The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, 1789-1791

The Congressional Register

[Text omitted. -Ed.]***
The house went into committee on the bill for establishing the treasury department.
Mr. Trumbull in the chair.
On reading the second clause, Mr. Page objected to the words making it the duty of the secretary "to digest and report plans for the improvement and management of the revenue, and the support of the public credit:" Observing that it might be well enough to enjoin upon him the duty of making out and preparing estimates; but to go any further would be a dangerous innovation upon the constitutional privilege of this house; it would create an undue influence within these walls, because members might be lead, by the deference commonly paid to men of abilities, who give an opinion in a case they have thoroughly studied, to support the minister plan, even against their own judgment. Nor would the mischief stop here, it would establish a precedent which might be extended until we admitted all the ministers of the government on the floor, to explain and support the plans they have digested and reported; thus laying a foundation for an aristocracy or detestable monarchy.
The objection made by the gentleman near me, is undoubtedly well-founded. I think it proper to strike out all the words alluded to, because the following are sufficient to answer every valuable purpose, namely, "to prepare and report estimates of the public revenue, and public expenditures." If we authorise him to prepare and report plans, it will create an interference of the executive with the legislative powers, it will abridge the particular privilege of this house, for the constitution expressly declares, that all bills for raising revenue, shall originate in the house of representatives; how can the business originate in this house if we have it reported to us by the minister of finance: All the information that can be required, may be called for, without adopting a clause that may undermine the authority of this house, and the security of the people. The constitution has pointed out the proper method of communication between the executive and legislative departments; it is made the duty of the president to give, from time to time, information to congress of the state of the union, and to recommend to their consideration, such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient: If revenue plans are to be prepared and reported to congress, here is the proper person to do it; he is responsible to the people for what he recommends, and will be more cautious than any other person, to whom a less degree of responsibility is attached. Under this clause you give the secretary of the treasury a right to obtrude upon you, plans not only indigested, but even improper to be taken up.
I hope the house is not already weary of executing and sustaining the powers vested in them by the constitution, and yet it would argue that we thought ourselves less adequate to determine than any individual, what burthens our constituents are equal to bear: this is not answering the high expectations that were formed of our exertions for the general good, or of our vigilance in guarding our own and the people's rights. In short, mr. chairman, I can never agree to have money-bills originated and forced upon this house by a man destitute of legislative authority, while the constitution gives such power solely to the house of representatives; for this reason, I chearfully second the motion for striking out the words.
If the proposed amendment prevails, the bill will be nearly nugatory. The most important service that can be rendered by a gentleman who is at the head of the department of finance, is that of digesting and reporting plans for the improvement of the revenue, and supporting public credit; and for my part, I shall despair of ever seeing your revenue improved, or the national credit supported, unless the business is submitted into the hands of an able individual. I thought this subject was well understood, from the debate on the original motion. It was then insisted upon by an honorable gentleman, Mr. Gerry, who opposed the appointment of a secretary of the treasury, that his important duties ought to be "To consider of the means of improving the revenue, and introducing oeconomy into the expenditures, and to recommend general systems of revenue:" Now, what more than this is required by the clause?
For my part, I am at a loss to see how the privilege of the house is infringed; can any of the secretary's plans be called bills? Will they be reported in such a form even? But admitting they were, they do not become bills, unless they are sanctioned by the house, much less is the danger that they will pass into laws without full examination by both houses, and the president: From this view of the subject, so far is the clause from appearing dangerous, that I believe it discovers itself to be not only perfectly safe, but essentially necessary; and without it is retained, the great object of the bill will be defeated.
We certainly carry our dignity to the extreme, when we refuse to receive information from any but ourselves. It must be admitted, that the secretary of the treasury will, from the nature of his office, be better acquainted with the subject of improving the revenue or curtailing expence, than any other person; if he is thus capable of affording useful information, shall we reckon it hazardous to receive it? For my part, when I want to attain a particular object, I never shut my ears against information likely to enable me to secure it.
