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guarding against it. Such a forbearance and silence on such an occasion, and among so many members who belonged to the part of the nation which called for explanatory and restrictive amendments, and who had been elected as known advocates for them, cannot be accounted for without supposing that the terms "common defence and general welfare” were not, at that time, deemed susceptible of any such construction as has since been applied to them.
It may be thought, perhaps, due to the subject, to advert to a letter of October 5, 1787, to Samuel Adams, and another, of October 16, of the same year, to the governor of Virginia, from R. H. Lee, in both of which it is seen that the terms lad attracted his notice, and were apprehended by him to submit to Congress every object of human legislation.” But it is particularly worthy of remark that, although a member of the Senate of the United States, when amendments to the Constitution were before that house, and sundry additions and alterations were there made to the list sent from the other, no notice was taken of those terms as pregnant with danger. It must be interred that the opinion formed by the distinguished member, at the first view of the Constitution, and before it had been fully discussed and elucidated, had been changed into a conviction that the terms did not fairly admit the construction he had originally put on them, and therefore needed no explanatory precaution against it.
Note. Against the opinion of Mr. Madison, there are the opinions of men of great eminence; and among these may be enumerated Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Monroe, and Mr. Hamilton.
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE BANK OF THE UNITED STATES;
Dated MONTPELJER, June 25, 1831. DEAR SIR: I have received your friendly letter of the 18th inst. The few lines which answered your former one, of the 21st of January last, were written in haste and in bad health ; but they expressed, though without the attention in some respects due to the occasion, a dissent from the
views of the President, as to a Bank of the United States, and a substitute for it; to which I cannot but adhere. The objections to the latter have appeared to me to preponderate greatly over the advantages expected from it, and the constitutionality of the former I still regard as sustained by the considerations to which I yielded, in giving my assent to the existing bank.
The charge of inconsistency between my objection to the constitutionality of such a bank in 1791, and my assent in 1817, turns on the question, how far legislative precedents, expounding the Constitution, ought to guide succeeding legislatures, and to overrule individual opinions.
Some obscurity has been thrown over the question, by confounding it with the respect due from one legislature to laws passed by preceding legislatures. But the two cases are essentially different. A Constitution, being
derived from a superior authority, is to be expounded and obeyed, not controlled or varied by the subordinate authority of a legislature. A law, on the other hand, resting on no higher authority than that possessed by every successive legislature, its expediency, as well as its meaning, is within the scope of the latter.
The case in question has its true analogy in the obligation arising from judicial expositions of the law on succeeding judges, the Constitution being a law to the legislator, as the law is a rule of decision to the judge.
And why are judicial precedents, when formed on due discussion and consideration, and deliberately sanctioned by reviews and repetitions, regarded as of binding influence, or rather of authoritative force, in settling the meaning of a law? It must be answered, 1. Because it is a reasonable and established
axiom, that the good of society requires that the rules of conduct of its members should be certain and known; which would not be the case if any judge, disregarding the decisions of his predecessors, should vary the rule of law according to his individual interpretation of it. Misera est servitus ubi jus est aut vagum aut incognitum. 2. Because an exposition of the law publicly made, and repeatedly confirmed by the constituted authority, carries with it, by fair inference, the sanction of those who, having made the law through their legislative organ, appear, under such circumstances, to have determined its meaning through their judiciary organ.
Can it be of less consequence that the meaning of a Constitution should be fixed and known, than that the meaning of a law should be so? Can, indeed, a law be fixed in its meaning and operation, unless the Constitution be so ? On the contrary, if a particular legislature, differing, in the construction of the Constitution, from a series of preceding constructions, proceed to act on that difference, they not only introduce uncertainty and instability in the Constitution, but in the laws themselves; inasmuch as all Jaws preceding the new construction, and inconsistent with it, are not only annulled for the future, but virtually pronounced nullities from the beginning.
But it is said that the legislator, having sworn to support the Constitution, must support it in bis own construction of it, however different from that put on it by his predecessors, or whatever be the consequences of the construction. And is not the judge under the same oath to support the law? Yet has it ever been supposed that he was required, or at liberty, to disregard all precedents, however solemnly repeated and regularly observed, and, by giving effect to his own abstract and individual opinions, to disturb the established course of practice in the business of the community ? Has the wisest and most conscientious judge ever scrupled to acquiesce in decisions in which he has been overruled by the matured opinions of the majority of his colleagues, and subsequently to conform himself thereto, as to authoritative expositions of the law? And is it not reasonable that the same view of the official oath should be taken by a legislator, acting under the Constitution, which is his guide, as is taken by a judge, acting under the law, which is bis ?
There is, in fact, and in common understanding, a necessity of regarding a course of practice, as above characterized, in the light of a legal rule of interpreting a law; and there is a like necessity of considering it a constitutional rule of interpreting a constitution.
