Page images
[blocks in formation]

powerful. The minority in Virginia and Pennsylvania alone were more than equal to countervail the majorities of five or six of the smaller States; so that, if the vote had been taken by the whole American people voting together, it is doubtful if it had ever been adopted.

H. OF R.

and affecting in no wise the federative principle, there was no ground for local jealousy. But, in this case, for the first time, you are affecting the organization of the departments, and, of course, the federative principle; and the arguments used in this discussion have but too well demonstrated the State jealousies and inquietudes likely to result from every such amendment between the large and smaller States. Representing a State which occupies and is likely to maintain, for a long time to come, a middle position in the Union, I have not critically examined whether the resolution will operate for or against the one or the other; but I know that there are jealousies on this sub

When we view it in relation to the organization of the departments, they are equally mistaken. The House of Representatives, which partakes most of the popular or consolidated principle, is not chosen by the will of the people of the United States, but in different modes, by the people of the respective States. The Senate partakes in its mode of appointment exclusively of the federative principle, without regard to the number of indi-ject, and we ought to be cautious not to fan the viduals contained in the several States.

When we come to the organization of the Executive department, we find an intermixture of federative and popular or consolidated principles, combined and interwoven with so delicate a hand that it is impossible to strip it of the one without destroying the other. The Electors who choose the President are not chosen in a manner to ascertain the sense of the people of the United States, but are chosen in some States by the Legislatures, in others by the people voting in a general ticket, and smothering the voice of the minority; while, in others, the choice is made by the people voting in districts, and giving the proportional weight to the minority. The number of Electors likewise assigned to the different States depend on the combined number of the Senators and Representatives of each State in the Congress of the United States; so that a State having one Representative, has two votes on the federative principle, to one on the popular principle. The result of this analysis of the Constitution will satisfy gentlemen that State interests are materially affected by this amendment; and that the public will, always equivocal, is not the only thing to be considered in this particular. Indeed, sir, it proves to them that, instead of giving complete effect to the popular will, the choice of the Electors is made through the medium of so refined a process, and in so artificial a manner, that it may happen that a majority of the Electors may be chosen and the President elected by a minority of the people. I believe, sir, a President of the United States has been elected by a minority of the people of the United States.

We have been told that numerous amendments have been made to the Constitution, and it is therefore proved by experience that those State jealousies and other dangers, which are represented as likely to arise from this amendment, have no place except in the imagination of the opponents of the resolution. I think I shall not be considered as metaphysical, however, when I declare that, there occurs to my mind a material distinction between an amendment which goes merely to enlarge or abridge the Legislative power, or the power of any given department, and one which materially changes the manner in which one of the departments itself is organized.

All the amendments heretofore made are of the first description; operating merely on the popular,

flame. If there be individuals in this nation hostile to the Union, (and we have been admonished that such exist,) let us be cautious how we put into their mouths the strongest arguments to effectuate their designs; and, let me again repeat it, there must always exist inquietude both among States and individuals wherever you attempt to change the mode of organizing a department, and every amendment you make tends to weaken the bond of our Union. The idea of the friends of the resolution, on the subject of changes in the Constitution, therefore, is wholly erroneous, when they suppose there is nothing to be considered but what they call the public will; and they have made the mistake by regarding the Confederacy as a consolidated Government. But it partakes of this equality in no instance, except in the operation of its laws. Here it reaches our citizens as one people, regardless of State limits and State inequalities. It is this property alone which forms the distinguishing characteristic_between that system and the Confederation. Here we operate upon the people, and there they operated on States through the medium of requisitions. I am sensible I have availed myself to the full extent of the patience of the Committee, and shall conclude with an exhortation that we do nothing which may affect the harmony of our Union; and that we revise, and revise again, this resolution, before we stamp it with our sanction.

Mr. JACKSON.-Mr. Speaker, when I came to the House this morning, nothing was more foreign to my intention than to trespass upon their indulgence, but the importance of the subject, and the bold and daring assertions made by gentlemen in the opposition, will be my apology for the remarks I shall make, and I promise the House as a remuneration for the attention they may honor me with, to be as concise as possible. Sir, I must call that a bold and daring assertion, made by the gentleman from North Carolina, (Mr. PURVIANCE,) that if the small States had contemplated a change in the Constitution, and had not considered it as inviolable and intangible, they would not have come into the Union; when I look at the Constitution and see used not vague expressions or dubious language admitting of its amendment, but an express article, to wit: the fifth, authorizing amendments and designating the mode by which they may be obtained, which declares that

