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Our concurrence, he says, by making the appropriation, is subject to our free determination. Doubtless it is so. If we determine at all, we shall determine freely; and the message does no more than leave to ourselves to decide how far we feel ourselves bound, either to support or to thwart the Executive Department, in the exercise of its duties. There is no message, no document, no communication to us, which asks for our concurrence, otherwise than as we shall manifest it by making the appropriation.
Undoubtedly, sir, the President would be glad to know that the measure met the approbation of the House. He must be aware, unquestionably, that all leading measures mainly depend for success on the support of Congress. Still, there is no evidence that on this occasion he has sought to throw off responsibility from himself, or that he desires us to be answerable for anything beyond the discharge of our own constitutional duties. I have already said, sir, that I know of no precedent for such a proceeding as the amendment proposed by the gentleman from Delaware. None which I think analogous has been cited. The resolution of the House, some years ago, on the subject of the slave-trade, is a precedent the other way. A committee had reported that, in order to put an end to the slavetrade, a mutual right of search might be admitted and arranged by negotiation. But this opinion was not incorporated, as the gentleman now proposes to incorporate his amendment, into the resolution of the House. The resolution only declared, in general terms, that the President be requested to enter upon such negotiations with other powers as he might deem expedient, for the effectual abolition of the African slave-trade. It is singular enough, and may serve as an admonition on the present occasion, that a negotiation having been concluded, in conformity to the opinions expressed, not, indeed, by the House, but by the committee, the treaty, when laid before the Senate, was rejected by that body.
The gentleman from Delaware himself says, that the Constitutional responsibility pertains alone to the Executive Department: and that none other has to do with it, as a public measure. These admissions seem to me to conclude the question; because, in the first place, if the Constitutional responsibility appertains alone to the President, he cannot devolve it on us, if he would; and because, in the second place, I see no proof of any intention, on his part, so to devolve it on us, even if he had the power.
Mr. Chairman: I will here take occasion, in order to prevent misapprehension, to observe, that no one is more convinced than I am, that it is the right of this House, and often its duty, to express its general opinion in regard to questions of foreign policy. Nothing, certainly, is more proper. I have concurred in such proceedings, and am ready to do so again. On those great subjects, for instance, which form the leading topics in this discussion, it is not only the right of the House to express its opinions, but I think it its duty to do so, if it should think the Executive to be pursuing a general course of policy which the House itself will not ultimately approve. But that is something entirely different from the present suggestion. Here it is proposed to decide, by our vote, what shall be discussed by particular ministers, already appointed, when they shall meet the
ministers of the other powers. This is not a general expression of opinion. It is a particular direction, or a special instruction. Its operation is limited to the conduct of particular men, on a particular occasion. Such a thing, sir, is wholly unprecedented in our history. When the House proceeds, in the accustomed way, by general resolution, its sentiments apply, as far as expressed, to all public agents, and on all occasions. They apply to the whole course of policy, and must, necessarily, be felt everywhere. But if we proceed by way of direction to particular ministers, we must direct them all. In short, we must ourselves furnish, in all cases, diplomatic instructions.
We now propose to prescribe what our ministers shall discuss, and what they shall not discuss, at Panama. But there is no subject coming up for discussion at Panama, which might not also be proposed for discussion either here or at Mexico, or in the Capital of Colombia. If we direct what our ministers at Panama shall or shall not say on the subject of Mr. Monroe's declaration, for example, why should we not proceed to say also what our other ministers abroad, or our Secretary at home, shall say on the same subject? There is precisely the same reason for one, as for the other. The course of the House, hitherto, sir, has not been such. It has expressed its opinions, when it deemed proper to express them at all, on great, leading questions, by resolution, and in a general form. These general opinions, being thus made known, have doubtless always had, and such expressions of opinion doubtless always will have, their effect.—This is the practice of the Government. It is a salutary practice; but if we carry it farther, or rather if we adopt a very different practice, and undertake to prescribe to our public ministers what they shall discuss, and what they shall not discuss, we take upon ourselves that which, in my judgment, does not at al} belong to us. I see no more propriety in our deciding now, in what manner these ministers shall discharge their duty, than there would , have in our prescribing to the President and Senate what persons ought to have been appointed ministers.
