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The Veto of President Polk on the bill favor at all. It was most especially remaking appropriations for rivers and sisted by those who, even at that early harbors, has renewed the discussion as to day, claimed to be the special friends of the proper extent of the qualified nega- the people, and sticklers for their rights tive upon the proceedings of Congress, -as of monarchical origin, and as progranted to the President hy the Constitu- ceeding on the assumption that one tion, and sharpened the interest and de- man would possess more virtue and wis. sire of the people, that this power, which dom than a number of men collected in modern experience has proved to be of Legislative bodies. Dr. Franklin, Mr. such elastic construction, should be more Madison, Mr. Mason, of Virginia, and rigidly defined, and abstemiously exer- Mr. Bedford, of Delaware, were among cieed. The peculiar circumstances un. the members of the Convention that der which the President thought it ad- framed the Constitution, who opposed an visable to return the River and Harbor unqualified Executive veto-not all indeed bill, with his objections, have added for the same nor for analagous reasonspoignancy to the regret and to the indig. but Mr. Mason put bis opposition exnation which that act has occasioned, pressly on the ground that such a proviand we cannot, therefore, better appro- sion “ did not accord with the genius of priate some space in this number of the the people.” The limited or qualified Review, than to the exposition of what we veto was finally adopted with a view deem the true limits, in such cases, of the mainly to enable the Executive to defend Executive Veto, and the extravagant dis- himself against the encroachments of the regard and overstepping of those limits Legislature. This was avowedly the by Mr. Polk.
primary inducement to the grant of this To all who have studied the origin of power—that of protecting the country the Constitution, and who are familiar against the chance of bad laws, passed with the discussions, which, in the Ge. through inadvertence or design, being neral Convention, in the Conventions of secondary, and quite subordinate; the the several States, and in the public presumption naturally being, that the Lepress, preceded, and ultimately secured, gislature would not designedly, and were its formation—it is well known that an not likely through haste or inadverExecutive negative upon the acts of the tence, to pass such laws. But it was noLegislature was vehemently resisted, and where intimated, nor in the primitive and it was only in the qualified shape in purer days of the republic would it have which it now exists, that it could find been tolerated, that on a plea of Expe
diency the Executive might put his nega- power and multiplication in number and tive on any bill passed by Congress. in territories, of the people, whose law
That the chief motive for investing the givers it was their privilege to be. In President with a qualified negative upon their view the executive power, as dethe acts of Congress, was purely with a fined and designed by the Constitution, view to self-defence, is thus explicitly was, as compared with the legislative set forth in No. Ixxiii. of the Federalist, power, weak and liable to encroachments. from the pen of Alexander Hamilton: As developed by the “ genius of demo
“The propensity of the Legislative De- cracy,” and sustained by the undreamed partment to intrude upon the rights, and to
of increase of patronage, it has become absorb the powers, of other departments, has overshadowingly great, and now gives been already more than once suggested the the law alike to the Legislation of Coninsufficiency of a mere parliamentary deline- gress, and the sovereignty of the sepa, ation of boundaries of each, has also been
rate States. The President of the United remarked upon; and the necessity of furnishing each with constitutional arms for its own
States, with his enormous appointing defence, has been inferred and proved. From power, reaching through every part of the these clear and indubitable principles, results country, and holding out prizes to every the propriety of a negative, either absolute sort of ambition or cupidity, with the unof the legislative branches. Without the restricted power of peremptory removal one or the other, the former would be abso- from office, and with his qualitied veto on lutely unable to defend himself against the the acts of Congress, possesses and exdepredations of the latter. He might gradu- ercises more despotic authority than the sive resolutions, or annihilated by a single monarch who occupies the throne of vote; and in the one mode or the other, the England or of France. executive and legislative power might speedi- The chief consideration, therefore, upon ly come to be blended in the same hands. If which the original grant of a qualified even no propensity had ever discovered itself in the Legislative body to invade the negative to the President of the United rights of the Executive, the rules of just rea
States was made that of his comparasoning, and theoretic propriety would, of tive helplessness—fails entirely. His themselves, teach us, that the one ought not authority, on the contrary, like Joseph's to be left at the inercy of the other, but ought sheaf, has erected itself in the midst of
possess a constitutional and effective all the other powers of the Constitution, power of self-defence.”
