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Article 1, Section 5, Clauses 1--4

Document 14

Thomas Jefferson, Constitutionality of Residence Bill of 1790

15 July 1790Papers 17:195--96

Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the righ[t] of self-government: they recieve it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will: collections of men, by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men. When a certain description of men are to transact together a particular business, the times and places of their meeting and separating depend on their own will; they make a part of the natural right of self-government. This, like all other natural rights, may be abridged or modified in it's exercise, by their own consent, or by the law of those who depute them, if they meet in the right of others: but so far as it is not abridged or modified, they retain it as a natural right, and may exercise it in what form they please, either exclusively by themselves, or in association with others, or by others altogether, as they shall agree.

Each house of Congress possesses this natural right of governing itself, and consequently of fixing it's own times and places of meeting, so far as it has not been abridged by the law of those who employ them, that is to say, by the Constitution. This act manifestly considers them as possessing this right of course, and therefore has no where given it to them. In the several different passages where it touches this right, it treats it as an existing thing, not as one called into existence by them. To evince this, every passage of the constitution shall be quoted, where the right of adjournment is touched; and it will be seen that no one of them pretends to give that right; that on the contrary every one is evidently introduced either to enlarge the right where it would be too narrow, to restrain it where, in it's natural and full exercise, it might be too large and lead to inconvenience, to defend it from the latitude of it's own phrases, where these were not meant to comprehend it, or to provide for it's exercise by others where they cannot exercise it themselves.

"A majority of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorised to compel the attendance of absent members." Art. 1. sect. 5. A majority of every collection of men being naturally necessary to constitute it's will, and it being frequently to happen that a majority is not assembled, it was necessary to enlarge the natural right, by giving to "a smaller number than a majority" a right to compel the attendance of the absent members, and in the mean time to adjourn from day to day. This clause then does not pretend to give to a majority a right which it knew that majority would have of themselves, but to a number less than a majority a right which it knew that lesser number would not have of themselves.

"Neither house, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two houses shall be sitting." Ibid. Each house exercising separately it's natural right to meet when and where it should think best, it might happen that the two houses would separate either in time or place, which would be inconvenient. It was necessary therefore to keep them together by restraining their natural right of deciding on separate times and places, and by requiring a concurrence of will.

But as it might happen that obstinacy, or a difference of object might prevent this concurrence, it goes on to take from them, in that instance, the right of adjournment altogether, and to transfer it to another, by declaring Art. 2. sect. 3. that "in case of disagreement between the two houses with respect to the time of adjournment the President may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper."

These clauses then do not import a gift, to the two houses, of a general right of adjournment, which it was known they would have without that gift, but to restrain or abrogate the right it was known they would have, in an instance where, exercised in it's full extent, it might lead to inconvenience, and to give that right to another who would not naturally have had it. It also gives to the President a right, which he otherwise would not have had, "to convene both houses, or either of them, on extraordinary occasions," thus substituting the will of another, where they are not in a situation to exercise their own.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 5, Clauses 1--4, Document 14
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950--.

Easy to print version.

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