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SPEECH OF GEORGE POINDEXTER,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE
UNITED STATES, JANUARY 14, 1811,
On the passage of the bill to enable the people of the territory of
Orleans, to form a constitution and state government; and for the admission of such state into the union.
MR. SPEAKER, It is with extreme reluctance that I claim the indulgence of the House, to participate in the discussion of the subject now under consideration. I should deem it, not only useless, but inexcusable to trespass on your time, and delay the final question on the passage of the bill before you, but for the novel and extraordinary aspect which has been given to the debate by an honorable gentleman from Massachusetts, (Mr. Quincy.) The tendency of the remarks, made by that gentleman, is manifestly hostile to the best interests of the nation, and calculated to excite, so far as their influence extends, a spirit of revolt among the people of the United States. I cannot, therefore, forbear to enter my protest, in the only form* constitutionally provided for the peculiar situation which I occupy on this floor, against the establishment of principles fraught with such disastrous consequences. But, sir, as various objections have been made to the passage of the bill, and as I profess to be friendly to its general objects, I shall endeavor to give some of these objections a concise examination, before I proceed to notice the observations of the gentleman from Massachusetts.
* Mr. Poindexter was a delegate, and consequently could not rote, although he could participate in the debate.--COMPILER.
[Mr. Poindexter here replied to numerous arguments which had been urged against the passage of the bill; after which, he proceeded as follows.]
Permit me, now, sir, to call the attention of the House to the argument of the gentleman from Massachusetts. We are told by that gentleman, that the provisions of this bill are in direct hostility to the constitution, and materially affect the rights and liberties of the whole people of the United States. That the creation of new states or “ political sovereignties” without the original limits of the United States, is a usurpation of power not warranted by a sound construction of the constitution. In the consideration of this subject, two questions arise; first, whether the United States can acquire foreign territory, and by what means; and whether the territory so acquired can be admitted into the union as an independent state? By the fourth article of the constitution, Congress are authorized, “ to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory of the United States." This provision contains an express recognition of the right, not only to possess territory, but to dispose of and regulate it in any manner which Congress may think consistent with the general good. If, then, the power to hold territory, and to regulate it without limitation, is expressly given to the general government, the right to acquire it follows as an indispensable attribute of sovereignty. And this opinion is supported by the enumeration of powers given to Congress in the constitution. A nation can extend its territorial limits either by conquest or treaty. If in the prosecution of a just and legitimate war, or by a fair and bona fide contract, one nation acquires the possession of territory which originally belonged to another, it becomes incorporated with the domain of the power to whom it is thus transferred, and cannot be distinguished from any other portion of territory over which the sovereign authority of the nation extends.
By the eighth section of the first article of the con
stitution, the power is given to Congress “ to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;" and by the second section of the second article, the President, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, is vested with power “ to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur." From these grants of power in the constitution, it is manifest that the United States can, without a violation of that instrument, acquire and hold foreign territory. The authority to dispose of and the means of acquiring territory, being exclusively confided to the general government, and prohibited to the states, it would require clear and distinct negative expressions to confine that power within any particular geographical limits. The constitution contains no prohibition of the right to acquire territory, either by war or compact, but the latter alternative has been adopted by this government, whose policy is founded in justice, and whose object
Having shown that the United States possess, constitutionally, the power and the means of obtaining foreign territory, the only point which remains to be discussed is, whether new states may be created without the ancient limits of the United States. In the investigation of this part of the subject, it will be proper to take a cursory view of the treaty-making power, and of the convention between the United States and France, of the 30th of April, 1803 It is a universal principle in all governments, whether their form be despotic or free, to vest the chief executive magistrate, in some shape or other, with the sole power of entering in. to pacts, treaties and conventions with foreign nations; and although the concurrence of co-ordinate departments of the government may be necessary to give validity to the act of the executive, in no instance can a treaty be formed without his assent. The national security against the abuse of this power, consists in the solicitude which each feels to make the best bar
gain for the people over whom his authority extends. In England, says Sir William Blackstone, 6 it is the king's prerogative to make treaties, leagues and alliances with foreign states and princes. For it is, by the law of nations, essential to the goodness of a league, that it be made by the sovereign power, and then it is binding on the whole community; and in England the sovereign power quo ad hoc is vested in the person of the king. Whatever contracts, therefore, he engages in, no other power in the kingdom can legally delay, resist, or annu). And yet, lest this plenitude of authority should be abused to the detriment of the public, the constitution, (as was hinted before,) hath here interposed a check, by the means of parliamentary impeachment, for the punishment of such ministers as from criminal motives advise or conclude any treaty which shall afterwards be judged to derogate from the honor and interest of the nation." But, says the gentleman from Massachusetts, “ suppose that monarch should make a treaty, stipulating that Hanover or Hindostan should have a right of representation on the floor of parliament, would such a treaty be binding ?” The obvious reply to this farfetched interrogatory is, that, if these countries formed a part of the British dominions, the necessary statutes to carry such a stipulation into effect would make it obligatory on the British nation, and no power in the kingdom could“ legally delay, resist, or annul it.” There is nothing in the British constitution to control the treaty-making power of that country, and therefore the king may properly contract for the extension of civil and political rights. The constitution of the United States is more guarded in this particular. The treaty-making power is composed of the President and two thirds of the senators present; and whenever appropriations of money are necessary to carry a treaty into effect, the immediate representatives of the people have a salutary check on the other two branches.
This wise and judicious distribution of power, forms an impenetrable bulwark around the liberties of the American people. If, from accident or design, the President should enter into engagements with a foreign nation incompatible with the general principles or express provisions of the constitution, the interposition of the other departments will afford a seasonable corrective to such a dereliction of duty. It is, however, to be presumed, that in all our transactions with foreign countries, the influence of national attachments will induce the executive councils to promote, as far as possible, the welfare of the United States. It would, indeed, be a novelty in political history, that an individual, who is raised by the voluntary suffrages of his fellow-citizens to the first office in their gift, should prostrate their rights and his power at the feet of a foreign prince. Gratitude, personal respect, love of power, and, in short, every motive which can actuate the human mind, operate to produce a different result. These are the only restrictions which have been thought, by the founders of the constitution, essential to guard against the encroachments of the treaty-making power in this country. The enumeration in the constitution, which defines the powers of the respective departments, was not intended to apply to treaties and conventions entered into with foreign nations. It would have been unreasonable to have attempted a specification of all the cases in which external regulations would, from time to time, become expedient and necessary. No human being could foresee all the contingencies that might occur in the practical operation of the government, which require the interposition of the treaty-making power. I therefore contend, that a treaty, once ratified by each co-ordinate department of the government, becomes the supreme law of the land, and is as binding on this House as an article in the constitution itself. To illustrate this position beyond the reach of contradiction, and to give to reason the aid of an ex