Imatges de pàgina

But no person constitutionally ineligible as President can be elected Vice-president. The Constitution, as thus amended, does not prescribe specifically when or where the Senate is to choose the Vice-president in case no choice be made by the electors, and no case has occurred to form a precedent; but from analogy to the provision and practice in regard to the President, it is presumed that the Senate may elect one at any time before the ensuing fourth of March With respect to the day to which the secondary election is in both cases limited, it is to be remarked that it was adopted in reference to a law existing previously to the amendment of the Constitution, which had already declared that the term of four years for which the President and Vice-president are elected, should commence on the fourth day of March next succeeding the day on which the votes of the electors are given. The effect of the amendment, therefore, is to render the provisions of the act of Congress, rela. tive to the specific times appointed for the several duties enjoined by the Constitution, in regard to the election of President and Vice-president, as permanent as the original instrument itself.

Although the wisdom and policy of this amendment of the Constitution has been doubted by some of our ablest jurists and statesmen, there are others who consider it an improvement, not only with respect to voting separately for President and Vicepresident, in reducing the number of candidates from which the congressional selection of a Presi. dent is to be made, from five to three, while the Senate, in their choice of a Vice-president, is confined to the two highest numbers of those voted for by the electors. In another particular, also, the amendment may be considered beneficial. By the former mode of proceeding, the Senate was restrained from acting until the house had made its selection of a President, which, if parties ran high, might be indefinitely delayed. By the amendment, the Senate may proceed to choose a Vice-president immediately on the declaring of the elect sal votes. Under the original mode, if the House of Representatives, in the event of no choice by the electors, did not choose a President by the fourth of March, the Vice-president then in office was to act as President for the next official term : so that, notwithstanding the public confidence might have been wholly withdrawn from him, he would actually become President for the ensuing four years, when he had been chosen by the electors in reference-not in form, but in fact—to the Vice-presidency, and that, too, for the preceding term ; whereas, on the plan now in force, if no President be chosen either by the electors or by the House of Representatives, the Vice-president, then to fill the office of President, will have recently received the suffrages of the electors as well as of the Senate. After all, however, it may well be doubted whether a greater evil has not been introduced by the amendment in the greater facility it affords to party organization, and the selection of mere party leaders, which was the very evil intended to be guarded against by the former regulation.

From a review of these various provisions, the mode of electing the supreme magistrate of the Union appears to be well calculated to secure a discreet choice, and to avoid those evils which the partisans of monarchy have ascribed, and the experience of past ages have shown to belong, to popular elections. It must, nevertheless, be acknowledged, that the large and elevated views of the men who planned the Constitution, and the expectations of those who defended this portion of it, upon the refined theoretical reasoning I have adverted to, have not been realized in its practical operation and effects. It was supposed, as I have mentioned, that the election of the President would be committed to men not likely to be swayed by party or personal bias; who would act unfettered by previous commitments, uncontrolled by combinations or discipline, and be subject neither to intimidation nor corruption ; and it was thought that the choice of an intermediate body of electors, consisting of several members, would be much less apt to agitate and convulse the community than the election of a single person, who was himself to be the first object of their wishes. Perhaps those views and expectations were founded on too exalted an estimate of human nature ; and that, making all due allowances for human frailty and imperfection, they have not been altogether frustrated. Experience, however, has proved that the electors do not, in fact, assemble for a strictly free exercise of their own judgments, but for the purpose of sanctioning the choice of a particular candidate, previously designated by their party leaders. In some instances, the principles on which they are constituted have been so far forgotten, that the individual opinion of the electors has submitted to the dictation of those by whom he was chosen; and in others the electors have even pledged themselves beforehand to vote for a candidate prescribed to them by the managers of their party; and thus the whole foundation of the elaborate theory on which this part of the Constitution was built has been subverted in practice. The essential ends of the Constitution have, nevertheless, been attained ; and in a government in which parties must ever exist, that system may be deemed salutary in its operation which results in the election of the most eminent, or even the

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

most popular statesman of the most numerous party. Had any other mode of election been adopted, it would have been impossible, in a Republican government, to have excluded party considerations, interests, and feelings. The great objects were to preserve purity as well as harmony in the election, and secure integrity as well as independence in the executive power.

Had the choice of President been referred in the first instance to Congress, it would, without excluding party views and motives, have rendered him too dependant on the immediate authors of his elevation to comport with the requisite energy of his department, and have tempted him to indulge in intrigues and maneuvres utterly subverbive of the fairness of the election and the purity of his own character. He would then no longer consider himself responsible to the people, but would be prone to obey, and fearful to offend, a power which, in that case, would have shown itself greater than the people themselves.

Whether greater ferments and commotions would accompany a general election of the President by the whole body of the people, than have hitherto attended the elections by electors (and certainly these have as yet excited no real alarm), or whether that mode of election would, with regard to the pre scribed ratio of representation, be conveniently prac tised, remains, indeed, to be ascertained. It has beey objected that such a measure would “ lead to an en. tire consolidation of the government, and the annihilation of the state sovereignties, so far as concerne the organization of the executive department.” But if the difference should consist merely in the form and not in the objects of the election, nor in the authority which orders and controls it—if, for instance, the people, in their several states, instead of voting

for electors, should in the same manner, at the same times and places, and under the same regulations, vote directly for the President, and the whole number of votes to which the state is entitled under the present provisions of the Constitution, should be computed as given to the person receiving the highest vote from the people, I must confess my inability to discover why any greater danger should be apprehended to the sovereignty of the states than exists under the present system. Nor can I conceive any sound objection to such an amendment, if it should include a provision superseding, by a secondary resort to electors, the ultimate reference now made in case of no choice by the electors to Congress. On the contrary, upon mature consideration, I am convinced that such an alteration would be found an essential improvement. It has, indeed, been actually proposed and urged in Congress with great force of argument, especially the part which substitutes a final election by electors, in place of the last resort to the House of Representatives, in cases where no choice is made by the people.

From the example of the illustrious individual who first held the office of President, a practice has arisen, and seems now to be permanently established, for the President to decline a second re-election. As this precedent has never as yet been, and probably never will be departed from, it has, in effect, limited the period of service to eight years, subject, however, to an intermediate election. But to render the President more independent, the administration more stable, and the people more secure, it would be better that this improvement should be sanctioned and legalized by being incorporated in the system; and this amendment of the Constitution, in connexion with that already suggested, has been actually brought

« AnteriorContinua »