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Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 10 of 194)
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Wednesday, March 22.
Amendment of the Constitution.

The House, on motion of Mr. MoDuffie, again
went into Committee of the Whole on the state
of the Union, Mr. MoLane, of Delaware, in the
chair, on the proposed amendment to the con-

Mr. Mitchell, of South Carolina, would en-
deavor to show, first, that the plan of electing a
President, proposed by his colleague, (Mr. Mo-
Duffie,) was not only more liable to abuse than
the present system,but essentially impracticable.
If his colleague objected to Congressional Cau-
cuses, composed of distinguished persons, re-
sponsible to the people, and high in their confi-
dence — ^whose operations are conducted with all
the publicity and solemnity of Legislative pro-
ceeding — he will, if his resolution be adopted,
expose the people to the machinations of des-
perate intriguers, without character, without
cheek; whose insidious plots will be hatched
and executed with the silence and concealment
of treason. If he objects to the present system,
because, by an arithmetical supposition, it may
be made to appear that a minority may elect a
President, against the will of the majority, (for
no such case was alleged to have existed,) from
the very nature and eflfect of his plan, smaller
minorities will elect to that office persons un-
known to the great body of the electors ; with-
out talent to suggest, without address to effect,
or public confidence to sustain their measures.
If, by the present plan, the constituted authori-
ties are liable to be corrupted, by the proposed,
the poison will be more widely diffused — it will
be carried to the altar and the fireside — it will
work into the blood and the heart of the country.

Mr. M. said, his second ground for opposing
the amendment was, because the present organi-
zation of the electoral system was essentially
calculated to concentrate public opinion on those
who deserve public confidence — ^to elect men
most distinguished for integrity and abilities.
But, if it could be proven that it was not pro-
ductive of this happy result ; if it even failed
every alternate time ; still it was so essential to
the sovereignty of the States, and their sover-
eignty so essential to the liberties of the peo-
ple, that he would feel disposed to retain it.

Mr. M. said, it had been artfully contended,
that, by the adoption of these amendments, the
people would have more power in the election
of President. The fact is not so. By the con-
stitution, as it now stands, the people have a sov-
ereign control over the election of their electors.
They can elect them by general ticket, by dis-
tricts, or by the Legislature. On the contrary,
the plan of his colleague proposed to take from
the people of the States this sovereign power
— ^this unrestrained freedom in the mode of
choosing their Chief Magistrate ; and to say to
them, you shall elect your electors by districts.

Mr.M. said, notwithstanding these convictions,
he would not have trespassed on the committee
if the amendment had not been proposed by one



H. OF R]

Amendment of the Cmetitution.

[March, 1826.

of his colleagues, and he had no reason to be-
lieve that it was in express contradiction to the
■will of the people of South Carolina. The res-
olution to adopt the District System had been,
for ten years, to his knowledge, before that peo-
ple. It had been proposed by three different
States,North Carolina,New Hampshire, and New
Jersey, to three successive Legislatures, of which
he was a member ; and it had been either
evaded, or positively rejected. Even at the last
Bession, the amendments under discussion, he
understood, had been recommended by the Gov-
ernor, in his message, and, when called up, had
been indefinitely postponed. This was the more
remarkable, as the result of the last Presidential
election had operated with unexpected severity
on the feelings of the people.

