II. The second article of the federal constitution provides, that the executive power shall he vested in a president of the United States of America; that he shall be a natural born citizen, unless he was a citizen at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and in that case, that he shall have been fourteen years a resident in the United States; that he shall have attained the age of thirty-five years; that he shall continue in office four years; that he shall receive a stated compensation for his services, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the period for which he is elected, and shall not receive within that period, any other emolument from the United States, or any of them; and that before he enters upon the execution of his office, he shall take an oath, "faithfully to execute the same, and to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States."
The author of the Treatise on the English Constitution 263, considers the unity of the executive among the advantages peculiar to that, as a free government. The advantages ordinarily attributed to that circumstance, are supposed to be a necessary and unavoidable unanimity; promptitude and dispatch, as a consequence of it: and, immediate and obvious, responsibility. If such are the real advantages of a single executive magistrate, we may contend that they are found in a much greater degree in the federal government, than in the English. In the latter it exists, only theoretically, in an individual; the practical exercise of it, being devolved upon ministers, councils, and boards. The king, according to the acknowledged principles of the constitution, not being responsible for any of his acts, the minister upon whom all responsibility devolves, to secure his indemnity acts by the advice of the privy council to whom every measure of importance is submitted, before it is carried into effect. His plans are often digested and canvassed in a still more secret conclave, consisting of the principal officers of state, and stiled the cabinet-council, before they are communicated to the privy council 264: matters are frequently referred to the different boards, for their advice thereon, previously to their discussion, and final decision, in the council. Thus, in fact, the unity of the executive is merely ideal, existing only in the theory of the government; whatever is said of the unanimity, or dispatch arising from the unity of the executive power, is therefore without foundation. And with respect to responsibility, we have already observed that the nominal executive, is absolved from it by the constitution: all the responsibility that the government admits, is shared between the different ministers, privy council, and boards. The unity of the nominal executive, therefore, so far from ensuring responsibility, destroys it. If then the constitution of England be relied on as proving the superior advantages of unity in the executive department, it does not support any part of the position.
In the United States the unity of the executive authority is practically established, in almost every instance. For, the senate are constituted a council, rather for special, than for general purposes. It may reasonably be doubted, whether they have a right to advise the president, in any case, without being first consulted; and whether, when consulted, he is obliged to carry into effect any measure which they may advise: the constitution is perhaps defective in both these cases. To illustrate them, let it be supposed, that the senate, without being consulted should advise the sending an ambassador to a foreign court: is the president bound to nominate one to them for that purpose? Or, suppose an ambassador to have concluded a treaty, which the president disapproves, but, which the senate advise him to ratify; is he bound to do so? The constitution says, "He shall have power, by, and with, the advice and consent of the senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present, concur; and shall nominate, and by, and with, the advice and consent of the senate shall appoint ambassadors." These words appear rather to confer a discretionary authority, that to impose a mandate, or obligation.... But although the president may perhaps constitutionally decline the ratification of a treaty, or the appointment of an ambassador, notwithstanding the advice of the senate, yet he cannot adopt any measure, which they may advise him to reject, if the constitution requires their advice, or assent: so that, in general, whatever he does must have the sanction of the senate for it's support: whatever he omits doing, is chargeable upon him, only, unless the measure shall have been submitted to the senate and rejected by them. The conduct of the first magistrate of a nation is as frequently liable to censure for his omissions, as for his acts. Whatever, therefore, is left undone, which the public safety may require to have been done, is chargeable upon the neglect of the president, exclusively: whatever may be done amiss is likewise chargeable upon him, in the first instance, as the author and propounder of the measure: although it should afterwards receive the approbation and consent of the senate. Responsibility, then, pursues him in every situation: whether active or passive; sleeping, or awake.
But although a king of England be not responsible, it is said that his ministers are; for they may be impeached: so may a president of the United States 265.... But I lay no stress upon this point, as a practical means of enforcing responsibility, for reasons that will be more fully explained hereafter. The, true point of responsibility rests upon the shortness of the period for which a president of the United States is elected, and the power which the people possess, of rejecting him at a succeeding election: a power, the more formidable, an energetic, as it remains in their hands, is untrammelled by forms, and the exercise of it depends more upon opinion, than upon evidence. When brought before such a tribunal, in vain would a culpable president seek shelter under the flimsy veil, of advice of council; such a cobweb, like the net of Vulcan, would only expose him, more effectually.
