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genial with the views of the American government, the president attempted to establish by treaty with the European powers as a permanent rule in all future maritime wars, and gave instructions to this effect to the ministers of the United States, in France, Great Britain, and Russia ; but the attempt proved unsuccessful.
During the session of the congress at Verona, representatives from Greece appeared before them soliciting their friendly interference in the contest with the Turks ; but the views of that people, so ill-accorded with the principles of the holy alliance, that they were not even allowed to present their case before that body. To the application of Spain for their influence and assistance in regaining possession of her colonies in South America, the allied sovereigns gave a ready attention. The emperor of Russia of fered his mediation, proposing that the authority of Spain should be re-established, and the colonies compensated by a grant of some commercial privileges. But these republics, assured of the friendship of Great Britain and the United States, rejected these propositions with disdain ; and declared that any terms which did not contain an acknowledgment of their independence were inadmissable. The complete success of the holy alliance, in subduing the revolutionary spirit in the south of Europe, seems to have riveted the chains of despotism in that hemisphere, in a manner not soon to be broken. The recent death of the emperor Alexander, the head of this combination, will probably operate as a check upon their exertions; and may dissolve the confederacy. The views of his successor on this subject, have not yet been developed. The American policy, adopted by Washington, recommended by him to his successors, and followed by every administration since, forbids their interfering in the political systems of other nations.
First meeting of the 15th congress-Message-Revolutionary pension law
passed-An attempt to bribe the committee of claims-Proceedings against Colonel Anderson for contempt-Beaumarchais claim-Bank of the United States mismanaged-Speculations in its stock-Its embarrassments-A change of directors—Langdon Cheves president--Its credit restored-Judicial decisions on constitutional questions-Hunter's case-Question on the immunities of consuls-On the enlistment of minors without the consent of their parents on the liability of the United States bank to be taxed by state authorities-On the constitutionality of state insolvent laws-Organization of the district of Columbia-Cohens against the state of Virginia on the sale of lottery tickets-Steamboat case decided.
Congress. The 15th congress convened on the 1st of December, 1817. The house of representatives organized itself by the re-election of Mr. Clay to the chair, by one hundred and forty-four votes, out of one hundred and fifty. The message,delivered on the 2d, contained a representation of the state of the nation, both in relation to its foreign and domestic concerns, highly gratifying to its citizens. The receipts at the treasury, owing to the extrordinary importations immediately succeeding the war, much exceeded the estimates, and enabled the president to recommend the repeal of all the internal duties,and taxes, without any hazard to the publiccredit. The president,in late northern andwestern tour, had fallen in with many of the officers and soldiers of the revolution, his companions in arms, verging towards the close of life in poverty and distress. Such a scene, in the midst of a country enjoying wealth and independence, attained by their exertions, was calculated to excite the tenderest emotions. Under the influence of these feelings, in his first address to the representatives of the nation, he recommended the case of this portion of the American family to the liberality of their government. Towards the close of his message, he remarks, that, “in contemplating the happy situation of the United States, our attention is drawn, with peculiar interest, to the surviving officers and soldiers of our revolutionary army, who so eminently contributed, by their services, to lay its foundation. Most of these meritorious citizens have paid the debt of nature, and gone to repose. It is believed that among the survivors, there are some not provided for by existing laws, who are reduced to indigence, and even to real distress. These men have a claim on the gratitude of their country, and it will do itself honor to provide for them. The lapse of a few years more, and the opportunity will be lost for ever." In the prosperous state of the country, and with an overflowing treasury, congress readily seconded the views of the president on this subject, and passed a law allowing a pension to every officer and soldier who served on the continental establishment, in the army or navy, in the war of the revolution, for the term of nine months, or upwards, and who was then a citizen of the United States, and stood in need of the assistance of his country for support, if an officer, of twenty dollars, and if a private, of eight dollars per month, during life. A liberal construction, put by the secretary at war upon the indefinite expression in the act, describing the objects of its bounty to be such as “stood in need of the assistance of their country for support,” embraced within its purview nearly all the surviving officers and soldiers of the revolution. A very great proportion of them were in a state of real poverty, and there were but few, who did not, in their own opinion, stand in need of the assistance of their country for support; the applicants, consequently, embraced nearly the whole of the survivors, and amounted to about thirty thousand. It was impossible for the secretary to be acquainted with the circumstances of each case, so as correctly to decide on its merits. A much greater number having been admitted to the benefits of the law than were expected, and many who, in the opinion of congress, were never intended to be embraced within its provisions, an explanatory act was passed the succeeding session, more definitely describing the circumstances of the persons to be admitted, and limiting the pension to those only who were destitute of the means of support, and in a state of absolute poverty. Considerable numbers were consequently stricken off the list.
