« ZurückWeiter »
We are sent here, -said he, not to complain of old sores, nor of wars that are past: We are sent here to amend our constitution for the good of the people of this state, without regard to what this man has done or may do. We hare «vidently arrived at a point in our business where it is difficult to determine the most advisable conrsc to pursue. The question is, whether the proposition before the committee is worthy of adoption. On the one hand, it is contended that the appointing power ought to be in the chief magistrate; on the other, fhat it ought to be in the people; and it is again supposed by some, that an intermediate body ought to bo intrusted with this power.
In the first place, what are the objections to its being exercised by the chief magistrate * It is said by some we shall experience all the evils of the old council. In the first place, he cannot be acquainted with the candidates. When a doubtful list is presented, he cannot determine from any personal knowledge of the men recommended; he must rely on information from some one else, as was the case in our former council of appointment, and thus essentially open a door for the same cabal and secret influence as was then experienced, although perhaps not to so great an extent. The supervisors and judges may perchance agree on the candidates; if so, why send a list to the seat of government to receive this formal act of the executive? Is it for the purpose of keeping up this constant bustle, at the expense of public virtue and character •' Now if your governor is to have the appointment of these officers, wherefore the necessity of this nominating power? Will not these office-seekers come here as much as before' Will they not exercise in some degree the same corrupt influence, and will it not subject the chief magistrate to the liability of being deceived and led by political motives to make appointments, disgraceful to the character of his station?
Again, it is said the governor ought to have some connection or influence over the magistracy of the state, because be is the one to see that the laws of the state are faithfully executed; but can be judge who is capable of administering the laws with justice and propriety between the individuals of this extensive community ? Why is all this round-about way taken to come back to the scat of government? Is it that this is the place from whence all offices, small and great, are uniformly to flow " If the nominations are to be made for the people's good, then why send the list to Albany to be ratified :—Why not confide to some body in the county, the power of appointing ,'
Suppose there should be an union in the nomination of the supervisors and judges—the persons thus nominated will be the candidates whom the governor must commission—then why not give these supervisors and judges the power of appointing • We are told that this will be a salutary means of having the nominations made by one set of men, and the appointment by another man.
But let us imagine who these men are: they are the judges of the court of common pleas, deriving their existence from this chief magistrate; and if political views arc to enter into the consideration, it is to be supposed that party men are to be nominated; for your judges may receive their appointment from party motives, and if they are party men, what else can be expected? It would be unreasonable to suppose they will not endeavour to strengthen the chain between these magistrates, if by these means they can sustain themselves in office; experience has shown that such is the fact. I do say, then, that these judges, created as they are, will form the connecting link between the magistrates and your executive. If supervisors are respectable and honest men, as is agreed on all hands, why not let them appoint these officers? This would not do at all it is said: they would then become the very seat of corruption, as was the council which we have abolished. We abolished that council, not because it was originally corrupt, but because the manner in which its powers were carried into operation was corrupt. It was growing worse because we are less pure now than we were when that council went into operation. The same applies to our constitution. As men become more corrupt, it requires something more energetic to restrain them from vice and ambition. It was alleged, that from the manner in which the duties of that council were discharged, it ought to be abolished; and wo have done so. If giving this power to the supervisors trill corrupt them, it trill corrupt any other set of men; and if 10, let us throw it hack where it was, as that hody is already corrupted. If it must go into other hands, let us endeavour to put it into such hands as we may ralioually supposewill he the least likely to ahuse it.
Your supervisors are the immediate representatives of the people of their county; and they are accountahle for their conduct: they come together hringing a" the necessary information for making a discreet selection of magistrates; and inasmuch as they are all personally and collectively interested, they will endeavour to make the wisest and hest appointments. I would, therefore, give them the power of nominating and appointing: hut I would, at the same time, exclude them from a participation in any other office. One tells us that it will carry party feelings into this hody of men; others say it will not he corrupted hy party; hut I am aware that it is impossihle in a government like ours, to prevent party feeling from existing in some degree: we, therefore, have only to place it in the hands of those whom we suppose to he the most upright and intelligent. It is generally conceded that the supervisors are an upright and intelligent hody of men; and heing immediately accountahle to the people, I know of no hody of men whom we might more safely entrust with thin important charge; hut when the judges are added, the responsihility is divided hetween the supervisors, judges, and executive, and therehy the purity and safety of the plan is destroyed.