On the ground of responsibility, then, an immense preference is due to the constitution of the United States: it is at least equal to that of Great-Britain on the ground of unanimity: for, as every executive measure must originate in the breast of the president, his plans will have all the benefit of uniformity, that can be expected to flow from the operations of any individual mind: let it be supposed that the senate reject one of his proposed measures; possessing a perfect acquaintance with the whole system of his own administration, he will naturally be led to adopt some other course, which shall neither retard, nor counteract any other part of his system. No British minister, whose measures are opposed in the cabinet, can do more; probably not so much: for a substitute may, perhaps, be obtruded upon him, by some other influential minister. But no such substitute can be obtruded upon a president of the United States; the power of the senate consisting rather in approving, or rejecting, than in advising or propounding, as already hinted.
The advantages of information, and dispatch, are probably equally in favour of the constitution of the American executive. The constitution of the United States has made ample provision for his aid in these respects, by assigning to him ministers to whom the conduct of each of the executive departments may be committed; from whom be may require all necessary information, as also their opinions in writing, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices; and whom, he may, moreover, remove at pleasure 266. Here we find a single executive officer substituted for a numerous board, where responsibility is divided, till it is entirely lost, and where the chance of unanimity lessens in geometrical proportion to the number that compose it.
The perpetuity of the office, is another boasted advantage of the constitution of the supreme executive magistrate in Great Britain. "The king never dies." But Henry, Edward, or George may die, may be an infant in swaddling clothes, a superannuated dotard, or a raving maniac. Of what benefit is the immortality of the kingly office, in any of these instances? Can the puling infant, or the feeble hand of palsied age wield the sceptre, or can it be entrusted to the raving Bedlamite? A president of the United States cannot be the first: it is highly improbable that he will ever be the second; the constitution has provided for the third case; and for all others, of a similar kind. For, in case of the removal of the president of the United States from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the same shall devolve on the vice-president; and congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation, or inability, both of the president and vice-president, declaring what officer shall then act as president, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a president shall be elected 267. Such provision has been accordingly made by law, and the executive authority in such a case, would immediately devolve upon the president of the senate pro tempore; or if there be no president of the senate, upon the speaker of the house of representatives, for the time being 268. Nothing is wanting to the perpetuity of the office, but a provision for it's continuance in case no president shall be elected at the period prescribed by the constitution. Such a case will probably not happen, until the people of the United States shall be weary of the present constitution and government, and adopt that method of putting a period to both. And it is, perhaps, among the recommendations of the constitution, that it thus furnishes the means of a peaceable dissolution of the government, if ever the crisis should arrive that may render such a measure eligible, or necessary. A crisis to be deprecated by every friend to his country.
To pursue the parallel between a king of England, and the president of the United States, a little further. A king of England is the fountain of honour, of office, and of privilege. Honours, as distinct from offices, are unknown in the U. States; so likewise are privileges. At least there are none, which a president of the United States can constitutionally create, or bestow. It is not so with respect to offices; these he can not constitutionally create; they must first be established by law 269. But when established, he has the exclusive right of nomination to all offices, whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by the constitution; or by some act of congress, to which his assent may be necessary, or may have been previously given. The influence which this power gives him, personally, is one of those parts of the constitution, which assimilates the government, in its administration, infinitely more nearly to that of Great Britain, than seems to consist with those republican principles, which ought to pervade every part of the federal constitution: at least so long as the union is composed of democratic states. On this subject we shall offer some further remarks hereafter.
The heir of a king of England may be born with all the vices of a Richard; with the tyrannical disposition, and cruelty of the eighth Henry; with the empty pride and folly of a James; with the cowardice and imbecility of a John; or with the stupid obstinacy, bigotry; or other depravity of temper, of any of his successors; he must nevertheless succeed to the throne of his fathers; his person is sacred and inviolable as if he were an Alfred; and unless his misdeeds are so rank as to bring him to the block, or force him to an abdication, he continues the lord's anointed all his days. A president of the United States must have attained the middle age of life, before he is eligible to that office: if not a native, he must have been fourteen years a resident in the United States: his talents and character must consequently be known. The faculties of his mind must have attained their full vigour: the character must be formed, and formed of active, not of passive materials, to attract, and secure the attention, and approbation of a people dispersed through such a variety of climate and situation, as the American people are. This activity of mind and of talent, must have manifested itself on the side of virtue, before it can engage the favour of those who acknowledge no superiority of rights among individuals, and who are conscious that in promoting to office, they should choose a faithful agent, not a ruler, without responsibility. And should it happen, that they are after all deceived in their estimate of his character and worth, the lapse of four years enables them to correct their error, and dismiss him from their service. What nation governed by an hereditary monarch has an equal chance of happiness!
