March 23, 1806

Resolved, That a contractor, under the government of the United States, is an officer within the purview and meaning of the Constitution, and, as such, is incapable of holding a seat in this house.

Mr. EPPES. I do not believe Congress have power to pass this resolution. The words of the Constitution are, "No person holding an office under the United States shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office."

These words are plain and clear. Their obvious intention was, to have officers excluded, and officers only. It would certainly have been equally wise to have excluded contractors, because the reason for excluding officers applies to them with equal force. We are not, however, to inquire what the Constitution ought to have been, but what it is. We cannot legislate on its spirit against the strict letter of the instrument. Our inquiry must be, is be an officer? If an officer, under the words of the Constitution, he is excluded. If not an officer, we cannot exclude him by law.

{455} An extensive meaning has been given to the word office. How far such a construction of the meaning of this word is warranted, I leave for others to decide. That all contractors are not officers I am certain. A man, for instance, makes a contract with government to furnish supplies. He certainly is not an officer, according to the common and known acceptation of that word. He is, however, a contractor, and, under this resolution, excluded from a seat here. A carrier of the mail approaches very near an officer. The person takes an oath, is subject to penalties, the remission of which depends on the executive.