Independence Hall Home Search Contents Indexes Help

Article 2, Section 3

Document 10

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 2:§ 892; 3:§§ 1555--57


§ 892. On the day appointed for the assembling of a new congress, the members of each house meet in their separate apartments. The house of representatives then proceed to the choice of a speaker and clerk, and any one member is authorized then to administer the oath of office to the speaker, who then administers the like oath to the other members, and to the clerk. The like oath is administered by any member of the senate, to the president of the senate, who then administers a like oath to all the members, and the secretary of the senate; and this proceeding is had, when, and as often as a new president of the senate, or member, or secretary, is chosen. As soon as these preliminaries are gone through, and a quorum of each house is present, notice is given thereof to the president, who signifies his intention to address them. This was formerly done by way of speech; but is now done by a written message, transmitted to each house, containing a general exposition of the affairs of the nation, and a recommendation of such measures, as the president may deem fit for the consideration of congress. When the habit was for the president to make a speech, it was in the presence of both houses, and a written answer was prepared by each house, which, when accepted, was presented by a committee. At present, no answer whatsoever is given to the contents of the message. And this change of proceeding has been thought, by many statesmen, to be a change for the worse, since the answer of each house enabled each party in the legislature to express its own views, as to the matters in the speech, and to propose, by way of amendment to the answer, whatever was deemed more correct and more expressive of public sentiment, than was contained in either. The consequence was, that the whole policy and conduct of the administration came under solemn review; and it was animadverted on, or defended, with equal zeal and independence, according to the different views of the speakers in the debate; and the final vote showed the exact state of public opinion on all leading measures. By the present practice of messages, this facile and concentrated opportunity of attack or defence is completely taken away; and the attack or defence of the administration is perpetually renewed at distant intervals, as an incidental topic in all other discussions, to which it often bears very slight, and perhaps no relation. The result is, that a great deal of time is lost in collateral debates, and that the administration is driven to defend itself, in detail, on every leading motion, or measure of the session.

. . . . .

§ 1555. The first part, relative to the president's giving information and recommending measures to congress, is so consonant with the structure of the executive departments of the colonial and state governments, with the usages and practice of other free governments, with the general convenience of congress, and with a due share of responsibility on the part of the executive, that it may well be presumed to be above all real objection. From the nature and duties of the executive department, he must possess more extensive sources of information, as well in regard to domestic as foreign affairs, than can belong to congress. The true workings of the laws; the defects in the nature or arrangements of the general systems of trade, finance, and justice; and the military, naval, and civil establishments of the Union, are more readily seen, and more constantly under the view of the executive, than they can possibly be of any other department. There is great wisdom, therefore, in not merely allowing, but in requiring, the president to lay before congress all facts and information, which may assist their deliberations; and in enabling him at once to point out the evil, and to suggest the remedy. He is thus justly made responsible, not merely for a due administration of the existing systems, but for due diligence and examination into the means of improving them.

§ 1556. The power to convene congress on extraordinary occasions is indispensable to the proper operations, and even safety of the government. Occasions may occur in the recess of congress, requiring the government to take vigorous measures to repel foreign aggressions, depredations, and direct hostilities; to provide adequate means to mitigate, or overcome unexpected calamities; to suppress insurrections; and to provide for innumerable other important exigencies, arising out of the intercourse and revolutions among nations.

§ 1557. The power to adjourn congress in cases of disagreement is equally indispensable; since it is the only peaceable way of terminating a controversy, which can lead to nothing but distraction in the public councils.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 2, Section 3, Document 10
The University of Chicago Press

Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.

Easy to print version.

Home | Search | Contents | Indexes | Help

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000