[ocr errors]

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses

H. of R.

Amendment to the Constitution.

shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to the Constitution, or, on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by Congress :"

And when I consider the perspicuous and emphatical language used by its framers, that they have not inserted a single clause not intended to have a full meaning, and that they were incapable of holding forth a feature in the Constitution which should be construed contrary to the plain acceptation of it, I am induced to believe that the gentleman has not paid a proper attention to the subject, or he would not have hazarded the



fate of other little Republics warranted the idea that the smaller members would be swallow ed up by the larger ones, who would, in turn, attack each other; and that the liberty achieved by the blood of some of the bravest men that ever lived would pass away without leaving a trace behind it. They, therefore, yielded everything to the little States, knowing they were most numer ous, and naturally jealous of the large ones. If we examine the Constitution, we shall find the whole of the great powers of the Government concentred in the Senate. They have the sole power of trying impeachments, and of making treaties. Congress may declare war; but, once declared, they cannot make peace; that power as well as the boundless, undefined, treaty-making Senate; in the Legislative power they possess an power, generally, are exclusively vested in the absolute veto on the passage of every measure sanctioned by the Representatives of the people; and how are they chosen? Two from each State; the smallest State has the same influence in that body with the largest. In the choice of Electors of President the small States have this additional extraordinary privilege of choosing one Elector for each Senator, and if the election of President comes into the House of Representatives each State has equal power. The small States also possess the power, under the Constitution, of reducing the Representatives on this floor to one from each State, and in such event of completely controlling the power of the large States in every department of the Government, for the Constitu

tion, says:

"The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative."

The same gentleman has said, we are about to encourage fraud, intrigue, venality, and corruption, by the passage of this resolution; my respect for decorum and the rules of this House prevents me from answering this assertion in the language it deserves. I may, however, be permitted to say that the reverse will be the case; and I contend that there is more danger that fraud, intrigue, venality, and corruption, will be practised in cases resulting from the Constitution as it now stands, than there will be under the amendment before us, if adopted. To illustrate my position, I will suppose an understanding and agreement among the States, (for without them no election for President can take place.) that A shall be supported as President, and B as Vice President; will not the importance of the office, and the probability of success, under the want of the discriminating principle, warrant the assertion that there is great danger of intrigue, to secure the election of B, I therefore think that, in the formation of this the ostensible candidate for the office of Vice Constitution, the accommodation was exclusively President to the Presidential chair, by reducing on the part of the large States, and that, of course, some of the Electors in one of the States to vio- it was not reciprocal. Though the large States late the agreement thus made with the sister have not their due share of power, I do not comStates, in voting for him only, whom none but plain. I only infer that, as the small States have themselves and those active in the intrigue, con- almost all the power of the Government, or may template to be President, and thereby a President get it by amendments, and as they are vested with will be crammed upon us, whom nine-tenths of all this power, without an equivalent given to the the people never thought of? Much has been large States, they are most interested in the exist said by gentlemen respecting the spirit of compro- ence of the Constitution, and if most interested in mise and accommodation which governed the its preservation they are also most interested in framers of the Constitution, and it is contended the adoption of this amendment, because I have that this spirit of accommodation and compromise proven that intrigue and corruption are more will be materially affected, and one of the main likely to occur under the Constitution, wanting the principles of the Constitution violated by this discriminating principle, than under the amendamendment. I admit that a spirit of compromise ment now proposed; and I ask gentlemen whether and accommodation influenced some of the fram- any engine that can be set in motion will be more ers of that instrument, but I deny that it was mu- destructive to this Constitution than fraud, intual. There certainly was a noble magnanimity trigue, venality, and corruption? Sir, the friends evinced in the accommodating spirit of the Rep- of republican Government have justly considered resentatives of the large States, to induce the that the great danger it has to dread is from oversmall States to come into the Union, but that grown Executive power, and from the desperate spirit was not reciprocal. I believe that those efforts of aspiring individuals to obtain it. Renwho represented the large States justly estimated der the election a matter of chance, make the the danger and rivalries of neighboring States, if Electors vote blindfolded, as they now do, and not subject to one confederated Government, often indeed will the election come into the House competent to their individual protection. The of Representatives, where (I wish to be under


Amendment to the Constitution.

stood, I speak not of the present time, I believe the present Representatives would spurn at every effort to influence them improperly.) intrigue, venality, and corruption will be brought to a focus with wealth and all the allurements of office in the train, arrayed against virtue, and the wishes of the nation. Will there not be great danger that corruption will be played off here in such a way as to induce the members to disregard the voice of the people, and elevate to supreme Executive power an aspiring individual? Sir, experience has borne testimony against the present mode of election. Let us not reject its admonitions. By recurring to the situation of this country, not long since, it will be recollected that there was serious danger of a dissolution of the Government, and I believe it was felt in the most remote parts of the United States. Under the discriminating principle now contemplated, the election will not, probably in one case out of a hundred, be brought into the House of Representatives, and the awful crisis of alarm, to which I have alluded, never occur again.

