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SPEECH OF ROBERT G. HARPER.
CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT
AND SENATE RELATIVE TO THE APPOINTMENT
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE
UNITED STATES, MARCH 2, 1798.
A Resolution had been introduced, which, among other provisions,
proposed to limit to forty thousand dollars, the annual appropriation“ for the support of such persons, as the President should commission to serve the United States in foreign parts.” An amendment was brought forward, the object of which was to restrict the President in the exercise of the power of appointing Ministers Plenipotentiary. It proposed to limit the number of Ministers to two; viz. one at London, and one at Paris. The amend
ment was subsequently modified so as to allow one also at Madrid. In Committee of the whole, Mr. Harper spoke as follows :
It was my wish and my hope, Mr. Chairman, when this business was again called up some days ago, after an intermission of three weeks or more, that we should at length be permitted to come to a decision, without further debate, on a question which had so long occupied the attention of the House, and already perhaps exhausted the patience of the public. I and those, with whom I think on this occasion, were willing, for the sake of an early decision, to pass by unanswered many things, which though susceptible, in our opinion, of an easy refutation, were calculated to make an impression to our disadvantage. We were even content to leave unnoticed the violent philippic of the gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Nicholas,) who intro
duced this motion, and who, in support of it, has allowed himself so great a latitude of invective against its opposers and their adherents. We therefore
repeatedly called for the question, and did all in our power to close a debate, in which such immoderate use had already been made of the indulgence of the House.
But it did not so seem good to the gentleman from Pennsylvania. (Mr. Gallatin.) He yesterday pronounced a discourse of three hours and a half long, in which he repeated assertions formerly refuted, and made them the ground of a long train of reasoning; and advanced many new positions equally untenable, but equally capable, if left undetected and unexposed, of misleading the mind. These assertions, which the gentleman from Pennsylvania has not attempted to prove, though they are the ground-work of all his reasonings, were advanced with a boldness which nothing but a belief, that he was to remain unanswered, could have produced. His speech, when prepared in his closet, was evidently intended for a concluding speech; and hence he has laid down positions, which he knew to be unfounded, with a boldness of which even he himself has heretofore exhibited no example. On these positions he has built a gigantic structure of argument, to support the present motion; a structure which, like a vast edifice resting on loose blocks must fall and crumble in the dust, as soon as some person shall take the trouble to discover and knock away its frail and temporary props.
It is for this purpose that I now rise, once more to trespass on the indulgence of the committee. The loose blocks, which support this edifice, I mean to knock away; an operation which requires neither strength nor skill, which may be performed by any person who stands near enough to discover the defect: and then it will be seen, with what speedy ruin a structure so large, and appearing so solid, when viewed from a distance, will tumble to the earth.
[Here Mr. Harper made some observations, which.
as they were not immediately connected with the subject of discussion, are omitted.]
That gentleman, (Mr. Gallatin,) prefaced his observations by declaring, that the amendment under consideration went no further than to reduce the salaries of certain ministers plenipotentiary, from nine thousand to four thousand, five hundred dollars; but unfortunately, he forgot his tenet before he arrived at the middle of his speech: for he soon confessed, that the object of the amendment was to restrain and control the executive in the exercise of the power of appointing foreign ministers, which is vested in it by the constitution; and having made this acknowledgment, so contradictory to his first position, the gentleman from Pennsylvania proceeded to show, by the utmost exertion of his powers, that it was right and proper for the House thus to interfere, thus to control the executive, and to use its power over appropriations for effecting that purpose. Indeed the gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Nicholas,) at the outset of the business, expressly stated this to be the sole object of his amendment. With a candor and openness, characteristic of his usual conduct, he avowed that his object was not to save money, but to restrict the President in the exercise of this power. He told us, that the diplomatic corps had been improperly increased; that the number of ministers had been improperly extended; that there was danger of a further extension, by which a dangerous executive influence in the House was likely to be produced; and that it was right for the House to interfere, prevent this extension, and bring back the establishment to its original limits; and this he stated to be the object of his amendment. Hence then, Mr. Chairman, it is manifest, not only from the arguments of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, but from the express declaration of the mover of this amendment himself, that the question now agitated is a question of power, and not a question of money. It is manifestly not a question to know whether a minister plenipoteu
tiary shall have this, that, or the other salary, but whether this House shall direct the President where he shall appoint ministers plenipotentiary, where ministers resident, and where no ministers at all. The question goes this whole length; for if the House can say, as the amendment declares it can and ought, that no minister plenipotentiary is necessary at Lisbon or Berlin, it can say with the same propriety and on the same principles, that no minister plenipotentiary is necessary at London, Paris, or Madrid, or that no minister is necessary any where. .
That such is the object of the amendment, that the question between us is a question of power, and not of money, is further evident, from the mode of
argument by which the amendment is supported. Gentlemen do not pretend that nine thousand dollars is too much for a minister plenipotentiary at Lisbon or Berlin ; on that ground we should cheerfully meet them, and agree to a reduction of the salary, if it should appear to be too high : but they tell us, and attempt to prove, that there is no need of a minister plenipotentiary at Lisbon or Berlin. In answer, we allege, that by the constitution, the President and senate are solely authorized to judge where ministers of this, that, or the other grade ought to be employed, and that this House has nothing to do with the business, but fix their salaries, which it is bound to do in a suitable manner. This gentlemen deny; and thus the question of power, the sole question which has been agitated, or is considered as of ány importance, arises between us. Í
say, “ the only question which is considered as important;" because the supporters of the amendment have laid no stress whatsoever on the question of expense. They have, on the contrary, shown themselves ready to abandon it, for the sake of gaining the least additional chance of support in the great question; the question of power. This is manifest from the motion of the gentleman from Maryland, (Mr. S. Smith,) which was immediately agreed to by the mover of the amend
ment. By the amendment, as first proposed, ministers plenipotentiary were to be allowed only at London and Paris. The gentleman from Maryland proposed to allow one at Madrid also, because he had observed that the impropriety of recalling our minister from that court had been particularly insisted on, by some who opposed the amendment. The gentleman from Virginia immediately consented to modify his amendment, so as to leave a minister plenipotentiary at Madrid. From which it would appear most evidently, if we did not know it before, that gentlemen care not how many ministers plenipotentiary there are, nor how much money is spent in maintaining them, provided the House of Representatives can obtain the power of controlling and directing the appointment. It is to obtain this power, and not to save public money, that gentlemen struggle; and provided the principle can but be established, they are content to have ministers plenipotentiary as many as any body pleases; for they know that the principle may be as completely established in the case of one minister, as by turning out the whole diplomatic corps.
And notwithstanding all this, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Gallatin,) tells us, that this is merely a question about salaries, a question of saving nine thousand dollars, and wonders how it could lead to a controversy, about the constitutional powers of the President and the House! This proves that the gen. tleman from Pennsylvania intended his speech for a concluding speech; or that he entertains a most contemptuous opinion of the understanding of the House.
I shall therefore, Mr. Chairman, consider this amendment as having for its object, and its sole object too, the establishment of this principle : “ that the House of Representatives, by its power over appropriations, has a right to control and direct the executive, in the appointment of foreign ministers." I shall treat the question, which arises upon this amendment, as a question of power, between this House and the President