That there may be extraordinary and peculiar circumstances controlling the rule in both cases, may be admitted; but with such exceptions, the rule will force itself on the practical judgment of the most ardent theorist. He will find it impossible to adhere to, and act officially upon, bis solitary opinions, as to the meaning of the law or Constitution, in opposition to a construction reduced to practice during a reasonable period of time; more especially where no prospect existed of a change of construction by the public or its agents. And if a reasonable period of time, marked with the usual sanctions, would not bar the individual prerogative, there could be no limitation to its exercise, although the danger of error must increase with the increasing oblivion of explanatory circumstances, and with the continuedl changes in the import of words and phrases. Let it
, then, be left to the decision of every intelligent and candid judge, which, on the whole, is most to be relied on for the true and safe construction of the Constitution :- that which has the uniform sanction of successive legislative bodies through a period of years, and under the varied ascendency of parties; not that which depends upon the opinions of every new legislature, beated as it may be by the spirit of party, eager in the pursuit of some favorite object, or led away by the eloquence and address of popular statesmen, themselves, perhaps, under the influence of the same misleading causes.
It was in conformity with the view here taken of the respect due to deliberate and reiterated precedent, that the Bank of the United States, though on the original question held to be unconstitutional, received the executive signature in the year 1817. The act originally establishing a bank had undergone ample discussions in its passage through the several branches of the government. It
had been carried into execution through a period of twenty years, with annual legislative recognition, -in one instance, indeed, with a positive ramification of it into a new state, -- and with the entire acquiescence of all the local authorities, as well as of the nation at large; to all of which may be added, a decreasing prospect of any change in the public opinion adverse to the constitutionality of such an institution. A veto from the executive, under these circumstances, with an admission of the expediency, and almost necessity, of the measure, would have been a defiance of all the obligations derived from a course of precedents amounting to the requisite evidence of the national judgment and intentions.
It has been contended that the authority of precedents was, in that case, invalidated by the consideration, that they proved only a respect for the stipulated duration of the bank, with a toleration of it until the law should expire, and by the casting vote given in the Senate by the Vice-President, in the year 1811, against a bill for establishing a national bank, the vote being expressly given on the ground of unconstitutionality. But if the law itself was unconstitutional, the stipulation was void, and could not be constitutionally fulfilled or tolerated. And as to the negative of the Senate by the casting vote of the presiding officer, it is a fact, well understood at the time, that it resulted, not from an equality of opinions in that assembly on the power of Congress to establish a bank, but from a junction of those who admitted the power, but disapproved the plan, with those who denied the power. On a simple question of constitutionality there was a decided majority in favor of it.
JAMES MADISON. MR. INGERSOLL.
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF A BANK OF THE UNITED STATES.
[EXTRACTS.] It remains to show, that the incorporation of a bank is within the operation of the provision which authorizes Congress to make all needful rules and reg. ulations concerning the property of the United States. But it is previously necessary to advert to a distinction which has been taken up by the attorneygeneral. He admits that the word property may signify personal property, however acquired; and yet asserts that it cannot signify money arising from the sources of revenue pointed out in the Constitution, “because,” says he, " the disposal and regulation of money is the final cause for raising it by taxes." But it would be more accurate to say that the object to which money is intended to be applied is the final cause for raising it, than that the disposal and regulation of it is such. The support of a government, the support of troops for the common defence, the payment of the public debt, are the true final causes for raising money. The disposition and regulation of it, when raised, are the steps by which it is applied to the ends for which it was raised, not the ends themselves. Hence, therefore, the moneys to be raised by taxes, as well as any other personal property, must be supposed to come within the meaning, as they certainly do within the letter, of authority to make all needful rules and regulations concerning the property of the United States. A case will make this plainer. Suppose the public debt discharged, and the funds now pledged for it liberated." In some instances, it would be found expedient to repeal the taxes; in others, the repeal might injure our own industry - our agriculture and manufactures. In these cases, they would, of course, he retained. Here, then, would be moneys, arising from the authorized sources of revenue, which would not fall within the rule by which the attorney-general VOL. IV.
endeavors to except them from other personal property, and from the operation of the clause in question. The moneys being in the coffers of government, what is to binder such a disposition to be made of them as is contemplated in the bill; or whut an incorporation of the parties concerned, under the clause which has been cited ?
It is admitted that, with regard to the western territory, they give a power to erect a corporation; that is, to constitute a government. And by what rule of construction can it be maintained that the same words, in a constitution of government, will not bave the same effect when applied to one species of property as to another, as far as the subject is capable of it? or that a legislative power to make all needful rules and regulations, or to pass all laws aecessary and proper concerning the public property, which is admitted to authorize an incorporation, in one case, will not authorize it in another; will justify the institution of a government over the western territory, and will not justily the incorporation of a bank for the more useful management of the money of the nation ? If it will do the last as well as the first, then, under this provision alone, the bill is constitutional, because it contemplates that the United States shall be joint proprietors of the stock of the bank. There is an observation of the secretary of state to this effect, which may require notice in this place. - Congress, says he, are not to lay taxes ad libitum, for any purpose they please, but only to pay the debts, or provide for the welfare, of the Union. Certainly no inference can be drawn from this against the power of applying their money for the institution of a bank. It is true that they cannot, without breach of trust, lay taxes for any other purpose than the general welfare; but so neither can any other government. The welfare of the community is the only legitimate end for which money can be raised on the community. Congress can be considered as only under one restriction, which does not apply to other governments. They cannot rightfully apply the money they raise to any purpose merely or purely local. But, with this exception, they have as large a discretion, in relation to the application of money, as any legislature whatever.
