Article 2, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3

Document 46

Roger Sherman to John Adams

July 1789Adams Works 6:440--42

I received your letter of the twentieth instant. I had in mine, of the same date, communicated to you my ideas on that part of the constitution, limiting the president's power of negativing the acts of the legislature; and just hinted some thoughts on the propriety of the provision made for the appointment to offices, which I esteem to be a power nearly as important as legislation.

If that was vested in the president alone, he might, were it not for his periodical election by the people, render himself despotic. It was a saying of one of the kings of England, that while the king could appoint the bishops and judges, he might have what religion and law he pleased.

It appears to me the senate is the most important branch in the government, for aiding and supporting the executive, securing the rights of the individual states, the government of the United States, and the liberties of the people. The executive magistrate is to execute the laws. The senate, being a branch of the legislature, will naturally incline to have them duly executed, and, therefore, will advise to such appointments as will best attain that end. From the knowledge of the people in the several states, they can give the best information as to who are qualified for office; and though they will, as you justly observe, in some degree lessen his responsibility, yet their advice may enable him to make such judicious appointments, as to render responsibility less necessary. The senators being eligible by the legislatures of the several states, and dependent on them for reëlection, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislature or executive of the United States; and the government of the Union being federal, and instituted by the several states for the advancement of their interests, they may be considered as so many pillars to support it, and, by the exercise of the state governments, peace and good order may be preserved in places most remote from the seat of the federal government, as well as at the centre. And the municipal and federal rights of the people at large will be regarded by the senate, they being elected by the immediate representatives of the people, and their rights will be best secured by a due execution of the laws. What temptation can the senate be under to partiality in the trial of officers of whom they had a voice in the appointment? Can they be disposed to favor a person who has violated his trust and their confidence?

The other evils you mention, that may result from this power, appear to me but barely possible. The senators will doubtless be in general some of the most respectable citizens in the states for wisdom and probity, superior to mean and unworthy conduct, and instead of undue influence, to procure appointments for themselves or their friends, they will consider that a fair and upright conduct will have the best tendency to preserve the confidence of the people and of the states. They will be disposed to be diffident in recommending their friends and kindred, lest they should be suspected of partiality; and the other members will feel the same kind of reluctance, lest they should be thought unduly to favor a person, because related to a member of their body; so that their friends and relations would not stand so good a chance for appointment to offices, according to their merit, as others.

The senate is a convenient body to advise the president, from the smallness of its numbers. And I think the laws would be better framed and more duly administered, if the executive and judiciary officers were in general members of the legislature, in case there should be no interference as to the time of attending to their several duties. This I have learned by experience in the government in which I live, and by observation of others differently constituted. I see no principles in our constitution that have any tendency to aristocracy, which, if I understand the term, is a government by nobles, independent of the people, which cannot take place, in either respect, without a total subversion of the constitution. As both branches of Congress are eligible from the citizens at large, and wealth is not a requisite qualification, both will commonly be composed of members of similar circumstances in life. And I see no reason why the several branches of the government should not maintain the most perfect harmony, their powers being all directed to one end, the advancement of the public good.

If the president alone was vested with the power of appointing all officers, and was left to select a council for himself, he would be liable to be deceived by flatterers and pretenders to patriotism, who would have no motive but their own emolument. They would wish to extend the powers of the executive to increase their own importance; and, however upright he might be in his intentions, there would be great danger of his being misled, even to the subversion of the constitution, or, at least, to introduce such evils as to interrupt the harmony of the government, and deprive him of the confidence of the people.

But I have said enough upon these speculative points, which nothing but experience can reduce to a certainty.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 2, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3, Document 46
The University of Chicago Press

The Works of John Adams. Edited by Charles Francis Adams. 10 vols. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1850--56. See also: Butterfield; Cappon; Warren-Adams Letters

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