H. OF R.

says the interests of the States are implicated by this amendment. Sir, I believe there are talents and virtue sufficient in the State Legislatures to discern the import of measures implicating their interests, and to adopt or reject them as those interests dictate; they will not be thankful to the gentleman and his political friends for attempting upon this, as on a former, occasion, to guard the people against themselves as their worst enemies. Much has been said against the details of this amendment. I acknowledge, sir, I am one of those who do not like them all, but I think the cases in which inconvenience is apprehended, so extreme and unlikely to occur, that I am unwilling to hazard the great principle of the amendment on account of them. I am not disposed to risk a certain good, by guarding against a visionary evil, which it may be supposed will result from it. I believe the guarding against the right of the Senate to elect a President would be providing for an extreme case that will never happen. For, as I before observed, it is not likely that the election will come into the House of Representatives for a century to come, if the discriminating principle be adopted; and when it does come into this House, it is not to be presumed they will neglect to make a choice, when, in that case, they know the Senate have the authority. I ask, if a man would not be esteemed mad, who, having a ship and its cargo in the hands of an enemy, should refuse to accept the restoration of the one without the other? As the Constitution at present stands it has, in a great measure, placed the election (as I have attempted to show) in the hands of a minority-in the hands of political enemiesand out of the control of the majority? Shall we suffer this to be the case, because we cannot make the resolution more perfect; although we ac

ment, and almost all the States, before the prevalence of party spirit, declared an alteration necessary? These are my reasons for voting for the resolution, and I hope it will be agreed to.

I observed, upon a former occasion, when this subject was before us, that the polar star of republicanism was, that the majority should govern; and that, so far as we have deviated from that principle, our Constitution is anti-republican. Shall we reject the present favorable opportunity to give efficacy to that principle in a most essential branch of our Government? and, by adhering to a mode which experience has proven is fraught with imminent danger, suffer the minority, of this nation to choose a President of the United States? For, unless we sacrifice the election of Vice President, they may vote for him whom we intend for that office, and thereby make him, contrary to the wishes of the majority, the President of the United States. If we desire to reward tal-knowledge it contains a most essential amendents and patriotism with the highest office in the power of the nation to bestow, we shall be obliged to give up the Vice Presidency to the minority, and thereby set a price of $80,000 on the head of the President, with all the honors and offices of the nation, to be given to a political enemy. I hope, sir, as such a state of things may happen, we shall take care to guard against it. The gentleman from Connecticut says this subject is not understood by the American people, and, that it may be understood, he wishes it to be discussed here, in the newspapers, and in the State Legislatures. Sir, it has been, long since, discussed here and elsewhere, and is, in my opinion, well understood. In several State Legislatures, whose politics correspond with those of that gentleman, (and which will, therefore, be allowed by him to have been uninfluenced by party zeal,) as well as in States which correspond in political opinion with the majority of this House, it has been repeatedly examined, and the States have almost invariably concurred in recommending the discriminating principle, in the election of President and Vice President. Can there be a stronger evidence of its justice than its being recommended at a time when party views were out of the question? The gentleman is correct when he

Mr. STANTON.-Mr. Speaker, I exceedingly regret that I cannot forbear troubling the House with a few remarks, in justification of the vote I am about to give, on the all-important resolution on your table, for amending the Constitution of the United States. Sir, that venerable body, who were the framers of that valuable instrument, presupposed that, after its merits had undergone the ordeal of experience, it would need amendment. All intelligent, well-disposed men, of every description, agree that the main object of Government is, or ought to be, such as expressed in the language introductory to our Constitution: "to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity;" that being the case, it strongly recommends the adoption of the resolution in contemplation. That part of the national compact that relates to the choice of President and Vice President, which does not permit the Electors to designate on their ballots who they vote for as President and Vice President, which envelopes the Electors in darkness, and cannot be reconciled with the good pur

H. of R.

Amendment to the Constitution.

pose of the Convention, but by their own sentiments expressed in their letter to the President of Congress, signed by their illustrious President, the words are emphatical:

"This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude than might have been otherwise expected, and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our situation rendered indispensable."

