OF PENNSYLVANIA. (BORN 1792, DIED 1868.)
On the first reconstruction bill;
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, JANUARY 3, 1867
What are the great questions which now divide the nation? In the midst of the political Babel which has been produced by the intermingling of secessionists, rebels, pardoned traitors, hissing Copperheads, and apostate Republicans, such a confusion of tongues is heard that it is difficult to understand either the questions that are asked or the answers that are given. Ask what is the “President’s policy,” and it is difficult to define it. Ask what is the “policy of Congress,” and the answer is not always at hand. A few moments may be profitably spent in seeking the meaning of each of these terms.
In this country the whole sovereignty rests with the people, and is exercised through their Representatives in Congress assembled. The legislative power is the sole guardian of that sovereignty. No other branch of the government, no other department, no other officer of the government, possesses one single particle of the sovereignty of the nation. No government official, from the President and Chief-Justice down, can do any one act which is not prescribed and directed by the legislative power. Suppose the government were now to be organized for the first time under the Constitution, and the President had been elected, and the judiciary appointed; what could either do until Congress passed laws to regulate their proceedings? What power would the President have over any one subject of government until Congress had legislated on that subject? * * * The President could not even create bureaus or departments to facilitate his executive operations. He must ask leave of Congress. Since, then, the President cannot enact, alter, or modify a single law; cannot even create a petty office within his own sphere of operations; if, in short, he is the mere servant of the people, who issue their commands to him through Congress, whence does he derive the constitutional power to create new States, to remodel old ones, to dictate organic laws, to fix the qualifications of voters, to declare that States are republican and entitled to command Congress, to admit their Representatives? To my mind it is either the most ignorant and shallow mistake of his duties, or the most brazen and impudent usurpation of power. It is claimed for him by some as commander-in-chief of the army and navy. How absurd that a mere executive officer should claim creative powers. Though commander-in-chief by the Constitution, he would have nothing to command, either by land or water until Congress raised both army and navy. Congress also prescribes the rules and regulations to govern the army; even that is not left to the Commander-in-chief.