Page images
PDF
EPUB

REMARKS

IN THE CONVENTION, UPON THE RESOLUTION TO DIVIDE THE

COMMONWEALTH INTO DISTRICTS FOR THE CHOICE OF SENA. TORS ACCORDING TO POPULATION.

I know not, sir, whether it be probable that any opinions or votes of mine are ever likely to be of more permanent importance, than those which I may give in the discharge of my duties in this body. And of the questions which may arise here, I anticipate no one of greater consequence than the present. I ask leave, therefore, to submit a few remarks to the consideration of the committee.

The subject before us, is the manner of constituting the legislative department of government. We have already decided, that the legislative power shall exist as it has heretofore existed, in two separate and distinct branches, a Senate and a llouse of Representatives. We propose also, at least I have heard no intimation of a contrary opinion, that these branches shall, in form, possess a negative on each other. And I presume I may take it for granted, that the members of both these houses are to be chosen annually. The immediate question now under discussion, is, In what manner shall the senators be elected ? They are to be chosen in districts ; but shall they be chosen, in proportion to the number of inhabitants in each district, or in proportion to the taxable property of each district, or, in other words, in proportion to the part which each district bears in the public burdens of the state. The latter is the existing provision of the constitution; and to this I give my support. The proposition of the honorable member from Roxbury, (Mr. Dearborn,) proposes to divide the state into certain legislative districts, and to choose a given number of senators, and a given number of representatives, in each district, in proportion to population. This I understand. It is a simple and plain system. The honorable member from Pittsfield, and the honorable member from Worcester support the first part of this proposition—that is to say, that part which provides for the choice of senators, according to population-without explaining entirely their views, as to the latter part, relative to the choice of representatives. They insist that the questions are distinct, and capable of a separate consideration and decision. I confess myself, sir, unable to view the subject in that light. It seems to me, there is an essential propriety in considering the questions together; and in forming our opinions on the constitution of one, with reference to that of the other. The Legislature is one great machine of government, not two machines; the two Houses are its parts, and its utility will, as it seems to me, depend not merely on the maierials of these parts, or their separate construction, but on their accommodation, also, and adaption to each other. Their balanced and regulated movement, when united, is that which is expected to insure safety to the state; and who can give any opinion on this, without first seeing the construction of both, and considering how they are formed and arranged with respect to their mutual relation.-I cannot imagine, therefore, how the member from Worcester should think it uncandid to inquire of him, since he supports this mode of choosing senators, what mode he proposes for the choice of representatives.

It has been said that the constitution, as it now stands, gives more than an equal and proper number of senators to the county of Suffolk. I hope I may be thought to contend for the general principle, without being influenced by any regard to its local application. I do not inquire whether the senators, whom this principle brings into the government, will come from the county of Suffolk, or from the Housatonic river, or the extremity of Cape Cod. I wish to look only to the principle; and as I believe that to be sound and salutary, I give my vote in favor of maintaining it.

In my opinion, sir, there are two questions before the committee. The first is, , shall the legislative department be constructed with any other check than such as arises simply from dividing the members of this department into two houses? The second is, if such other and further check ought to exist, in what manner shall it be created ?

If the two houses are to be chosen in the manner proposed by the resolutions of the member from Roxbury, there is obviously no other check or control than a division into separate chambers. The members of both houses are to be chosen at the same time, by the same electors, in the same districts, and for the same term of office. They will of course all be actuated by the same feelings and interests.

Whatever motives may at the moment exist to elect particular members of one house, will operate, equally, on the choice of members of the other. There is so little of real utility in this mode, that, if nothing more be done, it would be more expedient to choose all the members of the legislature, without distinction, simply as members of the legislature, and to make the division into two houses, either by lot, or otherwise, after these members thus chosen should have come up to the capital.

I understand the reason of checks and balances, in the legislative power, to arise from the truth, that, in representative governments that department is the leading and predominating power; and if its will may be at any time suddenly and hastily expressed, there is great danger that it may overthrow all other powers.—Legislative bodies naturally feel strong, because they are numerous, and because they consider themselves as the immediate representatives of the people. They depend on public opinion to sustain their measures, and they undoubtedly possess great means of influencing public opinion. With all the guards which can be raised by constitutional provisions, we are not likely to be too well secured against

REMARKS

IN THE CONVENTION, UPON THE RESOLUTION TO DIVIDE THE

COMMONWEALTH INTO DISTRICTS FOR THE CHOICE OF SENA. TORS ACCORDING TO POPULATION.

I know not, sir, whether it be probable that any opinions or votes of mine are ever likely to be of more permanent importance, than those which I may give in the discharge of my duties in this body. And of the questions which may arise here, I anticipate no one of greater consequence than the present. I ask leave, therefore, to submit a few remarks to the consideration of the committee.