For it evidently appears that the divided situation of the Convention was such, in consequence of the difference among the several States as to their particular extent, habits, and particular interests. This being the case, the Convention was obliged to submit to improprieties and imperfections, and to wait the test of experience on the merits of the compact. Sir, I am hostile to the doctrine advanced on this floor, that the least innovation in this sacred charter would endanger the tranquillity of the Union. At the same time, I admit that it should not be touched but for cogent reasons and emergencies like the present. Sir, that Constitution which, in its operation, tends most to promote the happiness of the people, by rewarding intrinsic merit, defending the innocent, and affording speedy and effectual redress of grievances, is the best. No doubt but the framers of the national compact, in all their deliberations, kept in view the greatest good of the people. And, while I am disposed to pay homage to their superior talents and patriotism, I am unwilling to pay them a compliment or encomium that may, in the least degree, depreciate the good sense of their creator, the people. I believe our Constitution is as free from imperfections as any on earth. yet it is, like all other human productions, susceptible of improvement. Sir, the fifth article in the Constitution says:

"The Congress, when two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths 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; and that no State without its consent shall be deprived by its equal suffrage in the Senate."

This article, that forever keeps open the door for amendment, and secures an equal suffrage in the Senate, and gives an equal vote in the choice of a President, in the event of no choice by Electors, is the life, beauty, and quintessence of the Constitution. Sir, I recollect that, yesterday, when this subject was discussed, an honorable member from Connecticut repeatedly called on the friends of the resolution to point out one evil that had resulted to the people of the Union from the existing Constitution. Sir, permit me to ask the honorable gentleman where he was at the awful crisis of the Presidential election, when the


public mind was agitated and tossed to and fro on the tempestuous sea of doubt, and forced to the verge of despair? Surely the honorable gentleman must have been out of the United States, or out of his senses, or he must have lost his usual sagacity, patriotism, and sound regard for the honor of his country, or he must have recollected the alarming catastrophe. Even had he been among the antipodes, who walk on the other side of the globe, with their feet opposite to ours, he would almost have heard the destructive sound, which seemed to be from the clouds, and penetrate the solid earth. Sir, I ought to apologize for this digression and detention of the House; but, while I am up, I hope to be indulged to make a few remarks on what dropped from an honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania, who appeared an able advocate for the discriminating part of the resolution, and opposed the 'clause relative to the exPresident acting as President in the event of certain contingencies. But, he suddenly seems to change his ground, and says, the most objectionable part of this amendment, in the opinion of many gentlemen, and against which the gentleman from Vermont in particular has levelled his keenest darts, is that which vests the Vice President with power to discharge the duties of President in the event of a President not being elected; and proceeds by saying, at first view it appears liable to objections, but, on a candid and fair investigation, the objections lose their weight and the principle is found, in his opinion, correct. Sir, I beg leave to differ with the honorable gentleman, not only in this, but also on another position, where he says, it will also operate as a stimulus to the House of Representatives to make an election. I think, sir, it will produce a contrary effect; they will, I fear, consider themselves exonerated from the imperative language of the present Constitution, that says: "They shall immediately choose a President." Sir, after viewing the whole ground, and notwithstanding the imperfections of the resolution in its present form, as it contains the discriminating principle, which alone was all I wished to obtain, I shall give it my feeble support. Being fully impressed in my mind that, by adopting the designating principle contained in the resolution, it will frustrate the machinations of factions, secure in future a fair expression of the public will, and tend to increase the domestic happiness, and national prosperity and glory.

Mr. GREGG said, he regretted the expression he had made yesterday, as it appeared to have given dissatisfaction to some gentlemen. That expression had, however, been misconceived. He had said, that the people were in favor of the discriminating principle; he had said that this country was divided into two parties, and that an amendment for the establishment of this principle had at one time been brought forward by one party and then by the other; he had said that one of these parties was called republican, and the other federal. He did not consider this last term an imputation on any gentleman. Some gentlemen were called federalists; he was called a republican. They differed, it was true, in political sentiment;


Amendment to the Constitution.

but he had never understood that gentlemen thought there was anything reproachful in being called federalists; on the contrary, he knew the time when the epithet was deemed honorable. Mr. LEIB moved a postponement of the subject till Monday. Lost-ayes 41.