I can never consent to establish by law, this interference of an executive officer in the business of legislation: it may be well enough in an absolute monarchy, for a minister to come to a parliament with his plans in his hands, and order them to be enregistered or enacted; but this practice does not obtain even in a limited monarchy like Britain. The minister there, who introduces his plans, must be a member of the house of commons: the man would be treated with indignation, who should attempt in that country to bring his schemes before parliament in any other way. Now, why we, in the free republic of the United States, should introduce such a novelty in legislation, I am at a loss to conceive. The constitution expressly delegates to us the business of revenue: our constituents have confidence in us, because they suppose us acquainted with their circumstances: they expect, in consequence of this knowledge, we will not attempt to load them with injudicious or oppressive taxes: but they have no such security, if we are blindedly to follow perhaps an unskilful minister. It does not answer me, mr. chairman, to say the house has a right of deliberating and deciding upon these plans, because we may be told, if you prune away this part, or that part of the system, you destroy its efficiency; therefore we must act with caution; we must either take or reject the whole; but if we reject the whole, sir, we are to depend upon ourselves for a substitute; how are we to form one? For my part, I should not despair, but the united wisdom of this house could procure one; but if we are to do this in the second instance, why cannot we attempt it in the first? I have no objection to our calling upon this or any other officer for information; but it is certainly improper to have him authorised by law to intrude upon us, whatever he may think proper: I presume, sir, it is not supposed by the worthy gentleman from New-York (mr. Benson) that we shall be at a loss to conceive what information would be useful or proper for us to require, that we must have this officer to present us with what he chuses. When the president requires an opinion of him, the constitution demands him to give it; so, under the law, let him send his opinion in here, when it is asked for. If any further power is given him, it will come to this at last. We, like the parliament of Paris, shall meet to register what he dictates. Either these reports of the secretary are to have weight, or they are not; if they are to have weight, the house acts under a foreign influence, which is altogether improper and impolitic; if they are to have no weight, we impose an useless duty upon the officer, and such as is no mark of our wisdom.
Hoped the subject might be treated with candour and liberality; he supposed the objections were made on those principles, and therefore required a serious answer. The worthy gentleman who first expressed his aversion to the clause, seemed to be apprehensive that the power of reporting plans by the secretary would be improper, because it appeared to him to interfere with the legislative duty of the house, which the house ought not to relinquish.
Whenever it is a question, mr. speaker, said he, whether this house ought, or ought not to establish offices to exercise a part of the power of either branch of the government, there are two points which I take into consideration, in order to lead my mind to a just decision; First, whether the proposed disposition is useful; and, second, whether it can be safely guarded from abuse: Now I take it, sir, that the house, by their order for bringing in a bill to establish the treasury department in this way, have determined the point of utility; or, have they erred in adopting that opinion, I will slightly make an inquiry. How does it tend to general utility? The secretary is presumed to acquire the best knowledge of the subject of finance, of any member of the community. Now, if this house is to act on the best knowledge of circumstances, it seems to follow logically, that the house must obtain evidence from that officer; the best way of doing this will be publicly from the officer himself, by making it his duty to furnish us with it. It will not be denied, sir, that this officer will be better acquainted with his business than other people can be: It lays within his department, to have a comprehensive view of the state of the public revenues and expenditures: He will, by his superintending power over the collection, be able to discover abuses, if any, in that department, and to form the most eligible plan to remedy, or prevent the evil: From his information respecting money transactions, he may be able to point out the best mode for supporting the public credit, indeed these seem to me to be the great objects of his appointment.
It is, perhaps, a misfortune incident to public assemblies, that from their nature they are more incompetent to a complete investigation of accounts than a few individuals; perhaps in a government so extended, and replete with variety in its mode of expenditure as this, the subject may be more perplexing than in countries of smaller extent, and less variety of objects to guard. The science of accounts is at best but an abstruse and dry study; it is scarcely to be understood but by an unwearied assiduity for a long time; how then can a public body, elected annually, and in session for a few months, undertake the arduous task with a full prospect of success. If our plans are formed upon these incomplete investigations, we can expect little improvement; for I venture to say that our knowledge will be far inferior to that of an individual, like the present officer. Hence I contend, sir, that the secretary is a useful and invaluable part of the government.
I would not have it understood that I am against an enquiry being made into this subject at every session of the legislature. I think such a practice highly salutary, but I would not trust to an hasty or perhaps injudicious examination of a business of this magnitude; on the contrary, I would take every precaution in ascertaining the foundation upon which our revenues are to stand.
