Abbildungen der Seite

mention was made in the debate, I know nothing. I presume it was rightly decided, because it was decided by sworn judges, composing a tribunal in which the Constitution and the laws have lodged the power of ultimate judgment. It would be unworthy, indeed, of the magnitude of this occasion, to bend our course a hair's breadth on the one side or the other, either to favor or to oppose what we might like, or dislike, in regard to particular questions. Surely we are not fit for this great work, if motives of that sort can possibly come near us. I have forborne, throughout this discussion, all expression of opinion on the manner in which the members of the Supreme Court have heretofore discharged, and still discharge, the responsible duties of their station. I should feel restraint and embarrassment, were I to make the attempt to express my sentiments on that point. Professional habits and pursuits connect me with the court, and I feel that it is not proper that I should speak here of the personal qualities of its members, either generally or individually. They shall not suffer, at least, from any ill-timed or clumsy eulogy of mine. I could not, if I would, make them better known than they are to their country; nor could I either strengthen or shake the foundation of character and talent upon which they stand.

But of the judicial branch of the government, and of the insti. tution of the Supreme Court, as the head of that branch, I beg to say that no man can regard it with more respect and attachment than myself. It may have friends more able, it has none more sincere. No conviction is deeper in my mind, than that the maintenance of the judicial power is essential and indispensable to the very being of this government. The Constitution without it would be no constitution; the government, no government. I am deeply sensible, too, and, as I think, every man must be whose eyes have been open to what has passed around him for the last twenty years, that the judicial power is the protecting power of the whole government. Its position is upon the outer wall. From the very nature of things and the frame of the Constitution, it forms the point at which our differ. ent systems of government meet in collision, when collision unhappily exists. By the absolute necessity of the case, the members of the Supreme Court become judges of the extent of constitutional powers. They are, if I may so call them, the great arbitrators between contending sovereignties. Every man is able to see how delicate and how critical must be the exercise of such powers in free and popular governments. Suspicion and jealousy are easily excited, under such circumstances, against a body, necessarily few in number, and possessing by the Constitution a permanent tenure of office. While public men in more popular parts of the government may escape without rebuke, notwithstanding they may sometimes act upon opinions which are not acceptable, that impunity is not to be expected in behalf of judicial tribunals. It cannot but have attracted observation, that, in the history of our government, the courts have not been able to avoid severe, and sometimes angry complaint, for giving their sanction to those public measures which the representatives of the people had adopted without exciting particular disquietude. Members of this and the other house of Congress, acting voluntarily, and in the exercise of their general discretion, have enacted laws without incurring an uncommon degree of dislike or resentment; and yet, when those very laws have been brought before the court, and the question of their validity has been distinctly raised, and is necessarily to be determined, the judges affirming the constitutional validity of such acts, although the occasion was forced upon them, and they were absolutely bound to express the one opinion or the other, have, nevertheless, not escaped a severity of reproach bordering upon the very verge of denunciation. This experience, while it teaches us the dangers which environ this department, instructs us most persuasively in its importance. For its own security, and the security of the other branches of the government, it requires such an extraordinary union of discretion and firmness, of ability and moderation, that nothing in the country is too distinguished for sober sense or too gifted with powerful talent, to fill the situations belonging to it.


The following resolution being under consideration, in committee of the whole House upon the state of the Union, viz. :

Resolved, That in the opinion of the House it is expedient to appropriate the funds necessary to enable the President of the United States to send ministers to the Congress of Panama ";

Mr. McLane of Delaware submitted the following amendment there. to, viz. :

“ It being understood as the opinion of this House, that, as it has al. ways been the settled policy of this government, in extending our com. mercial relations with foreign nations, to have with them as little politi. cal connection as possible, to preserve peace, commerce, and friendship with all nations, and to form entangling alliances with none; the ministers who may be sent shall attend at the said Congress in a diplomatic character merely, and ought not to be authorized to discuss, consider, or consult, upon any proposition of alliance, offensive or defensive, between this country and any of the Spanish American governments, or any stipulation, compact, or declaration, binding the United States in any way, or to any extent, to resist interference from abroad with the domestic concerns of the aforesaid governments; or any measure which shall commit the present or future neutral rights or duties of these United States, either as may regard European nations, or between the several states of Mexico and South America ; leaving the United States free to adopt, in any event which may happen, affecting the relations of the South American governments with each other, or with foreign nations, such measures as the friendly disposition cherished by the American people towards the people of those states, and the honor and interest of this nation, may require”;

To which Mr. Rives of Virginia proposed to add, after the words " aforesaid governments,” the following:

* A Speech delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, on the 14th of April, 1826.

