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of States in
The first effort to relieve the people of this country from
1786. a state of national degradation and ruin, came from Virginia, in a proposition for a convention of delegates to regulate our commerce with foreign nations. The proposal was well received by the other states, and several of them sent delegates to a convention which met at Annapolis, in September, 1786. This small assembly, being only a partial representation of the states, and being deeply sensible of the radical defects of the system of the existing federal government, thought it inexpedient to attempt a partial, and probably only a temporary and delusive alleviation of our national calamities. They concurred, therefore, in a strong application to Congress for a general convention, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, and to devise such further provisions as should be proper, to render the federal government not a mere phantom, as heretofore, but a real government, adequate to the exigencies of the union. Congress perceived the wisdom, and felt the patriotism of the suggestion, and recommended a convention of delegates from the several states, to revise, amend, and alter the articles of confederation. All the states, except Rhode Island, acceded to the proposal, and appointed delegates, who assembled in a general convention at Philadelphia, in May,
This was a crisis most solemn and eventful, in respect to in 1787. our future fortune and prosperity. All the fruits of the revolution, and perhaps the final destiny of republican government, were staked on the experiment which was then to be made to reform the system of our national compact. Happily for this country, and probably as auspiciously for the general liberties of mankind, the convention combined a very rare union of the best talents, experience, information, patriotism, probity, and character, which the country afforded; and it commanded that universal public confidence which such qualifications were calculated to finspire. After several months of tranquil deliberation, the convention agreed with unprecedented unanimity on the
plan of government which now forms the constitution of the United States. This plan was directed to be submitted to a convention of delegates, to be chosen by the people at large in each state, for their assent and ratification. Such a measure was laying the foundations of the fabric of our national polity, where alone they ought to be laid, on the broad consent of the people. The constitution underwent a severe scrutiny, and long discussion, not only in public prints and private circles, but solemnly and publicly, by the many illustrious statesmen who composed these local conventions. Near a year elapsed before it received the ratification of a requisite number of the states to give it a political existence. New-Hampshire was the ninth state which adopted the constitution, and thereby, according to one of its articles, it was to become the government of the states so ratifying the same. Her example was immediately followed by the powerful states of Virginia and New-York. and on the 4th of March, 1789, the government was duly organized and put in operation. North Carolina and Rhode Island withheld some time longer their assent. Their scruples were, however, gradually overcome, and in June, 1790, the constitution had received the unanimous ratification of all the members of the original confederacy.
The peaceable adoption of this government, under all the circumstances which attended it, presented the case of an effort of deliberation, combined with a spirit of amity and of mutual concession, which was without example. It must be a source of just pride, and of the most grateful recollection, to every American, who reflects seriously on the difficulty of the experiment, the manner in which it was conducted, the felicity of its issue, and the fate of similar trials in other nations of the earth.
THE power of making laws is the supreme power in a state, and the department in which it resides will naturally have such a preponderance in the political system, and act with such mighty force upon the public mind, that the line of separation between that and the other branches of the government ought to be marked very distinctly, and with the most careful precision.
The constitution of the United States has effected this purpose with great felicity of execution, and in a way well calculated to preserve the equal balance of the government, and the harmony of its operations. It has not only made a general delegation of the legislative power to one branch of the government, of the executive to another, and of the judicial to the third, but it has specially defined the general powers and duties of each of those departments. This was essential to peace and safety, in a government clothed only with specific powers for national purposes, and erected in the midst of numerous state governments retaining the exclusive control of their local concerns. It will be the object of this lecture to review the legislative department; and I shall consider this great title in our national polity under the following heads :-(1.) The constituent parts of congress, and the mode of their appointment: (2.) Their joint and separate powers and privileges: (3.) Their method of enacting laws, with the qualified negative of the President.
(1.) By the constitution, all the legislative powers there
a Art. 1. sec. 1.
Division of Congress
in granted, are vested in a congress, consisting of a senate and house of representatives.
The division of the legislature into two separate and ininto two dependent branches, is founded on such obvious principles of good policy, and is so strongly recommended by the unequivocal language of experience, that it has obtained the general approbation of the people of this country. One great object of this separation of the legislature into two houses, acting separately, and with co-ordinate powers, is to destroy the evil effects of sudden and strong excitement, and of precipitate measures, springing from passion, caprice, prejudice, personal influence and party intrigue, and which have been found, by sad experience, to exercise a potent and dangerous sway in single assemblies. A hasty decision is not so likely to arrive to the solemnities of a law, when it is to be arrested in its course, and made to undergo the deliberation, and probably the jealous and critical revision, of another and a rival body of men, sitting in a different place, and under better advantages to avoid the prepossessions and correct the errors of the other branch. The legislatures of Pennsylvania and Georgia consisted originally of a single house. The instability and passion which marked their proceedings were very visible at the time, and the subject of much public animadversion; and in the subsequent reform of their constitutions, the people were so sensible of this defect, and of the inconvenience they had suffered from it, that in both states a senate was introduced. No portion of the political history of mankind is more full of instructive lessons on this subject, or contains more striking proof of the faction, instability, and misery of states, under the dominion of a single unchecked assembly, than that of the Italian republics of the middle ages; and which arose in great numbers, and with dazzling but transient splendour, in the interval between the fall of the Western and the Eastern empire of the Romans. They were all alike ill constituted, with a single unbalanced assembly.