Mr. Van Vechten continued his remarks hy speaking of the importance of this class of officers, in the management of the pecuniary concerns of their respective towns, as well as in dispensing civil and criminal justice. There was no such connexion hetween the concerns of the chief magistrate and the justices of the peace, as rendered it important tliat he should he the person to appoint them.—The chief magistrate was more nearly allied to the militia, as commander in chief, than to justices, still the appointment of these officers had heen sent home to the people. From these considerations, with various others which he proceeded to enumerate, he was satisfied that the plan proposed was such as would keep alive party animosity and irritation, and render the engine of political faction more complicated and odious. He should, therefore, vote against the proposition of the gentleman from Otsego.
Jooge Platt said, a "justice of the peace,'' in the sense of the constitution, means a judicial officer, with power to hind over or commit for crimes and misdemeanors, and to exact sureties for the peace, or good hehaviour. It will he in the discretion of the legislature to clothe him with as much or as little jurisdiction as they please, in regard to civil canses.
From the course of dehate on the proposition to make justices elective hy the people in the towns, it seems to have heen assumed, in the argument, that we are ahout to adopt a novel principle. We are told, that to elect judicial officers, would he an untried and dangerous experiment. Permit me, sir, to remind the Convention, that the fact does not warrant the argument. We have tried the experiment, and with perfect success. I allude to the election of aldermen in al| our cities, from the origin of the colony, down to the present day. They have heen always elected hy the people in the respective wards. They are justices of the peace, ex officio: and I ask With confidence, whether that mode of designating those local magistrates, has not heen found safe and proper? We have the plain light of experience to guide us; the theory has heen reduced to practice, under cireumstances most unfavourahle to success; and if it he safe and wise to trust the election of those judicial officers to the motley population of our cities; can there he any danger in permitting tha like officers to he chosen hy the soher and discreet farmers in our country towns? I think not, sir.
The judicial functions of aldermen, are more extensive than the powers of ordinary justices of the peace. Aldermen in the city of New-York are not only conservators of the puhlic peace; they are memhers of the courts of general sessions and common pleas, and also of the court of oyer and terminer. I have had occasion several times to preside in the oyer and terminer in New-York; at the trial of persons for capital offences, when the aldermen of that city were iity associates on the hench. 1 have found them sensihle, discreet, and respectahle—thoy v. ere men with whom I should he proud to associate any where. I therefore feel * perfect conGdence, that there is no real danger in permitting <he people of the several towns to elect their own justices, according to the report of the select committee.
Ma. Briggs replied to the suggestion, that the people of this state were incompetent to exereise the power of electing their magistrates. It would seera from the opinions expressed, not only that they were incompetent as electors, but that the moment they exereised that power, all virtue and honesty would depart from the elected. He did nut helieve that it was necessary to have an intermediate hody to protect the people from themselves, nor that they were destitute of those characteresties that constitute discretion. There was no danger that the people would not he guided hy their own interest, nor that they would he hewildered in their understandings when they came to the polls.— They were to ahide the consequences of their own selection, and if their choice was injudicious, they were the immediate sufferers. The amendment, in his «pinion, went to show, that we had no confidence in the people; hut he thought that this was an anthority with which, of all others, it was most proper to entrust them.
Mr. Sharpe opposed the amendment. He had seen aldermen elected in the city of New-York, and the selections had heen uniformly judicious. He helieved that the people could he safely trested. He came here not to suhserve party views that were fluctuating and temporary, hut to make a constitution for the henefit of his children. He did not know who was to he the next governor, nor did he much care; he would never consent to give to him, whoever he might he, the power of appointment to office as was now proposed. He had, he said, come here to make a constitution without regard to party. He wished not to look at what the operation of any constitutional provision would he, with respect to party.
He was opposed to the proposition under consideration, also, hecanse there would he no responsihility, in case of an ahuse of power.
Of the one hundred and twenty-six memhers of which the Convention was composed, they were mostly all of one political party—a jealousy had existed that they would he influenced hy party considerations in their proceedings here. Let us, said he, hy our actions, prove the contrary; let us show ourselves magnanimous. There were, he said, hnt few counties in the state, in which their political opponents had the majority, and he would let them have the local officers of those counties to themselves.