Mr. M. said he would now recur to his po-
sition — ^that the plan of his colleague to elect a
President was impracticable; that, by it, no
election could be eifeoted. What does he pro-
pose to do? In the first place, he strips the
House of Representatives, and the State Legis-
latures, of all agency in the election. He says to
them, "you are not trustworthy ; you are cor-
ruptible ; you may be tampered with." Cau-
cuses, of all sorts, are proscribed. He then
divides the United States into two hundred and
sixty-one districts, like the squares of a checker-
board ; each district is to elect an elector, and
these electors are to meet, on the same day, in
the capitals of their States, to vote for a Presi-
dent: the electors of Maine at Portland; of
Georgia, at Milledgeville ; of Missouri, at St.
Louis ; and of New York, at Albany. How
can an election be effected in this way ? How
can a majority be united in favor of any one
candidate, by electors at such vast distances,
without the possibility of concert or without
the operation of an intervening body, by which
their views might be previously collected, di-
gested, and ascertained ? What is an election !
It is the common will, arising out of the com-
mon understanding of the electors. How is
this effected ? By communication of ideas, by
interchange of views, by compromise of interests,
by concession of feelings. You must bring the
electors, somehow or other, in contact. By way
of illustration, suppose each of us, on our arrival
at Washington, at the commencement of the
session, had been confined to his chamber, with-
out the possibility of communication, and direct-
ed, with a list of the members in our hands, and
a full knowledge of their characters, to vote for
a Speaker — how long would it be before a ma-
jority of us would unite in favor of one indi-
vidual ? Not until doomsday. But let us as-
semble here as nsual, and how quickly is the
election effected. At the first ballot there would
be three or four candidates ; the highest on the
list might have a very small minority of the
whole; at every successive balloting, he, or
some other, would receive an accession of
strength, from the falling in of those who were
at first averse to him. Notwithstanding this,
his ultimate success would be acquiesced in by

all, and the business of the people would move on
with its usual celerity and advantage. Now,
this is the effect of deliberation, of various and
painful calculations of hope and disappoint-
ment, of concession and equivalents, among the
electors. A Presidential election cannot other-
wise be conducted.

Mr. M. said, that it may be objected, that our
electoral colleges have always voted in this
manner in their respective capitals, and that
they have found no difficulty in electing a Pres-
ident. True ; but this has been owing to the
intervention of the House of Representatives.
The people of the States have been brought
into contact by the deliberations at Washing-
ton. The merits of conspicuous men were
there discussed; their claims to public confi-
dence compared; the political principles, inter-
ests, and prejudices, of the different sections
ascertained and reconciled, and the candidates
selected, and recommended to the qualified
voters of the States. Congress did that which
it was the constitutional duty of the electoral
colleges to have done, but which they were un-
able to do from their distance from each other.
This election has been hitherto effected by Con-
gress and the people of the States. The elec-
toral colleges have done nothing more than
write the votes of the people, and transmit
them to Washington. The Congressional cau-
cus did not arise from the spirit of intrigue,
but from necessity. Had the constitution as^
sembled the electors of the States, and- formed
them into one body, the election would have
been effected by them, and a Congressional
caucus would never have existed. But it is
equally clear, that, without this assemblage of
the electoral colleges, or the intervention of
some general representative body, to educe,
direct, and concentrate public opinion, that the
people, scattered over this immense country,
ignorant of each other's views and interests,
and having, each, views and interests of theb
own, liable to the impositions of a venal press,
and to the arts of ambitious demagogues, will
never harmonize so as to effect an election.
The direct effect of the amendments wiU be to
engender, in every part of the Union, knots of
intriguers, who will divide and distract the
people, and embitter their feelings, and who,
being irresponsible, wiU not care by what
means they effect their ends.

The design of the constitution evidently was,
that the President should be chosen by the
people of the States, in their collective capaci-
ties, as distinct independent communities ; that
the principle of representation was to be ob-
served in the conduct of this election— the
people to vote for electors chosen from them-
selves, in proportion to their numbers, who
were to choose a President ; and on failure of
the_ electors to elect, the States to decide in
their sovereign equal character. Here is no
splitting of communities — ^no warring of mi-
norities against majorities — ^no corrupt and un-
natural alliances between the districts of one



Makch, 1826.]

AmendmeTit of the Consiituiifm,

[H. OF B.

State and those of another, to defeat the will
of their respective societies. The choice of
electors is, like a law of the State, the will of
the majority, which the minority adopt, and
make their own. If the electors of the States
had formed one body, not only would no Con-
gressional caucus have ever existed, but it
would not, once in a century, have ever been
referred to the States in the House of Repre-
sentatives. The real political question is,, can-
not the people elect their President by repre-
sentatives? If they can make laws, here and'
at home — if they can do, what is stiU more im-
portant, change their constitution of Govern-
ment, by representatives, why can they not
choose their President by representatives ? for
what are electors but representatives, chosen,
like them, by the people, from among them-
selves ? Of necessity this must be done : the
omnipotent lama of spcux and mind require it.
If you make it popular, or by districts, you
wiU never effect an election, or it will be inev-
itably effected by self-created representatives,
caucuses, politicians, or what you please to
call them.