The subject before us, is the manner of constituting the legislative department of government. We have already decided, that the legislative power shall exist as it has heretofore existed, in two separate and distinct branches, a Senate and a llouse of Representatives. We propose also, at least I have heard no intimation of a contrary opinion, that these branches shall, in form, possess a negative on each other. And I presume I may take it for granted, that the members of both these houses are to be chosen annually. The immediate question now under discussion, is, In whal manner shall the senators be elected ? They are to be chosen in districts; but shall they be chosen, in proportion to the number of inhabitants in each district, or in proportion to the taxable property of each district, or, in other words, in proportion to the part which each district bears in the public burdens of the state. The latter is the existing provision of the constitution; and to this I give my support. The proposition of the honorable member from Roxbury, (Mr. Dearborn,) proposes to divide the state into certain legislulire districts, and to choose a given number of senators, and a given number of representatives, in each district, in proportion lo population. This I understand. It is a simple and plain system. The honorable member from Pittsfield, and the honorable member from Worcester support the first part of this proposition--that is to say, that part which provides for the choice of senators, according to population--without explaining entirely their views, as to the latter part, relative to the choice of representatives. They insist that the questions are distinct, and capable of a separate consideration and decision. I confess myself, sir, unable to view the subject in that light. It seems to me, there is an essential propriety in considering the questions together; and in forming our opinions on the constitution of one, with reference to that of the other. The Legislature is one great machine of government, not two machines; the two Houses are its parts, and its utili-. ty will, as it seems to me, depend not merely on the materials of these parts, or their separate construction, but on their accommodation, also, and adaption to each other. Their balanced and regulated movement, when united, is that which is expected to insure safety to the state; and who can give any opinion on this, without first seeing the construction of both, and considering how they are formed and arranged with respect to their mutual relation.-I cannot imagine, therefore, how the member from Worcester should think it uncandid to inquire of him, since he supports this mode of choosing senators, what mode he proposes for the choice of representatives.

It has been said that the constitution, as it now stands, gives more than an equal and proper number of senators to the county of Suffolk. I hope I may be thought to contend for the general principle, without being influenced by any regard to its local application. Í do not inquire whether the senators, whom this principle brings into the government, will come from the county of Suffolk, or from the Housatonic river, or the extremity of Cape Cod. I wish to look only to the principle; and as I believe that to be sound and salutary, I give my vote in favor of maintaining it.

In my opinion, sir, there are two questions before the committee. The first is, , shall the legislative department be constructed with any other check than such as arises simply from dividing the members of this department into two houses? The second is, if such other and further check ought to exist, in what manner shall it be created ?

If the two houses are to be chosen in the manner proposed by the resolutions of the member from Roxbury, there is obviously no other check or control than a division into separate chambers. The members of both houses are to be chosen at the same time, by the same electors, in the same districts, and for the same term of office. They will of course all be actuated by the same feelings and interests. Whatever motives may at the moment exist to elect particular members of one house, will operate, equally, on the choice of members of the other. There so little of real utility in this mode, that, if nothing more be done, it would be more expedient to choose all the members of the legislature, without distinction, simply as members of the legislature, and to make the division into two houses, either by lot, or otherwise, after these members thus chosen should have com

up to the capital. I understand the reason of checks and balances, in the legislative power, to arise from the truth, that, in representative governments that department is the leading and predominating power; and if its will may be at any time suddenly and hastily expressed, there is great danger that it may overthrow all other powers.—Legislative bodies naturally feel strong, because they are numerous, and because they consider themselves as the immediate representatives of the people. They depend on public opinion to sustain their measures, and they undoubtedly possess great means of influencing public opinion.

With all the guards which can be raised by constitutional provisions, we are not likely to be too well secured against

cases of improper, or hasty, or intemperate legislation. It may be observed, also, that the executive power, so uniformly the object of jealousy to republics, has become, in the states of this union, deprived of the greatest part both of its importance and its splendor, by the establishment of the general government. While the states possessed the power of making war and peace, and maintained military forces, by their own authority, the power of the state executives was very considerable, and respectable. It might then even be an object, in some cases, of a just and warrantable jealousy. But a great change has been wrought. The care of foreign relations, the maintenance of armies and navies, and their command and control, have devolved on another government. Even the power of appointment, so exclusively, one would think, an executive power, is, in very many of the states, held or controlled by the legislature; that department either making the principal appointments, itself, or else surrounding the chief executive magistrate with a council, of its own election, possessing a negative upon his nominations.

Nor has it been found easy, nor in all cases possible, to preserve the judicial department from the progress of legislative encroachment. Indeed, in some of the states, áll judges are appointed by the legislature; in others, although appointed by the executive, they are removable at the pleasure of the legislature. In all, the provision for their maintenance is necessarily to be made by the legislature. As if Montesquieu had never demonstrated the necessity of separating the departments of governments ; as if Mr. Adams had not done the same thing, with equal ability, and more clearness, in bis defence of the American constitution; as if the sentiments of Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison, were already forgotten: we see, all around us, a tendency to extend the legislative power over the proper sphere of the other departments. And as the legislature, from the very nature of things, is the most powerful department, it becomes necessary to provide, in the mode of forming it, some check, which shall insure deliberation, and caution, in its measures. If all legislative power rested in one house, it is very problematical, whether any proper independence could be given, either to the executive or the judiciary. Experience does not speak encouragingly, on that point. If we look through the several constitutions of the states, we shall perceive that generally the departments are most distinct, and independent, where the legislature is composed of two houses, with equal authority, and mutual checks. If all legislative power be in one popular body, all other power, sooner or later, will he there also. I wish, now,

sir, to correct a most important mistake in the manner in which this question has been stated. It has been said, that we propose to give to property, merely as such, a control over the people, numerically considered. But this I take not to be at all the true nature of the proposition. The Senate is not to be a check on the people, but on the House of Representatires. It is the case of an authority, given to one agent, to check or control the acts of another. The people, having conferred on the House of Representatives powers which are great, and, from their nature, liable to abuse, require, for their own security, another house, which shall possess an

« PreviousContinue »