But, the tumult of popular elections, and the danger in elective monarchies, will be insisted on, as counterbalancing the advantage which we claim in behalf of the constitution of the executive magistrate in the United States. With regard to the latter, something will be said hereafter, when we examine the mode of electing a president of the United States. As to the former: if the sovereignty of the people of the United States, like that of the Roman, and Grecian republics, resided in the inhabitants of a single city, or a small territory, the influence of men of popular talents would doubtless produce in certain conjunctures, similar events to those recorded in the annals of those republics. But nature, herself seems to be enlisted on the side of the liberty and independence of the citizens of United America. Our cities are few; the population inconsiderable, compared with many of the capitals of ancient, or modern, Europe: that population (from the unfavorable influence of climate for some years past) seems not likely to be extended very far beyond its present bounds, and probably will never bear any great proportion to the population of the country at large. This circumstance alone, would probably defeat any attempt to establish an undue influence in any part of the union. Agriculture is, and probably will for ages continue to be, the principal object of pursuit in the United States; and the period seems to be yet very far removed, when their population will be equal to the extent, and fertility of the soil. Europe has so far got the start of us in manufactures, that it is also probable, our population will not depend upon, nor derive any great increase from, them. Until it does, our towns will be principally confined to the sea coast, and, the interior of the United States will continue, as at present, the nurse of a hardy, independent yeomanry. A strong, barrier between the United States and the countries which abound in the precious metals is devoutly to be wished by all, who can appreciate, properly, the blessings of liberty and peace. Whilst the ambition of America is limited to the cultivation of the arts of peace, and the science of free government; to the improvement, instead of the extention of her territory, and to the fortefying herself against enemies from within, as well as from without, by fostering, and encouraging the principles of genuine liberty; local influence can never be so formidable, as to endanger the peace or happiness of the union on any occasion. But, whenever our evil genius shall prompt us to aspire to the character of a military republic, and invite us to the field of glory: when, rapacity, under the less odious name of ambition, shall lead us on to conquest; when a bold, though raw, militia shall be exchanged for a well trained, well disciplined and well appointed army; ready to take the field at the nod of an ambitious president, and to believe that the finger of heaven points to that course which his directs; then, may we regard the day of our happiness as past, or as hasting rapidly to its decline.
That provision in the constitution which requires that the president shall be a native-born citizen (unless he were a citizen of the United States when the constitution was adopted,) is a happy means of security against foreign influence, which, whereever it is capable of being exerted, is to he dreaded more than the plague. The admission of foreigners into our councils, consequently, cannot be too much guarded against; their total exclusion from a station to which foreign nations have been accustomed to, attach ideas of sovereign power, sacredness of character, and hereditary right, is a measure of the most consummate policy and wisdom. It was by means of foreign connections that the stadtholder of Holland, whose powers at first were probably not equal to those of a president of the United States, became a sovereign hereditary prince before the late revolution in that country. Nor is it with levity that I remark, that the very title of our first magistrate, in some measure exempts us from the danger of those calamities by which European nations are almost perpetually visited. The title of king, prince, emperor, or czar, without the smallest addition to his powers, would have rendered him a member of the fraternity of crowned heads: their common cause has more than once threatened the desolation of Europe. To have added a member to this sacred family in America, would have invited and perpetuated among us all the evils of Pandora's Box.
The personal independence of the president is secured by that clause, which provides that he shall receive a compensation at stated periods, which shall not be diminished during his continuance in office. To guard against avarice, corruption, and venality, it is also provided, that it shall not be encreased during the same period, nor shall he receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or either of them. His salary, as now fixed by law, seems to be fully adequate, though far below the income of many private persons in England, and even in America.
The political independence of the president of the United States, so far as it is necessary to the preservation, protection, and defence of the constitution, is secured, not only by the limitations and restrictions which the constitution imposes upon the powers of congress, but by a qualified negative on all their proceedings, as has been already mentioned elsewhere. This share in the proceedings of the federal legislature, which the constitution assigns to him, consists, like that of a king of England, in the power of rejecting, rather than resolving; a circumstance on which both judge Blackstone, and de Lolme, lay considerable stress 270; and is one of the grounds upon which the latter founds his preference of that constitution to the republican system. In republics, he tells us, the laws usually originate with the executive; it is otherwise in all the American states. In England, the laws do, in fact, originate with the executive: a revenue bill is always proposed by the chancellor of the exchequer, or some member of that department 271; and it is understood to be the practice, that every other measure of considerable magnitude and importance is first discussed in the privy council, before it is brought into parliament; where it is generally introduced, and the bill prepared by some of the officers of the crown. The preference which de Lolme gives to the English constitution, therefore, is not altogether well founded. The negative of the president of the United States is not final, like that of the king of England, but suspensive. Neither is the expression of his assent absolutely necessary to the establishment of a law, for if he witholds his decision beyond the period of ten days (exclusive of Sundays) his assent shall be presumed. He may retard for a few days, but cannot prevent any beneficial measure, provided two-thirds of both houses concur in the opinion of its expediency. Thus, the part assigned to him by the constitution is strictly preventative, and not creative; yet this preventative is so modified as never to operate conclusively, but in those cases where it may be presumed the congress have acted unadvisedly through haste or oversight: and we may safely conclude, that where the deliberate sense of two-thirds of both houses of congress shall induce them to persist in any measure to which the president shall have given his negative, it will neither militate with the constitution, nor with the interest of their constituents. There is one instance (besides a question of adjournment), in which his assent appears not to be required; this is, when two-thirds of both houses have concurred in proposing to the states any amendment of the constitution: in this case, the concurrence of two-thirds of both houses being required in the first instance, his assent is dispensed with, as his dissent would be unavailing.
