Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

two bills? Permit me to go to the secretary's cabinet, and I will find many bills which have been rejected. But the reasons, it is said, are entered upon the records of the council. Reasons-reasons, did I say; when Reason searched for reasons in the objections, she could find none. He was unwilling to detract from the reputation of that council. The time will arrive when it will descend to the mansion of rest. Should I (said Mr. L.) survive them, I should not wish to be their biographer. I shall never detract from any merits which they have; nor shall I refrain from uttering any reproaches which they may deserve. They are public agents like myself. Their conduct is placed before the public; and it is for the public to pronounce on their merits or demerits. With regard to the framers of the constitution, he had as great respect for those living as his honourable friend; and those who had departed, he venerated as much as he. I (said Mr. L.) had no father in that Convention: but I had there a friend-a friend whose talents have been conspicuous in every department which he has filled, and whose virtues have preserved for him imperishable fame.

With regard to the exhibition of the fact in relation to the number of laws which have been passed since the adoption of the constitution, it appears that they amount to more than six thousand; one hundred and twenty-four of which have been returned by the council with objections. Of these latter, it appears that seventeen have become laws, notwithstanding the objections. The exhibition of these facts establishes one important position; and it is this, that of six thousand and odd hundred laws, the council of revision have been unable in all that legislation, to put their hands on no more than one hundred and odd laws yet it is said we cannot trust to legislation-we cannot trust the people. And yet, under such circumstances, it is pretended that it is dangerous: to trust to the legislature. Mr. L. had never seen any disposition on the part of the legislature to encroach upon private rights. Now experience, as my honourable friend agrees, and as every man of good sense will agree, is the test of truth. You borrow from the experience of every part of the world, and adopt what is wise, let it come from where it may; and it appears that in a majority of the United States, they have not this qualified negative. If they have, it is in the way which he now proposed. And have these men no expe

rience?

Mr. L. again adverted to Virginia; and will the state of New-York, admitting her to be great, powerful, and populous--will she undartake to say that she has more civilions, better jurists, wiser statesmen than that state? If not, then he said we have the experience of our sister states against this qualified negative. Go to the west. There you find wisdom. These states have been settled from the east, where you all agree that there is more intellect in a given number of the people. Ohio and Tennessee, and all these western states, place this qualified veto on the ground that he did. Had these states, after all their experience, found, as the honourable gentleman from Oneida bas contemplated, so many evils growing out of their system, would they not have amended their constitutions? Sir, you live in a country where a constitution can be as easily altered, as a mechanic can make a garment for an individual. It is not with the constitution of this state, as with that of some countries, where an amendment must be made at the expense of blood. Here an amendment must be made congenial with public sentiment and public applause. Now, have we not come with public sentiment on this subject, and are not some of you already pledged to effect certain amendments; and to what feature of the constitution has the public mind been more firmly directed, than to the council of revision? You have been told that two-thirds of both branches of the legislature should be required to pass a bill, after receiving this negative. What are you about to do; you are transferring this very power to a solitary individual, the chief magistrate of your state; and I agree with my honourable friend from Oneida, strong as his objections are, to blending the three branches of government, I would rather retain the third article to the constitution, tham to give that negative to a single individual, requiring two-thirds of the legislature to pass it after receiving his veto.-And these are my reasons. Will any gentleman be bold enough to say, that a governor of the state is not a partizan

of it? He must be so; the opposite position no man dare take. How did he become chief magistrate of the state? By the voice of the people, in conformity to whose views he is bound to act. Do you believe that a republican government will ever be without party? God forbid. When you have a party in the state who oppose the dominant party from principle, it is a party to be respected and desired, if we wish to preserve the freedom of our state, and of the United States. It is well recollected, what important collisions have grown out of this point, among some of the first statesmen of our country; and in my opinion, in cases of peace or war, two-thirds of both houses of congress should be required to overrule this negative. He again alluded to the principle upon which he said he had started, which was, that all power originated with the people, and should of right be exercised by them. He said, it appeared to him like a solecism, to say the people would assent to measures which would be injurious to their own good-that it should be in the power of a minority to rule a majority. You see, that in our assembly it would require eighty-four members to carry a bill objected to by this power; and will it not be in the power of a chief magistrate, possessing this negative voice, under such circumstances, to get a minority sufficient to defeat the most wholesome bill? These opinions made an impression upon his mind; he did not know whether they would make the same upon the minds of the Convention; if they did, he hoped the amendment would be adopted. We have felt the evils resulting from the power given by the article which we have agreed to expunge from our constitution. We hear of no evils arising from the plan adopted in a large number of our states, and which I now propose as an amendment to the resolution before us. If, after due time, that amendment shall be found to be injurious, let that power which created and is represented by this Convention pass upon it-it is the people that are to pronounce whether it is right or wrong. If my amendment be found correct in the eyes of the people, they will be bold to say so; if they dislike it, they will say so, and the article stands as it has done; because, let us resolve what we may, it does not alter the constitution.-It is the people who are to determine for themselves.