Colonel Anderson's case. In the course of the session, an important constitutional question arose in relation to the privileges of the house of representatives, and its power of punishing for contempts. Colonel John Anderson, a native of Scotland, and an inhabitant of Frenchtown, on the river Raisin, whose house had been burned, and property destroyed by the British and Indians, under Proctor, in the late war, while attending on congress, seeking compensa
tion in behalf of himself, and other sufferers from the same source, addressed a letter to the chairman of the committee of claims, while his were pending before that body, proposing to give him five hundred dollars, in the event of a speedy and successful determination on them. The chairman immediately communicated this letter to the house, and an interesting debate took place on the subject of their constitutional powers. On the one hand, this attempt at bribery was claimed to be a contempt of the house, and a highhanded breach of privilege, for which the aggressor was liable to imprisonment during their pleasure. On the other, it was contended, that the power of punishing for contempt extended only to members of the house, and to offenses committed by others within its walls. On the question, whether Colonel Anderson's case was an offense punishable by the house, the yeas were one hundred and nineteen, nays forty-seven. He was then taken into custody by the sergeant at arms, by virtue of a warrant from the speaker, by order of the house; brought to the bar, reprimanded, and discharged. He afterwards brought an action of false im. prisonment, against the sergeant at arms, for executing the speaker's warrant, which came to final trial before the supreme court, at the February term, 1821, in which the constitutional powers of the house in relation to punishing for contempts, underwent a thorough judicial investigation.
On the part of Colonel Anderson, it was contended, that the house of representatives had no power to order the warrant in question ; that the same was void on the face of it, not appearing to be supported by oath or affirmation, as required by the fourth article in the amendments to the constitution; that the power of punishing for contempts was ex. pressly given by the constitution to the house only in relation to its members, and extended only to expulsion; that by the second section of the third article it is provided that the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, should be by jury, which it was conceded the house had no power to order; that it was not necessarily incident to the ex-, istence of one branch of the legislature, and the grant of the power, as it respected members of the house, was an implied negation of it in all other cases.
Opinion of the court in Anderson's case. Judge Johnson delivered the opinion of the court in favor of the defendant, stating that the power of punishing for contempt was necessary to the due exercise of the functions of the house of representatives ; that it extended to all persons and
places within the United States, and was incident to each branch of the legislative body; that the power was not dependent upon any specific provisions of constitutional, statute, or common law, but was bottomed upon the great principles of self-preservation, the first duty of corporations, legislative bodies, and courts, as well as of natural persons. The warrant, the judge observed, appeared to be regularly issued by authority of the house, and it was not necessary that the evidence on which the house acted should appear on the face of the warrant.* This was analogous to, and in the opinion of the judge fully supported by, a decision of the British house of lords, in a case between Sir Francis Burdett and the speaker of the house of commons.
Beaumarchais claim. The Beaumarchais demand, as well from its nature as its magnitude, occupied much of the attention of the committee of claims. It had been repeatedly pressed upon the government, both during the life-time of the original claimant, and by his heirs since his decease. Scarcely any suitor before congress ever exceeded, in cun. ning and perseverance, this Frenchman, in prosecuting a claim, which, upon every investigation, proved to be wholly unfounded.
At the commencement of the American revolution, the French government ardently wished to weaken the power of her ancient rival, by a separation of the colonies from the parent state; but not at that time prepared for an open rupture, determined to afford the Americans all the aid in their power, in a secret and disguised form. The principal difficulty was to do it in such a covert manner as to elude the vigilance of Lord Stormont, the British minister at the French court. At length this expedient was hit upon. Beaumarchais, a merchant of some note, was selected as a confidential agent of the French ministry, through whom the supplies were to be furnished, apparently in the ordinary course of mercantile business. The gratuity agreed upon between Count Vergennes and the American agents, was a million of livres tournois, equal to 185,000 dollars. This present was to be accompanied with facilities in purchasing munitions of war to any extent the Americans wished, and to be paid for in their productions. The mil. lion of livres was furnished Beaumarchais from the king's treasury, and by him laid out in the purchase of munitions.
* 6th of Wheaton's Reports, p. 204.