Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

LECTURE XIII.

OF THE PRESIDENT.

The title of the present lecture may conveniently be examined in the following order : 1. The unity of this department. 2. The qualifications required by the constitution for the office of President. 3. The mode of his appointment. 4. His duration. 5. His support. 6. His powers.

(1.) By the constitution, it is ordained, that the executive

power shall be vested in a President.* The object of this department is the execution of the law; Vnity of the and good policy dictates that it should be organized in the executivo mode best calculated to attain that end with precision and fidelity. Consultation is necessary in the making of laws. The defect or grievance they are intended to remove, must be distinctly perceived, and the operation of the remedy upon the interests, the morals, and the opinion of the community, profoundly considered. A comprehensive knowledge of the great interests of the nation, in all their complicated relations and practical details, seems to be required in sound legislation ; and it shows the necessity of a free, full, and perfect representation of the people, in the body intrusted with the legislative power. But when laws are duly made and promulgated, they only remain to be executed. No discretion is submitted to the executive officer. It is not for him to deliberate and decide

the wisdom or expediency of the law. What has been once declared to be law, under all the cautious forms of deliberation prescribed by the constitution, ought to receive prompt obedience. The characteristical qualities required in the

upon

« Art. 2. sec. 1.

executive department, are promptitude, decision, and force; and these qualities are most likely to exist when the executive authority is limited to a single person, moving by the unity of a single will. Division, indecision, and delay, are exceedingly unfavourable to that steady and vigorous administration of the law, which is necessary to secure tranquillity at home, and command the confidence of foreign nations. Every government, ancient and modern, which has been constituted on different principles, and adopted a compound executive, has suffered the evils of it; and the public interest has been sacrificed, or it has languished under the inconveniences of an imbecile or irregular administration. In those states which have tried the project of executive councils, the weakness of them has been strongly felt and strikingly displayed; and in some instances in which they have been tried, (as in Pennsylvania and Georgia,) they were soon abandoned, and a single executive magistrate created, in accordance with the light afforded by their own experience, as well as by the institutions of their neighbours.

Unity increases not only the efficacy, but the responsibility of the executive power. Every act can be immediately traced and brought home to the proper agent. There can be no concealment of the real author, nor, generally, of the motives of public measures, when there are no associates to divide, or to mask responsibility. There will be much less temptation to depart from duty, and much greater solicitude for reputation, when there are no partners to share the odium, or to communicate confidence by their example. The eyes of the people will be constantly directed to a single conspicuous object; and, for these reasons, De Lolmea considered it to be a sound axiom of policy, that the executive power was more easily confined when it was one. "If, the execution of the laws," he observes, “ be intrusted to a number of hands, the true cause of public evils is hidden.

a Const. of England,' p. 111.

tions for

Tyranny, in such states, does not always beat down the fences that are set around it, but it leaps over them. It mocks the efforts of the people, not because it is invincible, but because it is unknown.” The justness of these reflec. tions might be illustrated and confirmed by a review of the proceedings of the former council of appointment in NewYork. All efficient responsibility was there lost, by reason of the constant change of the members, and the difficulty of ascertaining the individual to whom the origin of a bad appointment was to be attributed.

(2.) The constitution requires, that the President should Qualificabe a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States President. at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and that he have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and have been fourteen years a resident within the United States. Considering the greatness of the trust, and that this department is the ultimately efficient power in government, these restrictions will not appear altogether useless or unimportant. As the President is required to be a native citizen of the United States, ambitious foreigners cannot intrigue for the office, and the qualification of birth cuts off all those inducements from abroad to corruption, negotiation, and war, which have frequently and fatally harrassed the elective monarchies of Germany and Poland, as well as the Pontificate at Rome. The age of the President is sufficient to have formed his public and private character; and his previous domestic residence, is intended to afford to his fellow citizens the opportunity to attain a correct knowledge of his principles and capacity, and to have enabled him to acquire habits of attachment and obedience to the laws, and of devotion to the public welfare. (3.) The mode of his appointment presented one of the Modo of op

pointment. most difficult and momentous questions that occupied the deliberations of the assembly which framed the constitution; and if ever the tranquillity of this nation is to be disturbed,

[blocks in formation]

and its peace jeopardized by a struggle for power, it will be upon this very subject of the choice of a President. This is the qnestion that is eventually to test the goodness, and try the strength of the constitution; and if we shall be able, for half a century hereafter, to continue to elect the chief magistrate of the Union with discretion, moderation, and integrity, we shall undoubtedly stamp the highest value on our national character, and recommend our republican institutions, if not to the imitation, yet certainly to the esteemi and admiration of the more enlightened part of mankind. The experience of ancient and modern Europe has been unfavourable to the practicability of a fair and peaceable popular election of the executive head of a great nation. It has been found impossible to guard the election from the mischiefs of foreign intrigue and domestic turbulence, from violence or corruption; and mankind have generally taken refuge from the evils of popular elections in hereditary executives, as being the least evil of the two. The most recent and remarkable change of this kind occurred in France, in 1904, when the legislative body changed their elective into an hereditary monarchy, on the avowed ground that the competition of popular elections led to corruption and violence. And it is a curious fact in European history, that on the first partition of Poland, in 1773, when the partitioning powers thought it expedient to foster and confirm all the defects of its wretched government, they sagaciously demanded of the Polish diet, that the crown should continue elective." This was done for the very purpose of keeping the door open for foreign intrigue and influence. Mr. Paley condemns all elective monarchies, and he thinks nothing is gained by a popular choice, worth the dissensions, tumults, and interruptions of regular industry, with which it is inseparably attended. I am not called upon to question the wisdom or policy of preferring hereditary to elective monarchies among the great nations of Europe, where different orders and ranks of society are established, and large masses of property accumulated in the hands of single individuals, and where ignorance and poverty are widely diffused, and standing armies are necessary to preserve the stability of the government. The state of society and of property, in this country, and our moral and political habits, have enabled us to adopt the republican principle, and to maintain it hitherto with illustrious success. It remains to be seen whether the checks which the constitution has provided against the dangerous propensities of our system will ultimately prove effectual. The election of a supreme executive magistrate for a whole nation, affects so many interests, addresses itself so strongly to popular passions, and holds out such powerful temptations to ambition, that it necessarily becomes a strong trial to public virtue, and even hazardous to the public tranquillity. The constitution, from an enlightened view of all the difficulties that attend the subject, has not thought it safe or prudent to refer the election of a president directly and immediately to the people ; but it has confided the power to a small body of electors, appointed in each state, under the direction of the legislature : and, to close the opportunity as much as possible against negotiation, intrigue, and corruption, it has declared that Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall vote, and that the day of election shall be the same in every

a Cox's Travels in Poland, Russia, &c. vol. 1. b Principles of Moral and Pol. Philosophy, 345.

This security has been still further extended, by the act of Congressdirecting the electors to be appointed in each state within thirty-four days of the day of election.

The constitution directs that the number of electors in each state shall be equal to the whole number of senators and representatives which the state is entitled to send to Congress, and, according to the apportionment of Congress

state.

a Art. 2. sec. 4.

b Act of 1st March, 1792 C Art. 2. sec. 2, 3.

« AnteriorContinuar »