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the authority of precedent be taken away? It has all along been ... denied to exist; it is nowhere found in the Constitution; and its recent exercise, or—to call things by their right names — its recent abuse, has, more than any other single cause, rendered good men either cool in their affections toward the government of their country or doubtful of its long continuance. Yet, there is precedent in favour of this power, and the President exercises it. We know, Sir, that, without the aid of that precedent, his acts could never have received the sanction of this body, even at a time when his voice was somewhat more potential here than it now is, or, as I trust, ever again will be. Does the President, then, reject the authority of all precedent except what it is suitable to his own purposes to use? And does he use, without stint or measure, all precedents which may augment his own power, or gratify his own wishes? JBut if the President thinks lightly of the authority of Congress in construing the Constitution, he thinks still more lightly of the authority of the Supreme Court. He asserts a right of individual judgment on constitutional questions, which is totally inconsistent with any proper administration of government, or any regular execution of the laws. Social disorder, entire uncertainty in regard to individual rights and individual duties, the cessation of legal authority, confusion, the dissolution of free government,<-all these are the inevitable consequences of the principles adopted by the message, whenever they shall be carried to their full extent. Hitherto it has been thought that the final decision of constitutional questions belonged to the supreme judicial tribunal. The very nature of free government, it has been supposed, enjoins this; and our Constitution, moreover, has been understood so to provide, clearly and expressly. It is true, that each branch of the legislature has an undoubted right, in the exercise of its functions, to consider the constitutionality of a law proposed to be passed. This is naturally a part of its duty; and neither branch can be compelled to pass any law, or do any other act, which it deems to be beyond the reach of its constitutional power. The President has the same right, when a bill is presented for his approval; for he is doubtless bound to consider, in all cases, whether such bill be compatible with the Constitution, and whether he can approve it consistently with his oath of office. But when a law has been passed by Congress, and approved by the President, it is now no longer in the power either of the same President or his successors to say whether the law is
The abuse of it has since done more perhaps than any other one thing to corrupt and debauch our politics.
constitutional or not. He is not at liberty to disregard it; he is not at liberty to feel or affect “constitutional scruples,” and to sit in judgment himself on the validity of a statute of the government, and to nullify it, if he so chooses. After a law has passed through all the requisite forms, after it has received the requisite legislative sanction and the executive approval, the question of its constitutionality then becomes a judicial question, and a judicial question alone. In the courts that question may be raised, argued, and adjudged; it can be adjudged nowhere else. The President is as much bound by the law as any private citizen, and can no more contest its validity than any private citizen. IIe may refuse to obey the law, and so may a private citizen ; but both do it at their own peril, and neither of them can settle the question of its validity. The President may say a law is unconstitutional, but he is not the judge. Who is to decide that question? The judiciary alone possesses this unquestionable and hitherto unquestioned right. The judiciary is the constitutional tribunal of appeal, for the citizens, against both Congress and the executive, in regard to the constitutionality of laws. It has this jurisdiction expressly conferred upon it ; and when it has decided the question, its judgment must, from the very nature of all judgments from which there is no appeal, be conclusive. Hitherto, this opinion, and a correspondent practice, have prevailed, in America, with all wise and considerate men. If it were otherwise, there would be no government of laws; but we should all live under the government, the rule, the caprices of individuals. On the argument of the message, the President of the United States holds, under a new pretence and a new name, a dispensing power over the laws as absolute as was claimed by James the Second of England, a month before he was compelled to fly the kingdom. That which is now claimed by the President is in truth nothing less, and nothing else, than the old dispensing power asserted by the Kings of England in the worst of times; the very climax indeed of all the preposterous pretensions of the Tudor and the Stuart races. According to the doctrines put forth by the President, although Congress may have passed a law, and although the Supreme Court may have pronounced it constitutional, yet it is, nevertheless, no law at all, if he, in his good pleasure, sees fit to deny it effect; in other words, to repeal and annul it. Sir, no President and no public man ever before advanced such doctrines in the face of the nation. There never before was a moment in which any President would have been tolerated in asserting such a claim to despotic power. It is no bank to be created, it is no law proposed to be
passed, which the President denounces; it is the law now existing, passed by Congress, approved by President Madison, and sanctioned by a solemn judgment of the Supreme Court, which he now declares unconstitutional, and which, of course, so far as it may depend on him, cannot be executed. If the reasoning of the message be well founded, it is clear that the charter of the existing bank is not a law. The bank has no legal existence; it is not responsible to government; it has no authority to act; it is incapable of being an agent ; the President may treat it as a nullity, to-morrow; withdraw from it all the public deposits, and set afloat all the existing national arrangements of revenue and finance. It is enough to state these monstrous consequences, to show that the doctrine, principles, and pretensions of the message are entirely inconsistent with a government of laws. If that which Congress has enacted, and the Supreme Court has sanctioned, be not the law of the land, then the reign of law has ceased, and the reign of individual opinion has already begun. There is another sentiment in this part of the message, which we should hardly have expected to find in a paper which is supposed, whoever may have drawn it up, to have passed under the review of professional characters. The message declares that the limitation to create no other bank is unconstitutional, because, although Congress may use the discretion vested