Mr. Van Bch.kn was perfectly willing that the gentleman last up, should show his magnanimity; hut that the credit he received might equal his deserts, he would take the liherty to explain the extent of it, farther than the honourahle gentleman had done, he would show the height, and hreadth, and depth, of the magnanimity recommended; and he hoped he would have ample opportunity, hefore they got through with this suhject, of proving hy his votes, the reality of his magnanimity. He would, however, remind him, that the concession he was ahout to make to his political opponents, would not he limited to a few counties; the proposition was not to elect hy counties, hut hy towns, and for that the gentleman had yesterday voted. By a recurrence to the result of the last spring's election, it would he found, that the honourahle gentleman, in the plentitudeof his magnanimity, would yield to his political adversaries, if not a majority, certainly a moiety of tlie whole magistracy of the state. [Mr. S. here interrupted Mr. V. B. and stated that he was perfectly willing that the supervisors of the several counties, or those hodies in conjunction with the courts of common pleas, should appoint the justices. He was opposed to having the appointments made at Alhany.] And what, continued Mr. V. B. will you do with the minorities in those counties? Are they to he ahandoned? His magnanimity, he said, would not carry him so far. The repuhlican party were predominant in the state, and he did not helieve that magnanimity, ur justice, required that they should place themselves under the dominion of their opponents. While they continue to he the majority, it was no more than riirht tliat they should exereise the powers of the government. That the majority should govern, was a fundamental maxim in all free governments; and when his political opponents acquired the ascendancy, he was content thai the/ should have it in their power to hestow the offices of the government. It wat true, as the honourahle gentleman had said, that we had not come here to make a constitution for a party; hut it was equally true, that we had not heen sent here to destroy one party and huild up another. He was not, however, in favour of a system ol utter exclusion ofthe minority. He thought they ought to participate, and he had no douht they would. He thought it at hest hut equivocal magnanimity in those who, hy their residence, were safe from the control of their adversaries, to disregard the wishes and interests of such of their friends as were differently situated.
Mr. Fairli K stated, that the election of aldermen in the city of New-York, could have no great hearing on this question, inasmuch as they possessed no civil jurisdiction. He thought, however, that it might ho expedient to reflect further on the suhject hefore the question, and with that view moved that the committee rise and report. Lost.
Mr. Dodge ohserved, that the great ohject with all the memhers of this hodv was, that good and suitahle men should he selected to fill the olfV:es of justice of the peace. He thought that the practical effect of the plan toider consideration would ho, that the hest men in the community when collected together, would go to the supervisor, and consult with him, and recommend the most proper persons for that office. The same course would also prohahly prevail in relation to the judges of the county court. Hitherto the nominations have heen really made hy a cancus assemhled in the centre of the various counties, or perhaps hy county conventions, which were liahle to the same ohjections: as tho selections in hoth cases were made hy political partisans, and with reference to party ohjects. He was opposed to the election of magistrates, for reasons that had heen already stated, and for another which had not heen hitherto assigned. It woull increase the numher of the e|ertiont—for if a magistrate should move away or die, the people must he assemhled from time to tune to supply the vacancy. He was also opposed to it, hecanse he thought that uniformity was desirahle throughout the state, and it was well understood that distinct appointing powers would he created for the cities of IN'ew-York ami Alhany, even if the general purpose of election hy the people should ultimatelv prevail for the coontry. If the system of election were adopted, he feared the question of the fitness of the candidate would he made to depend, not upon his qualifications and merit, hut upon his popularity and prohahle success. Mr. 1l. ohserved, that the justices' was emphatically the poor man's court, and he should regret to sec it placed under the influence of the rich. Suppose a large manufacturer in a town had the control of a hundred voles in the election of a magistrate— what would he the chance for justice of a poor man in a controversy with hun? Would you, said Mr. D. permit a suitor to elect exclusively his arhitrators? Certainly uot; and yet, hy the system of election, you would virtually givw elfect to that principle, hv disposing of the choice of these magistrates to the influence of the rich. Mr. J), further illustrated his sentiments in relation to the suhject, and replied to the ohjections that had heen urged against the amendment; and remarked that, helieving it to he the least ohjectionahle measure, he should give it his vote.
t'h t.nCK.lt.or Kl.nt ohjected to the amendment proposed hy the honourahle memher from Otsego, (Mr. Van ISnren.) The supervisors of each county were to propose one list of justices, and the judges of the county coin t another, and out of theso two lists the governor was to select and appoint the justices. How was it possihle that the governor at the seat of government could select several thousand magistrates with discretion, when he could have no local knowledge ot characters? I le would ho ohliged to elect hy hallot or hy guess, or if ho resorted for advice it would he to men who would communicate it in secret, aml who would not he responsihle to the community for ill-advice. If he was a governor who stood at the head of a great political party, ho would naturally ho led to adopt the one list or the other, as would hest meet party views and wishes.
