Article 1, Section 7, Clauses 2 and 3
[Volume 2, Page 402]
Roger Sherman to John Adams20 July 1789Adams Works, 6:438--39
But what I principally have in view, is to submit to your consideration the reasons that have inclined me to think that the qualified negative given to the executive by our [Volume 2, Page 403] constitution is better than an absolute negative. In Great Britain, where there are the rights of the nobility as well as the rights of the common people to support, it may be necessary that the crown should have a complete negative to preserve the balance; but in a republic like ours, wherein is no higher rank than that of common citizens, unless distinguished by appointments to office, what occasion can there be for such a balance? It is true that some men in every society have natural and acquired abilities superior to others, and greater wealth. Yet these give them no legal claim to offices in preference to others, but will doubtless give them some degree of influence, and justly, when they are men of integrity; and may procure them appointments to places of trust in the government. Yet, they having only the same common rights with the other citizens, what competition of interests can there be to require a balance? Besides, while the real estates are divisible among all the children, or other kindred in equal degree, and entails are not admitted, it will operate as an agrarian law, and the influence arising from great estates in a few hands or families will not exist to such a degree of extent or duration as to form a system, or have any great effect.
In order to trace moral effects to their causes, and vice versa, it is necessary to attend to principles as they operate on men's minds. Can it be expected that a chief magistrate of a free and enlightened people, on whom he depends for his election and continuance in office, would give his negative to a law passed by the other two branches of the legislature, if he had power? But the qualified negative given to the executive by our constitution, which is only to produce a revision, will probably be exercised on proper occasions; and the legislature have the benefit of the president's reasons in their further deliberations on the subject, and if a sufficient number of the members of either house should be convinced by them to put a negative upon the bill, it would add weight to the president's opinion, and render it more satisfactory to the people. But if two thirds of the members of each house, after considering the reasons offered by the President, should adhere to their former opinion, will not that be the most safe foundation to rest the decision upon? On the whole, it appears to me that the power of a complete negative, if given, would be a dormant and useless one, and that the provision in the constitution is calculated to operate with proper weight, and will produce beneficial effects.
The negative vested in the crown of Great Britain has never been exercised since the Revolution, and the great influence of the crown in the legislature of that nation is derived from another source, that of appointment to all offices of honor and profit, which has rendered the power of the crown nearly absolute; so that the nation is in fact governed by the cabinet council, who are the creatures of the crown. The consent of parliament is necessary to give sanction to their measures, and this they easily obtain by the influence aforesaid. If they should carry their points so far as directly to affect personal liberty or private property, the people would be alarmed and oppose their progress; but this forms no part of their system, the principal object of which is revenue, which they have carried to an enormous height. Wherever the chief magistrate may appoint to offices without control, his government may become absolute, or at least aggressive; therefore the concurrence of the senate is made requisite by our constitution.
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
© 1987 by The University of Chicago