Mr. M. said, the inevitable result of the pro-
posed change is not only to multiply candi-
dates, but to bring forward candidates of a dif-
ferent class or order. Instead of having the
great men of the Confederacy, you would have
the great men of the State. The temptation
would be irresistible to ambitious, intriguing
men, who had not the public confidence, and
who were inexperienced in State affairs. A
popular man having the influence of a State, and
knowing that a few additional votes from each of
the adjoining States would give him a plurality
among his competitors, and thus enable him
to appear before the people of the United States
as a candidate for the Presidency, would im-
mediately set to work. He would resort to the
vilest arts of intrigue to accomplish his purpose.
To the leading men he would hold out the al-
lurements of office ; with another class, he would
employ the grossest means of venality and cor-
ruption. He would address himself directly to
the passions. State pride, sectional interest,
would operate in his favor. He would have
infinitely the advantage of a man at a distance,
whose great services and tried virtue would not
be known to the great mass, or if known at all,
would only be felt by their reason. I venture
to say that ten or twelve candidates, with their
attendants and dependents, their herds of petty
officers scattered through the towns, the cities,
and the country, «Scc., &c., would throw the
whole Union into a state of most vicious fer-
mentation. Bribery, perjury, tumultuous dis-
turbances, drunken and gluttonous excesses
such as we have seen take place in our Congres-
sional elections, in the large cities, would pro-
fane the exercise of a right — ^the proudest right
of a freeman — which should only be exercised
with the purest and best feelings. Take an ex-
ample. A small minority of twenty-five or thirty
electoral votes, gives Mr. A., of Illinois, and Mr.

B., of South Carolina, pluralities, and according
to the system of the gentleman, the Senate will
have to present them to the people of the States,
who are to choose one of them as President, by
a vote in mass. What would the good citizens
of Boston say ? Why, I never heard of either of
these candidates in my life — am I compelled to
vote for a man of whom I know nothing ? He
would inquire of his member of Congress, who
would be unable to inform him. He would then
resort to the editor of his newspaper. Mr. Edi-
tor would know all about Mr. A., of Illinois.
He had seen a biographical sketch of him in the
New York Evening Post, taken from the Pitts-
burg Recorder, extracted from the Star of Cin-
cinnati, direct from the Herald of Illinois,
where the candidate lived, which proved that
Mr. A. was one of the wisest and best of men.
And, for fifty dollars, these independent and
patriotic editors would impose on the people of
the United States Grattan's character of the
elder Pitt, as a suitable picture of the virtues and
talents of Mr. A., of Illinois, who might be at
heart a shallow, intriguing feUow, who, by the
basest arts of corruption, had cajoled the elec-
tors of his own and the neighboring States to
give him their votes as President. Could you
prevail on the people of the United States to vote
for him ? Would you be able, to rally a major-
ity in his favor? Would the people of the
States rush to the polls and struggle to lift A.
of Illinois, or B. of South Carolina, to the proud
pre-eminence? But admit Mr. A. should be
elected. What a spectacle ! The Chief Magis-
trate of a Confederacy of twenty-four sovereign
States leaves his retirement on the Wabash for
the capital of the United States. Where are
the breathless crowds — the triumphal arches —
the military displays — the files of village youths
and maids strewing his path with flowers, and
freighting the air with gladsome pseans ! Where
the bursting acclamations, which speak a na-
tion's joy at the promotion of a man to the chief
magistracy who had become sacred in their eyes
by a life of spotless integrity, of inflexible firm-
ness, a virtuons, useful laborer in their service ?
His arrival at Washington is announced. Does
it inspire imiversal confidence ? Does it cahn
anxiety ? Does it harmonize the distractions of
party ? He has now to choose his Cabinet. Is
he capable of selecting those whose firmness,
sagacity, and resource, would assist him in his
difficulties? What would be his embarrass-
ments ! Ignorant of our foreign affairs — of the
finances — of the organization of the army and
navy — ^he would, at every step, have to consult
treaties, statutes, reports, files of manuscript
letters, clerks, sub-clerks, and the very menials
of the Departments.