Let us now take a short view of the manner in which a president of the United States is appointed.
Each state shall, within thirty-four days prior to the first Wednesday in December, in every fourth year succeeding the last election, appoint a number of electors equal to the whole number of representatives and senators, to which such state may be entitled in congress, who shall meet and give their votes on that day, at such place in each state as the legislature thereof may direct, for two persons, of whom one at least shall not be an inhabitant of such state; three lists of the votes shall be made, one of which shall be sent by an express, and another by post, to the president of the senate; or, if there be no such officer at the seat of government, to the secretary of state; and the third, to the judge of the district. The president of the senate shall, in the presence of both houses of congress, open the certificates on the second Wednesday in February next succeeding, and the votes shall then be counted and the choice ascertained; the person having the greatest number of votes, if they be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed, shall be president, and the person having the next greatest number of votes shall be vice-president. If the votes be equal for two persons having such majority, the house of representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for president; but in such cases they shall vote by states, each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member, or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states be necessary to the choice. If no person have a majority of the electors, the house shall in like manner choose the president from the five highest on the list. The periods for which the president and vice-president are elected, shall always commence on the fourth day of March next succeeding such election. No senator or representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be an elector.
Such are the precautions which the constitution has provided for securing the tranquility of elections; the independence and integrity of the electors, and the wisdom of their choice; and such are the auxiliary regulations established by congress for the same purposes 272. Electors have been differently appointed in the different states. In some they have been appointed immediately by the legislature; in others they have been chosen by a general ticket throughout the state; in others, the state has been divided into districts, one elector being chosen by the freeholders of each district. This method was adopted in Virginia at first; but on a late occasion a general ticket was preferred. The reasons for this change seem to have been, that the whole strength of the state may be combined and united, instead of being divided, as on a former occasion.
The electors, we perceive, are to assemble on one and the same day, in all the different states, at as many different places, at a very considerable distance from each other, and on that day are simply to give their votes; no embarrassment can arise among them from the circumstance of an equality of votes, for different persons: they are to vote only; not to decide upon the result of their votes: they then disperse, and return to their respective habitations, and occupations, immediately. No pretext can be bad for delay; no opportunity is furnished for intrigue, and cabal. The certificates of their votes are to be forwarded to different persons, and by different conveyances: they are to be publicly opened, and counted in the presence of the whole national legislature: there is no obligation of secrecy on the electors to conceal their votes; they are consequently known immediately, throughout the state, long before the opening the certificates at the scat of government: should any fraud be attempted, it must immediately he detected: whilst the constitution expressly incapacitates any man who may be presumed to labour under any undue bias, from serving as an elector, in the first instance, the salutary provisions which it contains, in other respects, seem to afford a sufficient guarantee against the arts of ambition, and the venality of corrupt minds. There is no room for the turbulence of a Campus Martius, or a Polish Diet, on the one hand, nor for the intrigues of the sacred college, or a Venetian senate, on the other, unless, when it unfortunately happens, that two persons, having a majority of the whole number of electors, in their favour, have likewise an equal number of votes; or, where by any other means, the election may devolve upon the house of representatives. Then, indeed, intrigue and cabal may have their full scope: then, may the existence of the union be put in extreme hazard: then might a bold and desperate party, having the command of an armed force, and of all the resources of government, attempt to establish themselves permanently in power, without the future aid of forms, or the control of elections. Upon what principle, we may ask, is it that state influence is in this case permitted to operate in an inverse proportion to the ratio of population, and thus predominate over it. Upon what principle is it, that that ratio which gives to all the citizens of the United States an equal voice in the election of a president, in the first instance, shall give to the representative of the citizens of Delaware, in the second, a weight equal to nineteen representatives of the citizens of Virginia? Why then should the house of representatives vote by states on this great occasion? It is, perhaps, susceptible of proof, that if the arts of corruption should ever be practised with success, in the election of a president, it will arise from this circumstance; the votes of a few individuals, in this instance, more than counterbalancing four times their number 273. Had the senate been associated with the other house in the election, and each vote been separately counted, the mode of election might, at first view, appear less exceptionable: but their exclusion from any participation in the election of a president, is certainly founded upon the wisest policy: being associated with him in the exercise of his most important powers, and being chosen for a much longer period than the representatives, the presumption of undue influence, where the contest might be between a president in office, and any other person, would be altogether unavoidable.