MR. EDWARDS. It is a question of no ordinary magnitude to which our attention has been called, and I should have been much pleased had gentlemen, of maturer age and experience, expressed their sentiments on the subject. But as there appears to be a reluctance on their part to come forward to the discussion, I beg leave to state the views which I entertain respecting it. The question in part is this-what power hereafter shall control the property and liberty of the people of the state of New-York? This, sir, is the plain state of the case, and it has devolved upon us, as the representatives of the people, to say where this controling power shall be lodged. Although I fully accord with my honourable friend from Dutchess (Mr. Livingston) in the sentiment that all power is derived from the people; yet the results to which we arrive are essentially different. It becomes us, in exercising the high trusts that are committed to our charge, to look circumspectly around us, and to reflect that we are acting upon principles that will be operative, perhaps for centuries to come, both in peace and in war, in the shades of tranquillity, and in the agitations of tumult, On this subject we may, perhaps, derive information from the analogies of private life. If, sir, I am about to depart out of the world, and to leave my estate to my children, who will not arrive at maturity for many years to come, what course would prudence dictate, in relation to the disposal of my property? Would not every consideration of propriety lead me to interpose as many checks and balances as possible to guard it from depredation? Let the same cautious vigilance be resorted to on the present occasion. It is not, however, because I am afraid of the people, that I would provide these checks. It is because I fear that the representatives of the people will not be faithful to their trust. If it is taken for granted, that the representatives of the people are always immaculate-if their hearts are always pure, and their judgments unerring, whence does it happen that we are now assembled? Why have we appointed a committee to establish a bill of rights to stand as landmarks to them and our rulers, and to guard against usurpation and encroachment upon the liberties of the people? Do not these acts prove, that the representatives may

