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Several propositions were made to get rid of the motion for an amendment, and it was at last agreed that the committee should rise and report; Colonel Hamilton stating, " that he would reserve himself on this subject until it came again before them, when he hoped to be enabled to offer such arguments as would strike with conviction the candid part of the house."
This question was brought forward on the nineteenth of January, when an amendment was proposed by General Malcolm, as a substitute for that of the speaker, the object of which was to avoid a direct expression of opinion as to the governor's conduct, and to place his justification on the ground of the extraordinary expense an extra session would have produced. This amendment was resisted with great ingenuity and art. An attempt was made to show that silence would be in effect a censure upon the governor, while approbation of his conduct did not necessarily reflect upon that of congress,—that this motion was in reality an attempt to debar them from the right of declaring their sentiments; and the house was asked whether, if it was necessary, they were afraid to justify their gov. ernor?
A comparison was drawn between the former and present government, and an absurd analogy sought to be shown to the attempt of the British government to levy ship-money, which was finally and effectually resisted by the English commons. It was contended that if to the right of making peace and war, of raising fleets and armies, was superadded that of convening at pleasure the state legislatures, and of exercising such a prerogative, the issue no man could foretell;—that congress was an irresponsible body, and that the governor was accountable to the state ; --that this was not the “extraordinary occasion" contemplated by the constitution; and as they were now ready to approve the governor's conduct, they should have been
as ready, had his course been different, to have censured it.
The question was then called as to the substitute, when Hamilton, who had previously spoken on the point of order, arose. This body was, with few exceptions, composed of respectable individuals, who had enjoyed small advantages of education, and who regarded with jealousy all oratorical embellishment. Having previously felt its pulse, and only anxious to carry this great measure, on the right decision of which such vast consequences depended, Hamilton conformed his effort to the character of the assembly, and addressed them in the following conciliatory and moderate tone. After a few preliminary observations, he proceeded to remark :*
“ This now leads us to examine the important question presented to us by the proposed amendment. For my own part, I have seen with regret the progress of this business, and it was my earnest wish to have avoided the present discussion. I saw with regret the first application of congress to the governor, because it was easy to perceive that it involved a delicate dilemma. Either the governor, from considerations of inconvenience, might refuse to call the assembly, which would derogate from the respect due to congress; or he might call them, and by being brought together at an unreasonable period, before the time appointed by law for the purpose, they would meet with reluctance, and perhaps with a disposition less favourable than might be wished to the views of congress themselves. I saw with equal regret the next step of the business. If a conference had been desired with congress, it might have been had—circumstances might have been explained, rea
* All of these speeches are reported by Childs, the reporter of the debates in the New York convention. They are very imperfect, and very often in the language the reporter would himself have used
sons might have been assigned satisfactory to them for not calling the legislature. The affair might have been compromised. But instead of this, the governor thought proper to answer by a flat denial, founded on a constitutional impediment, and an idea of the invasion of the right of free deliberation was brought into view. I earnestly wished the matter to have rested here. I might appeal to gentlemen in this house, and particularly to the honourable member who is so zealous in support of the amendment, that before the speech appeared, I discovered a solicitude that by passing the subject over in silence, it might not give occasion to the present discussion. It however came before us in a form very different from that which I should have thought advisable, for there was no need of an appeal to the legislature. The next step was to appoint a committee to prepare an answer to the speech. It fell to my lot to be a member of that committee; my object still was to avoid the interference of this house in a matter about which there was a difference of opinion between the United States and the governor of this state on constitutional ground. The best way to effect this, was to frame the answer in the most general terms. This was done; not a word is said even about the revenue system, which occasioned the request of congress to convene the legislature. The answer is generally, that the house will take into consideration the different acts of congress, and make such provisions as appear to them compatible with the abilities and constitution of the state. By not touching at all on the topic connected with the origin of the controversy, I thought we might safely be silent without any implication of censure on the governor. It was neither my wish to condemn nor to approve. I was only desirous of avoiding an interference in a constitutional question, which belonged entirely to the province of the executive authority of the state, and about which I knew there would be a differ
ence of opinion, even in this house. I submit it to the nouse, whether this was not a prudent course, and whether it is not to be lamented that the proposed amendment forces the discussion upon us. Constitutional questions are always delicate ; they should never be touched but from necessity.
“But though I shall be readily acquitted of having had any agency in bringing the house into this disagreeable situation, since the question is brought forward, I shall with freedom meet the discussion. This my duty demands from me; and whoever may be affected by it, I shall proceed under an impression that my constituents expect from me the free exercise of my judgment, and the free declaration of my sentiments on the matters deliberated upon in this house. : “ The question by the honourable member on my right, has been wrongly stated. He says it is this—whether a request of congress to convene the legislature is conclusive upon the governor of the state, or whether a bare intimation of that honourable body lays him under a constitutional necessity of convening the legislature ? But this is not the true question. From the shape in which the business comes before us, the inquiry truly is—whether a solemn application of the United States to the executive of this state to convene the legislature for the purpose of deliberating on a matter which is considered by that body as of essential importance to the nation, and which has been viewed in a similar light by most of the other states individually, is such an extraordinary occasion as left the governor under no constitutional impediment to a compliance ? and it may be added, whether that application, under all the circumstances, was an attempt to inyade the freedom of deliberation in this house?
“ Here let me ask, what does the constitution say upon the subject ? Simply this—that the governor shall have power to convene the assembly and senate on extraordi. nary occasions.
" But what is an extraordinary occasion ? what circumstances are to concur, what ingredients combine, to constitute one? What general rule can be imagined by which to define the precise meaning of these vague terms, and draw the line between an ordinary and an extraordinary occasion ? Will the gentleman on my right furnish us with such a criterion ? Profoundly skilled as he is in law, (at least in the local laws of this state,) I fancy it will be difficult for him to invent one that will suit his present purpose. Let him consult his law books: they will not relieve his embarrassment. It is easy to see the clause allows the greatest latitude to opinion. What one may think a very extraordinary occasion, another may think a very ordinary one, according to his bias, his interest, or his intellect. If there is any rule at all, it is this—the governor shall not call the legislature with a view to the ordinary details of the state administration. Whatever does not fall within this description, and has any pretensions to national importance in any view, leaves him at liberty to exercise the discretion vested in him by the constitution. There is, at least, no constitutional bar in the way.
“ The United States are intrusted with the management of the general concerns and interests of the communitythey have the power of war and peace, they have the power of treaty.
“Our affairs with respect to foreign nations are left to their direction. We must entertain very diminutive ideas of the government of the Union, to conceive that their earnest call on a subject which they deem of great national magnitude, which affects their engagements with two respectable foreign powers, France and the United Netherlands, which relates to the preservation of their faith at home and abroad, is not such an occasion as would justify