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son, or operate in the nature of a cessio bonorum, or a surrender of all the debtor's property, provided such laws do not discharge, or intermeddle with, the obligation of contracts. Nor is it denied, that insolvent laws, which discharge the obligation of contracts, made antecedently to their passage, are unconstitutional. But the question is, how far the States may constitutionally pass insolvent laws, which shall operate upon, and discharge contracts, which are made subsequently to their passage. After the most ample argument, it has at length been settled, by a majority of the Supreme Court, that the States may constitutionally pass such laws operating upon future contracts, although not upon past.
$ 247. The remaining prohibition is, to “grant any title of nobility,” which is supported by the same reasoning as that already suggested, in considering the like probibition upon the National Government.
$ 248. The next clause, omitting the prohibition (already cited) to lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, is, “No State shall, without the consent of Con. gress, lay any duty on tonnage ; keep troops, or ships of war, in time of peace; enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign power ; or engage in war unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger, as will not admit of delay.” That part, which respects tonnage duties, has been already considered. The other parts have the same general policy in view, which dictated the preceding restraints upon State power. To allow the States to keep troops, or ships of war, in time of peace, might be hazardous to the public peace or safety, or compel the National Government to keep up an expensive corresponding force. To allow the States to enter into agreements with each other, or with foreign nations, might lead to mischievous combinations, injurious to the general interests, and bind them into confederacies of a geographical or sectional character. To allow the States to engage in war, unless compelled so to do in self-defence and upon sudden emergen. cies, would be (as has been already stated) to put the peace and safety of all the States in the power and dis
cretion of any one of them. But an absolute prohibition of all these powers might, in certain exigencies, be inexpedient, and even mischievous ; and, therefore, Congress may, by their consent, authorize the exercise of any of them, whenever, in their judgement, the public good shall require it.
§ 249. We have thus passed through the positive prohibitions introduced upon the powers of the States. It will be observed, that they divide themselves into two classes ; those, which are political in their character, as an exercise of sovereignty ; and those, which more especially regard the private rights of individuals. In the latter, the prohibition is absolute and universal. In the forrner, it is sometimes absolute, and sometimes subjected to the consent of Congress. It will, at once, be perceived, how full of difficulty and delicacy the task was, to reconcile the jealous tenacity of the States over their own sovereignty, with the permanent security of the National Government, and the inviolability of private rights. The task has been accomplished with eminent success. If every thing has not been accomplished, which a wise forecast might have deemed proper for the preservation of our national rights and liberties in all political events, much has been done to guard us against the most obvious evils, and to secure a wholesome administration of private justice. To have attempted more, would probably have endangered the whole fabric ; and thus might have perpetuated the dominion of misrule and imbecility.
§ 250. It has been already seen, and it will hereafter more fully appear, that there are implied, as well as express, prohibitions in the Constitution upon the power of the States. Among the former, one clearly is, that no State can control, or abridge, or interfere with the exercise of any authority under the National Government. And it may be added, that State laws, as, for instance, State statutes of limitations, and State insolvent laws, have no operation upon the rights or contracts of the United States. : $ 251. And here end our commentaries upon the first article of the Constitution, embracing the organization 14
and powers of the Legislative department of the government, and the prohibitions upon the State and National Governments. If we here pause, but for a moment, we cannot but be struck with the reflection, how admirably this division and distribution of legislative powers between the State and National Governments is adapted to preserve all the liberty, and to promote the happiness of the people of the United States. To the General Government are assigned all those powers, which relate to the common interests of all the States, as comprising one confederated nation; while to each State is reserved all those powers, which may affect, or promote its own domestic interests, its peace, its prosperity, its policy, and its local institutions. At the same time, such limitations and restraints are imposed upon each government, as experience has demonstrated to be wise to control any public functionaries, or as are indispensable to secure the harmonious operations of the Union.
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Executive Department.
$ 252. We next come to the second article of the Constitution, which prescribes the structure, organization, and powers of the Executive department. What is the best constitution for the executive department, and what are the powers, with which it should be intrusted, are problems among the most important, and probably the most difficult to be satisfactorily solved, of all, which are involved in the theory of free governments. No man, who has ever studied the subject with profound attention, has risen from the labor without an increased and almost overwhelming sense of its intricate relations, and perplexing doubts. No man, who has ever deeply read the human history, and especially the history of republics, but has been struck with the consciousness, how little has been hitherto done to establish a safe depositary of power in any hands; and how often, in the hands of one, or a few, or many,--of an hereditary monarch, or an elective chief, or a national council, the executive power has brought ruin upon the state, or sunk under the oppressive burden of its own inbecility. Perhaps our own history has not, as yet, established, that we shall wholly escape all the dangers ; and that here will not be found, as has been the case in other nations, the vulnerable part of the republic.
$ 253. The first clause of the first section is, “ The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years; and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected as follows."
$ 254. In considering this clause, three practical questions may arise ; (1) whether there should be any executive department ; (2) whether it should be composed of more than one person ; (3) and what should be the duration of the term of office. Upon the first question, little need now be said, to establish the propriety of an executive department. It is founded upon a maxim admitted in all our State Constitutions, that the legislative, executive, and judicial departments ought to be kept separate, and the power of one ought not to be exercised by either of the others. The want of an executive department was felt as a great defect under the Confederation.
$ 255. In the next place, in what manner should the executive department be organized ? It may, in general terms, be answered, -In such a manner as best to secure energy in the Executive, and safety to the people. A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government; and a feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution. Unity in the Executive is favorable to energy, promptitude, and responsibility. A division of the power among several persons impairs each of these qualities ; and introduces discord, intrigue, dilatoriness, and, not unfrequently, personal rivalries, incompatible with the public good. On the other hand, a single Executive is quite as safe for the people. His responsibility is more
direct and efficient, as his measures cannot be disguised, or shifted upon others; and any abuse of authority can be more clearly seen, and carefully watched, than when it is shared by numbers.
§ 256. In the next place, the duration of the term of office of the Executive. It should be long enough to enable a chief magistrate to carry fairly through a system of government, according to the laws; and to stimulate him to personal firmness in the execution of his duties. If the term is very short, he will feel very little of the just pride of office, from the precariousness of its tenure. He will act more with reference to immediate and temporary popularity, than to permanent fame. His measures will tend to insure his own reelection, (if he desires it,) rather than to promote the good of the country. He will bestow offices upon mean dependants, or fawning courtiers, rather than upon persons of solid honor and distinction. He will fear to encounter opposition by a lofty course; and his wishes for office, equally with his fears, will debase his fortitude, weaken his integrity, and enhance his irresolution.
§ 257. On the other hand, the period should not be so long, as to impair the proper dependence of the Executive upon the people for encouragement and support; or to enable him to persist in a course of measures, deeply injurious to the public interests, or subversive of the public faith. His administration should be known to come under the review of the people at short periods ; so that its merits may be decided, and its errors be corrected by the sober exercise of the electoral vote by the people.
$ 258. For all of these purposes, the period, actually assigned for the duration of office of the President, by the Constitution, seems adequate and satisfactory. It is four years, a period intermediate between the term of office of the Representatives, and that of the Senators. By this arrangement, too, the whole organization of the legislative departments is not dissolved at the same moment. A part of the functionaries are constantly going out of office, and as constantly renewed, while a sufficient number remain, to carry on the same general system with in.