Nothing in the constitution prohibits the re-election of a president as often as the approbation of his country may confer that distinction upon him. If his re-election were to depend entirely upon a majority of votes in the first instance, I should think the argument would be in favour of the principle. But what if a president of the United States should so far have lost the confidence of the people of the respective states, as not to have a majority of the votes of the state electors, in his favour? What, if he should so far have forfeited their esteem, as to be the lowest of five candidates, on the list, neither of whom should have such a majority, as to decide the election? Should we not, in such a case, with indignation behold him continued in office, by the votes of one fourth part of the house of representatives, against the other three? This might be sufficiently guarded against, by an amendment, providing that no president, for the time being, should ever be re-elected, unless he had not only the greatest number of votes in his favour, but a majority of the votes of all the electors appointed. As corruption can only be dreaded on the part of bad men, and is always to be dreaded from them, a president who may have lost the confidence of the citizens of the United States at large, would be the first person with whom the practice of corruption may be expected to commence.
The period for which a president is elected, as has been already noticed, is four years. By many it is thought too long: it seems long enough to give him an opportunity of bringing to a mature conclusion any measures which he may have undertaken for the good of the nation; and, it has been thought short enough, for the people to displace him in sufficient time, where his conduct may not have merited approbation, on the one hand, or impeachment, on the other. Much evil, however, may be generated, and even matured, in the compass of four years.... Of removal from office by impeachment, no president will ever be in danger. But of this hereafter. I can see no inconvenience that would result from more frequent elections; there may be danger, if the constitution be not so amended as to provide for them.... The convention of this state proposed as an amendment to the constitution, that no person should be capable of being president of the United States for more than eight years, in any term of sixteen years. It might have been better to have selected the half of these periods, respectively.
The powers, or more properly, the duties, of the president of the United States, are various and extensive; though happily abridged of many others, which are considered as inseparable from the executive authority in monarchies: of these last, we have had frequent occasion to notice such as are transferred by the constitution to the congress of the United States; and of those which are assigned to the president,
1. The first is, That he shall be commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the service of the United States 274, A power similar to that of the king of England, and of the stadtholder of Holland, before the late revolution; yet qualified, by some important restrictions, which I believe were not to be found in either of those governments. As, first; he cannot make rules for the regulation and government of the army and navy, himself, but they must be governed according to regulations established by congress 275. But notwithstanding this provision in the constitution, the act of 5 Cong. c. 74, authorised the president to make and establish such rules for training and disciplining the corps of volunteers, authorised to be raised by that act, as should be thought necessary to prepare them for actual service.... Secondly; the president of the United States hath not an unqualified right to appoint what officers he pleases; but such appointment (if there be no provision to the contrary made by law) must be made with the advice and consent of the senate: a restriction, perhaps of little importance, whilst the right of nomination, in all cases, and the right of filling up vacancies during the recess of the senate, remain uncontrollably in his power; to which may be added, the authority given him by the act for raising a provisional army, (and perhaps some others) to appoint such officers as he may think proper in the recess of the senate; "the appointment of field officers to be submitted to the advice and consent of the senate, at their next subsequent meeting;" leaving the appointment of all officers of inferior rank to the discretion of the president, alone 276. The stadtholder of Holland derived his power and influence in great measure from a similar authority.... A third and infinitely more important check, than either of the former, so long as elections continue as frequent, as at present, is that no appropriation for the support of an army can be made for a longer term than two years, the period for which congress is chosen. This puts it in the power of the people, by changing the representatives, to give an effectual check to the power of the executive at the end of that period.... In England, the power of raising armies, ad libitum, is vested in the king, though he is said to be dependent upon the parliament for their support; a supply bill, which is always limited to one year, passes accordingly, every session. Should it be refused, (a case which I believe has not happened for more than a century), a dissolution would pave the way, immediately, for a more complying parliament. Fourthly; the militia of the several states, though subject to his command when called into actual service, can only be called into service by the authority of congress, and must be governed according to law: the states, moreover, have the right of appointing the officers, and training the militia, according to the discipline prescribed by congress, reserved to them by the constitution. But we have seen in what manner this very important clause has been evaded, by the acts of 5 Cong. c. 64, and 74, authorising the president to accept companies of volunteers, and to appoint their officers, &c. A precedent, which if it be drawn into authority and practice in future, may be regarded as superceding every part of the constitution, which reserves to the states any effectual authority over their militia.