“Or any compact or engagement by which the United States shall be pledged to the Spanish American states, to maintain, by force, the principle that no part of the American continent is henceforward subject to colonization by any European power.”

The preceding motions to amend being under consideration, Mr. Webster addressed the committee as follows.

Mr. CHAIRMAN, — I am not ambitious of amplifying this discussion. On the contrary, it is my anxious wish to confine the debate, so far as I partake in it, to the real and material questions before us.

Our judgment of things is liable, doubtless, to be influenced by our opinions of men. It would be affectation in me, or in any one, to claim an exemption from this possibility of bias. I can say, however, that it has been my sincere purpose to consider and discuss the present subject with the single view of finding out what duty it devolves upon me, as a member of the House of Representatives. If any thing has diverted me from that sole aim, it has been against my intention.

I think, Sir, that there are two questions, and two only, for our decision. The first is, whether the House of Representatives will assume the responsibility of withholding the ordinary appropriation for carrying into effect an executive measure, which the executive department has constitutionally instituted. The second, whether, if it will not withhold the appropriation, it will yet take the responsibility of interposing, with its own opinions, directions, or instructions, as to the manner in which this particular executive measure shall be conducted.

I am, certainly, in the negative, on both these questions. I am neither willing to refuse the appropriation, nor am I willing to limit or restrain the discretion of the executive, beforehand, as to the manner in which it shall perform its own appropriate constitutional duties. And, Sir, those of us who hold these opinions have the advantage of being on the common highway of our national politics. We propose nothing new; we suggest no change; we adhere to the uniform practice of the government, as I understand it, from its origin. It is for those, on the other hand, who are in favor of either, or both, of the propositions, to show us the cogent reasons which recommend their adoption. It is their duty to satisfy the House and the country that there is something in the present occasion which calls for such an extraordinary and unprecedented interference.

The President and Senate have instituted a public mission, for the purpose of treating with foreign states. The Constitution gives to the President the power of appointing, with the consent of the Senate, ambassadors and other public ministers. Such appointment is, therefore, a clear and unquestionable ex. ercise of executive power. It is, indeed, less connected with the appropriate duties of this House, than almost any other ex. ecutive act; because the office of a public minister is not created by any statute or law of our own government. It exists under the law of nations, and is recognized as existing by our Constitution. The acts of Congress, indeed, limit the salaries of public ministers; but they do no more. Every thing else in regard to the appointment of public ministers, — their numbers, the time of their appointment, and the negotiations contemplated in such appointments, – is matter for executive discretion. Every new appointment to supply vacancies in existing missions is under the same authority. There are, indeed, what we commonly term standing missions, so known in the practice of the government, but they are not made permanent by any law. All missions rest on the same ground. Now the question is, whether, the President and Senate having created this mission, or, in other words, having appointed the ministers, in the exercise of their undoubted constitutional power, this House will take upon itself the responsibility of defeating its objects, and rendering this exercise of executive power void ?

By voting the salaries in the ordinary way, we assume, as it seems to me, no responsibility whatever. We merely empower another branch of the government to discharge its own appropriate duties, in that mode which seems to itself most conducive to the public interests. We are, by so voting, no more responsible for the manner in which the negotiation shall be conducted, than we are for the manner in which one of the heads of department may discharge the duties of his office.

On the other hand, if we withhold the ordinary means, we do incur a heavy responsibility. We interfere, as it seems to me, to prevent the action of the government, according to constitutional forms and provisions. It ought constantly to be remembered, that our whole power in the case is merely incidental. It

« ZurückWeiter »