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SPEECH OF WILLIAM B. GILES,
THE JUDICIARY BILL,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED
STATES, FEBRUARY 18, 1802.
The bill proposed, that " the act of Congress, passed on the 13th of
February, 1801, entitled an act to provide for the more convenient organization of the courts of the United States," and also, an act passed on the 3d of March, 1801, for altering the times and places of holding certain courts therein mentioned, and for other purposes,” should be repealed. It also provided, that all the acts in force before the passage of the aforesaid acts, and which, by the same, were either amended, explained, altered or repealed, should be revised. The bill contained further provision for the disposition of the actions, writs, &c. then pending in any of the courts of the United States, which
were established by the aforesaid act of Congress of 1801. In committee of the whole, Mr. Giles spoke as follows:
MR. CHAIRMAN, I FEEL some degree of apprehension, that in the course I deem it necessary to take in the discussion of this question, some observations may fall from me which may not be in strict harmony with the feelings of some gentlemen of the committee. I shall regret, however, if a compliance with a sense of duty shall produce this effect. "I wish, therefore, to apprise gentlemen, that I intend to direct my observations, as much as possible, to the effects and tendencies of ineasures; and that when I am constrained to speak of the views of gentlemen, it will be with respect to what I conceive to be their opinions in relation to the general interests, and not to private gratifications. It is natural that
men should differ in the choice of means to produce a given end, and more natural that they should differ in the choice of political means than any other; because the subject presents more complicated and variable objects, out of which to make a choice. Accordingly, a great portion of the human mind has been at all times directed towards monarchy, as the best form of government to enforce obedience and ensure the general happiness; whereas, another portion of the human mind has given a preference to the republican form, as best calculated to produce the same end: and there is no reason for applying improper motives to individuals who give a preference to either of the principles, provided in doing so they follow the honest dictates of their own judgments. It must be obvious to the most common observer, that from the commencement of the government of the United States, and perhaps before it, a difference of opinion existed among the citizens, having more or less reference to these two extreme fundamental points, and that it manifested itself in the modification or administration of the government as soon as it was put in operation. On one side it was contended, that in the organization of the constitution, a due apportionment of authority had not been made among the several departments; that the legislature was too powerful for the executive department; and to create and preserve a proper equipoise, it was necessary to infuse into the executive department, by legislation, all artificial powers compatible with the constitution, upon which the most diffusive construction was given; or, in other words, to place in executive hands all the patronage it was possible to create, for the purpose of protecting the President against the full force of his constitutional responsibility to the people. On the other side, it was contended, that the doctrine of patronage was repugnant to the opinions and feelings of the people; that it was unnecessary, expensive and oppressive, and that the highest energy the government could possess, would
flow from the confidence of the mass of the people, founded upon their own sense of their common interests. Hence, what is called party in the United States, grew up from a division of opinion respecting these two great characteristic principles—patronage, or the creation of partial interest for the protection and support of government, on the one side; on the other side, to effect the same end, a fair responsibility of all representatives to the people; an adherence to the general interests, and a reliance on the confidence of the people at large, resulting from a sense of their common Interests. A variety of circumstances existed in the United States, at the commencement of the government, and a great number of favorable incidents continued afterwards to arise, which gave the patronage system the preponderancy, during the first three presidential terms of election; notwithstanding it was evident, that the system was adopted and pursued in direct hostility to the feelings and opinions of a great portion of the American people. The government was ushered into operation under a vast excitement of federal fervor, flowing from its recent triumph on the question of adopting the constitution. At that time, a considerable debt was afloat in the United States, which had grown out of the revolutionary war. This debt was of two kinds: the debt proper of the United States, or engagements made by the United States, in their federal capacity; the other, the state debts, or engagements entered into by the respective states for the support of the common cause.
The favorers of the patronage system readily availed themselves of these materials for erecting a monied interest; gave to it a stability, or qualified perpetuity, and calculated upon its certain support in all their measures of irresponsibility. This was done not only by funding the debt proper of the United States, but by assuming the payment of the state debts, and funding them also; and it is believed, extending the assumption beyond the actual engagements of the states.
Hence the federal axiom, that the public debt is a public blessing. Shortly after this event, an Indian war sprang up, I will not say by what means; in consequence of which, an army was added to the list of patronage. The Algerines commenced a predatory war upon the commerce of the United States, and thence a navy formed a new item of patronage. Taxes became necessary to meet the expenses of this system, and an arrangement of internal taxes, an excise, &c. &c. still swelled the list of patronage. But the circumstance, which most favored this system, was the breaking out of a tremendous and unprecedented war in those countries of Europe with which the United States had the most intimate relations. The feelings and sympathies of the people of the United States were so strongly attracted by the tremendous scenes existing there, that they considered their own internal concerns in a secondary point of view. After a variable conduct had been pursued by the United States in relation to these events, the depredations committed upon commerce, and the excitements produced thereby, enabled the administration to indulge themselves in a more decisive course, and they at once pushed forward the people to the X. Y. Z. of their political alphabet, before they had well learned and understood the A. B. C. of the principles of the administration.
Armies and navies were raised, and a variety of other schemes of expense were adopted, which placed the administration in the embarrassing predicament, either to violate their faith with their public creditors, or to resort to new taxes. The latter alternative was preferred, accompanied with other strong coercive measures to enforce obedience. A land tax was laid for two millions of dollars. This measure awakened the people to a sense of their situation, and shook to the foundation all those federal ramparts which had been planned with so much ingenuity, and erected around the executive with so much expense and labor. Another circumstance peculiarly favorable to the advocates of executive patronage, was, that during the two first presidential terms, the chief executive magistrate possessed a greater degree of popularity and the confidence of the people than ever was, or perhaps ever will be again attached to the person occupying that dignified station. The general disquietude which manifested itself, in consequence of these enterprising measures, in the year 1800, induced the federal party to apprehend that they had pushed their principles too far, and they began to entertain doubts of the result of the presidential election, which was approaching. In this state of things it was natural for them to look out for some department of the government, in which they could entrench themselves in the event of an unsuccessful issue in the election, and continue to support those favorite principles of irresponsibility which they could never consent to abandon.
The judiciary department, of course, presented itself as best fitted for their object, not only because it was already filled with men who had manifested the most indecorous zeal in favor of their principles, but because they held their offices by indefinite tenures, were not subject to periodical appointments, and of course were further removed from any responsibility to the people, than either of the other departments. Accordingly, on the 11th of March, 1800, a bill for the more convenient organization of the courts of the United States, was presented to the House of Representatives. This bill appears to have had for its objects, first, the gradual demolition of the state courts, by increasing the number, and extending the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Second, to afford additional protection to the principles of the then existing administration, by creating a new corps of judges of concurring political opinions. This bill, however, was not passed into a law during that session of Congress, perhaps from an apprehension, that it would tend to increase the disquietudes which other measures had before excited, and therefore operate unfavorably to the approaching