An honorable member from Virginia, who spoke some days ago, (Mr. Rives,) seems to go still farther than the member from Delaware. He maintains, that we may distinguish between the various objects contemplated by the Executive in the proposed negotiation; and adopt some and reject others. And this high, delicate, and important trust, the gentleman deduces simply from our power to withhold the minister's salaries. The process of the gentleman's argument appears to me as singular as its conclusion. He founds himself on the legal maxim, that he who has the power to give, may annex whatever condition or qualification to the gift he chooses. This maxim, sir, would be applicable to the present case, if we were the sovereigns of the country; if all power were in our hands; if the public money were entirely our own; if our appropriation of it were mere grace and favor; and if there were no restraints upon us, but our own sovereign will and pleasure. But the argument totally forgets that we are ourselves but public agents; that our power over the Treasury is but that of stewards over a trust fund; that we have nothing to give, and therefore no gifts to limit, or qualify; that it is
as much our duty to appropriate to proper objects, as to withhold appropriations from such as are improper; and that it is as much, and as clearly, our duty to appropriate in a proper and Constitutional manner, as to appropriate at all.
The same honorable member advanced another idea, in which I cannot concur. He does not admit that confidence is to be reposed in the Executive, on the present occasion, because confidence, he argues, implies only, that not knowing ourselves what will be done in a given case by others, we trust to those who are to act in it, that they will act right; and as we know the course likely to be pursued in regard to this subject, by the Executive, confidence can have no place. This seems a singular notion of confidence; cértainly is not my notion of that confidence which the Constitution requires one branch of the Government to repose in another. The President not our agent, but like ourselves, the agent of the People. They have trusted to his hands the proper duties of his office: and we are not to take those duties out of his hands, from any opinion of our own that we should execute them better ourselves. The confidence which is due from us to the Executive, and from the Executive to us, is not personal, but official and Constitutional. It has nothing to do with individual likings or dislikings; but results from that division of power among departments, and those limitations on the authority of each, which belong to the nature and frame of our government.
It would be unfortunate, indeed, if our line of Constitutional action were to vibrate, backward and forward, according to our opinions of persons, swerving this way to day, from undue attachment, and the other way to-morrow, from distrust or dislike. This may sometimes happen from the weakness of our virtues, or the excitement of our passions; but I trust it will not be coolly recommended to us, as the rightful course of public conduct.
It is obvious to remark, Mr. Chairman, that the Senate have not undertaken to give directions or instructions in this case. That body is closely connected with the President in Executive measures. Its consent to these very appointments is made absolutely necessary by the Constitution; yet it has not seen fit, in this or any other case, to take upon itself the responsibility of directing the mode in which the negotiations should be conducted.
For these reasons, Mr. Chairman, I am for giving no instructions, advice, or directions, in the case. I prefer leaving it where, in my judgment, the Constitution has left it—to Executive discretion and Executive responsibility.
But, sir, I think there are other objections to the amendment. There are parts of it which I could not agree to, if it were proper to attach any such condition to our vote. As to all that part of the amendment, indeed, which asserts the neutral policy of the United States, and the inexpediency of forming alliances, no man assents to those sentiments more readily, or more sincerely, than myself. On these points, we are all agreed. Such is our opinion; such, the President assures us, in terms, is his opinion; such we know to be the opinion of the country. If it be thought necessary to affirm opinions which no one either denies or doubts, by a resolution of
the House, I shall cheerfully concur in it. But there is one part of the proposed amendment to which I could not agree, in any form. I wish to ask the gentleman from Delaware himself to reconsider it. I pray him to look at it again, and to see whether he means what it expresses or implies; for, on this occasion, I should be more gratified by seeing that the honorable gentleman himself had become sensible that he had fallen into some error, in this respect, than by seeing the vote of the House against him by any majority whatever.
That part of the amendment to which I now object, is that which requires, as a condition of the resolution before us, that the ministers “ shall not be authorised to discuss, consider, or consult upon any measure which shall commit the present or future neutral rights or duties of these United States, either as may regard European nations, or between the several States of Mexico and South America."
