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return it to the House in which it originated, with his objections, would expire on Thursday, the twenty-fourth of February. General Hamilton on the same day returned an answer, in which he states : “I give it as my opinion that you have ten days exclusive of that on which the bill was delivered to you, and Sundays; hence, in the present case, if it is returned on Friday, it will be in time." By this construction, which the President adopted; he gained another day for deliberation, and it was not until the twenty-fifth of February that he signed the bill ; thus affording conclusive. proof that he had at last obtained his own consent to sign it, not without great and almost insuperable difficulty. Additional light has been recently shed upon the serious doubts which he had on the subject, amounting at one time to a conviction that it was his duty to withhold his approval from the bill. This is found among the manuscript papers of Mr. Madison, authorized to be purchased for the use of the government by an act of the last ses-sion of Congress, and now for the first time accessible to the public. From these papers, it appears that President Washington, while he yet held the bank bill in his hands, actually requested Mr. Madison, at that time a member of the House of Representatives, to prepare the draught of a veto message for him. Mr. Madison, at his request, did prepare the draught of such a message, and sent it to him on the twenty-first of February, 1791. A.copy of this original draught, in Mr. Madison's own handwriting, was carefully preserved by him, and is among the papers lately purchased by Congress. It is preceded by a note, written on the same sheet, which is also in Mr. Madison's handwriting, and is as follows:
“February 21st, 1791. Copy of a paper made out and sent to the President, at his request, to be ready, in case his judgment should finally decide against the bill for incorporating a national bank, the bill being then before him."
Among the objections assigned in this paper to the bill, and which were submitted for the consideration of the President, are the following:
“I object to the bill, because it is an essential principle of the government that powers not delegated by the constitution cannot be rightfully exercised; because the power proposed by the bill to be exercised is not expressly delegated, and because I cannot satissy myself that it results from any express power by fair and safe rules of interpretation."
The weight of the precedent of the bank of 1791, and the sanction of the great name of Washington, which has been so often invoked in its support, are greatly weakened by the development of these facts. The experiment of that bank satisfied the country that it ought not to be continued, and at the end of twenty years Congress refused to recharter it. It would have been fortunate for the country, and saved thousands from bankruptcy and ruin, had our public men of 1816 resisted the temporary pressure of the times upon our financial and pecuniary interests, and refused to charter the second bank. Of this the country became abundantly
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 government. 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 abandoned; 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 systein 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, 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
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 hina 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 be
comes 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. 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 a 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 à 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 fanatic 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