United States. Congress.

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 172 of 183)
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merce he shall allow. My ohjections to the
bill, therefore, are — first, that it limits the ex-
ercise of the Executive as to the whole embargo,
to particular events, which if they do not occur,
no discretion can be exercised, and let the ne-
cessity of abandoning the measure be, in other
respects, ever so great, the specified events not
occurring, the embargo is absolute at least until
the ensuing session ; next, that if the events do
happen, the whole of the commerce he may in
his discretion set free, is entirely at his mercy ;
the door is opened to every species of favoritism,
personal or local This power may not be
abused ; but it ought not to be trusted. The
true, the only safe ground on which this meas-
ure, during our absence, ought to be placed is,
that which was taken in the year 1794. The
President ought to have authority to take off
the prohibition, whenever, in his judgment, the
public good shall require; not partially, not
under arbitrary bonds and restrictions; but
totally, if at all. I know that this will be rung
in the popular ear, as an unlimited power. Dic-
tatorships, protectorships, "shadows dire will
throng into the memory." But let gentlemen
weigh the real nature of the power I advocafte,
and they will find it not so enormous as it first
appears, and in effect much less than the bill
itself proposes to invest. In the one case he
has the simple and solitary power of raising or
retaining the prohibition, according to his view
of the public good. In the other he is not only
the judge of the events specified in the biU, but
also of the degree of commerce to be permitted,
of the place fi-om which and to which it is to be
allowed ; he is the judge of its nature, and has
the power to impose whatever regulation he
pleases. Surely there can be no question but
that the latter power is of much more magnitude
and more portentous than the former. I solicit
gentlemen to lay aside their prepossessions and
to investigate what the substantial interest of
this country requires ; to consider by what dis-
positions this measure may be made least dan-
gerous to the tranquillity and interests of this
people; and most productive of that peculiar
good, which is avowed to be its object. I ad-
dress not those who deny our constitutional
power to invest a discretion to suspend, but I
address the great majority, who are fidendly to
this bill, who, by adopting it, sanction the con-
stitutionality of the grant of fresh authority to
whom, therefore, the degree of discretion is a
fair question of expediency. In recommending
that a discretion, not limited by events, should
be vested in the Executive, I can have no per-
sonal wish to argument his power. He is no
political friend of mine. I deem it essentia],
both for the tranquillity of the people and
for the success of the measure, that such a
power should be committed to him. Neither
personal nor party feelings shall prevent me
from advocating a measure, in my estimation,
salutary to the most important interests of this
country. It is true that I am among the ear-

liest and the most uniform opponents of the em-
bargo. I have seen nothing to vary my origi-
nal belief, that its policy was equally cruel to
individuals and mischievous to society. As a
weapon to control foreign powers, it seemed to
me dubious in its effect, uncertain in its opera-
tion ; of all possible machinery the most diffi-
cult to set up, and the most expensive to main-
tain. As a mean to preserve our resources,
nothing could, to my mind, be more ill adapted.
The best guarantees of the interest society has
in the wealth of the members which compose it,
are the industry, intelligence, and enterprise of
the individual proprietors, strengthened as they
always are by knowledge of business, and
quickened by that which gives the keenest edge
to human ingenuity — self-interest. When all
the property of a multitude is at hazard, the
simplest and surest way of securing the greatest
portion, is not to limit individual exertion, but
to stimulate it ; not to conceal the nature of the
exposure, but, by giving a full knowledge of
the state of things, to leave the wit of every
proprietor free, to work out the salvation of his
property, according to the opportunities he may
discern. Notwithstanding the decrees of the
belligerents, there appeared to me a field wide
enough to occupy and reward mercantile enter-
prise. If we left commerce at liberty, we might,
according to the fable, lose some of her golden
eg^ ; but if we crushed commerce, the parent
which produced them, with her our future hopes
perished. "Without entering into the particular
details whence these conclusions resulted, it is
enough that they were such as satisfied my
mind as to the duty of opposition to the system,
in its incipient state, and in all the restrictions
which have grown out of it. But the system is
adopted. May it be successful! It is not to
diminish, but to increase the chance of that
success, I urge that a discretion, unlimited by
events, should be vested in the Executive. I
shall rejoice if this great miracle be worked. I
shall congratulate my country, if the experiment
shall prove, that the old world can be control-
led by fear of being excluded from the commerce
of the new. Happy shall I be, if on the other
side of this dark valley of the shadow of death,
through which our commercial hopes are passing,
shall be found regions of future safety andfelicity.
Among all the propositions offered to this
House, no man has suggested that we ought to
rise and leave this embargo until our return,
pressing upon the people, without some power
of suspension vested in the Executive. "Why
this uniformity of opinion? The reason is
obvious ; the greatness of comparison. If the
people were left six months without hope, no
man could anticipate the consequences. All
agree that such an experiment would be unwise
and dangerous. Now, precisely the same rea-
sons which mduoe the majority not to go away
without making some provision for its removal,
on which to feed popular expectation, is conclu-
sive m my mmd that the discretion proposed to be
mvested should not be limited by contmgencies





