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edged original, unrestrained, sovereign power over us. Our Constitutions are not made to limit and restrain prečxisting authority. They are the instruments by which the people confer power on their own servants. If I may use a legal phrase, the people are grantors, not grantees. They give to the government, and to each branch of it, all the power it possesses, or can possess; and what is not given they retain. In England, before her Revolution, and in the rest of Europe since, if we would know the extent of liberty or popular right, we must go to grants, to charters, to allowances, and indulgences. But with us, we go to grants and to constitutions to learn the extent of the powers of government. No political power is more original than the Constitution ; none is possessed which is not there granted ; and the grant, and the limitations of the grant, are in the same instrument. The powers, therefore, belonging to any branch of our government are to be construed and settled, not by remote analogies drawn from other governments, but from the words of the grant itself, in their plain sense and necessary import, and according to an interpretation consistent with our own history and the spirit of our own institutions. I will never agree that a President of the United States holds the whole undivided power of office in his own hands, upon the theory that he is responsible for the entire action of the whole body of those engaged in carrying on the government and executing the laws. Such a responsibility is purely ideal, delusive, and vain. There is, there can be, no substantial responsibility, any further than every individual is answerable, not merely in his reputation, not merely in the opinion of mankind, but to the law, for the faithful discharge of his own appropriate duties. Again and again we hear it said that the President is responsible to the American people ! that he is responsible to the bar of public opinion | For whatever he does, he assumes accountability to the American people ! For whatever he omits, he expects to be brought to the high bar of public opinion | And this is thought enough for a limited, restrained, republican government an undefined, undefinable, ideal responsibility to the public judgment l Sir, if all this mean any thing, if it be not empty sound, it means no less than that the President may do anything and every thing which he may expect to be tolerated in doing. He may go just so far as he thinks it safe to go ; and Cromwell and Bonaparte went no further. I ask again, Sir, Is this legal responsibility? Is this the true nature of a government with written laws and limited powers ? And allow me, Sir, to ask, too, if an executive magistrate, while professing to act under the Constitution, is restrained only by this responsi. bility to public opinion, what prevents him, on the same responsibility, from proposing a change in that Constitution? Why may he not say, “I am about to introduce new forms, new principles, and with a new spirit; I am about to try a political experiment on a great scale; and when I get through with it, I shall be responsible to the American people, I shall be answerable to the bar of public opinion”? Connected, Sir, with the idea of this airy and unreal responsibility to the public, is another sentiment, which of late we hear frequently expressed; and that is, that the President is the direct representative of the American people. This is declared, in the Protest, in so many words. “The President,” says the Protest, “is the direct representative of the American people.” Now, Sir, this is not the language of the Constitution. The Constitution nowhere calls him the representative of the American people; still less their direct representative. It could not do so with the least propriety. He is not chosen directly by the people, but by a body of electors, some of whom are chosen by the people, and some of whom are appointed by the State legislatures. Where, then, is the authority for saying that the President is the direct representative of the people # The Constitution calls the members of the other House Representatives, and declares that they shall be chosen by the people; and there are no other direct or immediate representatives of the people in this government. The Constitution denominates the President simply the President of the United States; it points out the complex mode of electing him, defines his powers and duties, and imposes limits and restraints on his authority. With these powers and duties, and under these restraints, he becomes, when chosen, President of the United States. That is his character, and the denomination of his office. How is it, then, that, on this official character, thus cautiously created, limited, and defined, he is to engraft another, and a very imposing character, namely, the character of the direct representative of the American people # I hold this, Sir, to be mere assumption, and dangerous assumption. If he is the representative of all the American people, he is the only representative which they all have. Nobody else presumes to represent all the people. And if he may be allowed to consider himself as the sole REPIrLSENTATIVE OF ALL THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, and is to act under no other responsibility than such as I have already described, then I say, Sir, that the government (I will not say the people) has already a master. I deny the sentiment, therefore, and I protest against the language ; neither the sentiment nor the language is to be found in the Constitution of the country; and whosoever is not satisfied to describe the powers of the President in the language of the Constitution may be justly suspected of being as little satisfied with the powers themselves. The President is President. His office and his name of office are known, and both are fixed and described by law. Being commander of the army and navy, holding the power of nominating to office and removing from office, and being, by these powers, the fountain of all patronage and all favour, what does he not become if he be allowed to superadd to all this the character of single representative of the American people? Sir, he becomes what America has not been accustomed to see, what this Constitution has never created, and what I cannot contemplate but with profound alarm. He who may call himself the single representative of a nation, may speak in the name of the nation ; may undertake to wield the power of the nation; and who shall gainsay him, in whatsoever he chooses to pronounce as the nation's will? I will now, Sir, ask leave to recapitulate the general doctrines of this Protest, and to present them together. They are: That neither branch of the legislature can take up, or consider, for the purpose