If we consider the present situation of our finances, owing to a variety of causes, we shall no doubt perceive a great, altho' unavoidable confusion throughout the whole scene; it presents to the imagination a deep, dark and dreary chaos; impossible to be reduced to order without the mind of the architect is clear and capacious, and his power commensurate to the occasion, he must not be the flitting creature of a day, he must have time given him competent for the successful exercise of his authority. It is with an intention to let a little sunshine into the business that the present arrangement is proposed, I hope it may be successful, nor do I doubt the event: I am confident our finds are equal to the demand, if they are properly brought into operation, but a bad administration of the finances will prove our greatest evil.
But is our proposed arrangement safe? Are the guards sufficient to prevent abuse? I am perfectly satisfied it can be made so, and hope the united exertions of both houses will effect it. How is the power complained of by the honorable gentlemen over the way (mr. Page and mr. Tucker) unsafe? We are told the plans reported, may have an undue influence. Upon what ground is this opinion rested? Does the gentlemen apprehend the facts will be fallaciously stated? If so, I would ask, cannot they be detected? If facts are faithfully stated, and the deductions are fair, no doubt the plan will be patronized; and will gentlemen say that it ought not? I believe there is little danger of imposition, for a person in this situation would hardly run the risk of detection, in a case where detection might be easy by an examination of the books and vouchers, and his reputation be destroyed.
What improper influence could a plan reported openly and officially have on the mind of any member, more than if the scheme and information were given privately at the secretary's office.
Nor, mr. chairman, do I approve what the gentlemen say with respect to calling on the secretary for information; it will be no mark of inattention or neglect, if he takes time to consider the questions you propound; but if you make it his duty to furnish you plans and information on the improvement of the revenue, and support of public credit, and he neglects to perform it, his conduct or capacity is virtually impeached; this will be furnishing an additional check.
It has been complained of as a novelty; but let me ask, gentlemen, if it is not to an institution of a similar kind, that the management of the finances of Britain is the envy of the world: It is true the chancellor of the exchequer is a member of the house, that has the sole right of originating money bills; but is that a reason why we should not have the information which can be obtained from our officer, who possesses the means of acquiring equally important and useful knowledge. The nation, as well as parliament of Britain, holds a check over the chancellor; if his budget contains false calculations, they are corrected; if he attempts impositions, or even unpopular measures, his administration becomes odious, and he is removed. Have we more reason to fear than they? Have we less responsibility or security in our arrangement of the treasury department? If we have, let us improve it; but not abridge it of its safest and most useful power. I hope the committee will refuse their approbation of the present motion.
I shall vote for striking out the clause, because I conceive it essentially necessary so to do. The power of originating money bills within these walls, I look upon as a sacred deposit which we may neither violate or divest ourselves of, altho' at first view, it may appear of little importance, who shall form a plan for the improvement of the revenue; altho' every information tending to effect this great object, may be gratefully received by this house; yet it behoves us to consider to what this clause may lead, and where it may terminate. Might it not, by construction, be said, that the secretary of the treasury has the sole right of digesting and reporting plans for the improvement of the revenue. This construction, may appear a little extraordinary, but it is not more so than some constructions heretofore put upon other words; but however extraordinary it may be, it may take place, and I think the best way to avoid it, will be to leave out the words altogether. It is certainly improper that any person not expressly entrusted by our constituents with the privilege of taking their money, should direct the quantum, and the manner in which to take it.
But, if there is not the danger I have mentioned of giving the power exclusively to this officer, I would ask gentlemen, and submit it to their candour to say, whether it must not have a tendency to render the minds of the members indifferent on the subject if the business is to be arranged and conducted by another, who we are told is better capable of understanding it than ourselves; certainly we shall hardly think it worth while to trouble our heads about the business; how far this will disappoint the object of our election, may be plainly seen; for my part, I think the power too great to be entrusted in any hands but those of the representatives of the people, where the constitution has deposited it— unless it be to a committee, specially appointed by the house for that purpose.
Some allusions, mr. chairman, have been made with respect to the origin of this power; gentlemen have intimated that it was copied from the powers vested in the first lord of the treasury; I am not of this opinion; I rather believe the committee, in searching for precedents, have turned to the former appointment of a superintendant of finance under the late confederation, and having discovered this enumerated among his powers, have copied it into the bill, not adverting to the different circumstances of the present and former congress; for to them alone was not confined the power of originating revenue plans; beside, it might be safe in them, because they possessed the legislative and executive power, they could abolish his plans and his office together, if they thought proper; but we are restrained by a senate, and the negative of the president; we have no power over him, therefore we ought to be cautious of putting dangerous powers in his hands.