Suspension of the Embargo.

[H. OF E.

The embargo power, which now holds in its
palsying gripe all the hopes of this nation, is dis-
tinguished ^y two characteristics of material
import, in deciding what control shall be left
over it during our recess. I allude to its great-
ness and its novelty.

As to its greatness, nothing is like it. Every
class of men feels it. Every interest in the na-
tion is affected by it. The merchant, the far-
mer, the planter, the mechanic, the laboring
poor; all, are sinking under its weight. But
there is this peculiar ia it, that there is no
equality in its nature. It is not like taxation,
which raises revenue according to the average
of wealth ; burdening the rich and lettiag the
poor go free. But it presses upon the particu-
lar classes of society, in an inverse ratio to the
capacity of each to bear it. From those who
have much it takes, indeed, something. But
from those who have little, it takes all. For
what hope is left to the industrious poor, when
enterprise, activity, and capital are proscribed
their legitimate exercise ? This power resem-
bles not the mild influences of an intelligent
mind, balancing the interests and condition of
men, and so conducting a complicated machine
as to make inevitable pressure bear upon its
strongest parts. But it is like one of the blind
visitations of nature ; a tornado or a whirlwind.
It sweeps away the weak ; it only strips the
strong. The humble plant, uprooted, is over-
whelmed by the tempest. The oak escapes
with the loss of nothing except its annual
honors. It is true the sheriff does not enter
any man's house to collect a tax from his prop-
erty. But want knocks at his door and pov-
erty thrusts his face into the window. And
what relief can the rich extend ? They sit upon
their heaps and feel them moulding into ruins
under them. The regulations of society forbid
what was once property, to be so any longer.
For property depends on circulation; on ex-
change ; on ideal value. The power of proper-
ty is all relative. It depends not merely upon
opinion here, but upon opinion in other conn-
tries. If it be cut off from its destined market,
much of it is worth nothing, and all of it is
worth infinitely less than when circulation is

This embargo power is therefore of all powers
the most enormous, in the manner in which it
affects the hopes and interests of a nation. But
its magnitude is not more remarkable than its
novelty. An experiment, such as is now mak-
ing, was never before — I wiU. not say tried — ^it
never before entered into the human imagina-
tion. There is nothing like it in the narrations
of history or in the tales of Action. All the
habits of a mighty nation are at once counter-
acted. .All their property depreciated. All
their external connections violated. Five mil-
lions of people are engaged. They cannot go
beyond the limitsof that once free country;
now they are not even permitted to thrust their
own property through the grates. I am not
now questioning its policy, its wisdom, or its