in them, “they may not limit the discretion of their successors.” This reason is almost too superficial to require an answer. Every one, at all accustomed to the consideration of such subjects, knows that every Congress can bind its successors to the same extent that it can bind itself. The power of Congress is always the same ; the authority of law always the same. It is true, we speak of the Twentieth Congress and the Twenty-first Congress; but this is only to denote the period of time, or to mark the successive organizations of the IIouse of Representatives under the successive periodical elections of its members. As a politic body,...as the legislative power of the government, Congress is always continuous, always identical. A particular Congress, as we speak of it, for instance, the present Congress, —can no further restrain itself from doing what it may choose to do at the next session, than it can restrain any succeeding Congress from doing what it may choose. Any Congress may repeal the Act or law of its predecessors, if in its nature it be repealable, just as it may repeal its own Act; and if a law or an Act be irrepealable in its nature, it can no more be repealed by a subsequent Congress than by that which passed it. All this is familiar to everybody. And Congress, like every other legislature, often passes Acts which, being in the nature of grants
or contracts, are irrepealable ever afterwards. The message, in a strain of argument which it is difficult to treat with ordinary respect, declares that this restriction on the power of Congress, as to the establishment of other banks, is a palpable attempt to amend the Constitution by an Act of legislation. The reason on which this observation purports to be founded is, that Congress, by the Constitution, is to have exclusive legislation over the District of Columbia; and when the bank charter declares that Congress will create no new bank within the District, it annuls this power of exclusive legislation I must say that this reasoning hardly rises high enough to entithe it to a passing notice. It would be doing it too much credit to call it plausible. No one needs to be informed that exclusive power of legislation is not unlimited power of legislation; and if it were, how can that legislative power be unlimited that cannot restrain itself, that cannot bind itself by contract? Whether as a government or as an individual, that being is fettered and restrained which is not capable of binding itself by ordinary obligation. Every legislature binds itself, whenever it makes a grant, enters into a contract, bestows an office, or does any other act or thing which is in its nature irrepealable. And this, instead of detracting from its legislative power, is one of the modes of exercising that power. And the legislative power of Congress over the District of Columbia would not be full and complete, if it might not make just such a stipulation as the bank charter contains. What I have now been considering are the President's objections, not to the policy or expediency, but to the constitutionality of the bank; and not to the constitutionality of any new or proposed bank, but of the bank as it now is, and as it has long existed. If the President had declined to approve this bill because he thought the original charter unwisely granted, and the bank, in point of policy and expediency, objectionable or mischievous, and in that view only had suggested the reasons now urged by him, his argument, however inconclusive, would have been intelligible, and not, in its whole frame and scope, inconsistent with all well-established first principles. His rejection of the bill, in that case, would have been, no doubt, an extraordinary exercise of power; but it would have been, nevertheless, the exercise of a power belonging to his office, and trusted by the Constitution to his discretion. But when he puts forth an array of arguments, such as the message employs, not against the expediency of the bank, but against its constitutional existence, he confounds all distinctions, mixes questions of policy and questions of right together, and turns all constitutional restraints into mere matters of opinion. As far as its power extends either in its direct effects, or as a precedent, the message not only unsettles every thing which has been settled under the Constitution, but would show, also, that the Constitution itself is utterly incapable of any fixed construction or definite interpretation, and that there is no possibility of establishing, by its authority, any practical limitations on the powers of the respective branches of the government. When the message denies, as it does, the authority of the Supreme Court to decide on constitutional questions, it effects, so far as the opinion of the President and his authority can effect, a complete change in our government. It does two things: first, it converts constitutional limitations of power into mere matters of opinion, and then it strikes the judicial department, as an efficient department, out of our system. But the message by no means stops even at this point. Having denied to Congress the authority of judging what powers may be constitutionally conferred on a bank, and having erected the judgment of the President himself into a standard by which to try the constitutional character of such powers, and having denounced the authority of the Supreme Court to decide finally on constitutional questions, the message proceeds to claim for the President, not the power of approval, but the primary power, the power of originating laws. The President informs Congress, that he would have sent them such a charter, if it had been properly asked for, as they ought to confer. He very plainly intimates that, in his opinion, the establishment of all laws, of this nature at least, belongs to the functions of the executive government; and that Congress ought to have waited for the manifestation of the executive will, before it presumed to touch the subject. Such, Mr. President, stripped of their disguises, are the real pretences set up in behalf of the executive power in this most extraordinary paper. Mr. President, we have arrived at a new epoch. We are entering on experiments, with the government and the Constitution of the country, hitherto untried, and of fearful and appalling aspect. This message calls us to the contemplation of a future which little resembles the past. Its principles are at war with all that public opinion has sustained, and all which the experience of the government has sanctioned. It denies first principles; it contradicts truths heretofore received as indisputable. It denies to the judiciary the interpretation of law, and claims to divide with Congress the power of originating statutes. It extends the grasp of executive pretension over every power of the government. But this is not all. It presents the chief magistrate of the Union in the attitude of arguing away the powers of that government over which he has been chosen to