Слике страница
PDF
ePub

satisfied, and, at the close of its twenty years' duration, as in the case of the first bank, it also ceased to exist.

Under the repeated blows of President Jackson, it reeled and fell, and a subsequent attempt to charter a similar institution was arrested by the veto of President Tyler.

Mr. Madison, in yielding bis signature to the charter of 1816, did so upon the ground of the respect due to precedents; and, as he subsequently declared, "the bank of the United States, though, on the original question, held to be unconstitutional, received the Executive signature.”

It is probable that neither the bank of 1791, nor that of 1816, would have been chartered, but for the embarrassments of the government in its finances, the derangement of the currency, and the pecuniary pressure which existed; the first the consequence of the war of the revolution, and the second the consequence of the war of 1812. Both were resorted to in the delusive hope that they would restore public credit, and afford relief to the government and to the business of the country.

Those of our public men who opposed the whole “American system” at its commencement, and throughout its progress, foresaw and predicted that it was fraught with incalculable mischiefs, and must result in serious injury to the best interests of the country. Por a series of years their wise counsels were unheeded, and the system was established. It was soon apparent that its practical operation was unequal and unjust upon different portions of the country, and upon the people engaged in different pursuits. All were equally entitled to the favor and protection of the govern

It fostered and elevated the money power, and enriched the favored few by taxing labor, and at the expense of the many. Its effect was to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.” Its tendency was to create distinctions in society based on wealth, and to give to the favored classes undue control and sway in our government. "It was an organized money power, which resisted the popular will, and sought to shape and control the public policy.

Under the pernicious workings of this combined system of measures, the country witnessed alternate seasons of temporary apparent prosperity; of sudden and disastrous commercial revulsions; of unprecedented fluctuation of prices, and depression of the great interests of agriculture, navigation, and commerce; of general pecuniary suffering, and of final bankruptcy of thousands. After a severe struggle of more than a quarter of a century, the system was overthrown.

The bank has been succeeded by a practical system of finance, conducted and controlled solely by the government. The constitutional currency has been restored; the public credit maintained unimpaired, even in a period of foreign war; and the whole country has become satisfied that banks, national or State, are not necessary as fiscal agents of the government. Revenue duties have taken the place of the protective tariff. The distribution of the money derived from the sale of the public lands has been aban

ment.

doned; and the corrupting system of internal improvements, it is hoped, has been effectually checked.

It is not doubted, that if this whole train of measures, designed to take wealth from the many and bestow it upon the few, were to prevail, the effect would be to change the entire character of the government. One only danger remains. It is the seductions of that branch of the system which consists in internal improvements, holding out, as it does, inducements to the people of particular sections and localities to embark the government in them without stopping to calculate the inevitable consequences. This branch of the system is so intimately combined and linked with the others, that as surely as an effect is produced by an adequate cause, if it be resuscitated and revived, and firmly established, it requires no sagacity to foresee that it will necessarily and speedily draw after it the re-establishment of a national bank, the revival of a protective tariff, the distribution of the land money, and not only the postponement to the distant future of the payment of the present national debt, but its annual increase.

I entertain the solemn conviction, that if the internal improvement branch of the “ American system” be not firmly resisted at this time, the whole series of measures composing it will be speedily re-established, and the country be thrown back from its present high state of prosperity, which the existing policy has produced, and be destined again to witness all the evils, commercial revulsions, depression of prices, and pecuniary embarrassments, through which we have passed during the last twenty-five years.

To guard against consequences so ruinous is an object of high national importance, involving, in my judgment, the continued prosperity of the country..

I have felt it to be an imperative obligation to withhold my constitutional sanction from two bills which had passed the two Houses of Congress, involving the principle of the internal improvement branch of the "American system, and conflicting in their provisions with the views here. expressed.

This.power conferred upon the President by the constitution, I have on three occasions, during my administration of the executive department of the government, deemed it my duty to exercise; and on this last occasion of making to Congress an annual communication “ of the state of the Union,” it is not deemed inappropriate to review the principles and considerations which have governed my action. I deem this the more necessary, because, after the lapse of nearly sixty years since the adoption of the constitution, the propriety of the exercise of this undoubted constitutional power by the President has for the first time been drawn seriously in question by a portion of my fellow citizens.

The .constitution provides that "every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it become a law,' be presented to the President of the United States : if he approve, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it, with his objections, to that house in which it shall have origina

[ocr errors]

ted, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it."

The preservation of the constitution from infraction is the President's highest duty. He is bound to discharge that duty, at whatever hazard of incurring the displeasure of those who may differ with him in opinion. He is bound to discharge it, as well by his obligations to the people who have clothed him with his exalted trust as by his oath of office, which he may not disregard. Nor are the obligations of the President in any degree lessened by the prevalence of views different, from his own in one or both Houses of Congress. It is not alone hasty and inconsiderate legislation that he is required to check; but if at any time Congress shall, after apparently full deliberation, resolve on measures which he deems subversive of the constitution, or of the vital interests of the country, it is his solemn duty to stand in the breach and resist them. The President is bound to approve, or disapprove, every bill which passes Congress and is presented to him for his signature. The constitution makes this his duty, and he cannot escape it if he would. He has no election. In deciding upon any bill presented to him, he must exercise his own best judgment. if he cannot approve, the constitution commands him to return the bill to the House in which it originated, with his objections; and if he fail to do this within ten days, (Sundays excepted,) it shall become a law without his signature. Right or wrong, he may be overruled by a vote of two-thirds of each house ; and, in that event, the bill becomes a law without his sanction. If his objections be not thus · overruled, the subject is only postponed, and is referred to the States and the people for their consideration and decision. The President's power is negative merely, and not affirmative. He can enact no law. The only effect, therefore, of his withholding his approval of a bill passed by Congress, is to suffer the existing laws to remain unchanged, and the delay occasioned is only that required to enable the States and the people to consider and act upon the subject in the election of public agents who will carry out their wishes and instructions. Any attempt to coerce the President to yield his sanction to measures which he cannot approve, would be à violation of the spirit of the constitution, palpable and flagrant; and if successful, would break down the independence of the exeautive department, and make the President, elected by the people, cnd clothed by the constitution with power to defend their rights, the mere instrument of a majority of Congress. A surrender, on his part, of the powers with which the constitution has invested his office, would effect a practical alteration of that instrument, without resorting to the prescribed process of amendment.

