Page images


ed by him, that he never doubted that he was the evil angel of our system, who should have influence enough to strip the states of their dignity and their sovereignty, and to consolidate all sovereign power in the general government.

Mr. G. said, he must view with great jealousy every proposition bearing an aspect unfriendly to the rights and influence of the states: and if, as an honourable friend had stated already, by amendments of the constitution, branches of power and sovereignty have been lopped from the state governments, and grafted on the general government, so far from furnishing an inducement to make further inroads on the power and dignity of the states, it was a strong argument against this or any other attempt still further to reduce them.

To a constitution, framed like our own, the result of compromise and contract among independent sovereign states, complicated and novel, the above remark applies with peculiar force. I hold it, therefore, as a political axiom, that no essential or important provision of our constitution is to be destroyed or changed, until, by a fair and full test of practice and experience, it is found productive of evils highly detrimental to the the state, and which, without such destruction or change, cannot be remedied.

But, said Mr. G. if any provisions of our constitution, should be held more sacred from innovation than others, it was surely that class which divided and distributed the sovereign powers of the country between the states and the general government. Prominent in this class, is the provision now proposed to be abolished; it provided for the election of a chief magistrate, the most interesting as well as important object provided for by the constitution.

Thus, is this right vested in every state, to be exercised according to its sovereign will, without the slightest control of any earthly power. It is a great and distinguished attribute of sovereignty-a substantial, sovereign, independent right to designate the man who shall preside over the union.

But, really, sir, I would yet ask, what are the evils which result from this exercise of right by the states? And how does this proposed amendment provide a remedy?

1st. We are told that there is a great want of uniformity in the manner of choosing electors in the several states; that in some, that choice is by districts; in others by general ticket; in others by the legislature.

And pray, Mr. Chairman, who informed the hon. mover of this amendment that this was an evil? Why is uniformity desirable? Of what importance is it to Virginia that New York appoints her electors by the legislature, or to New York that Virginia appoints her electors by general ticket?

But another evil is mentioned the power and influence of the great states. It is said that Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, by obtaining twelve votes from any other state, and adding them to their united suffrage, may elect a president in defiance of all the other states.

But do gentlemen imagine that by this amendment they provide a remedy for this evil? They are utterly mistaken. Against this evil, the constitution originally contained an effectual antidote; it contained a provision, directing the votes to be given indiscriminately for president and vice president, and he who had the greatest number became the chief magistrate.

This secured to the small states the power of defeating the combination of the larger states in favour of any

individual or any state. It also enabled any minority of states to defeat any caucus nomination of any individual. The madness and folly of the small states surrendered that provision to the violence of party.

Another evil has been mentioned-a minority of the people of the Union may now actually elect a chief magistrate.

If this be so, how is a remedy provided by this amendment? This is not the result of the mode in which electors are appointed, but of the existence of electors in our system. So long as an intermediate body of men is interposed between the people and the president, upon the vote of which the election depends, such an event is of course possible. No matter how that intermediate body of men is elected, whether by districts, by general ticket, or the legislatures of the states, so long as it is constituted of members elected in the different states, and so long as it is a body which independently may call any man to the chief magistracy, it may always happen that the voice of the minority of the whole Union may elect the president.

If this be an evil, it results solely from the admission of electors of president into our system. There is no effectual remedy, but to strike from the constitution the office of elector, and vest the election directly in the people. I imagine gentlemen, in all their rage of innovation, are not prepared for a change so radical and dangerous: and when we consider that the case has not yet occurred, nor is likely ever to occur, we need not feel much anxiety to provide barriers against it.

Another evil has furnished a topic for much declamation. We are told, that in some of the states the voice of the minority is entirely unheard in the election of president.

And is not the voice of the minority always ineffectual in every election? There is nothing novel in this. If the states are districted, the minority are in the same predicament. The voice of the minority in each district will never be heard; and thus the mischief, if indeed it be at all a mischief, the same in principle, the same in extent, but varied only in form, would remain in all its force,

The truth is, in every election, no matter what its form, the will of the majority must prevail. Their voice must be victorious in every choice; and that of the minority must be unre. garded. The committee must at once perceive the vanity of any attempt to remove a consequence flowing directly from the nature of every free government, and from the essential principles of representation.

I come now to the last and great complaint-executive interference in the election of a successor. The deformity of a legislative caucus-state intrigues-have been rung in our ears without cessation.

But by what strange course of reasoning have gentlemen brought themselves to the conclusion, that this proposed amendment will prevent the recurrence of these alarming scenes? Vain, and worse than vain, is this effort to restrain a dominant party. Divide the state into districts, will that destroy the caucus? O, no; the men whose interest it may be to preserve the monster, will still protect him. He will laugh at your vain attempts, and again and again, trampling down the weak fences of the constitution, he will, as it shall plcase him, or rather, as it shall please the existing executive, make and unmake presidents with the same ease as did the prætorian cohorts the masters of the Roman world.

