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CONQUEST OF MEXICAN TERRITORY,
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE
THE STATE OF
UNITED STATES, IN COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON
The Army Bill being under consideration in Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union,
Mr. WINTHROP moved to add the following provisos to the first clause of the bill :
Provided, That no more than a proportionate amount of the money appropriated by the two first sections of this bill shall be expended during any one quarter of the year for which said appropriations are made.
“ Provided, also, That so much of said appropriations as shall be unexpended at the next meeting of Congress, shall be subject to reconsideration and revocation.
“ Provided, further, That these appropriations are made with no view of sanctioning any prosecution of the existing war with Mexico for the acquisition of territory to form new States to be added to the Union, or for the dismemberment in any way of the Republic of Mexico.”
The question having been stated, Mr. WINTHROP addressed the Committee as follows:
There are few things, Mr. Chairman, more trying to the temper of one who has any reverence for order, or any regard for appropriateness, than the course of proceedings in this House. It was a saying of Solomon, "a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” Another of his proverbs compared such a word to " apples of gold in pictures of silver.” But it would have puzzled even Solomon himself to realize his own ideas in such a body as this. There seems to be no such thing as saying a seasonable word in this House. No man can say the thing he wishes to say, at the time he wishes to say it. One must be
always out of season, either for himself, or for the House, or for the subject, or perhaps for all at once.
My own experience upon this point does not differ materially, I am sure, from that of those around me. A few weeks ago I desired to say something about the Loan bill. What happened? It was whipped through the House at the rate of half a million a minute. One hour of discussion was allowed for a bill of twenty-eight millions of dollars! Nothing remained for all of us but silent votes.
Next came the Three Million bill. I desired to say a word about that. But, after struggling for the floor for two or three days, I was compelled to content myself with an unexplained vote upon that bill also.
Last week I had proposed to make a few remarks, upon the Army bill, which, it was understood, was to form the subject of debate on Friday and Saturday. Other business intervened, and no Army bill was brought forward,
This morning I came into the House prepared to enter upon the discussion of the new Tariff bill, which the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means had given us formal notice would be taken up to-day. But the new Tariff bill is now passed over, and lo! the Army bill is before us.
Well, Sir, I will not complain. I ought to be too grateful, perhaps, for getting the floor at all, amidst such a crowd of competitors, to indulge in any fault-finding on the occasion. At any rate, I will seize the moment as it flies; revert, as well as I can, to my last week's preparations, and proceed, without further preface, to the consideration of the bill which has just been read.
As one of the members of the committee by which this bill has been framed, I feel bound to call the attention of the House and of the country to its peculiar and extraordinary character. Undoubtedly, Sir, it is the great bill of the session. It appropriates a sum of money little short of thirty millions of dollars to the military service of the Government. The amendments which will be moved, under the authority of the Committee of Ways and Means, will probably swell the amount considerably beyond that sum.* It has been prepared in conformity with
* The whole sum appropriated by this bill, as it finally passed the House, was $34,545,389.37.
estimates from the Departments, looking to the most vigorous prosecution of the existing war. More than fourteen millions of dollars are appropriated to " transportation and supplies in the Quartermaster's Department” – an item having unquestionable reference to further, and still further, invasion of the territories of Mexico. Finally, Sir, this bill runs through a period of sixteen months from this 22d day of February, and provides for supporting and prosecuting this war to the 30th day of June, 1848!
Mr. Chairman, the Congress of the United States to-day has some control over the Executive in relation to this war. TOday, discussion in regard to its ends and objects, its conduct and its conclusion, is something more than empty breath. To-day, the Representatives of the people have the reins in their own hands. But
But pass this bill; pass it without proviso or limitation; and to-morrow the President is out of our reach. We have given him a carte blanche. We have given him a charter wide as the wind. We have surrendered the purse to the same hands which already hold the sword, and have virtually said to him, “ March on, slay, burn, sack, plunder, at your own sovereign will and pleasure. So far as thirty millions of dollars for the land forces alone (to say nothing of ten or twelve millions more for the navy) will serve your turn, you have unlimited discretion to invade and conquer for sixteen months to come !"