With the motives or considerations which may induce Congress to pass any bill, the President can have nothing to do. He must presume them to be as pure as his own, and look only to the practical effect of their measures when compared with the constitution or the public good.

But it has been urged by those who object to the exercise of this

undoubted constitutional power, that it assails the representative principle and the capacity of the people to govern themselves ; that There is greater safety in a numerous representative body than in the single Executive created by the constitution, and that the executive veto is a "one man power;" despotic in its character. To expose the fallacy of this objection, it is only necessary to consider the frame and true character of our system. Ours is not a consolidated empire, but a confederated Union. The States, before. the adoption of the constitution, were co-ordinate, co-equal, and separate independent sovereignties, and by its adoption they did not lose that character. They clothed the federal government with certain powers, and reserved all others, including their own sovereignty, to themselves. They guarded their own rights as States and the rights of the people, by the very limitations which they incorporated into the federal constitution, whereby the different departments of the general government were checks upon each other. That the majority should govern is a general principle, controverted by none; but they must govern according to the constitution, and not according to an undefined and unrestrained discretion, whereby they may oppress the minority.

The people of the United States are not blind to the fact that they may be temporarily misled, and that their representatives, legislative and executive, may be mistaken or influenced in their action by improper motives. They have, therefore, interposed between themselves and the laws which may be passed by their public agents various representations, such as assemblies, senates, and governors in their several States; a House of Representatives, a Senate, and a President of the United States. The people can by their own direct agency make no law; nor can the House of Representatives, immediately elected by them ; 'nor can the Senate ; nor can both together, without the concurrence of the President, or a vote of two-thirds of both Houses.

Happily for themselves, the people, in framing our admirable system of government, were conscious of the infirmities of their representatives ; and, in delegating to them the power of legislation, they have fenced them around with checks, to guard against the effects of hasty action, of error, of combination, and of possible corruption. Érror, selfishness, and faction have often sought to rend asunder this web of checks, and subject the government to the control of fanatie and sinister influences ; but these efforts have only satisfied the people of the wisdom of the checks which they have imposed, and of the necessity of preserving them unimpaired.

The true theory of our system is not to govern by the acts or decrees of any one set of representatives. The constitution interposes checks upon all branches of the government, in order to give time for error to be corrected and delusion to pass away; but if the people settle down into a firm conviction different from that of their representatives, they give effect to their opinions by changing their public servants. The checks which the people imposed on

their public servants in the adoption of the constitution, are the best evidence of their capacity for self-government. They know that the men whom they elect to public stations are of like infirmities and passions with themselves, and not to be trusted without being restricted by co-ordinate authorities and constitutional limitations. Who that has witnessed the legislation of Congress for the last thirty years will say that he knows of no instance in which measures not demanded by the public good have been carried? Who will deny that in the State governments, by combinations of individuals and sections, in derogation of the general interest, banks have been chartered, systems of internal improvement adopted, and debts entailed upon the people, repressing their growth and impairing their energies for years to come?

After so much experience, it cannot be said that absolute un-, checked power is safe in the hands of any one set of representatives, or that the capacity of the people for self-government, which is admitted'in its broadest extent, is a conclusive argument to prove the prudence, wisdom, and integrity of their representatives.

The people, by the constitution, have commanded'the President, as much as they have commanded the legislative branch of the government, to execute their will. They have said to him in the constitution, which they require he shall take a solemn oath to support, that if Congress pass any bill which he cannot approve, "he shall return it to the House in which it originated, with his objections." In withholding from it his approval and signature, he is executing the will of the people constitutionally expressed, as much as the Congress that passed it. No bill is presumed to be in accordance with the popular will until it shall have passed through all the branches of the government required by the constitution to make it a law. A bill which passes the House of Representatives may be rejected by the Senate; and so a bill passed by the Senate may be rejected by the House. In each case the respective Houses exercise the veto power on the other.

Congress, and each House of Congress, hold, under the constitution, a check upon the President, and he, by the power of the qualified veto, a check upon Congress. When the President recommends measures to Congress, he avows, in the most solemn form, his opinions, gives his voice in their favor, and pledges himself in advance to approve them if passed by Congress. If he acts without due consideration, or has been influenced by improper or corrupt motives—or if from any other cause Congress, or either House of Congress, shall differ with him in opinion, they exercise their veto upon his recommendations, and reject them; and there is no appeal from their decision, but to the people at the ballot box. These are proper checks upon the Executive, wisely interposed by the constitution. None will be found to object to them, or to wish them repealed. It is equally important that the constitutional checks of the Executive upon the legislative branch should be preserved.

If it be said that the representatives in the popular branch of

« ПретходнаНастави »