Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

Europe to monarchies. It was falsely conceived that to vest the executive power in a single person was inconsistent with the nature and genius of a republic, or that a republic thus constituted could long maintain its freedom against the ambitious views of a single chief. But during the American Revolution, neither the fervour of Republican principles, nor resentment towards the monarchy then arrayed against us, overpowered the deliberate judgments of our statesmen, and, upon the establishment of independent governments, almost all the states adopted the principle of unity in the executive power. The experience of more than half a century has evinced that, under proper limitations, no abuse of the power is to be apprehended merely from its unity, while every government, ancient and modern, constituted upon the scheme of a compound executive authority, has suffered from the evils of division, indecision, and delay, while the public interests have been sacrificed, or have languished under a feeble and irregular management. In those states of our Union where executive councils have been tried, this weakness and inefficiency have been strikingly exemplified. In most instances in which they were at first adopted, they were speedily abandoned, and a single person substituted, in accordance with the lights afforded to the states in question by their own experience, or the institutions of their neighbours.

Unity not only increases that efficiency which is necessary to preserve tranquillity at home and command respect abroad, but it is requisite to secure the responsibility of the executive power. Where there is but one agent, every act can be traced and brought home to him ; nor can there be any concealment of the real author, and generally none of the true motives of public measures, where there are no associ

ates to divide or mask responsibility. The eyes of the people will be constantly directed to a single conspicuous object, and for these reasons, De Lolme considers it a sound maxim of policy, that the executive power is more easily confined where it is one and indivisible. “ If the execution of the laws," he observeş, “ be intrusted to a number of hands, the true cause of public evils is hidden. Tyranny in such states does not always beat down the fences that are set around them, but it leaps over them. It mocks the efforts of the people, not because it is invincible, but because it is unknown.”

In accordance with these principles, the Federal Constitution vests the executive power in a single person, who is styled “ THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES ;" the qualifications and election, the powers and duties of which high officer will now be the subject of consideration.

I. The Constitution requires that the President should be a natural-born citizen of the United States at the time of its adoption; have attained the age of thirty-five years, and have been fourteen years a resident within them. Considering the magnitude of the trust, and that the executive department is the ultimately efficient power in the government, these restrictions will not appear useless nor unimportant. The qualification required of citizenship was intended to prevent ambitious foreigners from intriguing for the office, and to cut off all those inducements from abroad to corruption, intervention, and war, which have frequently and fatally harassed the elective monarchies of Europe. The age required in the President is sufficient to have formed his public and private character, and the previous term of domestic residence is intended to afford his fellow-citiZens the opportunity of gaining a correct knowledge

H

of his principles and capacity, and to enable him to acquire habits of attachment and obedience to the laws, and of practical devotion to the public welfare.

The mode of his appointment presented one of the most difficult questions that occupied the Con. vention; and if ever the tranquillity of this nation is to be disturbed, and its peace jeoparded, by a struggle for power among ourselves, it is the opinion of some of our wisest statesmen that it will be on this very subject of the choice of President. It is therefore the more remarkable, that this was almost the only part of the federal system, of any importance, which escaped without the severest censure, or received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. By the authors of “ The Federalist,” the manner of choosing the President was affirmed to be, “if not perfect, at least excellent,” and to unite, in an eminent degree, all the advantages of which the selection and association were to be desired. It is, nevertheless, considered by Mr. Chancellor Kent as “the question which is to try the strength of the Constitution ;” and that, “ if we are able, for half a century hereafter, to continue to elect the chief ma. gistrate 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 esteem and admiration of the more enlightened part of mankind.”

The experience of ancient and modern Europe has certainly, as this eminent jurist observes, been unfavourable to the practicability of the fair and peaceable election of the executive of a great nation. It was found impossible to guard such elections from the mischiefs of foreign intrigue and domestic turbulence, from violence or corruption; and men have

generally sought refuge from the dangers of popular elections in hereditary chief magistrates, as the lesser evil of the two. Archdeacon Paley condemns all elective monarchies, and thinks nothing gained by a popular choice worth the dissensions, tumults, and interruptions of regular industry with which it is inseparably connected. But these consequences rarely attend our elections, and no such evils as he describes have ever been experienced in our elections of a President by the electors; although on one memorable occasion, of which I shall speak hereafter, much riotous and violent conduct was exhibited in the House of Representatives, when, upon an equality of electoral votes between Mr. Jefferson and Colonel Burr, in 1801, the choice between them devolved on that body. Nor cán any serious danger be apprehended in future from such occurrences, when we reflect on the nature of the precautions which have been so happily concerted to prevent them in the manner of electing the President, and the limitations in the nature, extent, and duration of his power. The question, too, with us, was very different from the wisdom or policy of preferring hereditary to elective monarchies in Europe ; where the same restraints on the executive authority do not exist to diminish its value in the estimation of competitors--where different orders and ranks are established in the community, and large masses of property are accumulated in the hands of individuals—where ignorance and poverty are widely diffused, and standing armies are requisite to preserve the stability of the government. The state of society and property in this country, and the moral and political habits of the people, have enabled us to adopt the Republican principle in relation to the chief executive magistrate, and to maintain it hitherto with signal success.

From the pe

culiar character of our Federative Union, in which the concerns only of the nation, as such, are confided to the General Government, and those of a local description to the states—from the nature of the civil and municipal institutions of the states, which favour the exertions of industry by the certainty of adequate rewards, and secure enjoyment, but discourage and prevent the accumulation of overgrown estates-from the spread of knowledge and the prevalence of morality and religious habits, we may reasonably hope that the checks which the Constitution has provided against the dangerous propensities of our system, although sometimes contemned by ambitious popular leaders, will prove continually and ultimately successful. The election, however, of a supreme magistrate for a whole nation, affects so many interests, addresses itself so strongly to popular passions, and holds forth such powerful temptations to ambition, that even under the most favourable circumstances and wisest regulations, it necessarily becomes a formidable trial to public virtue, and sometimes hazardous to the public tranquillity. The framers of our Constitution, from an enlightened view of all the difficulties of the case, did not think it safe or prudent to refer the election of the President immediately to the people, but confided that power to a small body of electors appointed in each state, under the direction of the Legislature ; and in order to close the door as effectually as possible against negotiation, intrigue, and corruption, they declared that Congress might determine the day on which the election should be held, and that the day of election should be the same in every state.

It was essential that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of a person to whom so important a trust was to be confided; and this end is

« ПредишнаНапред »