I need hardly repeat, that this amounts to a precise instruction. It being understood that the ministers shall not be authorised to discuss particular subjects, is a mode of speech precisely equivalent to saying, provided the ministers be instructed, or the ministers being instructed, not to discuss those subjects. After all that has been said, or can be said, about this amendment being no more than a general expression of opinion, or abstract proposition, this part of it is an exact and definite instruction. It prescribes to public ministers the precise manner in which they are to conduct a public negotiation; a duty manifestly and exclusively belonging, in my judgment, to the Executive, and not to us.
But if we possessed the power to give instructions, this instruction would not be proper to be given. Let us examine it. The ministers shall not “ discuss, consider, or consult," &c.
Now, sir, in the first place, it is to be observed, that they are not only not to agree to any such measure, but they are not to discuss it. If proposed to them, they are not to give reasons for declining it. Indeed they cannot reject it; they can only say they are not authorised to consider it. Would it not be better, sir, to leave these agents at liberty to explain the policy of our Government, fully and clearly, and to show the reasons which induce us to abstain, as far as possible, from foreign connexions, and to act, in all things, with a scrupulous regard to the duties of neutrality?
But again: they are to discuss no measure which may commit our neutral rights or duties. To commit is somewhat indefinite. May they not modify nor in any degree alter our neutral rights and duties? If not, I hardly know whether a common treaty of commerce could be negotiated; because all such treaties affect or modify, more or less, the neutral rights or duties of the parties; especially all such treaties as our habitual policy leads us to form. But I suppose the author of the amendment uses the word in a larger and higher sense. He means that the ministers shall not discuss or consider any measure which may have a tendency, in any degree, to place us in a hostile attitude towards any foreign State. And here, again, one cannot help repeating, that the injunction is, not to propose or assent to any such measure, but not to consider it, not to answer it, if proposed; not to resist it with reasons?
But, if this objection were removed, still the instruction could not properly be given. What important or leading measure is there, connected with our foreign relations, which can be adopted, without the possibility of committing us to the necessity of a hostile attitude? Any assertion of our plainest rights may, by possibility, have that effect. The author of the amendment seems to suppose that our pacific relations can never be changed, but by our own option. He seems not to be aware that other states may compel us, in defence of our own rights, to measures, which, in their ultimate tendency, may commit our neutrality. Let me ask, if the ministers of other powers, at Panama, should signify to our agents that it was in contemplation immediately to take some measure which these agents know to be hostile to our policy, adverse to our rights, and such as we could not submit to—should they be left free to speak the sentiments of their Government, to protest against the measure, and to declare that the United States would not see it carried into effect? Or should they, as this amendment proposes, be enjoined silence, let the measure proceed, and afterwards, when, perhaps, we go to war to redress the evil, we may learn that if our objections had been fairly and frankly stated, the step would not have been taken? Look, sir, to the very case of Cuba—the most delicate, and vastly the most important point in all our foreign relations. Do gentlemen think they exhibit skill or statesmanship, in laying such restraints as they propose on our ministers, in regard to this subject, among others? It has been made matter of complaint, that the Executive has not used, already, a more decisive tone towards Mexico and Colombia, in regard to their designs on this Island. Pray, sir, what tone could be taken, under these instructions? Not one word—not one single word could be said on the subject. If asked whether the United States would consent to the occupation of that Island by those republics, or to its transfer by Spain to a European power; or whether we should resist such occupation or such transfer, what could they say? “ That is a matter we cannot discuss, and cannot consider—it would commit our neutral relations -we are not at liberty to express the sentiments of our Government on the subject: we have nothing at all to say.” Is this, sir, what gentlemen wish, or what they would recommend?
If, sir, we give these instructions, and they should be obeyed, and inconvenience or evil result, who is answerable? And I suppose it is expected they will be obeyed. Certainly it cannot be intended to give them, and not to take the responsibility of consequences, if they be followed. It cannot be intended to hold the President answerable both ways; first, to obey our instructions, and, secondly, for having obeyed them, if evil comes from obeying them.
Sir, events may change. If we had the power to give instructions, and if these proposed instructions were proper to be given, before we arrive at our own homes, affairs may take a new direction, and the public interest require new and corresponding orders to our agents abroad.
This is said to be an extraordinary case, and, on that account, to justify our interference. If the fact were true, the consequence would not follow. If it be the exercise of a power assigned by the