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those whose duty it is to fill the offices of the country with competent incumbents, cannot possibly execute that trust fully and well, unless they have power to correct their own errors and mistakes, by removing the unworthy, and substituting better men in their · places. This, I have no doubt, is the true construction of our
Constitution. It was for a long time strenuously contended for by a large party in the country, and was finally yielded, rather to the confidence which the country reposed in the virtues of Washington, than to any conviction that it was properly an executive power, belonging only to the President. It is true of Washington alone of all the truly*great of the earth, that he never inflicted an injury upon his country, except only
[*118] such as proceeded from the excess of his own virtues. His known patriotism, wisdom and purity, inspired us with a confidence and a feeling of security against the abuses of power, which has led to the establishment of many precedents, dangerous to public liberty in the hands of any other man. Of these, the instance before us is not the least important. The power to remove from office is, in effect, the power to appoint to office. What does it avail that the senate must be consulted in appointing to office, if the President may, the very next moment, annul the act by removing the person appointed! The senate has no right to select; they can do nothing more than confirm or reject the person nominated by the President. The President may nominate his own devoted creatures; if the senate should disapprove any one of them, he has only to nominate another, and another, and another; for there is no danger that the list will be exhausted, until the senate will be persuaded or worried into compliance. And when the appointment is made, the incumbent knows that he is a mere tenant at will, and necessarily becomes the mere tool and slave of the man at whose sole pleasure he eats his daily bread. Surely, it is a great and alarming defect in our Constitution, that so vast and dangerous a power as this should be held by one man. Nothing more is required to place the liberties of the country at the feet of the President, than to authorize him to fill, and to vacate and to fill again, at his sole will and pleasure, all the offices of the country.
The necessary consequence of enabling the President to remove from office at his mere pleasure is, that the officer soon
learns to consider himself the officer of the President, and not of the country. The nature of his responsibility is changed; he answers not to the people for his conduct, for he is beyond their reach; he looks only to the President, and, satisfied with his approval, is regardless of every thing else. In fact, his office, however obscure it may be, soon comes to be considered only a part of the great executive power lodged in the President. The President is the village postmaster, the collector of the customs, the marshal, and every thing else; and the incumbents of those offices are but his agents, through whom, for the sake of convenience, he exercises so much of his gigantic powers. One step farther, and the agency of the senate in these appointments will be no longer invoked. A little more of that construction and implication to which the looseness of the Constitution, on this point, holds out the strongest invitation, and the President will say to the senate, “This collectorship is a part of
the great executive trust which is lodged in *me; [*119]
I have a right to discharge it in person, if I please, and, consequently, I have a right to discharge it by my own agent. It is my duty to see that the laws are executed; and if I do so, that is all that the country can require of me. I have a right to do so in my own way.” There is no extravagance in this supposition; nothing in the past history of the country which teaches us to consider it an improbable result. Who does not perceive that the claims which have already been made, in behalf of executive power upon this very point, must of necessity change the whole nature and spirit of our institutions ? Their fundamental principle is, that all power is in the people, and that public officers are but their trustees and servants, responsible to them for the execution of their trusts. And yet, in the various ramifications of the executive power, in the thousand agencies necessary to the convenience and interests of the people, which belong to that department, there is, in effect, no responsibility whatever. The injured citizen can make his complaint only to the President, and the President's creature knows that he is perfectly secure of his protection, because he has already purchased it by slavish subserviency. Is it enough that the President himself is responsible? We shall soon see that his responsibility is nominal only; a mere formal mockery.
And responsible for what? Will you impeach the President because a postmaster has robbed the public mail, or a collector of the customs stolen the public money? There is absurdity in the
very idea. Will you impeach him because he does not remove these unfaithful agents, and appoint others ? He will tell you that, according to the construction which has been given to the Constitution, and in which you yourselves have acquiesced, that matter depends solely on his own will, and you have no right to punish him for what the Constitution authorizes him to do. What then is the result? The President claims every power which, by the most labored constructions, and the most forced implications, can be considered as executive. No matter in how many hands they are distributed, he wields them all; and when we call on him to answer for an abuse of those
powers, he gravely tells us, that his agents have abused them, and not he. And when we call on those agents to answer, they impudently reply, that it is no concern of ours, they will answer to the President! Thus powers may be multiplied and abused without end, and the people, the real sovereigns, the depositaries of all power, can neither check nor punish them!