But, said Mr. M., why are not candidates of
this sort now brought forward — electors meet
in the several States, and are liable to be oper-
ated on ? He would answer, on account of the
agency which the State Legislatures and House
of Representatives have in the election. It is
because the framers of the constitution avoided



H. OF R.]

Amendment of the ComtUution.

[Mabch, 1826.

the principle, whicli the gentleman proposes to
introduce, of vesting the election solely in the
qualified voters — hecause, to complete the act
of election, all branches of the Government
must co-operate— each acts and is acted on —
each controls and is controlled. The State
Legislatures have their check, in directing the
mode of appointing electors — the House of
Representatives its check, in the ultimate de-
cision ; both are responsible to the qualified
voters for the faithful exercise of their powers.
The candidate must present himself to each in
turn. Address on his part, and facility on
theirs, may gain over a sufficient number of the
qualified voters. State pride and sectional in-
terest may overcome the election of contiguous
Legislatures ; but, when he has gone so far, his
work is not yet done. He then has to pass the
inspection of the House of Bepresentatives of
the United States — a tribunal proud, jealous, and
intellectual, which, if subdued at all, must be
subdued by main strength. His pretensions
are there examined — analyzed with the heart-
lessness of anatomical dissection — compared, not
with the merit of those who move in his limit-
ed sphere at home, but with that of men from
every part of the Union, fit for the most com-
plicated affairs, and struggling in a career of ar-
duous competition. It is this organization which
compels the citizen to ascend by the ordinary
steps ; to go through the preparatory initiations.
But what has been the operation of this sys-
tem ? Our Government has existed for thirty-
eight years. "We have had ten Presidential
elections — two of them decided by the House
of Eepresentatives, and six different Presidents.
The gentleman admits that five of these have
been the choice of the people, and the very
best men of the Confederacy ; and a very large
portion of the Union will say that the sixth is
not unworthy of his exalted station. Is not
this conceding every thing? Can a stronger
argument be advanced ? Does he appeal to ex-
perience ? Is it not in our favor ? "What does
he oppose to it ? Theory ! speculation 1 suppo-
sititious oases ! hypothetical reasoning I The
elections have been exposed to all the abuses
which he dreads : combinations of the large
States — ^usurpations of the Legislatures — sup-
pression of minorities by majorities — defeats of
majorities by minorities — caucuses — apolitical
managers — ^patronage of the President — corrup-
tibility of the Representatives. And yet, in five
instances out of six, he tells us, the people have
chosen, and chosen the best men of the Confeder-
acy. What is this but saying that the organiza-
tion of the electoral system is such as to con-
centrate the will of the people on those who de-
serve their confidence ? And has our ship, dur-
ing this period of thirty-six years, coursed
over a summer sea ? "What vicissitudes ? War !
Peace ! the transition from political weakness to
political strength ! Faction dividing the Union,
and exciting the fiercest and most implacable
passions ! The downfall of one party and the rise
of another. The expansion of the Confederacy

from the Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico— from the
Alleghany to the "Western boundary of Missouri!

Mr. M. said, that his colleague was led into
error from the political view which he took of
the people of this country. He appeared to
consider us as having orig^aUy been one nar
tion — that we were afterwards divided into
States — that the State Governments grew out
of, and are subordinate to, the Conjfederate
Government, and that every approach towards
nationality is an approaching of the people of
the States to their natural and perfect condi-
tion. He denied this to be the case. This
Government at "Washington is nothing more
than an excrescence of the sovereign power of
the people of the States — a mere Confederacy —
created as such, and intended to be created as
such ; and where it differs in its action from
Governments of that kind, it is only that it may
be more efficient as a Confederacy — a thing of
necessity — of bargain and sale between the
people of the States, in which each tried to
obtain the best terms they could ; and which
were examined and re-examined, modified and
re-modified, turned and twisted, and finally ex-
pressed, with the cautious, critical, distrusting
precision of an English conveyancer.