2. The president has power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. C. U. S. Art. 2. §. 2.
The power of granting pardons, says judge Blackstone, is the most amiable prerogative of a king of England; and is one of the great advantages of monarchy, above any other form of government: in democracies, he adds, this power of pardon can never subsist 277. It is happy for the people of America that many speculative notions concerning the disadvantages and imperfections of democratic forms of government, have been found to be practically false. In all the democratic states of North America, the power of pardoning is regularly vested (as in the federal government of the United States) in the supreme executive magistrate; and this flower of monarchical prerogative has been found to flourish in a perfect republican soil, not less than in it's native climate. The president of the United States is not, like a governor of Virginia, constrained to act by advice of a council, but the power of pardoning is left entirely to the dictates of his own bosom. The cases in which it has been exercised, manifest the propriety of the existence of such a power in every state, whatever be the form of it's government. In cases of impeachment, as the prosecution is carried on by the representatives of the people, and the judgment can only extend to removal from, and disqualification to hold or enjoy any office under the United States, in future, the constitution has wisely provided, that the same person in whom the right of nomination to office is vested, shall not have the power to remove that disqualification, which the guilt of the offender has brought upon himself 278. In England, no pardon can be pleaded in bar of an impeachment; but the king may pardon after conviction upon an impeachment 279. He can not by an exercise of his prerogative avert the disgrace of a conviction; but he can avert it's effects, and restore the offender to his credit.
3. The president hath power, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur; and the treaties so made, constitute a part of the supreme law of the land. C. U. S. Art. 2. §. 2. and Art. 6.
Treaties, as defined by Puffendorf 280, are certain agreements made by sovereigns, between one another, of great use both in war, and peace; of these, there are two kinds; the one such as reinforce the observance of what by the law of nature we were before obliged to; as the mutual exercise of civility, and humanity, or the prevention of injuries on either side; the second, such as add some new engagement to the duties of natural law; or at least determine what was before too general and indefinite in the same, to some thing particular, and precise 281. Of those which add some new engagement to those duties which natural law imposes upon all nations, the most usual relate to, or in their operation may affect, the sovereignty of the state; the unity of its parts, it's territory, or other property; it's commerce with foreign nations, and vice versa; the mutual privileges and immunities of the citizens, or subjects of the contracting powers, or the mutual aid of the contracting nations, in case of an attack, or hostility, from any other quarter. To all these objects, if there be nothing in the fundamental laws of the state which contradicts it, the power of making treaties extends, and is vested in the conductors of states, according to the opinion of Vattel.
In our constitution, there is no restriction as to the subjects of treaties, unless perhaps the guarantee of a republican form of government, and of protection from invasion, contained in the fourth article, may be construed to impose such a restriction, in behalf of the several states, against the dismemberment of the federal republic 282. But whether this restriction may extend to prevent the alienation, by cession, of the western territory, not being a part of any state, may be somewhat more doubtful. The act of cession from Virginia militates, expressly, against such an alienation of that part of the western territory which was ceded by this state 283. Nevertheless, it is said to have been in contemplation soon after the establishment of the federal government, to cede the right of pre-emption to the lands in that territory to the Indians, who were then supposed to be in treaty for the same with the crown of Great Britain. The president, who had not authorised any such article, and who is said to have disapproved of it, in submitting the treaty to the consideration of the senate, called their attention particularly to that part of it; in consequence of which it was rejected, though warmly supported in the senate, as has been said. If the power of making such a dismemberment be questionable at any rate, it is much more so, when it is recollected, that the constitution seems to have vested congress, collectively, and not any one or two branches of it only, with the power to dispose of that territory 284. The effect of this extraordinary treaty, if it had been ratified by the senate and the president, may easily be conceived. Great Britain, at that time not a little disposed to enmity towards the United States, would no doubt have insisted upon such an acquisition of territory, made under the faith of a treaty between the United States and the Indians; and thus the United States might either have been deprived of their territory by an unconstitutional treaty, or involved in a war for it's preservation, by the proceedings of a body, whose authority does not extend to a final decision upon a question, whether war be necessary and expedient. This shews the collision which may possibly arise between the several branches of the congress, in consequence of this modification of the treaty-making power. For, being entrusted to a branch of the congress only, without the possibility of control or check by the other branch, so far as respects the conclusion and ratification of any treaty whatsoever, it may well happen, at some time or other, that the president and senate may overstep the limits of their just authority, and the house of representatives be so tenacious of their own constitutional rights, as not to yield to the obligations imposed upon them by a treaty, the terms of which they do not approve 285.
