Article 2, Section 3

Document 7

St. George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries 1: App. 344, 345--47


As from the nature of the executive office it possesses more immediately the sources, and means of information than the other departments of government; and as it is indispensably necessary to wise deliberations and mature decisions, that they should be founded upon the correct knowledge of facts, and not upon presumptions, which are often false, and always unsatisfactory; the constitution has made it the duty of the supreme executive functionary, to lay before the federal legislature, a state of such facts as may be necessary to assist their deliberations on the several subjects confided to them by the constitution. And as any inconveniencies resulting from new laws, or for the want of adequate laws upon any subject, more immediately occur to those who are entrusted with the administration of the government, than to others, less immediately concerned therein; it is likewise provided, that the first magistrate of the union should recommend to the consideration of congress such measures as he shall judge necessary, and proper. But this power of recommending any subject to the consideration of congress, carries no obligation with it. It stands precisely on the same footing, as a message from the king of England to parliament; proposing a subject for deliberation, not pointing out the mode of doing the thing which it recommends. This is considered by De Lolme, as one of the favourable peculiarities of the English constitution, uniting the advantages of originating laws in select assemblies, with the freedom of the legislature, as vested in the representatives of the people. In France, under the present constitution, all laws originate with the executive department: than which, there can not exist a stronger characteristic of a despotic government.

. . . . .

The obligation of oaths upon the consciences of ambitious men has always been very slight, as the general history of mankind but too clearly evinces. Among the Romans, indeed, they were held in great sanctity during the purer ages of the republic, but began to be disregarded as the nation approached to a state of debasement, that fitted them for slavery. Among christian princes, they seem only to have been calculated for the worst, instead of the best purposes: monarchs having long exercised, and seeming to claim, not less than the successors of St. Peter, a kind of dispensing power on this subject, in all cases affecting themselves. A due sense of religion must not only be wanting in such cases, but the moral character of the man must be wholly debased, and corrupted. Whilst these remain unsullied, in the United States, oaths may operate in support of the constitution they have adopted, but no longer. After that period an oath of office will serve merely to designate its duties, and not to secure the faithful performance of them; or, to restrain those who are disposed to violate them.

The right of issuing proclamations is one of the prerogatives of the crown of England. No such power being expressly given by the federal constitution, it was doubted, upon a particular occasion, whether the president possessed any such authority under it: Both houses of congress appear to have recognized the power as one that may be constitutionally exercised by him. Independent of such authority, we might perhaps be justified, in concluding that the obligation upon the president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, drew after it this power, as a necessary incident thereto. The commencement or determination of laws is frequently made to depend upon events, of which the executive may be presumed to receive and communicate the first authentic information: the notification of such facts seems therefore to be the peculiar province and duty of that department. If the nation be in a state of war with another nation, acts of hostility are justifiable, on the part of our citizens towards theirs; if a truce be concluded; such acts are no longer to be permitted. The fact that such a truce has been made, must be announced by the competent authority; and the law arising from the promulgation of this fact, according to the rules of war and peace, among civilized nations, is such, as to give to the proclamation the apparent effect of a new law to the people. But this is not really the case; it is the established law of nations which operates upon the fact disclosed by the proclamation, viz. That a truce has been concluded between the two nations, who were before at war. But if a proclamation should enjoin any thing to be done, which neither the law of nations, nor any previous act of the legislature, nor any treaty or compact should have made a duty, such injunction would not only be merely void, but an infringment of the constitution. Proclamations are then only binding, when they reinforce the observance of a duty, enjoined by law, but connected with some particular fact, which it may be the duty of the executive to make known.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 2, Section 3, Document 7
The University of Chicago Press

Tucker, St. George. Blackstone's Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 5 vols. Philadelphia, 1803. Reprint. South Hackensack, N.J.: Rothman Reprints, 1969.

Easy to print version.