If the principle prevails for curtailing this part of the secretary's duty, we shall lose the advantages which the proposed system was intended to acquire. The improvement and management of the revenue is a subject that must be investigated by a man of abilities and indefatigable industry, if we mean to have our business advantageously done. If honorable gentlemen will for a moment consider the peculiar circumstances of this country, the means of information attainable by the individual member of this house, and compare them with the object they have to pursue, they will plainly perceive the necessity of calling to their aid the advantages resulting from an establishment like the one contemplated in the bill; if they weigh these circumstances carefully, their objections, I trust, will vanish. Coming, mr. chairman, as we do, from different parts of the union; from states where the objects of revenue are different, where the circumstances and views of the people are different, and in a great degree local, it appears to me that no one member can be so fortunate as to possess the extensive knowledge attainable by this officer. Another circumstance induces me to draw the same conclusion; we shall find systems adopted to defeat the collection of the revenue, but it will be impossible for any of us to become so well acquainted with these machinations as to defeat their object; but from the advantageous position we give the secretary of the treasury, and the multifarious objects of his attention, he may watch over and detect their plans, he will have a better capacity to propose a remedy than any member of the legislatures.
I do not apprehend any undue influence operating on the members of this house, because I am persuaded there will ever prevail an independent and indignant spirit within the walls of congress, hostile to every venal attempt: Nor do I believe it possible to color with a semblance of justice, either false or base measures against the public welfare; the wisdom of this house can never be thought so meanly of. I trust a majority will always be found wise and virtuous enough to resist being made the tools of a corrupt adminstration: I therefore, with confidence, approve the object of the clause.
I will mention one other circumstance, of no inconsiderable force in favour of the bill: Coming, as I said we do, from districts with different ideas, perhaps different objects to pursue, much time will necessarily be consumed before a current is found in which the mind of the majority will run; and even then, gentlemen will not be certain they have procured all the information that could be obtained. It appears, therefore, to me, from the reason and nature of things, to be our duty, as wise legislators, to form such a reservoir for information as will supply us with what is necessary and useful at all times.
A proper jealousy for the liberty of the people is commendable, in those who are appointed and sworn to be its faithful guardians, but when this spirit is carried so far as to lose sight of its object, and instead of leading to avoid, urges on to the precipice of ruin, we ought to be careful how we receive its impressions; so far is the present measure from being injurious to liberty, that it is consistent with the true interest and prosperity of the community. Are gentlemen apprehensive we shall be led by this officer to adopt plans we should otherwise reject; for my part I have a better opinion of the penetration of the representation of the people than to dread any such visionary phantom.
Let us consider whether this power is essentially necessary to the government, I take it to be conceded by the gentlemen, that it is absolutely so: They say they are willing to receive the information because it may be serviceable, but do not chuse to have it communicated in this way. If the secretary of the treasury is the proper person to give the information, I can see no other mode of obtaining it, that would be so useful; do gentlemen mean that he shall give it piece meal, by way of question and answer, this will tend more to mislead than inform us. If we would judge upon any subject, it would be best to have it in one clear and complete view, than to inspect it by detachments, we should lose the great whole in the minutiae, and instead of a system, should present our constituents with a structure composed of discordant parts, counteracting and defeating the operation of each other's properties.
Make your officer responsible, and the presumption is, that plans and information are properly digested, but if he can secret himself behind the curtain, he may create a noxious influence and not be answerable for the information he gives. I conceive this great principle of responsiblilty to be essentially necessary to secure the public welfare; make it his duty to study the subject well, and put the means in his power, we can then draw from him all the information he has acquired, and apply it to the use it requires; without such an officer our plans will be ineffectual and inconsistent. I have seen too much the want of a like officer in the state legislatures, not to make me very desirous of adopting the present plan. It has been said that the members coming from the different parts of the union, are the most proper persons to give information. I deny the principle. There is no persons in the government to whom we could look with less propriety for information on this subject than to the members of this house. We are called from the pursuit of our different occupations, and come without the least preparation to bring forward a subject that requires a great degree of assiduous application to understand, add to this, the locality of our ideas, which is too commonly the case, and we shall appear not very fit to answer the end of our appointment; witness the difficulty and embarrassments with which we have hitherto been surrounded. If we had the subject digested and prepared, we would determine with ease on its fitness, its combination and its principles: and might supply omissions, or defects without hazard; and this in half the time we could frame a system, if left to reduce the chaos into order.