This, Sir, is the language of this bill, as it stands. Is it republican language? Is it democratic language? Is it constitutional language ?
Are you aware, Mr. Chairman, is this House aware, that the Parliament of Great Britain, omnipotent as it is often called, have never ventured of late years to pass such a bill as this? The British Parliament, in all the plenitude of its power, could not pass this bill, without violating one of the principles of the constitution of the realm. That principle, unwritten, indeed, but firmly established by the practice of a long series of years, is, that appropriations for the support of standing armies should not be made for a longer term than a single year.
Our own Constitution is explicit upon the subject. Congress shall have power, it says, “ to raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.” This bill keeps carefully within the letter of the Constitution ; but how far does it conform to the spirit of the instrument? Who can doubt that this limitation of two years had reference to the Congressional term — to the official tenure of the Representatives of the people? Who can question that this limitation was intended to secure to each successive Congress the right and the opportunity of controlling the supplies for the army during its own term, and to prevent the representatives of the people, at any time, from forestalling the action of their freshly chosen successors ?
Now, Sir, what are we doing here to-day? The term of the present Congress is on the eve of expiration. In less than another fortnight, this body will have finished its work, for good or for evil, and will be dissolved. A new Congress is already in part elected. By the theory of the Constitution, it will be in existence on the morning of the 4th of March next. It ought to be practically in existence on that day, ready to proceed, at the summons of the Executive, to the discharge of its daties. At all events, its constitutional term commences on that day; and on that day the functions and the authority of the present Congress are at an end. And yet here we are, in this last hour of our existence, proposing to stretch out a dead hand over sixteen months out of the twenty-four months of the term of our successors over two thirds of their whole official existenceand to foreclose, for that long period, all right, or certainly all power, on their part, to control the course of the Government upon so momentous a subject as the prosecution of a war of invasion and conquest! The Representatives of the people, freshly chosen, are, according to this bill, to have no voice as to the number of the standing army of the country, or as to its employment and support, at home or abroad, for sixteen months from the commencement of their term!
Sir, this is a new course of proceeding in this country. It never was known till now, in time of war. It has been known but for a few years in time of peace. Until 1813 our appropriation bills ran from January to January. A change of the fiscal year was then made as a matter of convenience. I have no doubt that it has proved a matter of great convenience; and, as an arrangement for a time of peace, I do not object to it. But I utterly protest against its being applied under the present circumstances of the country, and to the extent to which this bill proposes to
it. In my judgment, Sir, a due regard to republican principles, to the spirit of the Constitution, and to the rights of the people as committed to their representatives, would demand of us to forbear from making appropriations which should render the Executive independent of the Legislative department in the prosecution of this war, not merely beyond December next, when the new Congress would regularly be assembled, but even beyond the earliest day at which that Congress could be con. vened under a call from the President.
I have no fancy for extra sessions of Congress. Nothing would be less convenient or less agreeable to myself personally than to be called here in June or July. But it is not what you or I might find agreeable or convenient, that we are called on to consider at such a moment as this, but what the principles of the Constitution and the interests of the country require.
Still less are we at liberty to shape our legislation according to the likings or dislikings of the President. I have no idea that the President desires us to leave him under any necessity to summon a new Congress. He has given abundant evidence of his disposition to do without Congress altogether. A more edifying chapter will never be found in our history, than that which shall fully and faithfully record the encroachments of the Executive upon the Legislative authority during the two last years. The first march of the American army across the Sabine
where was the constitutional power of the President to direct that? The annexation of Texas to this Union was not then consummated. Six months were yet to elapse before that act was to be completed. Doubtless this Government had incurred some obligation to defend Texas from the consequences to which that measure had exposed her. But that was an obligation for Congress to recognize — for Congress to provide for. The President, however, determined to do without Congress, and took the responsibility of marching our armies into a foreign country.