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THE PRESIDENT'S CONSTITUTIONAL ADVISERS. *
Our Constitution says: “The Executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States.” He need consult nobody in the exercise of his duties, though “he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the Executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices;" but now, such officers constitute themselves a cabinet council, and, like a British Cabinet, assume the Presidential functions, thereby committing a usurpation which no sanction of the President can legalize. But the illegality of the practice is its least evil. A British cabinet, being recognized as crown advisers, act responsibly, while ours, being a volunteer con. clave, are like the cloud which followed in the rear of the Israelites,--they screen the President, and are themselves invulnerable. Nor is this all the evil :-every man's caution is heightened ratably, and every man's perceptions are ratably sharpened, by the degree of responsibility under which he is acting; hence, when the President transfers any of his personal duties to his Secretaries, they will act under less responsibility than the President, and therefore will act under circumstances less favorable to wisdom. But even a responsible cabinet possesses disadvantages in contrast with a single Executive. In a council of, say, seven men, the responsibility is divided by seven ; and by a law of nature, a man's solicitude will be only proportioned to his responsibility, and his acuteness will be proportioned to his solicitude. A council of seven is, therefore, not a lens with a focal power of one multiplied by seven, but with a focal power of one divided by seven. The dismissions from office by President Taylor exemplify one of the
* Published February, 1851,
practical evils of this innovation. His ante-election disclaimer of removals for partisan differences, induced some people to favor his elevation ; and when his post-election conduct falsified the expectations therein of the people, the discrepancy was attributed to his Secretaries. The people, therefore, in a Presidential selection, can no longer exercise any control over the principles by which they will be governed, but are restricted to a barren choice between the persons
of rival men of straw. In short, we are arrived at a period when the character of our Government depends on the secretaries who chance to fill the executive offices. We know that the death of a recent President proved providential in behalf of public tranquillity, by occasioning the removal of a cabinet. A President may, doubtless, advise with his officers, and with all persons whose opinions may assist his own; but that such advice shall become an admitted executive machinery, is to interpose an unconstitutional shield between the President and the people.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL POWER OF CONGRESS OVER PUBLIC
CONSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE INCREASES WITH
TION OF OUR GOVERNMENT. We are prone to suppose, that the higher we ascend towards the period when our political Constitution was framed, the greater must be the constitutional knowledge of the period; but the Constitution contains permis
* Published February 1, 1851
sions and limitations that were not seen by its framers, and oar descendants will understand its scope more definitely than we.
The like may be said of Christianity, which, by the study of eighteen centuries, has received developments that render the knowledge therein of a modern divine, more comprehensive than the knowledge of the ancient Fathers. These consequences result from the nature of language. Every verbal proposition is like a mirror. It reflects the lineaments of the man who looks into it; hence, as successive ages of men increase their knowledge by study and experience, they see in every verbal proposition, what may have been unseen by all their predecessors; just as the Siamese twins can see in a mirror, what was never seen previously to their own advent. We need not, therefore, be surprised at the diversity of practice, which our Government has exhibited on the constitutionality of public improvements, nor at the still conflicting opinions thereon of our statesmen.
Obedience to the Constitution is more than a moral duty.
Obedience to the Constitution is not idolatry, but a principle, on which, by the nature of our Confederacy, the durability of our Union is connected. The connection is not conventional, but organic; like the connection between virtue and happiness, vice and misery. We shall assume this connection, having proved it in the preceding article, entitled the “ Philosophy of the American Union; or, the Principles of its Cohesiveness." We proved, also, that the Union will be durable, in proportion to the strictness with which the existing powers of thc Constitution shall be construed; hence, should the powers of the General Government be enlarged by duly authorized amendments, the enlargement will diminish the cohesive principles of the Confederacy.
The more our Confederacy increases in number of confederates and extent of territory, the greater becomes the necessity for restricting its powers.
Proverbially, two families cannot live peaceably together in the same house, nor can the General and State Governments live peaceably together where they possess jurisdiction over the same matters ; hence the more numerous our Confederate States become, the more numerous will become the occasions in which the action of the General Govern. ment will be liable to conflict with the local interests, feelings, or notions of some members of the Confederacy; and the more salutary will become the limitation of Federal powers. A bankrupt law is constitutional; but it has always created uneasiness, by interfering with State laws in relation to debtor and creditor: so the law enacted by Congress some few years since, concerning pilotage, was constitutional; but it created dissatisfaction in New York, whose laws it overruled. The law which divided the States into single Congressional districts, was for a period openly nullified by at least one State, who continued to elect Congressmen according to its own enactments.
The States, in being jealous of their sovereignty, obey an inpulse that is conducive to social progress.
Personal freedom is about as great in the provinces of Canada as in the United States; hut the inhabitants of Canada are not accustomed (as we are) to invoke their own energies in aid of their social progress. They petition the mother country, and listlessly await the result, like a farmer, who, after sowing his seed, leaves the issue to Providence. The principle which makes the blacksmith's arm strong, makes strong our citizens, and makes the Canadians weak. When New-York first seriously contemplated the connection of Lake Erie with the Hudson River, she
felt like a child that was beginning to walk alone, and deemed the assistance of Congress an indispensable preliminary. That assistance fortunately failing her, she, first timidly, then boldly, called forth her own energies, and soon-her strength increasing with her efforts--completed the undertaking, and many kindred ones, besides rail-roads, and suddenly became the Empire State. And better, her example taught other States their latent energies, by which instruction our Confederacy is become intersected with canals and rail-roads, to an extent that the General Government could not have equalled in centuries, had it possessed all requisite constitutional powers.*
The Constitution must be construed with special reference to the limitary clause by which it was amended.
The Convention which framed the Constitution intended to make a limited government, for they say, in Congress shall vest “all legislative powers herein granted;" thereby implying, that the powers of Congress are to be limited by the grant. Still, the preamble of the Constitution, and Section 8 of Article I., speak of “providing for the general welfare," an expression from which some statesmen deduce almost unlimited powers in Congress. The States feared that a latitudinous ambiguity existed in these clauses, and hence, on adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added. The first Congress accordingly proposed, and the States subsequently ratified an amendment, that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This clinched the granted powers, and keeps them unextensible. The amendment,
* In further elucidation of this principle, see post article entitled, “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Private Corporations.”