Page images
PDF
EPUB

bers; that for any speech or debate in either house no member shall be questioned in any other place; and that in all cases, except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, the members shall be privileged from arrest during their attendance at, and in going to and returning from, the sessions of their respective houses, were agreed to without any dissent.1

The power of each house to determine the rules of its proceedings, to punish its members for disor derly behavior, and to expel with the concurrence of two thirds, was agreed to with general assent.2 Each house was also directed to keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time to publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy; and one fifth of the members present in either house were empowered to require the yeas and nays to be entered on its journal.3

The report of the committee of detail had made no provision for such an officer as the Vice-President of the United States, and had therefore declared that the Senate, as well as the House, should choose its own presiding officer. This feature of their report received the sanction of the Convention; but subsequently, when it became necessary to create an officer to succeed the President of the United States, in case of death, resignation, or removal from office, the plan was adopted of making the former

1 Elliot, V. 406. Constitution, Art. I. §§ 5, 6.

Constitution,

2 Elliot, V. 407. Art. I. § 5.

3 Elliot, V. 407. Constitution, Art. I. § 5.

ex officio the presiding officer of the Senate, giving him a vote only in cases where the votes of the members are equally divided.1 To this was added the further provision, that the Senate shall choose, besides all its other officers, a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice-President, or when he shall exercise the office of President of the United States. The House of Representatives were empowered to choose their own Speaker, and other officers, as originally proposed.3

The mode in which laws were to be enacted was the last topic concerning the action of the legislature which required to be dealt with in the Constitution. The principle had been already settled, that the negative of the President should arrest the passage of a law, unless, after he had refused his concurrence, it should be passed by two thirds of the members of each house. In order to give effect to this principle, the committee of detail made the following regulations, which were adopted into the Constitution; that every bill, which shall have passed the two houses, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; that, if he approve, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it, with his objections, to the house in which it originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it; that if, after such reconsideration, two thirds of that house agree to pass the bill, it is to be sent with

1 Elliot, V. 507, 520. Constitution, Art. I. § 3.

2 Ibid.

3 Art. I. § 2.

VOL. II.

the objections to the other house, by which it is likewise to be reconsidered, and, if approved by two thirds of that house, it is to become a law; but in all such cases, the votes of both houses are to be determined by yeas and nays entered upon the journal. If any bill be not returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it · has been presented to him, it is to become a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by adjourning prevent its return, in which case it is not to become a law. All orders, resolutions, and votes to which the concurrence of both houses is necessary, (except on a question of adjournment,) are subject to these provisions.1

The two important differences between the negative thus vested in the President of the United States and that which belongs to the King of England are, that the former is a qualified, while the latter is an absolute, power to arrest the passage of a law; and that the one is required to render to the legislature the reasons for his refusal to approve a bill, while the latter renders no reasons, but simply answers that he will advise of the matter, which is the parliamentary form of signifying a refusal to approve. The provision in our Constitution which requires the President to communicate to the legislature his objections to a bill, was rendered necessary by the power conferred upon two thirds of both houses to make it a law, notwithstanding his refusal to sign it. By this power, which makes the negative 1 Constitution, Art. I. § 7.

34

of the President a qualified one only, the framers of the Constitution intended that the two houses should take into consideration the objections which may have led the President to withhold his assent, and that his assent should be dispensed with, if, notwithstanding those objections, two thirds of both houses should still approve of the measure. These provisions, therefore, on the one hand, give to the President a real participation in acts of legislation, and impose upon him a real responsibility for the measures to which he gives his official approval, while they give him an important influence over the final action of the legislature upon those which he refuses to sanction; and, on the other hand, they establish a wide distinction between his negative and that of the King in England. The latter has none but an absolute "veto"; if he refuse to sign a bill, it cannot become a law; and it is well understood, that it is on account of this absolute effect of the refusal, that this prerogative has been wholly disused since the reign of William III., and that the practice has grown up of signifying, through the ministry, the previous opposition of the executive, if any exists, while the measure is under discussion

in Parliament. It is not needful to consider here

which mode of legislation is theoretically or practi

cally the best. It is sufficient to notice the fact, that the absence from our system of official and responsible advisers of the President, having seats in the legislature, renders it impracticable to signify

[ocr errors]

his views of a measure, while it is under the consideration of either house. For this reason, and because the President himself is responsible to the people for his official acts, and in order to accompany that responsibility with the requisite power both to act upon reasons and to render them, our Constitution has vested in him this peculiar and qualified negative.1

1 A question has been made, whether it is competent to two thirds of the members present in each house to pass a bill notwithstanding the President's objections, or whether the Constitution means that it shall be passed by two thirds of all the members of each branch of the legislature. The history of the "veto" in the Convention seems to me to settle this question. There was a change of phraseology, in the course of the proceedings on this subject, which indicates very clearly a change of intention. The language employed in the resolutions, in all the stages through which they passed, was, that "The national executive shall have a right to negative any legislative act, which shall not be afterwards passed by two third parts of each branch of the national legislature." This was the form of expression contained in the resolutions sent to the committee of detail; and if it had been incorporated into the Constitution, there could have been no question but that its meaning would have been, that the bill must be afterwards passed by two thirds of all the members to which each branch is

constitutionally entitled. But the committee of detail changed this expression, and employed one which has a technical meaning, that meaning being made technical by the Constitution itself. Before the committee came to carry out the resolution relating to the President's negative, they had occasion to define what should constitute a "house" in each branch of the legislature; and they did so by the provision that a majority of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business. This expression, a "house," or "each house," is several times employed in the Constitution, with reference to the faculties and powers of the two chambers respectively, and it always means, when so used, the constitutional quorum, assembled for the transaction of business, and capable of transacting business. This same expression was employed by the committee when they provided for the mode in which a bill, once rejected by the President, should be again brought before the legislative bodies. They directed it to be returned "to that HOUSE in which it shall have origi

« EelmineJätka »