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Congress are chosen directly by the people, it is answered, the people elect the President. "If both Houses represent the States and the people, so does the President. The President represents in the executive department the whole people of the United States, Es each member of the legislative department represents portions of them.
The doctrine of restriction upon legislative and executive power, while a well settled public opinion is enabled within a reasonable time to accomplish its ends, has made our country what it is, and has opened to us a career of glory and happiness to which all other nations have been strangers.
In the exercise of the power of the veto, the President is responsible not only to an enlightened public opinion, but to the people of the whole Union, who elected him, as the representatives in the legislative branches, who differ with him in opinion, are responsible to the people of particular States, or districts, who compose their respective constituencies. To deny to the President the exercise of this power, would be to repeal that provision of the constitution which confers it upon him. To charge that its exercise unduly controls the legislative will, is to complain of the constitution itself.
If the Presidential veto be objected to upon the ground that it checks and thwarts the popular will, upon the same principle the equality of representation of the States in the Senate should be stricken out of the constitution. The vote of a senator from Delaware has equal weight in deciding upon the most important measựres with the vote of a senator from New York; and yet the one represents a State containing, according to the existing apportionment of representatives in the House of Representatives, but one thirty-fourth part of the population of the other. By the constitutional composition of the Senate, a majority of that body from the smaller States represent less than one-fourth of the people of the Union. There are thirty States; and, under the existing apportionment of representatives, there are two hundred and thirty memvers in the House of Representatives. Sixteen of the smaller States are represented in that House by but fifty members; and yet the senators from those States constitute a majority of the Senate. So that the President may recommend a measure to Congress, and it may receive the sanction and approval of more than threefourths of the House of Representatives, and of all the senators from the large States, containing more than three-fourths of the whole 'population of the United States; and yet the measure may be defeated by the votes of the senators from the smaller States. None, it is presumed, can be found ready to change the organization of the Senate on this account, or to strike that body practically out of existence, by requiring that its action shall be conformed to the will of the more numerous branch.
Upon the same principle that the veto of the President should be practically abolished, the power of the Vice President to give the casting vote upon an equal division of the Senate should be abolished also. The Vice President exercises the veto power as effectually by rejecting a bill by his casting vote as the President does by refusing to approve and sign it. This power has been exercised by the Vice President in a few instances, the most important of which was the rejection of the bill to recharter the bank of the United States in 1811. It may happen that a bill may be passed by a large majority of the House of Representatives, and may be supported by the senators from the larger States, and the Vice President may reject it by giving his vote with the senators from the smaller States; and yet none, it is presumed, are prepared to deny to him the exercise of this power under the constitution.
But it is, in point of fact, untrue that an act passed by Congress is conclusive evidence that it is an emanation of the popular will. A majority of the whole number elected to each House of Congress constitutes a quorum, and a majority of that quorum is competent to pass laws. It might happen that a quorum of the House of Representatives, consisting of a single member more than half of the whole number elected to that House, might pass a bill by a majority of a single vote, and in that case a fraction more than one-fourth of the people of the United States would be represented by those who voted for it.
It might happen that the same bill might be passed by a majority of one of a quorum of the Senate, composed of senators from the fifteen smaller States, and a single senator from a sixteenth State, and if the senators roting for it happened to be from the eight of the smallest of these States, it would be passed by the votes of senators from States having but fourteen representatives in the House of Representatives, and containing less than one-sixteenth of the whole population of the United States. This extreme case is stated to illustrate the fact, that the mere passage of a bill by Congress is no conclusive evidence that those who passed it represent the majority of the people of the United States, or truly reflect their will. If such an extreme case is not likely to happen, cases that approximate it are of constant occurrence. It is believed that not a single law has been passed, since the adoption of the constitution, upon which all the members elected to both Houses have been present and voted. Many of the most important acts which have passed Congress have been carried by a close vote in thin Houses. Many instances of this might be given. Indeed, our experience proves that many of the most important acts of Congress are postponed to the last days, and often the last hours of a. session, when they are disposed of in haste, and by Houses but little exceeding the number necessary to form a quorum.
Besides, in most of the States, the nìembers of the House of Representatives are chosen by pluralities, and not by majorities of all the voters in their respective districts; and it may happen that a majority of that House may be returned by a less aggregate vote of the people than that received by the minority.
If the principle insisted on be sound, then the constitution should be so changed that no bill shall become a law unless it is voted for by members representing in each House a majority of the whole people of the United States. We must remodel our whole system, Strike down and abolish not only the salutary checks lodged in the executive branch, but must strike out and abolish those lodged in the Senate also, and thus practically invest the whole power of the government in a majority of a single assembly—a majority uncontrolled and absolute, and which may become despotic. To conform to this doctrine of the right of majorities 'to rule, independent of the checks and limitations of the constitution, we must revolutionize our whole system. We must destroy the constitutional compact by which the several States agreed to form a federal Union, and rush into consolidation, which must end in monarchy or despotism. No one advocates such a proposition; and yet the doctrine maintained, if carried out, must lead to this result.
