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Proposed reforms of the Administration Party. Recent Judiciary Law.
- views of parties as to its repeal. Internal Taxes. The Public Debt-mistaken views of both parties concerning it. The President's Financial Views. Convention with England. Cession of Louisiana to France Lively interest excited by it in the United States. Mr. Jefferson's instructions to Mr. Livingston. Views of the effect of the Cession of Louisiana. Callender's Libels. Piers in the Delaware. Forbearance towards his opponents. The right of deposit at New Orleans interdicted by Spain. Meeting of Con• gress. Annual Message. Dry Docks. Resolution on the conduct of Spain. Mr. Monroe's mission to France-motives for the appointment.
In this Congress, by reason of the recent favourable changes in some of the States, the republican party had a small majority in both Houses. They therefore determined to carry their plans of reform and economy into execution, whilst their adversaries prepared to resist their schemes to the utmost, by every means which wit, logic, or legislative tactics could effect. The two great objects of party contest, were the repeal of the internal taxes, and of the law which created a new set of federal courts at the preceding session.
The circumstances under which this alteration in the judicial system was made had given great offence to the repub. lican party, and had furnished them with a copious theme of reproach against their adversaries. It was insisted that the system, as previously organized, was fully competent to the performance of all the business brought before them, limited
as was the jurisdiction of the federal courts to the cases specified by the constitution, and that one class of the suits there litigated, that of British debts, which had hitherto furnished the principal part of their business, was every day growing less. The creation then of twenty-four new courts, when the business in those already established was declining rather than decreasing, was regarded as merely making provision for that number of federal partizans at the public expense. It was further said that even if the public interest had called for this addition to the number of federal judges, it would have been but an act of decent respect for the ma. jority of the community, to allow the President elect to appoint the judges, especially as all those previously appointed belonged to the federal party. But the injustice was aggravated by the utter disregard of the feelings and wishes of the majority, and the earnest, and even indecorous impatience manifested to exercise power to the last moment, for the benefit of a party too, on which the people had passed a sentence of condemnation. This law having received the President's signature on the 13th of February, there was of course less than three weeks for the appointments to be made and to pass the Senate, and to effect their purpose in so short a time it is said that the signing of some of the commissions of the judges was not completed until the last hour of the last day of Mr. Adams's administration. It was in allusion to this fact that they were often then called in derision, “ the midnight judges.”
This law and these appointments then were so generally regarded by the republican party as a gross abuse of power, , and under the forms of laws, as a fraud on the rights of the majority, that they were well inclined to annul the act, by a repeal of the law, if it could be done consistently with the constitution, one of the provisions of which seemed at first view to forbid it. Legal acumen was therefore put in requisition to interpret that instrument so as to surmount the difficulty, and according to the ordinary effect of such mental process, it was finally successful.
The federal party, on the other hand, congratulated themselves on this state of policy, and felt secure of the issue. As things were they had the whole corps of the judiciary of their party, and this number of corps greatly increased, and diffused throughout the Union; and what was a minor concern to the party, secured places of distinction and emolument to partizans. These circumstances favoured the continuance of the law. If, however, the triumphant party should attempt to repeal it, they believed it would afford them abundant materials to bring their adversaries into discredit with the people, who would thus have their eyes opened, and see that those who had been advocates for a strict interpretation of the constitution, could be ultra latitudinarian in construing it when it suited their purpose: and what with all their pretended fears of the designs of the federalists and their noisy clamours for the interests of the people, they had only the acquisition of power and office in view. So confident were the federalists of the advantage they would have over their adversaries in this argument, that they actually wished the latter would carry their purpose into execution. They, at all events, hoped they would attempt it, as whether they succeeded or failed, it would furnish them with the same fruitful theme of party reproach, and of making eloquent appeals in behalf of the violated constitution.
It appears by a letter which Mr. Jefferson wrote to his venerable friend John Dickinson on the 19th of December, that he did not then look forward to the repeal of the judiciary law. “My great anxiety," he says, “is at present to avail ourselves of an ascendency to establish good principles and good practices; to fortify republicanism behind as many barriers as possible, that the outworks may give time to rally and save the citadel, should that be again in danger. On their part they have retired with the judiciary as a strong hold. There the remains of federalism are to be preserved and fed from the treasury, and from that battery all the works of republicanism are to be beaten down and erased. By a fraudulent use of the constitution, which has made judges irremovable, they have multiplied useless judges merely to strengthen their phalanx.”
It was, however, finally decided by the majority to attempt its repeal, and after a warm and protracted debate of sixteen days it was effected by a vote in the House of Representatives of fifty-nine to thirty-two. In the Senate where parties were more nearly balanced, the repeal had been carried by a single vote.
The other principal acts of this session were the repeal of the internal taxes of every kind : the reduction of the military establishment: and a law for the final extinguishment of the debt, and an alteration in the laws of naturalization so as to reduce the previous residence of a foreigner from fourteen years to five.
On the repeal of the taxes Mr. Jefferson thus speaks in his letter to Mr. Dickinson: "You will, perhaps, have been alarmed, as some have been, at the proposition to abolish the whole of the internal taxes. But it is perfectly safe. They are under a million of dollars, and we can economize the government two or three millions a year. The impost alone gives us ten or eleven millions annually, increasing at a compound ratio of six and two thirds per cent. per annum, and consequently doubling in ten years. But leaving that increase for contingencies, the present amount will support the government, pay the interest of the public debt, and discharge the principal in fifteen years. If the increase proceeds, and no contingencies demand it, it will pay off the principal in a shorter time. Exactly one half of the public debt, to wit, thirty-seven millions of dollars, is owned in the United States. That capital will then be set afloat, to be employed in rescuing our commerce from the hands of foreigners, or in agriculture, canals, bridges, or other useful enterprises. By suppressing at once the whole internal taxes, we abolish three-fourths of the offices now existing, and spread over the land.” It seems scarcely to be doubted that if he had been as ambitious of power or as insincere in his professions of economy as his enemies represented him, he would have sought to continue these taxes, and consequently his means of rewarding friends and adherents, for which he could have been at no loss for plausible pretexts; and that by the weight of his popularity, and the intrinsic recommendations of the offices themselves, he would have been supported in it by a majority of the nation. He shewed himself, however, throughout his administration, as opposed to executive patronage, in his own case, as when the power was to be wielded by another.
The course taken by the majority of the legislature in the repeal of the judiciary act, did not receive the unanimous support of the republican party. To those who regarded the independence of the judges as a cardinal principle in free governments, the repeal appeared to be contrary to the spirit and meaning of the constitution ; as if the judges could be deprived of their office by the abolition of their courts, the provision in the constitution by which they were to hold it “ during good behaviour,” was rendered nugatory, and the judiciary were virtually rendered dependent on the legislature. Nor were there wanting moderate men in the republican ranks who believed the repeal of this law to be as clear an infraction of the constitution as the sedition law had been. The number of these was, however, too small to produce effect, and their disapprobation, together with the louder voice of the opposition, was drowned in the