We hold the impeaching power. We are to bring him to trial in any case of maladministration. The Senate are to judge him by the Constitution and laws; and it would be singular indeed, if, when such occasion should arise, the party accused should have the means of sheltering himself under the advice or opinions of his accusers. Nothing can be more incorrect or more dangerous han this pledging the House beforehand to any opinion as to the manner of discharging executive duties.
But, Sir, I see no evidence whatever that the President has asked us to take this measure upon ourselves, or to divide the responsibility of it with him. I see no such invitation or request. The Senate having concurred in the mission, the President has sent a message requesting the appropriation, in the usual and common form. In answer to a call of the House, another message is sent, communicating the correspondence, and setting forth the objects of the mission. It is contended, that by this message he asks our advice, or refers the subject to our opinion. I do not so understand it. Our concurrence, he says, by making the appropriation, is subject to our free determination. Doubtless it is so. If we determine at all, we shall determine freely; and the message does no more than leave to ourselves to decide how far we feel ourselves bound, either to support or to thwart the executive department, in the exercise of its duties. There is no message, no document, no communication to us, which asks for our concurrence, otherwise than as we shall manifest it by making the appropriation.
Undoubtedly, Sir, the President would be glad to know that the measure met the approbation of the House. He must be aware, unquestionably, that all leading measures mainly depend for success on the support of Congress. Still, there is no evidence that on this occasion he has sought to throw off responsibility from himself, or that he desires us to be answerable for any thing beyond the discharge of our own constitutional duties. I have already said, Sir, that I know of no precedent for such a proceeding as the amendment proposed by the gentleman from Delaware. None which I think analogous has been cited. The resolution of the House, some years ago, on the subject of the slave-trade, is a precedent the other way. A committee had re