Must not this be his principle, when he advo-
cates a theory which takes from the people of
the States, as such, the power and agency
which they have in the Executive branch of
this Government ; which goes to destroy the
responsibility of that great officer to the people
of the States, by making his election depend,
not on them, but on the people of the nation ;
which goes to turn his eye from the few to the
many — ^from the weak to the strong? The
people of South Carolina have a positive politi-
cal power in the election of President, which
creates his responsibility to them — of power
based on fixed principles — of power as certain
as arithmetical relations can make it — of pow-
er as distinct and as distinguishable as the Sa-
vannah River, which divides them from Geor-
gia ; and I hope in God that I may never live to
see the day when they consent to give it up.

This power should be exercised by the States.
The constitution has said so. "Each State
shall appoint electors in such manner as the
Legislature may direct." How can a State ap-
point ? Only in two ways — ^it has but two or-
gans of win and action, the Legislature and the
people. A State is a body politic, (see Vattel,)
which can act only by its Government or citi-
zens. It is like an aggregate corporation — a
bank, which must act by its stockholders, or its
Board of President and Directors. The right
to such a President is a great sovereign right,
which should be exerted according to the will
of the majority, in whom the exercise of the
sovereignty is. Hence the absurdity of the
District System, which divides and apportions
it, and makes the spring of its exercise personal
feelmg. The majority of the people governs
the whole State, makes laws for it, directs its
internal and external policy, and, of course,



March, 1826.]

Amendment of the Constitvtitm.

[H. OF B.

ought to say who shall be that magistrate whose
power most affects these interesting relations.

According to the theory of our constitution,
as explained by the Federalist, the States, and
the people of the States, are represented in the
Executive Government by this organization of
the electoral system ; as the States and the peo-
ple of the States are represented in the Legisla-
ture by the Senate and House of Eepresenta-
tives. I agree entirely with the gentleman
from Massachusetts, (Mr. Evbebtt,) that we
have no right to amend, by destroying a great
radical power of the States. The position star-
tled me at first, as it startled all of us ; but I
see by the prints that it is gaining ground. It
is a wise and profound principle. It is worth
all the splendid and most enviable reputation of
the gentleman. And who would desire to take
from the people of the States this sovereign
right ; who would desire to see the power of
Governments diminished, so necessary to the
existence of this Government, and to the pro-
tection of our liberties ? Suppose the worst —
the most humiliating of all disasters, which
might have taken effect during the late war ;
that an enemy's iieet should sail up the river
Potomac, and surprise and take all the func-
tionaries of this Government, Executive, Leg-
islative, and Judicial. Suppose they should sta-
tion a military force here in our Capitol, and
rear a foreign standard on its dome. This
would effect no revolution. The States pos-
sess a redeeming energy, by which the National
Government would be revived, in all its vigor
and integrity. Each Governor would assemble
his Legislature, and provide for the national ca-
lamity. Things would go on as usual. Forces
would be raised, taxes imposed, justice admin-
istered, property and liberty protected, and, by
an understanding among the States, an election
for the functionaries of this Government would
be had. No anarchy, no change in the distri-
bution of sovereign power. In like manner,
conquest would be impossible. The desolation
and capture of one State would only present to
the victorious foe a phalanx of sovereigns sup-
porting each other, and ready and eager for re-
sistance. But the existence and power of these
Governments are equally necessary to the pro-
tection of our liberties. What restrains this
Legislature within its orbit? What prevents
the enaction and enforcement of laws violating
our liberties? The Federal Court ! The Supreme
Court ! That creature of the Executive — ^that
dependent on the Legislature — ^that co-ordinate
of both, having all their sympathies, their hopes,

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 10 of 194)