Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

is left to be disposed of by the common tribunals of justice, according to the laws of the land, upon an indictment found by a grand jury, and a trial by a jury of peers, before whom the party is to stand for his final deliverance, like his fellow-citizens.

CHAPTER XII.

Elections and Meetings of Congress.

$ 133. We next come to the fourth section of the first article, which treats of the elections and meetings of Congress. The first clause is, ---. The time, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State, by the Legislature thereof. But the Congress may, at any time, by law, make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.” There is great propriety in leaving to the State Legislatures the right, in the first instance, of regulating the times and places of choosing the members of Congress, as every State is thus enabled to consult its own local convenience in the choice ; and it would be difficult to prescribe any uniform time or place of elections, which would, in all possible changes in the situation of the States, be found convenient for all of them. On the other hand, as the ability of the General Government to carry on its own operations depends upon these elections being duly, had, it is plain, that it ought not to be left to the State governments, exclusively, to decide, whether such elections should be had, or not. The maxim of sound political wisdom is, that every governinent ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation. And, therefore, an ulterior and paramount power is reserved to Congress, to make or alter the regulations as to such elections, so as to preserve the efficiency of the General Government. But, inasmuch as the State Legislatures are to elect Senators, the places of their meetings are left to their own discretion, as most ate by name, by the President of the Senate, in the following manner, upon each article, the same being first read by the Secretary of the Senate. “Mr. how say you, is the respondent guilty, or not guilty, of a high crime and misdemeanor, as charged in the article of impeachment ?” Whereupon the member rises in his place, and answers guilty, or not guilty, as his opinion is. If upon no one article, two thirds of the Senate decide, that the party is guilty, he is then entitled to an acquittal, and is declared accordingly to be acquitted by the President of the Senate. If he is convicted of all, or any, of the articles, the Senate then proceed to fix, and declare the proper punishment. The pardoning power of the President does not, as will be presently seen, extend to judgements upon impeachment ; and hence, when once pronounced, they become absolute and irreversible.

$ 132. Having thus gone through the whole subject of impeachments, it only remains to observe, that a close survey of the system, unless we are egregiously deceived, will completely demonstrate the wisdom of the arrangements made in every part of it. The jurisdiction to impeach is placed, where it should be, in the possession and power of the immediate representatives of the people. The trial is before a body of great dignity, and ability, and independence, possessing the requisite knowledge and firmness to act with vigor, and to decide with impartiality upon the charges. The persons subjected to the trial are officers of the national government; and the offences are such, as may affect the rights, duties, and relations of the party accused, to the public in his political or official character, either directly or remotely. The general rules of law and evidence, applicable to common trials, are interposed, to protect the party against the exercise of wanton oppression, and arbitrary power. And the final judgement is confined to a removal from, and disqualification for, office ; thus limiting the punishment to such modes of redress, as are peculiarly fit for a political tribunal to administer, and as will secure the pubis left to be disposed of by the common tribunals of justice, according to the laws of the land, upon an indictment found by a grand jury, and a trial by a jury of peers, before whom the party is to stand for his final deliverance, like his fellow-citizens.

CHAPTER XII.

Elections and Meetings of Congress.

$ 133. We next come to the fourth section of the first article, which treats of the elections and meetings of Congress. The first clause is,--The time, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State, by the Legislature thereof. But the Congress may, at any time, by law, make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.” There is great propriety in leaving to the State Legislatures the right, in the first instance, of regulating the times and places of choosing the members of Congress, as every State is thus enabled to consult its own local convenience in the choice ; and it would be difficult to prescribe any uniform time or place of elections, which would, in all possible changes in the situation of the States, be found convenient for all of them. On the other hand, as the ability of the General Government to carry on its own operations depends upon these elections being duly had, it is plain, that it ought not to be left to the State governments, exclusively, to decide, whether such elections should be had, or not. The maxim of sound political wisdom is, that every governinent ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation. And, therefore, an ulterior and paramount power is reserved to Congress, to make or alter the regulations as to such elections, so as to preserve the efficiency of the General Government. But, inasmuch as the State Legislatures are to elect Senators, the places of their meetings are left to their own discretion, as most

fit to be decided by themselves, with reference to their ordinary duties and convenience. But Congress may still prescribe the times, at which such elections shall be made.

§ 134. The next clause is, —" The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year; and such meeting shall be on the first Monday of December, unless they shall, by law, appoint a different day.” The importance of this provision can scarcely be overrated by a free people, accustomed to know their rights, and jealous in the maintenance of them. Unless some time were prescribed for the regular meetings of Congress, they would depend upon the good will and pleasure of Congress itself, or of some other department of the government. In times of violent factions, or military usurpations, attempts might be made to postpone such meetings for an unreasonable length of time, in order to prevent the redress of grievances, or secure the violators of the laws from condign punishment. Annual meetings of the legislature have long been deemed, both in England and America, a great security to liberty and justice; and it was true wisdom to establish the duty of such annual meetings, by a political provision in the Constitution, which could not be evaded or disobeyed.

CHAPTER XIII.

Powers and Privileges of both Houses.

§ 135. The fifth section of the first article contains an enumeration of the powers, rights, and duties of each branch of the Legislature, in its separate and distinct organic character. The first clause is, " Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications, of its own members; and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business ; but a smaller number may adjourn, from day to day, and may be authorized

manner, and under such penalties, as each House may provide.”

$ 136. These powers are common to all the legislative bodies of the States ; and, indeed, to those of other free governments. They seem indispensable to the due independence and efficiency of the body. The power to judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications, of the members of each House, must be lodged somewhere ; for otherwise, any intruder, or usurper, might assume to be a member. It can be safely lodged in no other body, but that, in which the party claims a seat ; for otherwise, its independence, its purity, and even its existence, might be under the control of a foreign authority. It is equally important, that a proper quorum for the despatch of business should be fixed, otherwise a cunning, or industrious, minority might, by stratagem, usurp the functions of the majority, and pass laws at their pleasure. On the other hand, if a smaller number were not authorized to adjourn from day to day, or to compel the attendance of other members, all legislation might be suspended at the pleasure of the absentees, and the Legislature itself be virtually dissolved.

$ 137. The next clause is,—Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.” These powers, also, are usually granted to legislative bodies. If they did not exist, it would be utterly impracticable to transact the business of the nation at all, or at least, to transact it with decency, deliberation, and order. Without rules, no public body can suitably perform its functions. If rules are made, they are mere nullities, unless the persons on whom they are to operate, can be compelled to obey them. But, if an unlimited power to punish, even to the extent of expulsion, existed, it might, in factious times, be applied by a domineering majority, to get rid of the most intelligent, virtuous, and efficient of their opponents. There is, therefore, a check interposed, which requires a concurrence of two thirds to expel; and this number can hard

« AnteriorContinuar »