Do gentlemen think that districts will be less under the control of a caucus than states? or that states, when districted, will be less subject to his influence than at present? On the contrary, in proportion as you narrow the territory, the intelligence, the wealth, and the integrity upon which that influence is to operate, do you give force and facility to its operations. Do you believe the future candidates, the future secretaries of state, will be destitute of the powers of calculation? They will be able to count the districts secured to their influence, and those that are of doubtful or opposite character. In the latter it will only be necessary to secure a few leading men, and upon them they will bear down with the united influence of a legislative caucus, the patronage of the general government, and the power and intrigues of the state, in which the districts are situated. Can they fail thus to triumph in any district. Let it not be forgotten too, that these districts are to be arranged by the states themselves. Will they fail so to arrange them as to give the most ample facility to all this sinister influence? | With these facts in full view, can gentlemen hope any good from their districting plan?-Will it prevent future caucussing? Will it prevent state intrigue? Will it secure a fair hearing to the voice of the minority in each state? Will it palsy executive influence, or prevent executive interposition? On the contrary, the vilest character of party will be exhibited, in contriving districts to give an undivided party vote. Each district insulated and unsupported, will become the victim of caucus influ. ence, state intrigue, and executive patronage.

Mr. Chairman, the source of all these evils is the practice of legislative caucussing; this practice must cease, and with it the evils will vanish--no amendment of the constitution will effect this desirable object. The constitution now provides that no member of congress shall be qualified to vote for a president. Yet have not the majority of congress expressly violated the spirit of this prohibition? Have they not in truth, by this new invention of caucussing, become electors de facto of the chief magistrate? True, they only “ recommend.”-Sir, let us not be imposed upon by the juggle of names. Do we not know that

recommendation" made in solemn convention, signed by chairman and secretary, is tantamount to an election? Has not experience shown beyond the power of cavil, that when the caucus at Washington decides, the business is substantially done and all that remains is a ceremonious meeting of men chosen and pledged to register in due and constitutional form the mandate of the caucus? The constitution then is violated and if a dominant party in the legislature of the nation can thus openly trample on the charter, and if the delusions of party can prevail on the people to view with applause the proceeding, is it not mere babbling to talk of erecting other constitutional fences to guard the purity of election?

this «


March 30, 1816. The amendment proposed to the constitution of the United States, for establishing an uniform mode of election, by districts, of electors of president and vice president of the United States, and of representatives to congress, being under consideration

Mr. Barbour having stated his idea of a marked difference in principle between the two objects of electing electors and representatives; in which view he was seconded by Mr. Lacock; and Mr. Mason, of New Hampshire, having remarked thereon

Mr. BARBOUR said, that it was essential to the character of a pure representation, that the representative should have a common feeling with his constituents; that he should know their wants and be possessed of their sentiments. Residence is part of the proper character of a representative, who ought not to be placed at such a distance from his constituents, that he can know neither their wants nor their feelings. The case is different with respect to the election of electors, in respect to whom that personal knowledge is not necessary to their constituents. Not, Mr. Barbour said, that he would take the power of electing a president of the United States out of the hands of the people. God forbid, said he, that the power of electing a president of the United States should be lodged in any other hands than those of the people themselves. The whole congress uniting, dictating a nomination, would weigh no more than a feather in the balance against the public will: any dictation in opposition to the public sentiment, would be considered as an outrage on the rights of the people, and justly scouted by them. The man who is chosen an elector knows the sentiments of his constituents, which he is bound to carry with him into the electoral college, and which only it is his duty to express. The people emphatically elect the president; but those selected to express their will, may be chosen by general ticket without violating the representative principle. Mr. Barbour was, therefore, opposed to that part of the proposition before the senate, which embraced the electors of president and vice president. In regard to the inconvenience of laying out states into districts for electing representatives, he said, he could not see the inconveniences suggested, as it would occur but once in ten years. The advantages of an uniformity in the mode of election, he said, was obvious in regard to representatives. It would put down all that manæuvring which would repress the sentiments of the people by a juggle, which, he said, was an inconvenience much greater than the labour of designating the metes and bounds of a district. In consequence of the elections by districts in the large states, and by general ticket in the small states, an undue preponderance had heretofore been given, Mr. Barbour said, to the small states in the councils of the nation. The general ticket for electors had its origin in one of the eastern states, to which we are indebted for many political ideas; it had been received with great opposition indeed, but from selfdefence the southern states had been most of them obliged to follow the example. Under the district system, Pennsylvania exhibited a melancholy spectacle: whilst the small eastern states gave each many votes, the weight of Pennsylvania, great as she is, dwindled down to a solitary vote. Pennsylvania, which should have loomed in the horizon as large as any state in the union, became invisible in consequence of the general ticket being resorted to. To regain her station in the union, she was compelled to follow the example. Virginia, also, obliged by inevitable necessity, arising from the principle of self-preservation requiring her to counterpoise that system which had made its appearance in another quarter of the union, reluctantly

« PreviousContinue »