and these all bow down and make obeiNothing can be more explicit than this sance to it. Practically, therefore, this language-nothing more clear than that provision of the Constitution is proved to this exceptional power was granted to be unsound. the President, under our system, mainly But the same eminent expounder of the from an apprehension, that in its practi. Constitution, to whom we have already cal working, the Executive would prove referred for explanation of the chief feebler than the Legislative Department, motives for engrafting upon a republican and therefore be subject to injurious en- Executive this kingly prerogative, thus croachments from the latter.
goes on to explain the secondary use of The men who framed the Constitution the conceded power : were pure as they were wise. They
“It not only serves as a shield to the Exwere of the race which, through every ecutive, but it furnishes an additional secusort of self-sacrifice and abnegation, bad rity against the enaction of improper laws. carried the country through the perilous It establishes a salutary check upon the legiswar of the revolution—and who, having nity against the effects of faction, precipifounded a free government, were now tancy, or of any impulses uufriendly to the met to devise a system which should public good, which may happen to influence maintain it free, and render it efficient a majority of that body." and powerful. But their very purity Let our readers attentively consider misled them. They reasoned and acted, the cases to which Hamilton, himself as though the men of other days, for one of the framers of the Constitution, whom they were about to prepare the and who had supported the propriety of organic law, would be like themselves this very prerogative, restricts its exerpure, patriotic, and self-denying. They cise, “ faction, precipitancy, or impulses little dreamed of the impurities, or of the unfriendly to the public good,” and then fruits of progressive democracy;" and, contrast therewith, the pretensions and wise and foreseeing as they were, they the sophistry of Mr. Polk's message on did not realize the prodigious growth in returning the Harbor bill.
This enumeration by a contempora. among others, of determining the constineous expositor, of the cases to which tutionality of the laws of Congress, there the secondary use of the veto power—the was no necessity for reposing a like primary use being solely that of self-de- power elsewhere, and therefore, the only fence—was intended to be confined, is ground upon which the President could entirely at variance with those assumed be considered as authorized to exercise in almost all the Executive messages it—that of its necessity for the public assigning reasons for the exercise of good—being taken away, the assumption the power. It excludes, among others, of such power by the Executive is withthe ground of unconstitutionality.--and out foundation. wisely, for the President is not by the Con- But if the President may not rightfully stitution empowered to decide upon the interpose constitutional scruples against constitutionality of any act of Congress. bills-not manifestly unconstitutionalAs sworn to support and uphold the still less may he who has no charge of Constitution, he may not indeed put his the money power or resources of the signature to any bill, plainly and palpa- nation-except as derived from the acts of bly in violation of the Constitution--if it the Legislature-assume to set up his be admissible even in the way of argu. riews of economical or extravagant exment to assume, that Congress could pass penditure in lieu of the decision of Conany such—but constructive violations he gress. The whole duty and charge of has no right or authority to judge of. raising revenue, laying and collecting When both Houses of Congress pass a taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to bill, which, by the very fact of passing pay the debts, and provide for the com. it, they consider constitutional; unless, mon defence and welfare of the United upon the face of it, it should clearly, ob- States, to borrow money on the credit of viously, and indisputably, contravene the United States, and to regulate comthe Constitution—as, for instance, if a merce with foreign nations, and among bill should be passed, divesting the Ex- the several States,” belong exclusively to ecutive of the right to appoint foreign Congress, and it is necessarily a usurpaambassadors, or of any other power tion on the part of the Executive, when. which the Constitution expressly gives ever he attempts to interfere with, much to him—the President is bound to assume more to thwart, the exercise of any of that it is constitutionally passed, and these conceded powers of Congress. may not set up any scruples or abstrac. When, therefore, Mr. Polk, in his veto tions of his own against the declared message on the Harbor bill, alleges the sense and interpretation of the Legisla. fact of an existing war, and of iis large ture. He is not the arbiter, whether demands on the Treasury, as a reason bills are or are not constitutional ; that against the appropriation of nearly two high and responsible trust is specially millions of dollars by that hill, and when devolved upon another department—the he proceeds to say, that if the bill in judiciary-which, by its nature, constitu- question become a law, “the principle it tion, and duties being