Rose to express his sentiments, as he did on every occasion, with diffidence in his own abilities; but he looked upon the clause both unsafe and inconsistent with the constitution. He thought the gentleman last up proved too much by his arguments, he proved that the house of representatives was in fact unnecessary and useless. That one person could be a better judge of the means to improve and manage the revenue, and support the national credit, than the whole body of congress. This kind of doctrine, mr. chairman, is indelicate, said he, in a republic, and strikes at the root of all legislation founded upon the great democratic principle of representation. It is true, mistakes, and very injurious ones have been made on the subject of finance, by some state legislatures; but I would rather submit to this evil; than, by my voice, establish tenets subversive of the liberties of my country.
Notwithstanding what I have said, I am clearly of opinion it is necessary, and useful to take measures for obtaining other information, than what members can acquire in their characters as citizens, therefore I am in favour of the present bill; but I think these words too strong, if it was modified so as to oblige him to have his plans ready for this house when they are asked for, I should be satisfied; but to establish a legal right in an officer, to obtrude his sentiments perpetually on this body, is disagreeable, and it is dangerous, inasmuch as the right is conveyed in words of doubtful import, and conveying powers exclusively vested by the constitution in this house.
One gentleman (mr. Ames) has said, that the secretary would be responsible for the plans he introduces; very true, but how are we to detect the impositions they contain; for, he says we require more time and leisure to make the scrutiny than falls to our lot, so that it does not afford the degree of responsibility which his observations supposed.
Expressed himself in favor of the object of the clause; that was, to get all the information possible for the purpose of improving the revenue; because he thought this information would be much required, if he judged from the load of public debt, and the present inability of the people to contribute largely toward its reduction.
He could not help observing however, the great degree of importance they were giving this, and the other executive officers. If the doctrine of having prime, and great ministers of state was once well established, he did not doubt but he would soon see them distinguished by a green or red ribband, or other insignia of court-favor and patronage; he wished gentlemen were aware of what consequences these things lead to, that they might exert a greater degree of caution.
The practice of parliament in Britain is first to determine the sum they will grant, and refer the subject to a committee of ways and means; this might be a proper mode to be pursued in this house.
Do gentlemen, said he, consider the importance of the power they give the officer by the clause; is it not part of our legislative authority? And does not the constitution expressly declare that the house solely shall exercise the power of originating revenue bills; now what is meant by reporting plans? It surely includes the idea of originating money bills, that is, a bill for improving the revenue, or in other words, for bringing revenue into the treasury: For if he is to report plans, they ought to be reported in a proper form, and complete; this is giving an indirect voice in legislative business, to an executive officer. If this is not the meaning of the clause, let gentlemen say what is, and to what extent it shall go; but if my construction is true, we are giving up the most essential privilege vested in us by the constitution; but what does this signify, the officer is responsible, and we are secure. This responsibility is made an argument in favor of every extension of power: I should be glad to understand the term. Gentlemen say the secretary of the treasury is responsible for the information he gives the house, in what manner does this responsibility act? Suppose he reports a plan for improving the revenue, by a tax which he thinks judicious, and one that will be agreeable to the people of the United States; but he happens to be deceived in his opinion, that his tax is obnoxious and excites a popular clamor against the minister; what is the advantage of his responsibility? Nothing: Few men deserve punishment for the errors of opinion, all that could be done would be to repeal the law, and be more cautious in future in depending implicitly on the judgement of a man who had lead us into an impolitic measure. Suppose the revenue should fall short of this estimate; is he responsible for the balance? This will be carrying the idea farther than any government hitherto has done. What then is the officer to be responsible for, which should induce the house to vest in him such extraordinary powers?
