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NEW YORK, MARCH 21, 1788.
THE SAME VIEW CONTINUED, IN RELATION TO THE PROVISION
CONCERNING SUPPORT, AND THE POWER OF THE NEGATIVE.
The third ingredient towards constituting the vigour of the executivo authority, is an adequate provision for its support. It is evident that, without proper attention to this article, the separation of the executive from the legislative department, would be merely nominal and nugatory. The legislature, with a discretionary power over the salary and emoluments of the chief magistrate, could render him as obsequious to their will, as they might think proper to make him. They might, in most cases, either reduce him by famine, or tempt him by largesses, to surrender at discretion his judgment to their inclinations. These expressions, taken in all the latitude of the terms, would no doubt convey more than is intended. There are men who could neither be distressed, nor won, into a sacrifice of their duty; but this stern virtue is the growth of: few soils : And in the main it will be found, that a power over a man's support, is a power over his will. If it were necessary to confirm so plain a truth by facts, examples would not bo wanting, cven in this country, of the intimidation or seduction
of the executive by the terrors, or allurements, of the pecuniary arrangements of the legislative body.
It is not easy, therefore, to commend too highly the judicious attention which has been paid to this subject in the proposed constitution. It is there provided, that “The president of the United States shall at stated times receive for his service a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished, during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them.” It is impossible to imagine any provision which would have been more eligible than this. The legislature, on the appointment of a president, is once for all to declare what shall be the compensation for his services during the time for which he shall have been elected. This done, they will have no power to alter it either by increase or diminution, till a new period of service by a new election commences. They can neither weaken his fortitude by operating upon his necessities, nor corrupt his integrity by appealing to his avarice. Neither the union, nor any of its members, will be at liberty to give, nor will he be at liberty to receive, any other emolument, than that which may have been determined by the first act. He can of course have no pecuniary inducement to renounce or desert the independence intended for him by the constitution.
The last of the requisites to energy, which have been enumerated, is competent powers. Let us proceed to consider those which are proposed to be vested in the president of the United States.
The first thing that offers itself to our observation, is the qualified nogative of the president upon the acts or resolutious of the two houses of the legislature; or, in other words, his power of returning all bills with objections, which will have the effect of preventing their becoming laws, unless they should afterwards be ratified by two-thirds of each of the component members of the legislative body.
The propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon
the rights, and to absorb the powers, of the other departments, has been already more than once suggested; the insufficiency of a mere parchment delineation of the boundaries of each, has also been remarked upon; and the necessity of furnishing each with constitutional arms for its own defence, has been inferred and proved. From these clear and indubitable principles results the propriety of a negative, either absolute or qualified, in the executive, upon the acts of the legislative branches. Without the one or the other, the former would be absolutely unable to defend himself against the depredations of the latter. He might gradually be stripped of his authorities by successive resolutions, or annihilated by a single vote. And in the one mode or the other, the legislative and executive powers might speedily come to be blended in the same hands. If even no propensity had ever discovered itself in the legislative body, to invade the rigbts of the executive, the rules of
just reasoning and theoretio propriety would of themselves : teach us, that the one ought not to be left at the mercy of the
other, but ought to possess a constitutional and effectual power of self-defence.
But the power in question has a further use. It not only serves as a shield to the executive, but it furnishes an additional security against the enaction of improper laws. It establishes a salutary check upon the legislative body, calculated to guard the community against the effects of faction, precipitancy, or of any impulse unfriendly to the public good, which may happen to influence a majority of that body.
The propriety of a negative has, upon some occasions, been combatted by an observation, that it was not to be presumed a single man would possess more virtue or wisdom than a number of men; and that, unless this prosumption should be entertainod, it would be improper to give the executive magistrate any species of control over the legislative body.
But this observation, when examined, will appear rather specious than solid. The propriety of the thing does not turn apon the supposition of superior wisdom or virtue in the execu
tive; but upon the supposition, that the legislative will not be infallible; that the love of power may sometimes betray it into a disposition to encroach upon the rights of the other members of the government; that a spirit of faction, may sometimes pervert its deliberations; that impressions of the moment may sometimes hurry it into measures which itself, on mature reflection, would condemn. The primary inducement to confurring the power in question upon the executive, is to enable him to defend himself; the secondary, is to increase the chances in favour of the community against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence, or design. The oftener & measuro is brought under examination, the greater the diversity in the situations of those who are to examine it, the less must be the danger of those errors which flow from want of duo doliberation, or of those misteps which proceed from the contagion of some common passion or interest. It is far less probablo, that culpable views of any kind should infect all the parts of the government at the same moment, and in relation to the same object, than that they should by turns govern and mislead every one of them.
It may perhaps be said, that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones; and may be used to the one purpose as well as to the other. But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws, which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments. They will consider every institution calculated to restrain the excess of law-making, and to keep things in the samo stato in which they may happen to be at any given period, as much more likely to do good than harm; because it is favourable to greator stability in tho system of legislation. The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a num. ber of bad ones.
Nor is this all. The superior weight and influence of the legislativo body in a free government, and the hazard to the
executive in a trial of strength with that body, afford a satisfactory security, that the negative would generally be employed with great caution; and that, in its exercise, there would oftener be room for a charge of timidity than of rashness. A king of Great Britain, with all his train of sovereign attributes, and with all the influence he draws from a thousand sources, would, at this day, hesitate to put a negative upon the joint resolutions of the two houses of parliament. He would not fail to exert the utmost resources of that influence to strangle a measure disagreeable to him, in its progress to the throne, to avoid being reduced to the dilemma of permitting it to take effect, or of risking the displeasure of the nation, by an opposition to the sense of the legislative body. Nor is it probable, that he would ultimatoly vonturo to exort his prorogativo, but in a case of manifest propriety, or extreme necessity. All well-informed men in that kingdom will accede to the justness of this remark. A very considerable poriod has elapsed since the negative of the crown has been exercised.
If a magistrate, so powerful, and so well fortified, as a British monarch, would have scruples about the exercise of the power under consideration, how much greater caution may be reasonably expected in a president of the United States, cloathed, for the short period of four years, with the executive authority of a government wholly and purely republican?
It is evident, that there would be greater danger of his not using his power when necessary, than of his using it too often, : or too much. An argument, indeed, against its expediency, has been drawn from this very source. It has been represented, on this account, as a power odious in appearance, useless in practice. But it will not follow, that because it might rarely, it would never be exercised. In the case for which it is chiefly designed, that of an immediate attack upon the constitutional rights of the executive, or in a case in which the public good was evidently and palpably sacrificed, a man of tolerable firm. nons would avail himself of his constitutional means of defence, and would listen to the admonitions of duty and responsibility.