sometimes violate their trusts? And that it is sometimes necessary to put a bridle in the mouths of those agents who would overleap their duties? If no check is necessary, whence does it happen, that two branches have been deemed necessary in the legislative department? May not the same argument which we have heard, be applied to the inquiry-are not 1:26 men more competent to judge of the expediency of measures than 32? Why this check on the part of the senate? And this too, by men elected for four years, and acting counter to the sentiments of those who come fresh from their constituents, bearing with them the present sentiments of the people? The answer is easy. In the governor we place a sentinel over our rights to see that these representatives, or agents, perform their duty. If that sentinel gives a false alarm, or abuses his trust, it will soon be in our power to displace him, and transfer his duties to another. And is there any thing aristocratical in this? Or is it not a salutary measure, calculated exclusively for the benefit of the governed? My experience in legislation has not been great, but it has been sufficient to convince me, that men will bring into the chamber of legislation their prejudices and passions, and that these will sometimes betray the nicest honour, and obscure the soundest judgment. Hence it becomes necessary to resort to another tribunal, to correct its imperfection. It is wish legislation as with the administration of justice. It should be not only pure in fact, but unsuspected and satisfactory to the minds of the people. And what can give greater satisfaction to the public than to know, that the doings of its agents have been approved by the chief magistrate? But, sir, there is another consideration of peculiar weight on this question. And here I would recur to the primary principle of a republican government, that the will of the majority should govern, when fairly ascertained and clearly expressed. It is admitted, that under our present system, it is in the power of twenty, over one fourth of the votes, to control both branches of the legislature. But when the governor is constituted a coordinate branch, this event can never happen. He is elected by a majority of the people, and of course through him, every person in the state will possess a voice, and lend a sanction to every law that is passed. It is worthy of remark, that among all the forms of attack which the general government has sustained, the principle which is here engrafted from the federal constitution, has never been objected to. The honourable gentleman fro:n Dutchess (Mr. L.) has referred to those states where no qualified veto exists. If a reference is made to the practice of those states, I think the gentleman will find but little cause for exultation. Where do you find stop-laws? Where those flagrant violations of the constitution, but in the states where this salutary check has not been provided? New-England has been referred to, by my honourable friend, to justify his motion. Sir, the people of New-England are a peculiar people. Descended from the same ancestry-embarked in the same cause-employed in the same pursuits-connected and distinguished by the same habits and associations, they are like a band of brothers, and the laws which are required to govern them are altogether unfitted for the regulation of an incongruous population like ours. I have long been sensible, in common with a large class of the community, that we have too much legislation. It renders the law unstable, and it requires a good lawyer to keep pace with the construction it receives. All that the governor can say, when vested with the powers contemplated by the committee, is-stay your hand. If gentlemen are afraid that we shall not have law enough, let them go to the lawyers' shelves and tables that groan beneath the burden. An erroneous idea seems to have prevailed in relation to the powers and origin of the governor. Who is he? and by whom is he appointed? Does he derive Lis authority from the king of Great Britain? Is he an usurper? If so, let us unite to depose him. But, sir, he is the man of the people-elected by their suffrage, and identified with their interests. He is a watchful sentinel to guard us from evil, and a zealous friend to admonish us of error. Much has been said respecting the necessity of keeping separate the different branches of the government. I yield a cordial acquiescence to the principle. But if we conteat ourselves with parchment regulations-if nothing more effectual is done than to authorise the governor to recommend a reconsideration of the bills that are passed, it is easy to perceive that the weaker power will be trodden down

by the stronger, and that the executive has become a cypher before the representatives of the people. On this, as on all other subjects, however, I have but one object in view. That object is to endeavour that the agents of the public are so guarded, checked, and controled, that the people may lie down and rest in security, with the consciousness that their rights will be protected.

GEN. ROOT. It has been well observed, that it is an important question which is now submitted to the consideration of this Convention. It is important, because it involves the fundamental principles of government; and if, in its consequences, those principles of free government which it embraces, should be hastily trodden under foot, it will be cause for mourning. I say, sir, that if it shall be determined that neither the people nor their representatives have power to decide upon their own actions, it will be cause for mourning.

I have listened, sir, with much attention to the handsome encomium which the honourable gentleman from Oneida (Mr. Platt) has been pleased to bestow upon the council of revision; and I had even travelled with him so far, that I had almost lost sight of the question before the committee.

It has been said, sir, by the honourable gentleman, that of one hundred and twenty-eight bills which have been returned by the council with their objections, only seventeen have finally pessed by the constitutional majority of twothirds. What does this prove? It proves that in seventeen cases out of one hundred and twenty eight, a majority of two-thirds of both branches of the legislature have been of the opinion that the council of revision did not care for the people, or would not listen to their voice. We have been told, that on the return of bills, the legislature have often been unanimous in assenting to the objections which the council have made. What can we infer from this? That a disposition exists in the representatives of the people to acquiesce, whenever their attention is drawn to the unconstitutionality of a bill. It also shews, that it is not necessary to require the assent of two-thirds of the legislature, as is contemplated in the report before the committee, for if the legislature has been incautiously involved in error, they are ready to retract it.-But we are informed of a certain silent, secret operation of the council of revision, which has been extremely beneficial to the public welfare. The annals of the state, sir, and the recollections of gentlemen will show, that the operations of that body have not been altogether of a silent and negative character. Witness the informal amendments of midnight. Witness the various other acts of a positive character, which have aroused the indignation of the people, and made even Felix tremble. The inscription prepared for its tomb is written on the journals; and I am willing to leave it to posterity to weave those garlands which shall decorate its grave. It is gone, sir, and what is its substitute?