It was well observed by the honorable gentleman over the way (mr. Page) that when his bill or plan, is before the house, we must take or reject the whole; for if the individual members are so uninformed on the subject, as they have been represented, it will be next to presumption, to prepare an alteration; we should be told it was his duty officially to present plans, and our duty officially to pass them; that he is better informed than any other man; nay, better than the collective wisdom of the country: But this argument goes further still, and it may be justly asked what occasion is there for a session of congress? It incumbers the nation with a heavy expence, without rendering it any service: For, if we can neither alter, or improve the secretary's plans, we only consume our time to no avail. Under these circumstances it will be patriotic to lay down our authority, and vest it in the great minister we have established.
I do not see consequences so dangerous as some gentlemen seem to apprehend; nor did they appear to them, I believe, when the subject was last under consideration. I recollect, mr. chairman, that some difficulty was made about establishing this office, because it was feared we could not find men of sufficient abilities to fill it; the duties were then properly deemed of an high and important nature, and enumerated as those proposed in the bill. It was supposed by an honorable gentleman, that the powers here expressed might be lodged in a board, because an individual was incompetent to undertake the whole. But now we have the wonderful sagacity of discovering that if an individual is appointed, he will have capacity to form plans for improving the revenue in such an advantageous manner, as to superceed the necessity of having the representatives of the people consulted on the business; he will not only perform the usual duties of a treasury board, but be adequate to all purposes of legislation. I appeal to the gentleman for his usual candor on this occasion, which will assure us that he has wire drawn[1] his arguments.
I hope, sir, if we give this power to an individual, we shall have judgment enough to discover whether his plans are consistent with the public happiness and prosperity; and while we exercise this judgment, there can be no cause to apprehend the chimerical effects portrayed by the gentleman last up.
It is said to be giving him the power of legislation: Do we give him the power of deciding what shall be law? While we retain this power, he may give us all the information possible, but can never be said to participate in legislative business; he has no control whatever over this house. I see no danger, but a great deal of benefit arising from the clause; by making it his duty to study the subject, we may reasonably expect information.
How is it said that the power of reporting plans for the improvement of the revenue, is the power of originating money bills? The constitution declares that power to be vested solely in the house. Now, will gentlemen say a money bill is originated by an individual member if he brings it forward? It never can be originated, in my opinion, until the sense of the house is declared, much less can a plan for the improvement of the revenue be said to be a money bill.
Admitted that he gave it as his opinion, that it was not an easy thing to find a proper person for conducting the finances in this country; there were but few in Europe who possessed abilities equal to the undertaking; he said before, that he knew but one in America, and believed there was not many to be found: These were his sentiments then, since, he had made no discoveries that warranted a change of opinion; but perhaps the advocates of the bill were acquainted with a gentleman fit for the business; if they were, it was more than he pretended to be, unless, as he said before, it was an honorable member of senate, who had made more progress in acquiring a knowledge of this difficult science, than any other person he had heard of.
He would not proceed on this subject, because the house had determined to appoint such an officer, and thereby put an end to the debate; by that vote they supposed they could find a man equal to the task; he hoped they might, but he was really apprehensive of a disappointment, when he considered the confused and embarrassed state of our public debts and accounts; however, he submitted to the voice of his country.
The gentleman last up, said he, did me the honor of noticing what I said on a former occasion, but I appeal to himself whether my words were conveyed in the language of the bill; did I advise any thing like this? Has not the gentleman sagacity enough to discover that my arguments went no further than this, that he was the proper person to give information respecting the public revenues and expences, the mode of collecting, and the probable remedy for abuses? But certainly this house contains more information relative to the proper means of supporting the national credit, and how far their constituents are capable of sustaining an increase of taxes, or which mode of assessment would yield most satisfaction. Yet gentlemen propose to give the power of advising the house in all these cases, to the secretary of the treasury; it was always my opinion that the representative body, from their sense of feeling, was a better judge of taxation than any individual, however great his sagacity, or extensive his means of information.
The gentleman says we only give him power to give information, that is what I wish, but the clause goes further; is digesting and reporting plans merely giving information? These plans will have to undergo the consideration of the house, I grant; but they must have some influence coming from such high authority, and if they have this in any degree whatever, it is subversive of the principles laid down in the constitution.
