District of Columbia. -- On the Report of the Committee of Elections, on the Case of John P. Van Ness.
House of Representatives, January 17, 1803.
Mr. VAN NESS said, the reasons he should offer to the committee for retaining his seat were few and simple. He thought the fair, liberal, and sound construction did not affect his case; that the incapacitating provision only applied to civil offices. The Constitution was only a digest of the most approved principles of the constitutions of the several states, in which the spirit of those constitutions was combined. Not one of those constitutions excluded from office those who had accepted military appointments, except in the regular service. He, therefore, felt a full conviction that it never was the intention of the framers of the Constitution of the United States to exclude militia officers from holding a seat in Congress. And however important it might be to adhere to the letter of the Constitution, yet, when the spirit of it was so clear as it appeared to him, it ought to have weight in the decision of the question before the committee, which might affect objects of great importance. The right of every portion of the Union to a representation in that house was very important, and ought to be respected in all cases which may either directly or indirectly affect it.
Mr. BACON observed, though the first part of the section of the Constitution referred to civil offices, yet the latter part used the expression any office, which was more comprehensive, and appeared to them to have been intended to have a universal effect.
The question was then taken on the report of the committee of elections, which was agreed to without a division.