It is proposed to refer the powers of the council to the governor; and it seems to be feared that the executive will too far bend to popular opinion. Sir, I deprecate that firmness which grows out of an independence of the popular voice, to oppose the popular will. But before we discuss the manner in which this veto may be exercised, it may be proper to consider in what it consists, and what has been its history and progress. The framers of our constitution had received their education under the system of British government, and with a deep veneration for British law. It is not extraordinary, therefore, that we should find them talking of royal negatives. Indeed, sir, we ascertain indubitable traces of the British constitution throughout the whole of our own. The check here proposed is not positive, but qualified; for the experience of all states has shown the folly of permitting an unqualified veto to reside in any branch of the government. And we find constitutions of the states more perfect, the later the period in which they have been made.-That of Connecticut, which is the last, is in my judgment the most perfect. It has provided, that when a bill has been returned by the governor with his objections, the ayes and noes shall be recorded, and if a majority of both houses adhere to their vote, the bill shall become a law; the governor's objections to the contrary notwithstanding.

But in England, sir, from whence our idea of a negating power seems to be drawn, all laws are supposed to be derived from the king, and are enacted in the name of his most royal majesty. Many reigns intervened after the con

quest, before there was any call of a parliament whatever. At length, by the interposition of the hardy barons, that call was obtained, and thenceforth laws were passed in the name of the king, by the lords spiritual and temporal and his faithful commons-subject, however, to his royal assent.

And why has this branch of the royal prerogative been preserved in England? To protect his majesty's rights from the encroachment of the lords and commons. But to preserve the analogy, and to apply the argument to this country, where it is acknowledged on all hands that the sovereignty resides in the people, this veto should be lodged with them, as they represent majesty, and not in the people's agents, to enable them to defeat the will of their masters. The authority to be given to the governor should be supervisory only; the repose of confidence, not the delegation of power. It should be in the nature of a committee of enrolment, to see that the laws are correctly engrossed. Even in England, sir, there is no such thing as a direct and absolute veto. His majesty is too modest to assume that language; he only says, Rex advisare vult-the king will advise upon it.

The notion of a veto was derived from ancient Rome. It came from the tribunes of the people. After a long struggle between the patricians and plebeians, the latter obtained the power of hindering the passage of any law which the patrician senate should have enacted. The tribunes were the organ of their will, and whenever they thought proper to interpose, they pronounced the veto-I forbid it. And what, sir, is derivable from this authority? That the people, not the rulers, may refuse their sanction to a law which shall injure them. There is no analogy, therefore, of which the gentlemen opposed, can avail themselves, unless they resort to the maxim, that it is expedient to "save the people from their worst enemies-to save them from themselves."

It would seem from the remarks of my honourable friend near me, (Mr. Edwards) that it is necessary for the security of the people, that they should put a bridle into the mouths of their representatives to restrain them. And is it really so, that they require suaffles, and reins, and martingales, to keep them within the path of their duty? No, sir, they are members of their own body, subject to, and affected by, the same laws, and possess a common interest with those who elect them.

But it is said, sir, that if the governor does not possess a sufficient power to thwart the will of the people, his authority will dwindle to a mere shadow. In order, then, to decorate the governor with some of the trappings of royalty, you would deprive the people of one third of their power! You would impoverish them of their rights, to enrich the executive with prerogative; and the people are to be stripped of their privileges, to confer high powers upon the public functionaries!

It was complained of yesterday, and almost admitted by the honourable gentleman from Albany, (Mr. Spencer) that party feelings might enter the chamber of the council of revision. And would not the governor strongly feel the influence of party zeal? Or do gentlemen suppose that he will be less influenced by those considerations, when disconnected from the judiciary? Has not experience shewn, that when a majority of the legislature was against him, but few bills could pass that council; but when he possessed the majority, few were denied? There are those, sir, who are willing to cling to a sinking ship: those who, having nothing to lose, would be willing to advise him to desperate measures; men who, when they had lost all hope, can minister to his moroseness, increased by discomfiture and defeat, and who may justly be called evil advisers. Then this council, and that moroseness, may have a most pernicious effect in the prevention of salutary laws.

It was charged upon the king of England in the declaration of independence, that he had refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good;" and if the same evil advisers continue to surround the executive chair, when the angry passions have survived his popularity, and give the same advice, we cannot but expect the same unfortunate and pernicious results. In all ages, where free governments have existed, those have been found, who would transfer to the minister or executive, more power than was expedient for the good of the people. This tends to perpetuate the aristocracy that

« AnteriorContinuar »