There was a great ohjection, also, in requiring the judges of the county courts to select the justices of the county. He had listened with pleasure to the gentleman from Schoharie, who had just sat down, (Mr. Sutherland,) and who rt as in favour of the umtoidinent. That gentleman slwa\ s spnke with canAonr, moderation, and good sense; but on this occasion, his statement of the objections to the interference of the county courts, and which he endeavoured to surmount, would have been sufficient to have satisfied him, if he had been in • i. Hi hi before, of the impropriety of calling these courts into political action. Tbe judiciary ought not to be charged with political duties. They should not He distracted or affected in duty or in character by such a concern. The county courts were to be charged by the amendment with a censorial power over the conduct of the justices, and appeals lay to them from their decisions in civil frascs. They were therefore an improjier body to be concerned in the appointment of justices.
The supervisors were also to form a list for the governor. He should be willing- to trust the sole power to them, if no nearer approach to the people themselves in their respective towns, could be admitted. He voted yesterday for electing justices in each town by the people, He thought it upon the wholi! the most expedient course, and lie apprehended the people were as competent to elect discreetly their local magistrates, as the general officers of the^statc, because it required tliat minute local knowledge which they alone possessed. It had been the ancient usage in England, as had been observed by the gentleman from Queens, (Mr. King.) It continued to the reign of Edward II. i and Lord Coke referred to it with visible pride, as evidence of the popular genius of the ancient English constitution. He did not recollect that the exercise of that right had been complained of, though the election of sheriffs was htated by the old writers to have been tumultuous. In the city of JVew-York, the aldermen had always been elected, and well elected, by the people; and they had formerly great civil and criminal jurisdiction: they acted, until 1798, or thereabouts, as police magistrates, and as efficient judges of the mayor's courts. But as that point had been decided by the vote of yesterday, against elections by the people, he would be inclined to prefer the mode approaching the nearest to it, and to adopt the proposition of the gentleman from Westches« tor, (Mr. Jay,) that the supervisor, assessors, and town clerk in each town, t-houM form the list, or else the supervisors themselves. His great object (and it was one that seemed now to meet the decided sense of the house) was to remove all efficient concern in these local appointments from the seat of govern* mcnl, and to disperse the power among the counties.
Mr. St.ahkwkatrer. Mr. Chairman—Sir, the principle canse of complaint, by the great body of the yeomanry, against the present council of appointment, has not specifically been mentioned by any gentleman of the committee. It is not because the person appointed, happens to be of different political principles; nor because members of the legislature interfere with the council, and mingle their official duties with political considerations; but because bad men arc sometimes appointed, who are in fact a terror to those who dj well. The charity and good feeling of the farmers induce them to believe, that the respectable council did not know thrir private characters; consequently, the electors say, bring the appointments to the people. Sir, by this they do not mean to bring the appointments directly to the ballot boxes; they douot want additional confusion and turmoil there. But, sir, they want a selection made, where the characters of the candidates are known; and if the selection is made by the board of supervisors, and judges of the County court, they must know the character of every man they recommend, and they dare not recommend a bad man—the ghost of public clamour would haunt them in their dreams; and by this mode of selection the people would be safe: it is the best plan that has been suggested, and I shall vote for it. But, sir, let us for one moment consider the plan of an election. It is a fact, that immoral men can bring more votes to the poll, than any moral, good men; and if they are not directly the candidates, they will have their friend for a candidate, and by using their influence, and rallying their satellites, will lav him under obligations to favour them in his official capacity: consequently, a remedy for tha evil would not be found here. The gentleman from New-York is opposed to the amendment, because it gives to the executive the appointing power, who U not responsible for the appointments. Sir, I am in favour of giving this power to the executive, because »ve aslc no responsibility from him. He cannot do