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AGAINST SECRECY IN PROCEEDINGS OF THE SENATE.
SPEECH IN THE SENATE, ON THE PROPOSITION TO LIMIT THE SECRET
SESSIONS OF THE SENATE, APRIL 6, 1853.
THE following resolution was submitted by Mr. Chase, of Ohio.
“ Resolved, That all sessions and all proceedings of the Senate shall be public and open, except when matters communicated in confidence by the President shall be received and considered, and in such other cases as the Senate by resolution from time to time shall specially order; and so much of the thirty-eighth, thirty-ninth, and fortieth rules as may be inconsistent with this rule is hereby rescinded."
In the debate which ensued, Mr. Sumner spoke as follows.
R. PRESIDENT, — Party allusions and party con
siderations have been brought to bear upon this question. I wish to regard it for a moment in the light of the Constitution, and in the spirit of our institutions. In the Constitution there is no injunction of secrecy on any of the proceedings of the Senate; nor is there
any requirement of publicity. To the Senate is left the determination of its rules of proceeding. Thus abstaining from all regulation of this matter, the framers of the Constitution obviously regarded it as in all respects within the discretion of the Senate, to be exercised from time to time as it thinks best.
The Senate possesses three important functions: first, the legislative or parliamentary power, where it acts concurrently with the House of Representatives, as well as the President; secondly, the diplomatic power, or that of “advice and consent" to treaties with foreign countries in concurrence with the President; and, thirdly, the executive power, or that of “advice and consent” to nominations by the President for offices under the Constitution. I say nothing of another, rarely called into activity, the sole power to try impeachments.
At the first organization of the Government, the proceedings of the Senate, whether in legislation or on treaties or nominations, were with closed doors. In this respect legislative business and executive business were alike. This continued down to the second session of the Third Congress, in 1794, when, in pursuance of a formal resolution, the galleries were opened so long as the Senate were engaged in their legislative capacity, unless where, in the opinion of the Senate, secrecy was required; and this rule has continued ever since. Here was an exercise of discretion, in obvious harmony with public sentiment and the spirit of our institutions.
The change now proposed goes still further. It opens the doors on all occasions, whether legislative or executive, except when specially ordered otherwise. The Senator from South Carolina [Mr. BUTLER] says that the Senate is a confidential body, and should be ready to receive confidential communications from the President. But this will still be the case, if we adopt the resolution now submitted to us. The limitation proposed seems adequate to all exigencies, while the general rule will be publicity. Executive sessions with closed doors, shrouded from the public gaze and public criticism, constitute an exceptional part of our system, too much in harmony with the proceedings of other Governments less liberal in character. The genius of our institutions requires publicity. The ancient Roman, who bade his architect so to construct his house that his guests and all that he did could be seen by the world, is a fit model for the American people.
THE GERMAN EMIGRANT MUST BE AGAINST
LETTER TO LEWIS TAPPAN, Esq., May 17, 1853.
Boston, May 17, 1853. EAR SIR, — I know Mr. Schmidt by the good
name he has won, and I have also had the pleasure of making his personal acquaintance. I understand him to be a scholar, believing in the demand which Liberty in our country now makes upon every citizen. Thus endowed in mind and character, he will address his compatriots from Germany, in their own language, with persuasive power. I trust he will find the opportunity he covets; and I know of none which promises better than his present plan of a Weekly German Antislavery Newspaper at Washington.
The number of persons to be addressed by such a journal is very large; and they should be easy converts. The German emigrant who is not against Slavery here leads us to doubt the sincerity of his opposition to the Tyranny he has left behind in his native land. Believe me, dear Sir, faithfully yours,
CHARLES SUMNER. LEWIS TAPPAN, Esq.
POWERS OF THE STATE OVER THE MILITIA :
EXEMPTIONS FOR CONSCIENTIOUS SCRUPLES.
SPEECH IN CONVENTION TO REVISE AND AMEND THE CONSTITUTION
OF MASSACHUSETTS," JUNE 21, 1853.
PROPOSITIONS of amendment on the general subject of the Militia being under consideration in Committee of the Whole, Mr. Sumner spoke as follows.
SHOULD like to call the attention of the Commit
tee to the precise question on which we are to vote. This does not, as it seems to me, properly open the discussion to which we have been listening. I do not understand that it involves the topics introduced by my friend opposite [Mr. WILSON], — the present condition of Europe, the prospects of the liberal cause in that quarter of the globe, or the extent to which that cause may be affected by a contemporaneous movement for peace. Nor do I understand that the important considerations introduced by the gentleman on my right [Mr. WHITNEY, of Boylston), regarding the extent to which Government may be intrusted with the power of the sword, can materially influence our decision. I put these things aside at this time.
1 The members of this Convention were not required to have their domiciles in the places which they represented. Mr. Sumner sat as member for Marshfield, by which place he was chosen while absent from the State.