practicability, I am merely stating the fact. And
I ask if such a power as this, thus great, thus no-
vel,thuB interfering with aU the great passions and
interests of a whole people, ought to be left for
six months in operation, without any power of
control, except upon the occurrence of certain
splbifled and arbitrary contingencies? Who
can foretell when the spirit of endurance will
cease ? Who, when the strength of nature shall
outgrow the strength of your bonds ? Or if
they do, who can give a pledge that the patience
of the peo^e will not first be exhausted 3 I
make a supposition, Mr. Chairman — you are a
great physiciar ; you take a hearty, hale man,
in the very pride of health, his young blood aU
active in his veins, and you outstretch him on
a bed ; you stop up all his natural oi-ifices, you
hermetically seal down his pores, so that noth-
ing shall escape outwards, and that all his func-
tions and all his humors shall be turned inward
upon his system. While your patient is labor-
ing in the very crisis of this course of treatment,
you, his physician, take a journey into a far
country, and you say to his attendant, "I have
a great experiment here in process, and a new
one. It is all for the good of the young man,
so do not fail to adhere to it. These are my
directions, and the power with which I invest
you. No attention is to be paid to any inter-
nal symptom which may occur. Let the patient
be convulsed as much as he will, you are to re-
move none of my bandages. But, in case some-
thing external should happen ; if the sky should
fall, and larks should begin to appear, if three
bu'ds of Paradise should fly into the window,
the great purpose of all these sufferings is an-
swered. Then, and then only, have you my
authority to administer relief."

The conduct of such a physician, in such a
case, would not be more extraordinary than
that of this House in the present, should it ad-
journ and limit the discretion of the Executive
to certain specified events arbitrarily anticipa-
ted ; leaving him destitute of the power'to grant
relief should internal symptoms indicate that
nothing else would prevent convulsions. If the
events you specify do not happen, then the
embargo is absolutely fixed until our return. Is
there one among us that has such an enlarged
view of the nature and necessities of this people
as to warrant that such a system can continue
six months longer ? It is a presumption which
no known facts substantiate, and which the
strength and the universality of the passions
such a pressure will set at work in the commu-
nity, render, to say the least, of very dubious
credit. My argument in this part has this pru-
dential truth for its basis : If a great power is
put in motion, affecting great interests, the
power which is left to manage it should be ade-
quate to its controL If the power be not only
great in its nature, but novel in its mode of op-
eration, the superintending power should be
permitted to exercise a wise discretion ; for if
you limit him by contingencies, the experiment
may fail, or its results be unexpected. In either



OF R.]

Sutpenmon of the Embargo.

[Apeil, 1808.

case, nothing but shame or ruin would be our

But I aak the House to view this subject in
relation to the success of this measure, which
the majority have juslily so much at heart.
Which position of invested power is the most
auspicious to a happy issue ?

As soon as this House has risen, what think
you will be the first question every man in this
nation will put to his neighbor ? Will it not
be — " What has Congress done with the em-
bargo ?" Suppose the reply should be — " They
have made no provision. This corroding cancer
is to be left absolutely on the vitals six months
longer." Is there a man Who doubts but that
such a reply would sink the heart of every
owner of property, and of every laborer in the
community ? No man can hesitate. The mag-
nitude of the evU, the certain prospect of so
terrible a calamity thus long protracted, would
itself tend to counteract the continuance of the
measure by the discontent and despair it could
not fail to produce in the great body of the peo-
ple. But suppose in reply to such a question, it
should be said — " The removal of the embargo
depends upon events. France must retrace her
steps. England must apologize and atone for
her insolence. Two of the proudest and most
powerful nations on the globe must truckle for
our favor, or we shall persist in maintaining our
dignified retirement." What then would be
the consequence ? Would not every reflecting
man in the nation set himself at work to calcu-
late the probability of the occurrence of these
events?. If they were likely to happen, the
distress and discontent would be scarcely less
than in the case of absolute certainty for six
months' perpetuation of it. For if the events
do not happen, the embargo is absolute. Such
a state of popular mind all agree is little favor-
able either to perseverance in the measure, or
to its ultimate success. But suppose that the
people should find a discretionary power was
invested in the Executive, to act ak in his judg-
ment, according to circumstances, the public
good should require. Would not such a state
of things have a direct tendency to allay fear, to
tranquillize discontent, and encourage endurance
of siiffering ? Should experience prove that it
is absolutely insupportable, there is a constitu-
tional way of relief. The way of escape is not
wholly closed. The knowledge of this fact
would be alone a support to the people. They
would endure it longer. They would endure
it better. We would be secure of a more cor-
dial co-operation in the measure, as the people
would see they were not whoUy hopeless, in
case the experiment was oppressive. Surely
nothing can be more favorable to its success
than producing such a state of public sentiment.
We are but a young nation. The United
States are scarcely yet hardened into the bone
of manhood. The whole period of our national
existence has been nothing else than a contin-
ued series of prosperity. The miseries of the
Eevolutionary war were but as the pangs of

