IT is the duty of the president from time to time to give congress information of the state of the union; but although this alone is expressly mentioned in the Constitution, his communications naturally embrace a wider scope than internal affairs. Under the expression, he is to receive ambassadors, the president is charged with all transactions between the United States and foreign nations, and he is, therefore, the regular channel through which the legislature becomes informed of the political situation of the United States in its foreign, as well as its domestic relations; yet it has been always understood that he is not required to communicate more than, in his apprehension, may be consistent with the public interests. Either house may at any time apply to him for information; and, in the regular course of government, can apply only to him, where the matter inquired of, is principally under his superintendence and direction, although they frequently exercise the right to call upon the chief officers of executive departments, on matters peculiarly appertaining to them, and in like manner occasionally refer to the attorney general of the United States on subjects appropriate to Its office. The applications directly to the president, are generally accompanied with a qualification evincing a correct sense of the obligation on his part to avoid or suspend disclosures, by which the public interest, that both are bound to keep in view, might be affected.
Such disclosures the legislature in general expressly disclaims. In recurrence to our history, it must be obvious, that these official communications are chargeable with being rather more full and liberal than is common in other countries. In support of the practice it has been said, that in republics there ought to be few or no secrets; an illusory opinion, founded on ideal conceptions, and at variance with the useful practice of mankind. If all the transactions of a cabinet, whether in respect to internal or external business, were regularly exhibited to the public eye, its own operations would be impeded; the public mind be perplexed, and improper advantages would sometimes be taken. Foreign powers, pursuing as they invariably do, a different course themselves, would justly object to such proceeding.
The president is also required to recommend to their consideration such measures as he may deem expedient. This is an obligation not to be dispensed with. Exercising his office during the recess of the legislature, the members of which, when they return to the mass of citizens, are disengaged from the obligatory inspection of public affairs; supplied by his high functions with the best means of discovering the public exigencies, and promoting the public good, he would not be guiltless to his constituents if he failed to exhibit on the first opportunity, his own impressions of what it would be useful to do, with his information of what had been done. He will then have discharged his duty, and it will rest with the legislature to act according to their wisdom and discretion. These communications were formerly made in person at the opening of the session, and written messages were subsequently sent when necessary, but the whole is now done in writing. It was formerly the practice to return answers, which as a mere matter of ceremony is now disused. The course pursued at present is to refer the message to a committee, who commonly report an analysis of it, and the parts on which it appears necessary to act, are referred to other committees to prepare them for the deliberations of the whole.
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