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tutional polity and general jurisprudence of the United States. The house of representatives choose their own speaker, but the Vice-President of the United States is, ex officio, president of the senate, and gives the casting vote when they are equally divided. The proceedings and discussions in the two houses are public. This affords the community early and authentic information of the progress, reason, and policy of measures pending before congress, and it is likewise a powerful stimulus to industry, to research, and to the cultivation of talent and eloquence in debate. Though these advantages may be acquired at the expense of much useless and protracted discussion, yet the balance of utility is greatly in favour of open deliberation; and it is certain, from the general opposition to the experiment that was made and continued for some years by the senate of the United States, of sitting with closed doors, that such a practice, by any legislative body in this country, would not be endured.
The ordinary mode of passing laws is briefly as follows: One day's notice of a motion for leave to bring in a bill, in cases of a general nature, is required. Every bill must have three readings previous to its being passed, and these readings must be on different days, and no bill can be committed or amended until it has been twice read. Such little checks in the forms of doing business, are prudently intended to guard against surprise or imposition. In the house of representatives, bills, after being twice read, are committed to a committee of the whole house, when the
a See the standing rules and orders of the house of representatives, printed in 1795, by Francis Childs. Legislation was a science cultivated with so much care and refinement among the ancient Romans, that they had laws to instruct them how to make laws. The Lex Licinia, and Lex Ebutia, the Lex Cæcilia, and Lex Didia, provided checks, that the law should not unintentionally contain any particular personal privileges, or weaken the force of former laws, or be crowded with multifarious matter. Gravina, De Ortu et Progressu Juris Civilis, lib. 1. ch. 29.
speaker leaves the chair, and takes a part in the debate as an ordinary member, and a chairman is appointed to preside in his stead. When a bill has passed one house, it is transmitted to the other, and goes through a similar form; though, in the senate there is less formality, and bills are often committed to a select committee, chosen by ballot. If a bill be altered or amended in the house to which it is transmitted, it is then returned to the house in which it originated, and if the two houses cannot agree, they appoint committees to confer together on the subject. When a bill is engrossed, and has passed the sanction of both houses, it is transmitted to the President of the United States for his approbation. If he approves of the bill, he signs it. If he does not, it is President's returned, with his objections, to the house in which it originated, and that house enters the objections at large on their journals, and proceeds to reconsider the bill. If, after such reconsideration, two thirds of that house should agree to pass the bill, it is sent, together with the objections, to the other house, by which it is likewise reconsidered, and, if approved by two thirds of that house, it becomes a law. But, in all such cases, the votes of both houses are determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill are entered on the journals. If any bill shall not be returned by the president within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same becomes a law, equally as if he had signed it, unless Congress, by adjournment, in the meaan time, prevents its return, and then it does not become a law.*
The practice in Congress, and especially in the second or last session of each Congress, of retaining most of their bills until within the last ten days, is attended with the disadvantage of shortening the time allowed to the president for perusal and reflection upon them, and of placing within the power of the president, the absolute negative of every bill presented within the last ten days preceding the 4th of
a Art. 1. sec. 7.
March; and this he can effect merely by retaining them, without being obliged to assign any reason whatever; for he is entitled to ten days to deliberate. Most of the bills that are presented to the president in the second session of every Congress, were, a few years ago, presented to him within the last ten days, and generally within the last two days; but the rules of Congress have latterly checked the evils and danger of such an accumulation of business on the last days of the session.
This qualified negative of the president upon the formation of laws, is, theoretically at least, some additional security against the passage of improper laws, through prejudice or want of due reflection; but it was principally intended to give to the president a constitutional weapon to defend the executive department, as well as the just balance of the constitution, against the usurpations of the legislative power. To enact laws is a transcendant power; and if the body that possesses it be a full and equal representation of the people, there is danger of its pressing with destructive weight upon all the other parts of the machinery of the government. It has, therefore, been thought necessary, by the most skilful and most experienced artists in the science of civil polity, that strong barriers should be erected for the protection and security of the other necessary powers of the government. Nothing has been deemed more fit and expedient for the purpose, than the provision that the head of the executive department should be so constituted, as to secure a requisite share of independence, and that he should have a negative upon the passing of laws; and the judiciary power, resting on a still more permanent basis, should have the right of determining upon the validity of laws by the standard of the constitution. A qualified negative answers all the salutary purposes of an absolute one, for it is not to be presumed that two thirds of both houses of Congress, on reconsideration, with the reasoning of the president in opposition to the bill spread at large upon their journals, will ever concur in any unconsti
In the English constitution, the king has an absolute negative; but it has not been necessary to exercise it since the time of William III. The influence of the crown has been exerted in a more gentle manner, to destroy any obnoxious measure in its progress through the two houses of parliament. Charles I. stood for a long time upon the strict and forbidding rights of his prerogative; but he was compelled, by the spirit and clamour of the nation, to give his assent to bills which cut down that prerogative, and placed the power of government in the hands of the parliament. The peremptory veto of the Roman tribunes, who were placed at the door of the senate, would not be reconcilable with the spirit of deliberation and independence which distinguishes the councils of modern times. The French constitution of 1791, a laboured and costly fabric, on which the philosophers and statesmen of France exhausted all their ingenuity, and which was prostrated in the dust in the course of one year from its existence, gave to the king a negative upon the acts of the legislature, with some very feeble limitations. Every bill was to be presented to the king, who might refuse his assent; but if the two following legislatures should successively present the same bill in the same terms, it was then to become a law. The constitutional negative given to the President of the United States, appears to be more wisely digested than any of the examples which have been mentioned.