The gentleman says a bill is not originated until it has obtained the sense of the house; what is it then? The bill now under consideration has not obtained the sense of the house, yet I believe that gentleman himself conceives it to be a bill; he uses the term when he is speaking of it, and will hardly deny but it is originated. I think, sir, whenever the house order a committee to bring in a bill, or give leave to a member to read one in his place, that by that order they originate the bill; and here it is that I am apprehensive of a diminution of our privilege— by this law you give the secretary the right of digesting and reporting all plans, which is but another word for bills, for the management and improvement of the revenue, and supporting public credit; to what an extent these last words may reach, I shall not pretend to say, but certainly it may include the operations of more departments than one. If the clause will bear the construction I have mentioned, it is every how unwarrantable. I said I differed from the gentleman with respect to the origin of bills, but perhaps his phrase may be applicable to a bill on its passage; all bills from the time they are admitted before the house, may be said to be on their passage, but they are originated as I take it, at their introduction.
Was not certain that he understood the objections which were made against the clause, but if he did, it was a jealousy arising from the power given the secretary to report plans of revenue to the house. No gentleman, he believed had objected to his preparing a plan, and giving it in when it was called for. If this was the case, perhaps harmony might be restored to the committee by changing the word report into prepare; he would therefore move that amendment, in order to try the sense of the house.
After hearing and weighing the various observations of gentlemen, I am at a loss to see where the danger lies; these are precisely the words used by the former congress, on two occasions, one in 1783, the other in a subsequent ordinance, which established the revenue board, the same power was also annexed to the office of superintendant of finance,[2] but I never yet heard that any inconvenience or danger was experienced from the regulation; perhaps if the power had been more fully and frequently exercised, it might have contributed more to the public good.
There is a small probability, tho' it is but small, that an officer may derive a weight from this circumstance, and have some degree of influence upon the deliberations of the legislature; but compare the danger likely to result from this cause with the danger and inconvenience of not having well formed and digested plans, and we shall find infinitely more to apprehend. Inconsistent, unproductive and expensive schemes, will be more injurious to our constituents than the undue influence which the well-digested plans of a well-informed officer can have. From a bad administration of the government, more detriment will arise than from any other source. The want of information has occasioned much inconvenience and unnecessary burthens under some of the state governments. Let it be our care to avoid those rocks and shoals in our political voyage, which have injured, and nearly proved fatal to many of our contemporary navigators.
A gentleman has asked what is meant by responsibility? I will answer him, there will be responsibility in point of reputation, at least, a responsibility to the public opinion with respect to his abilities; and supposing there is no personal responsibility, yet we know that men of talents and ability, take as much care for the preservation of their reputation, as any other species of property of which they are possessed. If a superior degree of wisdom is expected to be displayed by them, they take pains to give proofs that they possess it in the most unequivocal manner; this of itself will ensure us no small degree of exertion.
With respect to originating money bills, the house has the sole right to do it; but if the power of reporting plans can be construed to imply the power of originating revenue bills, the constitution is inconsistent with itself in giving the president authority to recommend such measures that he may think expedient or necessary; but the construction is too unnatural to require further investigation.
I have admitted there is a small probability of a small inconvenience, but I do not think it any more an argument against the clause, than it would be an argument against having windows in a house; that it was possible the wind and the rain would get in thro' the crevices.
Expressed an apprehension that the clause originated from a clause in an ordinance of the former congress; he found now he was not mistaken— but he wished gentlemen to distinguish, the manner he had attempted to do, between properties of this congress, and that, from which they might discover the impropriety of adopting it.
He thought gentlemen had sufficiently extolled the excellence of this office, and its advantages; he remembered, that the grant of this power, to the officer who formerly presided at the head of the finances, had produced some morsels of this kind; the five per cent impost, a poll tax, and a land tax, if his memory served him right, were submitted; how far these were likely to meet the approbation of the union, he did not say; but certainly one of them would meet few patrons: From this specimen, he did not form so favorable an opinion as some gentlemen expressed, of the revenue plans, prepared, digested, and reported by a secretary of the treasury.
Added, that the late congress were obliged to submit their plans to the state legislatures; consequently there was less danger of undue influence, as this was his principal fear, he would vote against every thing like giving him authority to bring his plans before the house.
Mr. LIVERMORE declared the amendment proposed by mr. Fitzsimons unsatisfactory, and by no means removing the ground of complaint.