But the senate, in matters of treaty, are not only without control, they may be said also to be without even the least shadow of responsibility in the individuals who compose that body. In England, says judge Blackstone, lest this plenitude of authority should be abused to the detriment of the public, the constitution hath interposed a check by means of parliamentary impeachment, for the punishment of such members as from criminal motives advise or conclude any treaty, which shall afterwards be judged to derogate from the honour and interest of the nation. But where shall we find this responsibility in our constitution? Does it arise from the power of impeachment vested in the house of representatives by the constitution?. It has been solemnly decided, that a senator is not a civil officer of the United States, and therefore not liable to impeachment 286. Even were it otherwise, the power of impeachment would, in the case we are now speaking of; be nugatory, as will presently appear.... Does it consist then in the power of impeaching the ambassador, by whom it was concluded, or the president, by whom it has been ratified, both of whom are unquestionably impeachable, I presume? The ambassador is appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the senate: it may be presumed that his instructions have been submitted to and approved by them, though a different practice is said to have been established. If the treaty be ratified, and the minister be impeached for concluding it, because it is derogatory to the honour, the interest, or perhaps to the sovereignty and independence of the nation, who are to be his judges? The senate by whom it has been approved and ratified. If the president be impeached for giving improper instructions to the ambassador, and for ratifying the treaty concluded by him pursuant to his instructions, who are to be his judges? The senate, to whom the treaty has been submitted, by whom it has been approved, and by whose advice it has been ratified. The Constitution requires, that a majority of two-thirds of the senate, at least, must advise the conclusion of a treaty, before it can be ratified by the president; it likewise requires that a majority of two-thirds at least must concur in the judgment in case of conviction. A quorum for the trial upon an impeachment, consequently cannot possibly be formed, without calling in some of those senators to be judges, who had either actually advised or dissented from the ratification of the treaty 287. Can such judges be deemed impartial? If they can, from which class shall they be chosen; from those who proposed the rejection of the treaty, or from those who advised its final ratification? Sophistry itself might be puzzled by the dilemma.
The Federalist attempts to vindicate this part of the constitution of the United States, with that seal and ingenuity which runs through the work. "What other body, besides the senate," he asks, "would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation to preserve unawed, and uninfluenced the necessary impartiality between an individual, accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers? Could the supreme court have been relied on, as answering this description? It is much to be doubted whether the members of that tribunal would at all times be endowed with so eminent a portion of fortitude, as would be called for in the execution of so difficult a task; and it is still more to be doubted, whether they would possess the degree of credit and authority, which might on certain occasions be indispensable towards reconciling the people to a decision that should happen to clash with an accusation brought forward by their immediate representatives 288." The author seems to have forgot, that senators may be discontinued from their seats, merely from the effect of popular disapprobation, but that the judges of the supreme court can not. He seems also to have forgot, that whenever the president of the United States is impeached, the constitution expressly requires that the chief justice of the supreme court shall preside, at the trial. Are all the confidence, all the firmness, and all the impartiality of that court supposed to be concentrated in the chief justice, and to reside in his breast, only? If that court could not be relied on for the trial of impeachments, much less would it seem worthy of reliance for the determination of any question between the United States, and any particular state: much less to decide upon the life and death of a person whose crimes might subject him to an impeachment, but whose influence might avert a conviction. Yet the courts of the United States are by the constitution regarded as the only proper tribunals, where a party convicted upon an impeachment, may receive that condign punishment, which the nature of his crimes may require: for it must not be forgotten, that a person convicted upon an impeachment, shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law 289. And all this in those very courts, which the Federalist deems not sufficiently confident in their own situation to preserve unawed, and uninfluenced the necessary impartiality, to try him upon an impeachment. The question then might be retorted: can it be supposed that the senate, a part of whom must have been either particeps criminis, with the person impeached, by advising the measure for which he is to be tried, or must have joined the opposition to that measure, when proposed and debated in the senate, would be a more independent, or more unprejudiced tribunal, than a court composed of judges holding their officers during good behaviour; and who could neither be presumed to have participated in the crime, nor to have prejudged the criminal? Wisely, then, was it proposed by the convention of this state, and some others, that some tribunal other than the senate should be provided for trying impeachments 290. In the state of Virginia, the trial of impeachments is to be in the general court of the commonwealth, except when a judge of that court may happen to he impeached, in which case the trial is to be in the court of appeals: the fact, as in other cases, is to be tried by a jury; to be summoned from the different counties of that senatorial district, in which the accused shall reside: and to prevent any undue influence front the sitting of the house of delegates, in whom the power of impeachment is vested, it is wisely provided, that no impeachment shall be tried during a session of the general assembly 291. A tribunal constituted upon similar principles for the trial of impeachments in the federal government, would probably produce some degree of responsibility, where there now seems to be none.
I have chosen to consider the power of trying impeachments, which the constitution vests in the senate, here, in order to place that of making treaties, which are to become a part of the supreme law of the land, and in which that body has a principle agency; in a stronger point of view. The union of these powers, in that body; and the total exemption of senators from an impeachment, seems to render this part of the federal constitution, the most defective and unsound, of any part of the fabric.
