Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1

Document 8

House of Representatives, Protection of Trade

22 June 1797Annals 7:363--66

Mr. Brooks did not apprehend any danger from leaving it in the power of the President to make use of the frigates as he pleased.

Mr. Gallatin said, that after having determined that the three frigates should be got ready for sea, it became necessary to say upon what business they should be employed. There might be different opinions on the subject, but it was necessary to define the object. If not, they had reason to apprehend, from his Speech, that the President would employ them as convoys. The difficulties attending such an employ had been shown when the subject of galleys was under consideration; they were so many that the peace of the country would be greatly endangered by such an employment of the frigates. The danger was greatly increased by the disputed article of our treaty with France, which the President would be under the necessity of enforcing.

In ordinary times he said, the principle of the gentleman from New Jersey was a good one. If we had frigates in service, they were not from day to day to say how they should be employed; but, under our present circumstances, he thought the object ought to be defined, and that they ought to depart from the maxim laid down by that gentleman.

Mr. Sewall was in favor of striking out the clause. If the President were to be limited at all he should have no objection to limit him with respect to convoys, from the incompetency of three vessels to that end; but these frigates were to be considered as the public force, as the navy of the United States. It was true, it was a small one; but it was such as Congress had thought proper to raise, and put in the power of the President. And why should this power be limited? It seemed as if they supposed, from his natural disposition, or from some other cause, he would abuse it, by employing the vessels contrary to law, and thereby involve the country in war.

The Constitution, Mr. S. said, had defined him to be commander-in-chief of the navy, and having a navy the command of course devolved upon him. If those vessels were but for a particular purpose, they might designate their object, but they were begun in 1794, and the act gave the President authority to "equip and employ these vessels." If at that period, when, in the opinion of many gentlemen, there was a greater prospect of war than at present, no object was pointed out for the vessels, he did not see why any should now be pointed out. With respect to the disputed articles in the French Treaty, they had already expressed an opinion of the President, which, he doubted not, would have its effect.

Mr. Williams thought that, having given the President a discretionary power, in the first section of the bill, they ought not now to take it from him; because, if he did not see occasion to man the frigates, he would never do it; but if he did see occasion for manning them, they ought not to take from him the power of employing them as he pleased. He was, therefore, in favor of the motion of the gentleman from New Jersey.

Mr. Giles asked whether to ascertain the object upon which these vessels should be employed was a Legislative or an Executive act? It was certainly legislative. They ought to say to the President--Here is the force, and there is the object. It was said they had already given an opinion to the President, with respect to the disputed articles in the French Treaty; he now wished a law to be passed in conformity to that opinion.

He said, they were often charged with a want of confidence in the present President. He was free to own he had not much confidence in the President. His Speech, at the opening of the session, had destroyed all his confidence; but, however high their opinion might be of the Executive, they ought not to lodge improper powers in his hands.

Mr. Harper was in favor of the motion. He wished to provide force, and not to direct the use of it; he believed this was the object for which they were called together. He was willing to leave the use of this force to the President, because he could employ it in a manner only applicable to peace; to employ it otherwise would be a breach of his power. He, therefore, could not repel any violation of our rights by force, except previously authorized by Congress.

The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Harper said, need not to have told them that he had no confidence in the present Executive. He might have said in no Executive; for it was well known he never missed going out of the way to say rude things of the late President; but he did not believe this was the best way of discharging their duty. He believed the public cared little what his opinion of the President was; he thought they ought to do their duty and leave the President to do his. Mr. H. denied that they had the right to direct the public force. If we were at war with Great Britain, they should have no right to say to the President, attack Canada or the Islands. The use of this force must be left to the President; if he abuses it, upon his own head would lie the responsibility, and not upon them.

Mr. S. Smith had not made up his mind on the subject. If the power of the employing the frigates was wholly left with the President, though he had not the power of declaring war, yet he might so employ them as to lead to war, particularly with respect to the French Treaty articles. On the other hand, it seemed to be a poor employment for these frigates, after all the expense which they had cost, to keep them within the jurisdiction of the United States. They could not cruise there, indeed, without danger of running on the shoals. Understanding, as he did, that by voting for the striking out of this clause, he should not be precluded from voting for the amendment of the gentleman from Virginia; if he should conclude to do so, he should vote for striking out the section in question.

Mr. Macon proposed a clause similar in effect to that proposed by the gentleman from Virginia to be inserted in place of one struck out, but the Chairman declared it not in order.