parturition. The experience of that period was
of a nature not to be veryuseful after our na-
tion had acquired an individual form and a
manly, constitutional stamina. It is to be
feared we have grown giddy with good fortune ;
attributing the greatness of our prosperity to
our own wisdom, rather than to a course of
events, and a guidance over which we had no
influence. It is to be feared that we are now
entering that school of adversity, the first bless-
ing of which is to chastise an overweening con-
ceit of ourselves. A nation mistakes its relar
tive consequence, when itthinks its countenance,
or its intercourse, or its existence, all-important
to the rest of the world. There is scarcely any
people, and none of any weight in the society
of nations, which does not possess within its
own sphere all that is essential to its existence.
An individual who should retire from conversa-
tion with the world for the purpose of taking
vengeance on it for some real or imaginary
wrong, would soon find himself grievously mis-
taken. Notwithstanding the delusions of self-
fiattery, he would certainly be taught that the
world was moving along just as well, after his
dignified retirement, as it did while he inter-
meddled with its concerns. The case of a na-
tion which should maie a similar trial of its
consequence to other nations, would not be
very different from that of such an individnaL
The intercourse of human life has its basis in a
natural reciprocity, which always exists, al-
though the vanity of nations, as well as of indi-
viduals, win often suggest to inflated fancies,
that they give more than they gain in the inter-
change of friendship, of civilities, or of business.
I conjure gentlemen not to commit the nation
upon the objects of this embargo measure, but
by leaving a wise discretion during our absence
with the Executive, neither to admit nor deny
by the terms of our law that its object was to
coerce foreign nations. Such a state of things
is safest for our own honor and the wisest to
secure success for this system of policy.

Mr. Key said he well knew how painful it
was to address gentlemen who had already made
up their minds; but the magnitude of this im-
portant constitutional question compelled him
to trespass for a few moments on the patience
of the House. I shall, said he, confine myself
to the constitutionality of the bill from the
Senate, in hopes that if the House feel the im-
pressions on the subject which I feel, they will
reject it ; or at least word it so, that the power
given to the President shall be constitutional.
I was in hopes, from the talents of the gentle-
men who spoke the other day, that I should
have heard some reply, some attempt made to
defeat the constitutional objections which I
offered to the resolution ; if they did not meet
them with fair argument, that they would at
least have shown what part of the conclusions
which I had drawn were incorrect. Gentlemen
say the argument is not true. They must either
allow my deductions, or show wherein I am in-
correct in drawing them. I call upon the un-



April, 1808.]

Suspension of the Embargo,

[H. OF K.

derstanding of the House, and their attachment
to the constitution, to follow me but for a few
moments, and see whether we can rest the
power contemplated by the biU.

AH the respective Eepresentatives of the
people of the States at large, and the sovereignty
in a political capacity of each State, must con-
cur to enact a law. An honorable gentleman
from Tennessee (Mr. Oampbbil) admitted that
the power to repeal must be co-extensive with
the power to make. If this be admitted, I will
not fail to convince yon that in the manner in
which this law is worded we cannot constitu-
tionally assent to it. What does it propose?
To ^ve the President of the United States
power to repeal an existing law now in force —
upon what? Upon the happening of certain
contingencies in Europe? No; but if those
contingencies when they happen in his judgment
shall render it safe to repeal the law, a discre-
tion is committed to him, upon the happening
of those events, to suspend the law. It is that
discretion to which I object. I do not say it
would be improperly placed at all; but the
power and discretion to judge of the safety of
the United States, is a power legislative in its
nature and effects, and as such, under the con-
stitution, cannot be exercised by one branch of
the Legislature. I pray gentlemen to note the
distinction : that whenever the events happen,
if the President exercise his judgment upon
those events, and suspend the law, it is the ex-
ercise of a legislative power ; the people, by the
constitution of the country, never meant to con-
fide to any one man the power of legislating
for them.