One great object of the constitution in conferring upon the President a qualified negative upon the legislation of Congress, was to protect minorities from injustice and oppression by majorities. The equality of their representation in the Senate, and the veto power of the President, are the constitutional guaranties which the smaller States have that their rights will be respected. Without these guaranties all their interests would be at the mercy of majorities in Congress representing the larger States. To the smaller and weaker States, therefore, the preservation of this power, and its exercise upon proper occasions demanding it, is of vital importance. They ratified the constitution, and entered into the Union, securing to themselves an equal representation with the larger States in the Senate; and they agreed to be bound by all laws passed by Congress upon the express condition, and none other, that they should be approved by the President, or passed, his objections to the contrary notwithstanding, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses. Upon this condition they have a right to insist, as a part of the compact to which they gave their assent.
A bill might be passed by Congress against the will of the whole people of a particular State, and against the votes of its senators and all its representatives. However prejudicial it might be to the interest of such State, it would be bound by it if the President shall approve it, or it shall be passed by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses; but it has a right to demand that the President shall exercise his constitutional power and arrest it, if bis judgment is against it. If he surrender this power, or fail to exercise it in a case where he cannot approve, it would make his formal approval a mere mockery, and would be itself a violation of the constitution, and the dissenting State would become bound by a law which had not been passed according to the sanctions of the constitution.
The objection to the exercise of the veto power is founded upon an idea respecting the popular will, which, if carried out, would annihilate State sovereignty, and substitute for the present federal government a consolidation, directed by a supposed numerical majority. A revolution of the government would be silently effected, and the States would be subjected to laws to which they had never given their constitutional consent.
The Supreme Court of the United States is invested with the power to declare, and has declared; acts of Congress passed with the concurrence of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the approval of the President, to be unconstitutional and void; and yet none, it is presumed, can be found, who will be disposed to strip this highest judicial tribunal under the constitution of this acknowledged power—a power necessary alike to its independence and the rights of individuals.
For the same reason that the executive veto should, according to the doctrine maintained, be rendered nugatory, and be practically expunged from the constitution, this power of the court should also be rendered nugatory and be expunged, because it restrains the legislative and executive will, and because the exercise of such a power by the court may be regarded as being in conflict with the capacity of the people to govern themselves. Indeed, there is more reason for striking this power of the court from the constitution than there is that of the qualified veto of the President; because the decision of the court is final, and can never be reversed, even though both, Houses of Congress and the President should be unanimous in opposition to it; whereas the veto of the President may be overruled by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, or by the people at the polls.
It is obvious that to preserve the system established by the constitution, each of the co-ordinate branches of the government-the executive, legislative, and judicial-must be left in the exercise of its appropriate powers. If the executive or the judicial branch be deprived of powers conferred upon either as checks on the legislative, the preponderance of the latter will become disproportionate and absorbing, and the others impotent for the accomplishment of the great objects for which they were established. Organized as they are by the constitution, they work together harmoniously for the public good. If the executive and the judiciary shall be deprived of the constitutional powers invested in them, and of their due proportions, the equilibrium of the system must be destroyed, and consolidation, with the most pernicious results, must ensue-a consolidation of unchecked, despotic power exercised by majorities of the legislative branch.
The executive, legislative, and judicial, each constitutes a separate co-ordinate department of the government, and each is independent of the others. In the performance of their respective duties under the constitution, neither can, in its legitimate action, control the others. They each act upon their several responsibilities in their respective spheres; but if the doctrines now maintained be correct, the executive must become practically subordinate to the legislative, and the judiciary must become subordinate to both the legislative and the executive; and thus the whole power of the government would be merged in a single department. Whenever, if ever, this shall occur, our glorious system of well regulated self-government will crumble into ruins—to be succeeded, first by anarchy, and finally by monarchy or despotism. I am far from be
lieving that this doctrine is the sentiment of the American people; and during the short period which remains in which it will be my duty to administer the executive department, it will be my aim to maintain its independence, and discharge its duties, without infringing upon the powers or duties of either of the other departments of the government.
The power of the executive veto was exercised by the first and most illustrious of my predecessors, and by four of his successors who preceded me in the administration of the government, and, it is believed, in no instance prejudicially to the public interests. It has never been, and there is but little danger that it ever can be abused. No President will ever desire, unnecessarily, to place his opinion in opposition to that of Congress. He must always exercise the power reluctantly, and only in cases where his convictions make it a matter of stern duty, which he cannot escape. Indeed, there is more danger that the President, from the repugnance he must always feel to come in collision with Congress, may fail to exercise it in cases where the preservation of the constitution from infraction, ar the public good, may demand it, than that he will ever exercise it unnecessarily or wantonly.
During the period I have administered the executive department of the government, great and important questions of public policy, foreign and domestic, have arisen, upon which it was my duty to act. It may, indeed, be truly said that my administration has fallen upon eventful times. I have felt most sensibly the weight of the high responsibilities devolved upon me. With no other object than the public good, the enduring fame, and permanent prosperity of my country, I have pursued the convictions of my own best judgment. The impartial arbitrament of enlightened public opinion, . present and future, will determine how far the public policy'I have maintained, and the measures I have from time to time recommend. ed, may have țended to advance or retard the public prosperity at home, and to elevate or depress the estimate of our national character abroad.
Invoking the blessings of the Almighty upon your deliberations at your present important session, my ardent hope is, that in a spirit of harmony and concord, you may be guided to wise results, and such as may redound to the happiness, the honor, and the glory of our beloved country.
JAMES K. POLK.
On motion by Mr. Breese,
On motion by Mr. Johnson, of Louisiana,