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Of Mr. A. V. Brown in the Senate of Tennessee, on presenting the Resolutions proposing to give the Election of President
directly to the People, on Thursday, Oct. 18, 1827.
Mr. Brown laid on the table of the Senate the following Resolutions and remarks:
Resolved, By the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That the Constitution of the United States should be so amended, as to give the election of President and Vice President directly and conclusively to the people, preserving the present relative weight of the several States in the election.
Resolved, That many of the measures of the present administration of the general government are injurious to the interests, and dangerous to the liberties of the country.
Resolved, That the surest remedy for these evils, now in the power of the people, is the election of Andrew Jackson to the Chief Magistracy of the Union.
The mode of appointing the President, as now prescribed by the Federal Constitution, has been the source of so much inconvenience, and is the subject of such general discontent, that a sufficient reason for recommending its amendment need not be sought in the experimental nature of the instrument itself. The evils inherent in the last election, and the anxieties connected with the next, give it a claim to public deliberation, which none but the selfish and the servile can disregard. It cannot be fairly denied, that the choice of our Chief Magistrate was intended to spring from the free and unobstructed judgment of the people; and it must be admitted, that in the late election, which was conducted according to the forms of the Constitution, that intention was disappointed. A charter, the letter of which conflicts with its spirit, the details of which counteract its principles, is certainly defective. On the occasion alluded to, the candidate who, in the primary election, obtained the highest number of votes, and at the moment of final competition bore incontestible evidence of being the choice of a majority of the American people--evidence which subsequent popular decisions have confirmed, was superceded by a combination, that triumphed only because the competition was transferred to a small pre-existing body of electors, of which one party to the combination was an influential member.
The crisis was calculated to awaken the worst designs of selfish ambition; and if the motives of men are to be determined by their actions, seems to have had its sinister opportunities fully employed. According to Mr. Adams' declarations in his book on the fisheries, as well as to recollections and convictions resulting from the public observation of public men, political hostility and personal estrangement had for several years, and on momentous subjects, separated himself and Mr. Clay. No approach to union, no inclination for amity, was manifested by either, until it was ascertained that as long as they obeyed the principles and supported the opinions which had formed their respective pretensions and produced their avowed opposition, the power at which they grasped was not to be gained-that continued disunion would frustrate, and that instant combination would gratify their mutual ambition. Then, and not till then, long cherished distrust was mutually forgotten, oft expressed opinions were practically renounced, and adverse principles openly abandoned. Each became the artificer of that man's promotion whose depression, up to the moment, had been a chief object of his exertions. The highest amount of executive power was divided, and the closest fraternity of political fortune was established between them. What is enormous, need not be exaggerated; what is flagrant, requires no demonstration. Mr. Adams desired the office of President--he went into the combination without it, and came out with it. Mr. Clay desired that of Secretary of State-he went into the combination without it, and came out with it.
Of this transaction, the simplest history is the best analysis. Where a change of political principles, or even of private estimation, is the immediate cause of personal gain reciprocally to the agent and the object of the change, impurity of motive is necessarily concluded. Whoever expects otherwise, must expect the laws of reasoning, imprinted by the Deity on the human mind, to be altered. It is equally certain, that a daring ingratitude is displayed by the citizen who insults the majesty of the people with the very power which their generous confidence had placed in his hands. To believe, when proof is insufficient, is not greater folly than to doubt when it is convincing; and where circumstantial evidence is conclusive, positive testimony, which is always liable to a corrective collation with circumstances, is rather curious than valuable. It was but the other day that an atrocious murder in the enlightened State of New York was detected and punished upon circumstantial evidence; and surely a process of reasoning which will sanction the destruction of one man's life, is rigorous enough to determine the conduct of another. Those who demand stronger evidence of an improper understanding between Mr. Adams and Mr. Clay than that afforded by their combination itself, must be prepared to contend that it is not in the nature of things for circumstances to evince guilt, and must be disposed to suspend their judgments until the parties confess their crimes. It ought, however, to be remembered that all our knowledge of motives and character, every decision we form respecting mental occurrences, is drawn from the consideration of circumstances, and that it is out of the ordinary course of things for the confession of the accused to precede the sentence of the proper tribunal.