263. De Lolme, p. 149.
264. 1 Blacks. Com. 229.
265. C. U. S. Art. 1. Sec. 3. Art. 2. Sec. 4.
266. C. U. S. Art. 2 L. U. S. 1 Cong. 1 Sess. c. 4, 7, 12, 20. Sec. 35. 5 Cong. c. 52.
267. C. U. S. Art. 2. Sec. 1.
268. L. U. S. 2 Cong. c. 8.
269. C. U. S. Art. 2. Sec. 2.
270. 1 Blacks. Com. 154. De Lolme on the English Constitution, 171.
271. 1 Blacks. Com. 308.
272. C. U. S. Art. 2. L. U. S. 2. Cong. c. 8.
273. It may be demonstrated, that twenty representatives, at the last election, of a president and vice-president, might have carried the election against eighty-six: this supposes all the small states to have voted together.
274. C. U. S. Art. 2. §. 2.
275. Ibid. Art. 1. §. 8.
276. L. U. S. 5 Cong. c. 64. The establishment of a large corps of officers, to be provisionally employed, might be compared to the establishment of the Legion of Honour, in France. The corps of volunteers, the officers of which were likewise to be appointed by the president, alone, may be regarded in the same light. Can it be doubted that such distinguished mark, of presidential favour, must produce correspondent effects? Men ambitious of distinctions, are rarely ungrateful to their patrons in power.
277. 4 Blacks. Com. 396, 397.
278. C. U. S. Art. 1. §. 3. Art. 2. §. 2.
279. 4 Blacks. Com. 399, 400.
280. Spaven's Puffendorf, vol. 2. 346.
281. Grotius, 339, &c.
282. C. U. S. Art. 4. Sec. 4.
283. L. V. Edi. 1794. c. 40.
284. C. U. S. Art. 4. §. 3.
285. On the 24th of March, 1796, the house of representatives came to the following resolution "That the president of the United States he requested to lay before this house a copy of the instructions to the minister of the United States, who negotiated the treaty with the king of Great Britain, communicated by his message of the first of March, together with his correspondence and other documents relative to the said treaty; excepting such of said papers as any existing negotiation may render improper to be disclosed."
The president answered, "That the power of making treaties is exclusively vested in the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the senators present concur; and that every treaty so made, and promulgated, thenceforward becomes the law of the land." "That the necessity of caution and secrecy in foreign negotiations, was one cogent reason for vesting the power in that manner." "That to admit a right in the house of representatives to demand, and to have, as a matter of course, all the papers respecting a negotiation with a foreign power, would be to establish a dangerous precedent." "That it being perfectly clear to his understanding, that the assent of the house of representatives is not necessary to the validity of a treaty; as the treaty with Great Britain exhibits in itself all the objects requiring legislative provision, and on these, the papers called for can throw no light; and as it is essential to the due administration of the government, that the boundaries fixed by the constitution between the different departments should be preserved. A just regard to the constitution, and to the duty of his office, under all the circumstances of the case, forbad a compliance with their request."
On the 6th of April following, the house of representatives came to the following resolution:
Resolved, that it being declared by the second section of the second article of the constitution, that the president shall have power, by, and with the advice and consent of the senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur, the house of representatives do not claim any agency in making treaties; but, that when a treaty stipulates regulations on any of the subjects submitted by the constitution to the power of congress, it must depend for its execution, as to such stipulations, on a law or laws to be passed by congress; and it is the constitutional right and duty of the house of representatives in all such cases, to deliberate on the expediency or inexpediency of carrying such treaty into effect, and to determine and act thereon, as in their judgment may be most conducive to the public good."
"Resolved, that it is not necessary to the propriety of any application from this house to the executive for information desired by them, and which may relate to any constitutional functions of the house, that the purposes for which such information may he wanted, or to which the same may be applied, should be stated in the application."
286. See the trial of William Blount, upon an impeachment, in which it was decided that a senator is not a civil officer within the meaning of the constitution of the United States, and therefore not liable to be impeached. January 7, and 10, 1799.
287. A majority of two thirds of the senate being required to concur in opinion in both cases, and a majority of the senate being necessary to form a quorum in all cases, such a majority can never be formed on the trial of an impeachment without calling in at least two members of the former majority of the senate.
288. 2 Federalist, 210.
289. C. U. S. Art. 1. Sec. 3. And as a conviction upon an impeachment, is no bar to a prosecution upon an indictment, so perhaps, an acquittal may not be a bar.
290. Amendments proposed by the convention of Virginia, Art. 19. New York and North Carolina, proposed amendments to the like effect.
291. Constitution of Virginia Art. 16. 17. L. V. Edi. 1794. c. 72.
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