The constitutional test of a right application must always be, whether it be for a purpose of general or local nature. If the former, there can be no want of constitutional power. The quality of the object, as how far it will really promote, or not, the welfare of the Union, must be matter of conscientious discretion; and the arguments for or against a measure, in this light, must be arguments concerning expediency or inexpediency, not constitutional right; whatever relates to the general order of the finances, to the general interests of trade, &c., being general objects, are constitutional ones, for the application of money. A bank, then, whose bills are to circulate in all the revenues of the country, is evidently a general object; and, for that very reason, a constitutional ope, as far as regards the appropriation of money to it. Whether it will really be a beneficial one, or not, is worthy of careful examination, but is no more a constitutional point, in the particular referred to, than the question, whether the western lands shall be sold for twenty or thirty cents per acre. A hope is entertained that, by this time, it has been made to appear to the satisfaction of the President, that the bank has a natural relation to the power of collecting taxes; to that of regulating trade; to that of providing for the common defence; and that, as the bill under consideration contemplates the government in the light of a joint proprietor of the stock of the bank, it brings the case within the provision of the clause of the Constitution which immediately respects the property of the United States. Under a conviction that such a relation subsists, the secretary of the treasury, with all deference, conceives that it will result as a necessary consequence from the position, that all the specified powers of government are sovereign, as to the proper objects; that the incorporation of a bank is a constitutional measure ; and that the objections, taken to the bill in this respect, are ill founded.
But, from an earnest desire to give the utmost possible satisfaction to the mind of the President, on so delicate and important a subject, the secretary of the treasury will ask his indulgence, while he gives some additional illustrations of cases in which a power of creeting corporations may be exercised, under some of those heads of the specified powers of the government which are
alleged to include the right of incorporating a bank. 1. It does not appear susceptible of a doubt, that, if Congress bad thought proper to provide, in the collection law, that the boods, to be given for the duties, should be given to the collector of the District A, or B, as the case might require, to enure to him and his successors in office, in trust for the United Sutes, it would have been consistent with the Coustilution to make such an arrangement. And yet this, it is conceived, would amount to an incorporation. 2. It is not an unusual expedient of taxation to form particular branches of revenue; that is, to sell or mortgage the product of them for certain definite sums, leaving the collection to the parties to whom they are mortgaged or sold. There are even examples of this in the United States. Suppose that there was any particular branch of revenue which it was manifestly expedient to place on this tooting, and there were a number of persons willing to engage with the government, upon condition that they should be incorporated, and the funds vested in them, as well for their greater safety as for the more convenient recovery and management of the taxes; is it supposable that there could be any constitutional obstacle to the measure? It is presumed that there could be none. It is certainly a mode of collection which it would be in the discretion of the government to adopt, though the circumstances must be very extraordinary that would induce the secretary to think it expedient. 3. Suppose a new and unexplored branch of trade should present itself with some foreign country; suppose it was manifest that to undertake it with advantage required a union of the capitals of a number of individuals, and that those individuals would not be disposed to embark without an incorporation, as well to obviate the consequences of a private partnership, which makes every individual liable in his whole estate for the debts of the company to their utmost extent, as for the more con. venient management of the business; what reason can there be to doubt that
the national government would have a constitutional right to institute and incorporate such a company? Nope. They possess a general authority to regulate trade with foreign countries. This is a mean which has been practised to that end by all the principal commercial nations, who have trading companies to this day, which have subsisted for centuries. Why may not the United States constitutionally employ the means usual in other countries for attaining the ends intrusted to them? A power to make all needful rules and regulations concerning territory has been construed to mean a power to erect a government. A power to regulate trade is a power to make all needful rules and regulations concerning trade. Why may it not, then, include that of erecting a trading company, as well as in other cases to erect a government?
It is remarkable that the state conventions, who have proposed amendments in relation to this point, have, most, if not all of them, expressed themselves nearly thus : Congress shall not grant monopolies, nor erect any company with exclusive advantages of commerce! Thus at the same time expressing their sense that the power to erect trading companies, or corporations, was inherent in Congress, and objecting to it no further than as to the grant of exclusive privileges. The secretary entertains all the doubts which prevail concerning the utility of such companies ; but he cannot fashion to his own mind a reason to induce a doubt that there is a constitutional authority in the United States to establish them. If such a reason were demanded, none could be given, unless it were this — that Congress cannot erect a corporation; which would be no better than to say they cannot do it because they cannot do it; first presuming an inability without reason, and then assigning that inability as the cause of itself. The very general power of laying and collecting taxes, and appropriating their proceeds; that of borrowing money indefinitely; that of coining money and regulating foreign coins; that of making all needful rules and regulations respecting the property of the United States ; - these powers combined, as well as the reason and nature of the thing, speak strongly this language that it is the manifest design and scope of the Constitution to vest in Congress all the powers requisite to the effectual administration of the finances of the United States. As far as concerns this object, there appears to be no parsimony of power.
To suppose, then, that the government is precluded from the employment of