The members of this Assembly, therefore, in protesting against the election of Mr. Adams as impure and anti-republican, are sensible of no precipitancy of judgment, or too great a license of language. Unwilling to assert what is doubtful, they are determined to speak what is true; nor do they deem it necessary to fortify their protest by the numerous collateral proofs to be derived either from the contradictions contained in the studied vindication of the Secretary of State ; from the confessions of his friend, his colleague and his champion; or from the pertinent and concurring reminiscences of respectable witnesses. The object of these resolutions being remedial, not vindictive, it remains, after exemplifying the actual danger of the present plan, to show the probable advantage of the amendment proposed. In the first place, by giving the election directly and conclusively to the people, we should conform to the fundamental principles of our government, which was departed from in the formation of the Constitution, from apprehensions, which experience, as far as it has gone, proves not to have been well founded. Another benefit will be, that the dependence of the Governor on the governed, so desirable in a republic, will be thus effectually secured. A consideration of equal moment, both as it regards the theory and practice of our government, is to be found in the fact, that an election placed entirely in the hands of the people, must result in the expression of their choice. This will exclude the formidable evils of previous cabals, concomitant corruption, and subsequent resentments. The people will be satisfied with their own work, and at succeeding elections, will deliberately confirm or prudently correct their former preference. Nor is it probable that thereby purity of elections would be obtained at the expense of public tranquillity. The turbulence apprehended by the framers of the Constitution, is less likely to be excited by the process of a fair and open election, than by the contentions sure to arise, under the present narrow system between parties inclining to practice, and parties endeavoring to defeat corruption. Besides, the people of the United States are further advanced in the knowledge of self-government than they were when the Constitution was adopted; more capable of forming a prudent choice, and of avoiding those convulsions to which a less informed community might be exposed by the immediate exercise of a right so important. The division of the Union into States, and the consequent modification of the elective process, will have a tendency to limit, within moderate bounds, the effect of any agitating impulse; and it should never be forgotten, that when any faculty of government is susceptible of salutary exertion by the people, to lodge it with a body of trustees, for their benefit, is an odious and pernicious departure from the cardinal principles of free government.
These are some of the reasons which may be assigned in favor of the first resolution.
As experience proves that the present system has a tendency to destroy the purity of elections, it also shows that a bad administration is likely to spring from, and re-produce an impure election. When a President gets into power with so small an “approach to unanimity” as to be indebted for his office to the rewarded support and obvious tergiversations of his most inimical competitor, the motive which reduced him to this abasement will naturally prompt him to administer the government, not with a view to the public welfare, but with an eye to his own popularity. Hence those branches of policy which time has sanctioned, and the fruits of which, though nutritious and substantial, are neither captivating by novelty nor dazzling by splendor, will be neglected for visionary and ambitious schemes, devised to amuse the imagination of the public, and to reflect on their authors the credit of superior patriotism, invention and sagacity. With the delusive machinery will be combined the influence of Executive patronage, which, in most countries, is mighty, and, even in our own, is powerful. This great engine will be perverted from its rightful use to the purchase of praise for the Executive, and aspersions of its adversaries; and should eminent services and virtue render any citizen a dangerous competitor for the Presidency, slanders proportioned to his merit will be fabricated by interest and imposed on credulity. Such is the natural history of power unjustly acquired in a free country. Since the last election, accordingly, the attention of the general government, averted from the salutary relations, which, for a series of years, had secured for us the enjoyment of a productive commerce, has been devoted to the formation of chimerical and intrusive alliances, the avowed object of which was an outrage upon the spirit and independence of the nations whose religion and laws it was proposed to subject to our kind control and supercilious care. The mischief of this ambassadorial crusade, of this egregious departure from that modesty and reserve (the dictates of dignity and prudence) which had exalted us in the family of civilized nations, promises to equal the absurdity of its conception. Besides the unnecessary and enormous amount