removed from the establishes would lead 10 large and andisturbing influences of political parties, nually increasing appropriations, and can pass with more unsuspected impar- drains upon the Treasury," and to “intialityand greater fitness, upon questions, creased burdens upon the people by taxconnected as those which relate to the ation,” be travels entirely beyond the imputed unconstitutionality of public record, and impertinently assumes the measures—too often are with party poli- discharge of functions expressly confided tics. Having thus provided a tribunal to Congress. To them, and not to the by which the conformity of all laws to President, it belongs, to decide to what the standard of the Constitution could objects within the scope of their authoriand should be tested, it would have been ty the public treasure shall be applied ; alike unnecessary and unwise for the and it is alike inconsistent with the framers of the Constitution to confer a theory of popular institutions, which like power upon the President. The jealously precludes the executive authori. public good being the only legitimate iy from any management of, or control end for which power is conferred, the over, the public Treasury-placed exclunecessity of the grant for such a purpose sively under the guardianship of the peois the first point to be decided. As the ple's representatives—and with that of a Supreme Court of the United States is strict construction of the Constitution, expressly constituted for the purpose, which limits each department to the clearly defined circle of his own duties, the people, have denied the existence of that the President of the United States, such a power under the Constitution. under any circumstance, other than by Several of my predecessors have denied its the way of advice or recommendation, in existence in the most solemn forms. his messages to Congress, or when there “ The general proposition that the fede. is manifest “precipitancy, faction, or
ral government does not possess this power impulses unfriendly to the public good,” ble period been so generally acquiesced in,
is so well settled, and has for a considerain the action of Congress, should under- that it is not deemed necessary to reiterate take to say what Congress shall appro- the arguments by which it is sustained.” priate and what it shall not-how much for one object or how little for another- Certainly it does seem anything but and assume to interpose his velo upon respectful to Congress—as it is in palpa. their proceedings, unless the same should ble violation of the truth—that in a mes. be in conformity with Executive wishes sage refusing the Executive signature to or prejudices.
a bill, claiming to exercise the power of Looking at the qualified negative of appropriating money for internal imthe President in the light we here present provements within the States it should it-a light reflected from the
of the in such explicit language be declared, framers and contemporaneous expounders that “the general proposition that the of the Constitution—we cannot but regard federal government does not possess this the veto of Mr. Polk, upon which we are power, is so well settled, and has for a commenting, as absolute usurpation, en- considerable period, been so generally tirely inconsistent with the theory of the acquiesced in.” The very bill before the power purported to be exercised, and President when he wrote that sentence, with all well-regulated notions of the is proof positive of its fallacy; and as a rights and duties of the respective de- matter of fact, it is not doubted, that if partments of our government.
the votes of the two Houses on the bill in But even if there were not these fun. question, were analyzed, it would appear damental objections to the veto, as now that a very large numerical majority of habitually exercised, the attempt by ar
the constituencies in the United States gument to justify that on the Harbor bill so far froin acquiescing in absurd and seems most lame and inconclusive. mischievous abstractions, which deny 10 Even precedent—ihat lowest of authori- the people the right of using their own ties in real value, though oiten of vast money on great public objects, and for practical weight-is against Mr. Polk, for the clear and obvious promotion of the like appropriations to those objected to general welfare—are decidedly in favor by him, have been approved oť by all, of the power here denied to them by Mr. or nearly all his predecessors, and when Polk. But the vote itself of the two he assumes—as in the following passage, Houses on the Harbor bill, is conclusive extracted from his message, is done—that on this point. For this bill did, undoubt. “ the approved course of the government edly, propose to exercise the power in and the deliberately expressed judgment question, and it was originally passed in of the people,” have denied the existence the House of Representatives by a vote of a power under the Constitution, “to of one hundred and nine to eighty-nine, construct works of internal improvement and in the Senate by thirty-four to sixteen. within the States, or to appropriate When returned with the President's obmoney for the purpose;" he asserts jections, it still received in the House of that which is far from proven or admit- Representatives ninety-five ayes, to nineted, and which facts decidedly contra- ty-one nays, and in the Senate to dict.