Is the suspension of the law a le^slative act?
Can any man doubt it? It is as much a legis-
lative act as to repeal or make a law ; and the
same power which can give any man a right to
suspend. a law, can give him an equal right to
make a law. I ask if these principles are not
clear and manifest to any one who will consider
them? Is the power to suspend a law a legis-
lative act? Certainly; because it changes the
law to a new rule, of conduct. Tor instance —
the law is in full force ; no ship or vessel can
depart from our ports. That prohibition ceases
and a new rule is established by the suspension
of the law. Hence the suspension of a law, by
repealing an old rule of conduct and establishing
a new one, is unquestionably a legislative act.
If I am correct — and I call upon gentlemen to
show in what respect I am not correct; I call
upon them by argument or reasoning to prove
that the power of suspending a law is not the
power of repealing one — I then beg of you to
lay your hand on the Constitution of the United
States, and say where is the power of confiding
the enaction (repeal and enaction requiring the
same power) of laws to any individual what-
ever? None can be found; andtiU some can
be found, we must recognize it as a sacred truth
that under the constitution none does exist.

I have endeavored to show that it is a legis-
lative power, and my reason for doing so was,

to testify to a gentleman from Massachusetts
(Mr. Quinot) that vrith this explanation I will
give an easy understanding of this question. I
do not say that we cannot give the President
upon certain predicated events a power by
which the embargo may be taken off. Such
may be done. But when it is done, a repeal or
suspension must be the act of the Congress of
the United States, operating upon events or
facts to which the President by his proclama-
tion may give publicity. Very different is this
bin from tlfet ; and from the idea of a gentie-
man who the other day said that the President
was only to judge of the fact. Of what fact?
Not of the happening of the events solely ; for
after they do happen, he is to exercise his ex-
clusive judgment whether it will comport with
the safety of the United States to suspend the

The gentleman does not seem to think that I
draw a fair conclusion. I think the biU does
not restrict the power of the President to sus-
pend the law upon the happening of certain
events. The President is to exercise his sole
judgment, upon the happening of these events,
whether it is consistent with the safety of the
United States to remove the embargo. Is he
bound upon the happening of these events to
take off the embargo ? If not, something more
is to be done. He is to exercise a sound discre-
tion whether the trade of our country may be
safely prosecuted. He is not even then bound
to suspend the whole of the embargo act; but
to suspend the whole or in part, under certain
exceptions or restrictions. Who is to make
these exceptions and restrictions ? The Presi-
dent of the United States. Then when under
this power of suspension, he makes restrictions
to which yon are bound to adhere, does he not
make the suspension a law of the land ? Most
manifestly. If he does, is not the suspension an
actual imposition of new circumstances ? He
exercises a legislative act by the suspension,
and by fixing terms and conditions on which
the commerce of the United States may be
afterwards carried on. In both cases he exer-
cises a legislative not an Executive power..

I said the other day that to give the President of
the United States power to suspend any law, was
equal to giving him power to suspend all laws.
And I ask any gentlemen attached to the con-
stitution, where they wiU find that power. Per
if it be true in part it is true in the whole as to
the power ; though we may not in our discre-
tion confide the exercise of the whole power to
him. Now, I ask wh^ere the constitution gives
us a power to enable him to suspend any law.
Of aU the powers on earth, even were it clear
that we possess it, it ought to be exercised with
the greatest hesitation. It was perhaps the
most dangerous prerogative ever claimed by the
Crown for several centuries in England — the
power of suspending the effects of laws enacted

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 172 of 183)