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and fragrant. But till that moment arrives, the unfortunate man is doomed to feel the incumbent weight of the institutions of society. Let us think of the present generation; of the men that live, and let us do something for their welfare and happiness. Let us, I repeat it, begin; for the sake of humanity and justice, let us begin. My strength is exhausted, and I must conclude. Yet I scarcely know how to leave this part of the subject, when I think what deep disappointment will follow the failure of the bill. Sir, I am as ambitious as people in general are, and I believe not more so. I feel unaffected pleasure in possessing the confidence of those amongst whom I live, second only to the desire to deserve it. I will not deny that I am even fond of what is called popularity. But if the choice were presented, and it be not presumptuous to suppose it—I can say sincerely, there is no honour this country can confer, which l would not cheerfully forego, to be instrumental in giving the relief intended by this bill.
ON RETRENCHMENT AND REFORM, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY 2ND, 1828.
In the session of 1827-8, Mr. Chilton, of Kentucky, offered a series of
resolutions on the subject of retrenchment, in the House of Representatives, which, after a long and animated discussion, in the course of which this speech was delivered, with some modification were finally adopted. The whole subject of the proposed retrenchment of the expenses of the General Government, was ultimately referred to a select committee, composed of Messrs. Hamilton, Cambreleng, Rives, Ingham, Sergeant, and Everett.
MR. SERGEANT said he should be sorry to have it known how much difficulty he had had, to overcome the repugnance he felt to make any demand upon the time and attention of the House in this debate. If known to others, to the extent he had felt it himself, he was afraid it would be deemed an absolute weakness. He had been for some time, he said, out of the House. Great changes bad taken place in its composition during that period. There were many members to whom he was a stranger. It seemed to him, also, that there was a change in the kind of demand they made on each other. Nothing appeared to him likely to engage the attention of the house-judging from what he had witnessed, unless it was piquant, highly seasoned, and pointed with individual and personal allusion. For this he was neither prepared nor qualified. He would take up as little time as possible, and, as far as he could, would avoid all topics that were likely to irritate or inflame. He would not here treat of the great question which agitates the people
of this nation, and upon which, as one of the people, he had a decided opinion. If touched at all, it would be incidentally, as the natural consequence of remarks upon the subject before the House, and of the facts he should have to state, and not as a principal point. It was one thing, he said, to offer a resolution like that under consideration, and another to vote upon it after it had been offered. The gentleman from Kentucky, he hoped, would consider him as speaking with entire respect for his motives and views. But, for himself, he must say, that he (Mr. S.) would not have offered the resolution; yet, being brought forward, he would not vote to lay it upon the table, nor to make any other disposition of it that would prevent the proposed inquiry from having a full discussion and a free course. The reasons for both these conclusions appeared to him to be perfectly satisfactory. He would not, he said, have proposed such a resolution, because he thought it must be unavailing. It was too extensive for any practical purpose—it aimed at too much. It embraced the whole business of congress. It was our duty, he said, to take care that the public affairs were carried on in the most profitable manner for the people, and with the least public burthen. And this was not peculiarly the duty of congress at any one time, but at all times. It was the great end and object of our labours and our care, and ought to be of daily application by all of us. He thought it too much to devolve upon a single committee the whole of that which was the common concern and care of congress. He thought it unnecessary. Every inquiry proposed by this resolution, was already provided for, in accordance with the duty of the house, by the appointment of committees, to give effect to the great guards of the constitution within their respective spheres. No money can be drawn from the treasury, but in pursuance of appropriations made by law. No officer can be appointed but under the authority of the constitution or the laws. No salary can be affixed to an office, but by the same warrant. The Committee of Ways and Means, a standing committee of the house, acts upon estimates furnished by every department of the government. When called upon to report appropriations, they compare these estimates with existing laws and existing exigencies, and report only such as are justified by law.
When they report the appropriation bill, each item of it is subject to the revision of every member of this house. The annual appropriation bill brings every thing under review. The House itself is to examine in detail, and see that all is in conformity with the law. Have we not, too, committees on the expenditure of each department? And a Committee on the Public Expenditures, to make a biennial examination, and see that the monies have been faithfully applied, according to the appropriations, and fully accounted for? He would not speak at present of the manner in which congress makes appropriations, nor how they are to be accounted for, particularly the contingent fund of this House, or of any of the departments. But he would say this—if there be any appointment not authorized by law, or any salary paid which the law does not authorise, let the specific abuses be pointed out and traced to its source, so that the offence and the offender may be known. He knew of none such.
There was still another reason why he would not have brought forward such a resolution-he spoke sincerely, and after listening to this debate, as well as making some examination for himself—there was no basis laid for the resolution, as there. ought to be, by showing that there was abuse or extravagant expenditure, or such a state of things as rendered a general inquiry necessary, either for the purpose of immediate correction, or, as had been intimated, to procure materials for a more propitious moment. The structure of this government was not the work of a day.
He did not speak of the constitution, but of the fabric which had been constructed under the constitution for effecting its great purposes. It had not been built up at one time, but by successive and continued exertions of successive legislatures. It was not the work of one party, but of all the parties which had existed in the United States. Begun by one, extended and enlarged by another-at one time perhaps carried too far, and then somewhat reduced, so as to adapt it to the state of the country, but in such reduction always following the only course that can lead to any practical result—that of examining it item by item, and piece by piece. It was not now the possession of one set of men, or of any one party, but of the whole people of the United States, by whose immediate representatives it had thus been constructed. The legislature was created by the Constitution—its pay and expenses are regulated by itself. The executive, too, was established by the constitution. The subordinate officers bave been created by congress, and increased according to the growing wants of this expanding nation. Their pay and emoluments also have been fixed by congress. Even the number of clerks in each department, and the pay of every clerk, is regulated and ascertained by law. It had, indeed, been remarked by the gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Randolph,) that the contingent expenses of this House bad increased in a much greater ratio than its numbers—that in twenty years the numbers had only doubled, and the expenses were nearly quadrupled. This matter is entirely under the regulation of the House. If the expense be too great, let it be checked and controlled, by limiting, if it be possible, those branches of service which occasion the expense. But he did not believe the numerical argument precisely correct, or that in this case two and two would necessarily only make four. When it was considered that this confederation now embraced twenty-four states and three territories, the extent of the country, and the space through which information was to be