Likewise objected to the amendment, because its effect would be precisely the same with the words standing in the bill. Why, said he, should the secretary be directed to prepare plans, unless it is intended that the house should regularly call for them? The views of gentlemen are to have an uniformity in the system of finance; but how can this be effected, without the plans are always brought before us? Whatever the house shall presume to do, on independent principles, may break in upon the secretary's system, or make him vary his propositions, in order to accommodate them to what we have done. If we must adopt plans for the sake of uniformity, we must adopt them at all times, or lose our object.
However useful it may be to obtain information from this officer, I am by no means for making it a matter of right in him to intrude his advice; I admit, information may at all times be acceptable, but I think advice should never come but when required; are we to be advised on all occasions, because we don't know when to require it? Are the members of this house incapable of asking for assistance when they want it? Why have we not affronted the other branches of the government, as well as this house? Why have we not said that the secretary of foreign affairs should prepare and digest plans for the formation of treaties, and report them to the president and senate, who are exclusively to manage that concern? The cases are exactly similar, but we did not chuse to offer them such an indignity, if it is right in one instance, it is equally so in every other. We ought to have given the secretary at war an opportunity of exercising his ingenuity, in devising plans of fortification to strengthen our shores and harbours; we ought in every case where we have to decide, appoint officers with the same view to aid our deliberations and, in fine, to perform the whole duties for which we were elected.
Mr. HARTLEY expressed himself satisfied with the amendment proposed by mr. Fitzsimons.
Was not afraid of giving the officer the power of reporting plans, because he was sure congress would in every case, decide upon their own judgment, a future congress would not pay such a deference, even to their predecessors, as to follow in their footsteps, unless they were convinced of the good policy of their measures. He thought if the house wanted to make use of the information acquired by the secretary, they ought to give him notice of their intention; consequently something of this kind was proper in the bill.
Thought the principle held up by the clause, was absolutely necessary to be received. It was of such a nature as to force itself upon them; therefore it was in vain to attempt to elude it by subterfuge. It was owing to the great abilities of a financier, that France had been able to make the exertions we were witnesses of a few years ago, without embarrassing the nation. This able man, after considerably improving the national revenue, was displaced; but such was the importance of the officer, that he has been restored again.
The honorable gentleman, said he, from South-Carolina, (mr. Tucker) has asked why we did not make a similar provision in the case of the department of foreign affairs, and of war, to assist the president; if he had consulted the constitution he would have found it unnecessary, because it is there made the duty of the heads of departments to answer the enquiries of the president in writing. It is the proper business of this house to originate revenue laws, but as we want information to act upon, we must procure it where it is to be had, consequently we must get it of this officer, and the best way of doing so, must be by making it his duty to bring it forward.
I do not contend for a word, if the spirit of the clause is retained, I am satisfied.
I do not see what we are guarding against by striking out the words, unless gentlemen mean to go so far as to introduce a prohibitory clause, and declare that the secretary of the treasury shall be restrained from digesting or preparing plans for the improvement of the revenue. If there is any evil in having him attend to this branch of the business, I can't see how to avoid it; suppose the officer is a bad man, and there are others like him in the house (for this must be what the gentlemen are afraid of) and suppose he has prepared a scheme for peculation, which he hopes to get adopted by making dupes of the honest part, how are you to hinder it from being brought forward? Cannot his friends introduce it as their own, by making and seconding a motion for that purpose? Will you restrain him from having access to the members out of doors? And cannot he infuse his dangerous and specious arguments and information into them as well in the closet, as by a public and official communication. But, mr. chairman, can this house, or if it can, will it prevent any of their constituents from bringing before them plans for the relief of grievances, or oppressions? Every individual of the community can bring business before us by petition, memorial or remonstrance, provided it is done in a decent manner, how then do you propose to restrain the secretary of the treasury.
I think the clause is very well as it stands, and shall therefore be against the amendment.
Mr. Page's motion for striking out the clause being put and negatived—
The question on mr. Fitzsimons's motion to amend the bill, by striking out the word report, and inserting prepare, was taken and carried by a great majority.
    [1.] Drawn out to a great length or with subtle ingenuity; refined.
    [2.] Similar language regarding the preparation of reports appeared in the Ordinance of 7 February 1781 that created the department of finance. An Ordinance passed 28 May 1784 created a board of treasury with all the powers given to the superintendent of finance by the 1781 Ordinance (Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 19:126, 27:469-70).