THE course proposed to be pursued, is first, to consider the legislative power as it resides in the senate and house of representatives; to what extent the president participates in general legislation, and his power in conjunction with the senate relative to making treaties, with the operation and effect of treaties; we shall then proceed to those powers of general legislation which are implied by the Constitution, or expressly enumerated, and conclude this head with a view of the restraints under which both the United States and the states severally, are constitutionally placed.
The legislative power is vested in the congress of the United States, consisting of the senate and house of representatives. The first paragraph evinces that it is a limited government. The term "all legislative powers herein granted," remind both the congress and the people, of the existence of some limitation. The introduction displays the general objects. The Constitution itself enumerates some of the powers of congress, and excludes others which might perhaps fall within the general expressions of the introductory part. These prohibitions are in some degree auxiliary to a due construction of the Constitution. When a general power over certain objects is granted, accompanied with certain exceptions, it may be considered as leaving that general power undiminished in all those respects which are not thus excepted.
The value and effect of this proposition may be adverted to hereafter.
The legislative body possesses with us a great advantage over that of those countries where it may be adjourned or dissolved at the pleasure of the executive authority. It is self-moving and self-dependent. Although it may be convened by the executive, it cannot be adjourned or dissolved by it. The time of its assembling is fixed by the Constitution, until which, unless a law has been passed appointing an earlier day, or the president on extraordinary occasions has thought proper to convene it, the action of the legislature cannot commence; but if in their opinion the public good shall require it, they may continue uninterruptedly in session, until the termination of the period for which the members of the house of representatives are elected, and they may fix as early a time for the meeting of the next congress as they think proper. A similar principle prevails in all the state constitutions, and it is only where it exists, that a legislature is truly independent. It is as inconsistent with sound principles for the executive to suspend, at its pleasure, the action of the legislature, as for the latter to undertake to deprive the executive of its constitutional functions.
But without a constitutional limit on its duration, it must be conceded, that a power in the legislature to protract its own continuance, would be dangerous. Blackstone attributes the misfortunes of Charles I. to his having unadvisedly passed an act to continue the parliament, then in being, till such time as it should please to dissolve itself, and this is one of the many proofs that the much praised constitution of that country wants the character of certainty. No act of congress could prolong the continuance of the legislature beyond the term fixed by the Constitution.
Next | Previous | Contents | Text Version