Page images




$ 217. There are certain precise and detailed rules respecting the qualifications of officers, and the organization of the houses of Congress, and the conduct of business thereby, which do not need amplification or comment, but may be arranged in order substantially in the terms used by the Constitution itself.

1. Qualifications in respect to Age, Citizenship, and Inhabitancy.

The President and Vice-President must be natural-born citizens, at least thirty-five years of age, and not both inhabitants of the same state. Art. II. Sec. I. $ 5; Art. XII. of the Amendments, $ 3.

Senators must be at least thirty years of age ; if of foreign birth and naturalized, must have been citizens for at least nine years; and must be inhabitants of the state from which they are elected. Art. I. Sec. III. $ 3.

Representatives must be at least twenty-five years of age ; if of foreign birth and naturalized, must have been citizens for at least seven years; and must be inhabitants of the state from which they are elected. It is not required that they should be inhabitants of the district from which they are chosen. Art. I. Sec. II. § 2.

2. Terms of Office. The President and Vice-President, four years. Art. II. Sec. I. § 1.

Senators, six years. Art. I. Sec. III. $ 1.
Representatives, two years. Art. I. Sec. II. § 1.

§ 218. Certain regulations respecting the organization of Congress, and of each House.

There are a few special rules which apply to the Congress as a legislative body; others apply to each house by itself; and others still to the members of each house individually.

The Congress, as such, shall assemble at least once in every

sessions such session icable to

year, and the day of meeting shall be the first Monday in December, unless they shall, by law, appoint a different day. Art. I. Sec. IV. § 2.

Under this provision Congress may appoint two or more sessions for one year, and may set any day for the commencement of such sessions.

§ 219. Rules applicable to each House separately. — In respect to the matters involved in these rules each house acts independently of the other, and these acts are not laws in any true sense of the term. It may be doubted whether Congress could, by any law, bind either house in regard to these subjects which are thus committed to the discretion of each branch of the legislature.

Each house shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members. A majority of each shall be a quorum to do business ; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may compel the attendance of absent members. See Art. I. Sec. V. $ 1.

The power given to the Senate and to the House of Representatives, each to pass upon the validity of the elections of its own members, and upon their personal qualifications, seems to be unbounded. But I am very strongly of the opinion that the two houses together, as one Congress, cannot pass any statute containing a general rule by which the qualifications of members as described in the Constitution, are either added to or lessened. Such a statute would not seem to be a judgment of each house upon the qualifications of its own members, but a judgment upon the qualifications of the members of the other branch. The power is sufficiently broad as it stands ; indeed there is absolutely no restraint upon its exercise except the responsibility of representatives to their constituents. Under it the House inquires. into the validity of elections, going behind the certificate of returning officers, examining witnesses, and deciding whether the sitting member or the contestant received a majority of legal votes. The House has also applied the test of personal loyalty to those claiming to be duly elected representatives, deeming this one of the qualifications of which they might judge. The Senate has also passed upon the validity of the election of a Senator by the legislature of his state, determining whether the choice had been made in accordance with the state law. This body has also inquired into the loyalty of a member, and has expelled Senators for alleged treasonable or seditious practices.

§ 220. 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. Art. I. Sec. III. $ 2.

Under these provisions each house has the entire control over its own parliamentary proceedings, its methods of doing business, its rules of order, the observance of order on its floor, and the conduct of its members. The power of expulsion is unlimited, and the judgment of the two thirds majority is final.

$ 221. Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may, in their judgment, require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the members of either house on any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be entered on the journal. Neither house, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two houses shall be sitting.

Neither of these provisions requires any remark, except that giving one fifth of the members present the power to demand that the yeas and nays on any question shall be entered on the journal. This regulation, simple in itself, is most important and salutary. It is a safeguard against the acts of a reckless or corrupt majority. By placing in the hands of so small a minority the power to demand the yeas and nays, and to make a lasting record of all votes, which shall go before the people, it keeps each member alive to his personal responsibility to his constituents, and effectually prevents all subsequent concealment as to acts for which he may be called in question.

§ 222. All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose, or concur with amendments, as on other bills. Art. I. Sec. VII. § 1.

This provision is substantially copied from the British Constitution. No principle is more firmly settled in the administration of the British government, than the doctrine that the Commons holds the purse. This power of the House of Commons to grant or withhold supplies has been contended for during centuries of conflict; it has been the instrument of success in every contest with the royal prerogative ; it has finally raised the Commons to a position of absolute supremacy above all other departments of the government. And yet there does not seem to be any good reason for importing it into our Constitution. The whole frame of our government, the whole state of our society is so different from that of England, that there is no class distinction, no permanent conflict of interest between the House of Representatives and the Senate; there is no reason why the lower house should be more careful of the public moneys, and more economical in the public expenditures than the Senate. The constituents which both represent are finally the same, and together bear the burdens of taxation. I believe the opinion is becoming general that the provision in question is not only useless, but is an absolute hindrance in the course of legislation.

$ 223. Rules applicable to the members of the two Houses individually. — The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall, in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either house, they shåll not be questioned in any other place. Art. I. Sec. VI. § 1.

The privilege from arrest, and from being questioned in any other place for any speech or debate, has ever been considered indispensable to a free representative government. These provisions in our Constitution are substantially the same as those of the English law.

§ 224. No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under

the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time ; and no person holding any office under the United States shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office. Art. I. Sec. VI. § 2.

The latter of these clauses is in striking contrast with the law and practice in England. As Parliament is organized the principal administrative officers must be members of one or the other house.

« PreviousContinue »