A motion to adjourn was then made, and lost. Mr. ELLIOT.-There are two or three remarks, which fell from me in the animation of debate, I wish to explain. I used the observation of rash precipitancy as applicable to the majority in this business; of personal indecorum, imperious necessity, and Senatorial authority, as applicable to particular members. I also observed that there were men of both parties, who, in my opinion, were aspiring and unprincipled. I beg leave explicitly to state that I did not, at the time I made this remark, entertain an idea of any individual citizen. I alluded to no particular person. The remark was general, and I believe it to have been just. As to the charge of rash precipitancy, I did not mean to apply it to the majority. Perhaps I was wrong in making it; I hope I was. When, at an advanced stage of the debate, I intimated a wish to be heard, when no more than one day had been spent on the subject, and when I declared myself too much exhausted and indisposed to declare my opinions at that late hour, the House, by a great majority, deprived me of the time necessary to do justice to my ideas. For a moment, I felt myself placed in a humiliating and degraded situation; in such a situation as I thought no Representative, and particularly a Representative of one of the largest districts in the Union, con taining a population of between fifty and sixty thousand souls, ought to be placed. If there was in this procedure anything of rash precipitancy, it was, perhaps, the error of the moment; and what I considered at the time as the offspring of temper and passion, may have been nothing more than an evidenee of that disposition to which the greatest men have told us the first bodies in the world are sometimes exposed. If the body did. for a moment, yield to this disposition, I am ready to acknowledge that it has amply atoned for it by the magn animity and patience it has since exbibited. I also made the charge of personal indecorum. I thought that it really existed. I thought it indecorous for any gentleman to tell other gentlemen that they had personal knowledge of dishonorable intrigue practised on a late important occasion. As to the imputation of Senatorial authority, I am still of opinion that this charge is merited by gentlemen who say we must take this resolution precisely as it came from the Senate, or lose everything. I conclude what I have to say on this subject, by declaring that, whatever warmth I may have exhibited in this debate, the vote which I am now about to give is the result of the coolest deliberation, and in conformity to the most sincere dictates of conscience.

Mr. J. RANDOLPH said, that they had been told the other night, by the gentleman from Connecticut, (Mr. GRISWOLD,) that it was necessary to procrastinate this decision in order to give time for that thorough investigation which it was then

H. OF R.

contended had not taken place. From the promise which was held out on that occasion, and from the time which had intervened, his expectations had been wound up to a very high pitch; whether they had been gratified or not he would leave the House to determine. Since the gentleman had expressed a desire, and the House had affirmed it, that this discussion should be protracted, Mr. R. hoped that he, on this subject, (whatever might be the case on others, where he was compelled to defend what it was his duty to originate,) had occupied as little of their time as most of those who had discussed it, and might be permitted to make a few remarks in reply to those which had fallen from gentlemen.

He would begin with those of the worthy member from Massachusetts, (Mr. EUSTIS.) He has stated that this amendment embraces three objects: The designation of the persons voted for as President and Vice President; the mode in which the choice of President should be made by that House, in case of no election by the Electors, in the first instance; and the provision that the duties of President should be exercised by the Vice President, if the House of Representatives should also fail to make an election. To the first of these provisions, the gentleman from Massachusetts felt himself warmly attached, but could not be brought to adopt it, when combined with the other two. On the first objection which he had taken, the gentleman had dwelt so short a time, and with so little force, and the difference between electing out of "the five highest," or out of those "having the highest numbers not exceeding three," was, in itself, so trivial, that little reliance seemed placed upon it. The possible succession of the Vice President to the Presidency, appeared to form the chief obstacle, and because he conceived it calculated to defeat the discriminating principle he could not be prevailed upon to assent to any amendment into which it was incorporated. And yet against this very principle of designation, the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. R. GRISWOLD) has made his utmost exertions, as subversive of the original ground of compact between the States. Let me ask, said Mr. R., upon what ground these gentlemen will vote together against this amendment when their views of its tendency are so entirely opposite, and when they are equally opposed in opinion as to what ought to be effected by us. I beg, sir, this inquiry may be understood to proceed from the high respect in which I hold the gentleman from Massachusetts, and from the regret which I must always feel in being compelled to act against him. It is dictated only by my anxiety to add the sanction of his character and his talents to every measure in which I may be concerned. The gentleman from Massachusetts advocates the discriminating between the persons voted for as President and Vice President; the gentleman from Connecticut deprecates it. The first gentleman is opposed to the amendment because it is calculated to defeat this principle of discrimination; the second because it contains it. When these gentlemen assigned such opposite and irreconcil

« PreviousContinue »