Mr. Dayton said, that those gentlemen who were not prepared to vote for retaining the eleventh section, must be prepared to say these frigates shall be employed as convoys. It was to avoid this, that he had moved to strike it out. He again expressed his wish that the direction of this force might be left with the President.

Mr. Giles declared his intention of voting for striking out the section, and to risk the insertion of another afterwards.

The question for striking out was carried without a division.

Mr. Giles then moved to insert the section before proposed by Mr. Macon, to confine the use of our frigates to the protection of our coasts, and commerce within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Mr. Otis did not think that the object of the mover of this amendment would be obtained by it, since he believed vessels would be as much exposed to danger within as without the jurisdiction of the United States. He trusted they should leave this business to the President; for whatever personal objections gentlemen might have to him, (because he was not the man of their choice,) he believed the people at large would be willing he should have this power. Indeed, he thought whatever it might display of candor in gentlemen to say they had no confidence in the first officer of Government, it had very little of discretion in it. It was to destroy one of the objects of the session, which was to show to the world that we are not a divided people.

Mr. O. did not say that Congress had not a right to designate the object of this force; but he believed it would not be convenient; for, said he, suppose either of the Barbary States were to declare war against us. (and they all knew there was no certain reliance upon their observance of treaties,) should not the President have a right to send those vessels into the Mediterranean? Or, suppose we wanted to send an Ambassador to a foreign country, or despatches to our Minister residing there, shall we, said he, limit his power in this respect?

It seemed to be the object of gentlemen, Mr. O. said, to hang a dead weight upon every measure, to prevent any thing effectual from being done, that an idea might go abroad that the President had called them together unnecessarily. If gentlemen could succeed in this, the people might adopt their opinion, and believe that the President was unworthy of their good opinion.

He thought, when all the world was in arms, and we did not know how soon we might be involved in the calamity, it behooved us to be upon our guard, and to give the President such powers as should enable him to take proper measures of defence against any attack that might be made upon us.

Mr. Macon thought every thing which had been introduced about confidence or the want of it, in the President, was extremely irrelevant and improper. For gentlemen to charge others with a want of confidence in the President, because they happened to disagree in opinion, was extraordinary conduct. His reason for proposing the present amendment, was to prevent these vessels being sent to the Mediterranean or the West Indies. He read an extract from the law of 1794, to show that the object of the frigates was there designated to be against the Algerines. His object was now, that they should be employed on the coast, and no where else. If a provision of this kind was not agreed to, they knew, from his Speech, upon what business the President would employ them. He had given his opinion to the House with candor, and he wished the House to be equally explicit.

Mr. Gallatin observed, it seemed to be the opinion of the gentleman from Massachusetts, that if they defined the object upon which these vessels were to be employed, they should be chargeable with disrespect to the President. We have, or we have not a right, said Mr. G., to define the object. If we have not the right, we ought not to exercise it; but if we had the right, there could be no disrespect shown to the President, by an exercise of that right. It might be improper, but could not be disrespectful. If once such an argument as this were admitted, it would be introduced on every occasion when it would have weight. Indeed, the gentleman saw that such an assertion was likely to have its weight on this question, and therefore introduced it. He wished to know whether the clause from the Senate did not define the object? and if so, whether that body could be charged with wanting respect for the President?

The object of the frigates had never been defined, for a good reason; because they were never ordered to be manned till now. The gentleman from South Carolina had said they were not to be used for any hostile purposes whatever. He wished to know how they were then to be employed? He thought they would be somewhat expensive packet boats, to carry despatches abroad. He knew only of two purposes for which they could be used, that is, to be held in readiness in case of war, and in the mean time to be employed in some purpose or other, which he thought should be defined, and not left in doubt. He therefore hoped the amendment would be agreed to.

Mr. Dana said, admitting that they had a right to define the object of this armament, it was no reason why they should insist upon exercising it. He agreed that they had a right. He had no objection to leaving the business to the President, except that, if the vessels were employed in convoying our commerce, he should have wished to have shared the responsibility with him. He denied that the danger which had been predicted could arise from the disputed articles in the French Treaty, as the President had a right to give such instructions to the commanders on that subject, as he saw proper.

Mr. W. Smith thought the proposition vague, since it did not say the vessels should not be used in any other way. Gentlemen were begging the question, when they said, that if the business were left with the President, the consequence would be that the vessels would be employed as a convoy, since he did not believe they were equal to that object. It was his wish that the hands of the President should not be tied.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 8
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

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