This subject certainly calls loudly for public attention. We ought not to lose sight of the rapid progress we have made in the decline of *public virtue. It becomes us to understand that we have, no longer, Washingtons among us, to whose pure
[*120] hands the greatest powers may be safely entrusted. We are now in that precise stage of our progress, when reform is not impossible, and when the practical operation of the government has shown us in what particulars reform is necessary. If we regard our government, not as the mere institution of the hour, but as a system which is to last through many successive generations, protecting and blessing them, it becomes us to correct its faults, to prune its redundancies, to supply its defects, to strengthen its weak points, and check its tendency to run into irresponsible power. If this be not speedily done, it requires no prophet's eye to see that it will not be done at all. And whenever this great and necessary work shall be undertaken, the single reform which is here suggested will accomplish half that is required.
Another striking imperfection of the Constitution, as respects
the executive department, is found in the veto power. The right to forbid the people to pass whatever laws they please, is the right to deprive them of self-government. It is a power which can never be entrusted to one man, or any number of men short of the people themselves, without the certain destruction of public liberty. It is true that each department of the government should be armed with a certain power of self-protection against the assaults of the other departments; and the executive, probably, stands most in need of such protection. But the veto power, as it stands in the Constitution, goes far beyond this object. It is, in effect, a power in the executive department to forbid all action in any other. It is true that, notwithstanding the veto of the President, a law may still be passed, provided two-thirds of each house of congress agree therein; but it is obvious that the cases are very rare, in which such concurrence could be expected. In cases of plain necessity or policy the veto would not be applied; and those of doubtful necessity or policy would rarely be carried by a majority so large as two-thirds of each house. And yet in these it may be just as important that the public will should be carried out, as in cases of less doubt and difficulty. It may be, also, that a President may oppose the passage of laws of the plainest and most pressing necessity. And if he should do so, it would certainly give him a most improper power over the people, to enable him to prevent the most necessary legislation, with only one-third of each house of congress in his favor. There is something incongruous in this union of legislative and executive powers in the same man. Perhaps it is proper that there should
be a power somewhere, to check hasty and *ill-con[ *121] sidered legislation, and that power may be as well entrusted to the President as to any other authority. But it is not necessary that it should be great enough to prevent all legislation, nor to control in any respect the free exercise of the legislative will. It would be quite enough for the security of the rights of the executive, and quite enough to ensure temperate and wise legislation, to authorize the President merely to send back to the legislature for reconsideration any law which he disapproved. By thus affording to that body time and opportunity for reflection, with all the additional lights which the
President himself could throw upon the subject, we should have every reasonable security for the due exercise of the legislative wisdom, and a fair expression of the public will. But if, after all this, the legislature, in both its branches, should still adhere to their opinion, the theory and the sound practice of all our institutions require that their decision should be binding and final.
But the great defect of the Constitution in relation to this department is, that the responsibility of the President is not duly secured. I am sensible of the great difficulty which exists in arranging this subject properly. It is scarcely possible to lodge the power of impeachment any where, without subjecting it to the danger of corrupting influences; and it is equally difficult so to limit the extent and direct the exercise of that power, as to reconcile a proper responsibility in the officer, with a proper independence and sense of security, in the discharge of his duties. The power to try impeachments is correctly lodged with the senate, the representative of the States; for, as the government, with all its offices, was created by the States, the States alone should have the right to try and to remove the delinquent incumbents. But in the exercise of this power, the concurrence of too large a proportion is made necessary to conviction. The same reasoning applies here which was applied to the veto power. Nothing short of the most flagrant and indisputable guilt will ever subject a president to removal by impeachment. He must be, indeed, but little practiced in the ways of men, or strangely misled and infatuated, if, with all the means which his office places within his control, he cannot bring over at least one-third of the senate to his support.
It is scarcely to be supposed that a man elected by the suffrages of a majority of the States would, within the short period of four years, so far forfeit his standing with the public, as not to retain the confidence of at least one-third of them. Besides, he has abundant means of influencing the conduct of his triers, however strong may be public opinion against him. To require, therefore, the concurrence of two-thirds *of the senators present, is, in effect, to render the whole [*122 ] process an idle form. It might not be safe, however, to repose this high trust in a bare majority. The object to be attained