Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

by joint vote or ballot of the two houses, in case the two houses cannot separately concur in a choice, and then the weight of the senate is dissipated and lost in the more numerous vote of the assembly. This construction has become too convenient, and has been too long settled by the recognition of senators so elected, to be now disturbed ; though I should think, if the question was a new one, that when the constitution directed that the senators should be chosen by the legislature, it meant not the members of the legislature per capita, but the legislature in the true technical sense, being the two houses acting in their separate and organized capacities, with the ordinary constitutional right of negative on each other's proceedings. This was a contemporary exposition of the clause in question, and was particularly maintained in the well known letters of the Federal Farmer," who surveyed the constitution with a jealous and scrutinizing eye.

The small number, and long duration of the senate, were intended to render them a safeguard against the influence of those paroxysms of heat and passion, which prevail occasionally in the most enlighted communities, and enter into the deliberation of popular assemblies. In this point of view, a firm and independent senate is justly regarded as an anchor of safety amidst the storms of political faction ; and for want of such a stable body, the republics of Athens and Florence were overturned, by the fury of commotions, which the senates of Sparta and Rome might have been able to withstand. The characteristical qualities of the senate, in the intendment of the constitution, are wisdom and stability. The legal presumption is, that the senate will entertain more enlarged views of public policy, will feel a higher and juster sense of national character, and a greater regard for stability in the administration of the government. These qualities, it is true, may, in most cases, be equally found in the other branch of the legislature, but

a Letter 12.

the constitutional structure of the house is not equally calculated to produce them; for, as the house of representatives comes more immediately from the people, and the members hold their seats for a much shorter time, they are presumed to partake, with a quicker sensibility, of the prevailing temper and irritable disposition of the times, and to be in much more danger of adopting measures with precipitation, and of changing them with levity. A mutable legislation is attended with a formidable train of mischiefs to the community. It weakens the force, and increases the intricacy of the laws, hurts credit, lessens the value of property, and it is an infirmity very incident to republican establishments, and has been a constant source of anxiety and concern to their most enlightened admirers. A disposition to multiply and change laws, upon the spur of the occasion, and to be making constant and restless experiments with the statute code, seems to be the natural disease of popular assemblies. In order, therefore, to counteract such a dangerous propensity, and to maintain a due portion of confidence in the government, and to insure its safety and character at home and abroad, it is requisite that another body of men, coming likewise from the people, and equally responsible for their conduct, but resting on a more permanent basis, and constituted with stronger inducements to moderation in debate, and to tenacity of purpose, should be placed as a check upon the intemperance of the more popular department.

The senate have been, from the first formation of the government, divided into three classes; and the rotation of the classes was originally determined by lot, and the seats of one class are vacated at the expiration of the second year, and one third of the senate are chosen every second year. This provision was borrowed from a similar one in some of the state constitutions, of which Virginia gave the first example: and it is admirably calculated, on the one hand, to infuse into the senate, biennially, renewed public confidence and vigour; and, on the other, to retain a large portion of experienced members, duly initiated into the general principles of national policy, and the forms and course of business in the house.

a Federalist, vol. 2. No. 62.

b Art. 1. sec. 3.

The superior weight and delicacy of the trust confided to the senate, and which will be shown more fully hereafter, is a reason why the constitution' requires that a senator should be thirty years of age, and nine years a citizen of the United States, and, at the time of his election, an inhabitant of the state for which he is chosen. The same age was also requisite for a Roman senator, though, in their executive offices, no qualification of age was required. Ne ætas quidem distinguebatur quin prima juventa consulatum ac dictaturas inirent. It has been also deemed fit and proper, in a country which was colonized originally from several parts of Europe, and has been disposed to adopt the most liberal policy towards the rest of mankind, that a period of citizenship sufficient to create an attachment to our government, and a knowledge of its principles, should render an emigrant eligible to office. The English policy is not quite so enlarged. No alien born can become a member of parliament. This disability was imposed by the act of settlement of 12 Wm. III. c. 2.; and no bill of naturalization can be received in either house of parliament, without such disabling clause in it.

(3.) The house of representatives is composed of memRepresenta-bers chosen every second year by the people of the several

states, who are qualified electors of the most numerous branch of the legislature of the state to which they belong. No person can be a representative until he hath attained the age of twenty-five years, and hath been seven years a citizen of the United States, and is, at the time of his election, an inhabitant of the state in which he is chosen.

House of

a Art. 1, sec, 3.

6 Tac, Ann, lib. 11. 22. c Art. 1, sec. 2.

The general qualifications of electors of the assembly, or most numerous branch of the legislature, in the several state governments, are, that they be of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, and free resident citizens of the state in which they vote, and have paid taxes; and, in some of the states, they are required to possess property, and to be white, as well as free citizens. The description is, almost every where, so large, as to include all persons who are of competent discretion, and are interested in the welfare of the government, and liable to bear any of its duties or burdens. The house of representatives may, therefore, very fairly be said to represent the whole body of the American people. Several of the state constitutions have prescribed the same, or higher qualifications, as to property, in the elected, than in the electors, and some of them have required a religious test. But the constitution of the United States requires no evidence of property in the representative, nor any declaration of religious belief. He is only required to be a citizen of the competent age, and free from any undue bias or dependence, by not holding any office under the United States."

The term for which a representative is to serve ought not to be so short as to prevent him from obtaining a comprehensive acquaintance with the business to which he is deputed; nor so long as to make him forget the transitory nature of his seat, and his state of dependence on the approbation of his constituents. It ought also to be considered as a fact deeply interesting to the character and utility of representative republics, that very freqnent elections have a tendency to render the office less important than it ought to be deemed, and the people inattentive in the exercise of their right; whilst, on the other hand, long intervals between the elections are apt to make them produce too much excitement, and consequently to render the periods of their return a time of too much competition and conflict for the public tranquillity. The constitution has certainly not deviated in this respect to the latter extreme, in the establishment of biennial elections. It has probably selected a medium, which, considering the situation and extent of our country, combines as many advantages, and avoids as many inconveniences, as any other term which might have been inserted.

a Art. 1. sec. 6.

The representatives are directed to be apportioned among the states, according to numbers, which is determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, exclusive of Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons. The number of representatives cannot exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state is entitled to have at least one representative. By the act of 7th March, 1822, the representatives were apportioned among the several states according to the fourth census, and to a ratio of one representative for every forty thousand persons in each state, making in the whole two hundred and thirteen members, the number of which the present house of representatives is composed, besides delegates from three of the territories belonging to the United States, and who have a right to debate, but not to vote.

The rule of apportionment established by the constitution is exposed to the objection, that three fifths of the slaves in the southern states are computed in establishing the apportionment of the representation. But this article was the result of necessity, and grew out of the fact of the existence

a Art. 1. sec. 2.

b A new census of the inhabitants of the United States having been taken and completed in 1831, a bill for a new apportionment of the house of representatives was before Congress in February, 1832, when the 2d edition of this volume was put to the press. The bill, as it passed the house of representatives, fixed the ratio of one representative for every 47,700 persons, and that apportionment would enlarge the house of representatives to 240 members.

« AnteriorContinuar »