It follows from this statement, Mr. Polk holds this language:
that almost two-thirds of the two Houses
denied, by their first vote on the bill, “ The Constitution has not, in my judg- the construction of the Constitution, ment, conferred upon the federal govern- which, nevertheless, Mr. Polk says, is ment the power to con truct works of internal improvement within the States, or
in conformity with the deliberately exto appropriate money from the treasury for pressert judgment of the people ;” and that purpose. That this bill assumes for
even after the bill was returned with obthe federal government the right to exer. jections, and appeal was made to party cise this power, cannot, I think, be doubted. discipline and personal hopes to coerce The approved course of the government, members of Congress 10 see on the quesand the deliberately expressed judgment of tion with Presidential eyes, a majority of each House re-affirmed its original view to carry into effect the measure for which of the constitutionality and expediency of the money is asked, as was formerly the bill, and gave the most direct contradic- contended.” tion to the assumption in the President's Mr. Monroe and Mr. J. Q. Adams held objection, of the universal acquiescence like opinions, and practiced upon them. in such doctrines as that passage pro- The same document (the Maysville veto pounds. Nor is this a solitary instance; message), from which the above quotafor at almost every session of Congress tion is taken, has these additional stateattempts are made--and are almost always ments : successful in one House or the other to
“ The views of Mr. Monroe upon this obtain appropriations for objects falling subject were not left to inference. During within what Mr. Polk assumes to be an his administration a bill was passed through inbibited exercise of power; thus prov. both Houses of Congress, conferring the ing most conclusively that the general jurisdiction, and prescribing the mode by acquiescence, of which he speaks, in the which the federal government should exerviews he entertains, is the merest fic- cise it, in the case of the Cumberland road, tion.
He returned it with objections to its pasBut Mr. Polk, in the message before sage, and in assigning them took occasion us, takes the ground, that not only is it to say, that in the early stages of the gove in violation of the Constitution to at- tion, that it had no right to expend money,
ernment he had inclined to the constructempt to make internal improvements except in the performance of acts authorwithin the limits of any State, but that it ized by the other specific grants of power, is a like violation to make appropriations according to a strict construction of them, for such a purpose. This, however, but that on further reflection and observagoes far beyond the scruples either of tion, his mind had undergone a change; Jackson or Madison, both of whom dis. that his opinion then was, that “Congress tinctly conceded the right to appropriate have unlimited power to raise money, and money for public improvements, although that in its appropriation they have a discrethey denied to the Federal government, tionary power, restricted only by the duty the right of directly making such im- defence, and of general not local, national
to appropriate it to purposes of common provements. Appropriations for the
not state benefit,' and this was avowed to Cumberland road have been made under be the governing principle through the every administration, and with the appro- residue of his administration. The views bation of every President, down to John of the last administration are of such recent Tyler; and Mr. Madison, in vetoing a bill date as to render a particular reference to “ setting apart and pledging certain funds them unnecessary. "It is well known that for constructing roads and canals, and the appropriating power, to the utmost improving the navigation of our water
extent which had been claimed for it, in courses, in order to promote, facilitate, relation to internal improvements, was and give security to internal commerce fully recognized and exercised by it." among the several States, and to render From these extracts it will plainly apmore easy and less expensive, the means pear that precedent and authority, not and provisions for the common defence,” less than common sense and the common makes this express and significant reser- good, contradict Mr. Polk’s absurd theovation about the power of appropriating ries and positive assumptions. money from the Treasury, ihat “a re- But there is another point of view in striction of the power to provide for the which Mr. Polk’s course in relation to common defence and general welfare, to the Harbor bill is even less defensible than cases which are to be provided for by an his misconstruction of the powers of Conexpenditure of money, would still leave gress under the Constitution. He had within the legislative power of Congress himself-or through the members of his all the great and most important mea- Cabinet--suggested some of the appropriasures of government, money being the tions, which he afterwards vetoed-and, ordinary and necessary means of carry. if faith is to be reposed in the express deing them into execution.” General Jack- clarations of some of his own partisans son, in his veto on the Maysville Road and political friends on the floor of Conbill, accepts this interpretation, and says: gress, was consulted beforehand about “ I have not been able to consider these the separate items contained in the approdeclarations in any other point of view, priation bill--so as to secure it against the than as a concession that the right of ap- possibility of the President's refusal to propriation is not limited by the power sign it.