of censure, any official act of the President, without some view to legislation or impeachment; That not only the passage, but the discussion, of the resolution of the Senate of the 28th of March, was unauthorized by the Constitution, and repugnant to its provisions; That the custody of the public treasury always must be intrusted to the executive; that Congress cannot take it out of his hands, nor place it anywhere except under such superintendents and keepers as are appointed by him, responsible to him, and removable at his will ; That the whole executive power is in the President, and that therefore the duty of defending the integrity of the Constitution results to him from the very nature of his office; and that the founders of our republic have attested their sense of the importance of this duty, and, by expressing it in his official oath, have given to it peculiar solemnity and force; That, as he is to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, he is thereby made responsible for the entire action of the executive department, with power of appointing, overseeing, and controlling those who execute the laws; That the power of removal from office, like that of appointment, is an original executive power, and is left in his hands unchecked by the Constitution, except in the case of judges; that, being responsible for the exercise of the whole executive
power, he has a right to employ agents of his own choice to assist him in the performance of his duties, and to discharge them when he is no longer willing to be responsible for their acts; That the Secretaries are his Secretaries, and all persons appointed to offices created by law, except the judges, his agents, responsible to him, and removable at his pleasure ; And, finally, that he is the direct representative of the American people. These, Sir, are some of the leading propositions contained in the Protest; and if they be true, then the government under which we live is an elective monarchy. It is not yet absolute; there are yet some checks and limitations in the Constitution and laws; but, in its essential and prevailing character, it is an elective monarchy. Mr. President, I have spoken freely of this Protest, and of the doctrines which it advances; but I have spoken deliberately. On these high questions of constitutional law, respect for my own character, as well as a solemn and profound sense of duty, restrains me from giving utterance to a single sentiment which does not flow from entire conviction. I feel that I am not wrong. I feel that an inborn and inbred love of constitutional liberty, and some study of our political institutions, have not on this occasion misled me. But I have desired to say nothing that should give pain to the chief magistrate personally. I have not sought to fix arrows in his breast; but I believe him mistaken, altogether mistaken, in the sentiments which he has expressed; and I must concur with others in placing on the records of the Senate my disapprobation of those sentiments. On a vote which is to remain so long as any proceeding of the Senate shall last, and on a question which can never cease to be important while the Constitution of the country endures, I have desired to make public my reasons. They will now be known, and I submit them to the judgment of the present and of after times. Sir, the occasion is full of interest. it cannot pass off without leaving strong impressions on the character of public men. A collision has taken place which I could have most anxiously wished to avoid; but it was not to be shunned. We have not sought this controversy: it has met us, and been forced upon us. In my judgment, the law has been disregarded, and the Constitution transgressed; the fortress of liberty has been assaulted, and circumstances have placed the Senate in the breach ; and, although we may perish in it, I know we shall not fly from it. But I am fearless of consequences. We shall hold on, Sir, and hold out, till the people themselves come to its defence. We shall raise the alarm, and maintain the post, till they whose right it is shall decide whether the Senate be a faction, wantonly resisting lawful power, or whether it be opposing, with firmness and patriotism, violations of liberty and inroads upon the Constitution.”
THE CHARACTER OF WASHINGTON.2
IRISE, Gentlemen, to propose to you the name of that great man in commemoration of whose birth, and in honour of whose character and services, we have here assembled.
I am sure that I express a sentiment common to every one present, when I say that there is something more than ordinarily solemn and affecting in this occasion.
We are met to testify our regard for him whose name is intimately blended with whatever belongs most essentially to the prosperity, the liberty, the free institutions, and the renown of our country. That name was of power to rally a nation, in the hour of thick-thronging public disasters and calamities; that name shone, amid the storm of war, a beacon light, to cheer and guide the country’s friends; it flamed, too, like a meteor, to repel her foes. That name, in the days of peace, was a loadstone, attracting to itself a whole people's confidence, a whole
1 This, I believe, is, on the whole, my favourite of all Webster's speeches,— his clearest, tightest, and most finished piece of workmanship. It seems to me hardly less than a model of calm, balanced, well-rounded discourse. The reasoning, I think, holds water at every point. Clear statement, luminous order, and logical coherence are in an eminent degree its characteristics; and as an exposition or argument in constitutional law, I do not see how it can well be beaten; while its occasional flights of rhetoric are severe and restrained, and just enough to keep the heart awake without unpoising the head. But what is perhaps most worthy of note is, that the speaker here seems perfectly at home in his subject, and moves with the ease of conscious mastery, as if he felt persectly at home. Chancellor Kent, of New York, a very high authority in such matters, seems to have been fairly overcome with delight on reading it. Writing to Webster, he speaks of it thus: “You never equalled this effort. It surpasses everything in logic, in simplicity and beauty and energy of diction, in clearness, in rebuke, in sarcasm, in patriotic and glowing feeling, in just and profound constitutional views. It is worth millions to our liberties.”
2 I here give entire the noble discourse pronounced by Webster in the city of Washington, on the 22d of February, 1832. The occasion was as follows: A number of gentlemen, members of Congress and others, united in a public dinner for the purpose of commemorating the centennial anniversary of Washington's birth. Webster presided at the dinner, and his address was made after the removal of the cloth.