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

Seth Ames, ed., Works of Fisher Ames, I (Boston, 1854): 54-56.

Fisher Ames to George R. Minot

I have written so often, that my conscience did not reproach me with any neglect of duty to you, or to our good friends in the club. I am not able to write fine-spun sentiments and grave remarks, and to give my letter the ease of epistolary writing. I would write, as I am used to converse with you; and as to matter of fact, the newspapers take the advantage of me, and possess themselves of every novelty, before I could send it. You will see of course how slender materials are left me, to gratify the curiosity of our friends. The debate in relation to the President's power of removal from office, is an instance. Four days' unceasing speechifying has furnished you with the merits of the question. The transaction of yesterday may need some elucidation. In the committee of the whole, it was moved to strike out the words "to be removable by the President," & c. This did not pass, and the words were retained. The bill was reported to the house, and a motion made to insert in the second clause, "whenever an officer shall be removed by the President, or a vacancy shall happen in any other way," to the intent to strike out the first words. The first words, "to be removable," & c., were supposed to amount to a legislative disposal of the power of removal. If the Constitution had vested it in the President, it was improper to use such words as would imply that the power was to be exercised by him in virtue of this act. The mover and supporters of the amendment supposed that a grant by the legislature might be removed, and that as the Constitution had already given it to the President, it was putting it on better ground, and, if once gained by the declaration of both houses, would be a construction of the Constitution, and not liable to future encroachments. Others, who contended against the advisory power of the Senate in removals, supposed the first ground the most tenable, that it would include the latter, and operate as a declaration of the Constitution, and at the same (time) expressly dispose of the power. They further apprehended that any change of position would divide the victors, and endanger the final decision in both houses. There was certainly weight in this last opinion. Yet the amendment being actually proposed, it remained only to choose between the two clauses. I think the latter, which passed, and which seems to imply the legal (rather constitutional) power of the President, is the safest doctrine. This prevailed, and the first words were expunged. This has produced discontent, and possibly in the event it will be found disagreement, among those who voted with the majority.
This is in fact a great question, and I feel perfectly satisfied with the President's right to exercise the power, either by the Constitution or the authority of an act. The arguments in favor of the former fall short of full proof, but in my mind they greatly preponderate.
You will say that I have expressed my sentiments with some moderation. You will be deceived, for my whole heart has been engaged in this debate. Indeed it has ached. It has kept me agitated, and in no small degree unhappy. I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about the people. It is the stale artifice which has duped the world a thousand times, and yet, though detected, it is still successful. I love liberty as well as anybody. I am proud of it, as the true title of our people to distinction above others; but so are others, for they have an interest and a pride in the same thing. But I would guard it by making the laws strong enough to protect it. In this debate a stroke was aimed at the vitals of the government, perhaps with the best intentions, but I have no doubt of the tendency to a true aristocracy.
I have received yours, per post, and thank you for it. I am hurrying this to get it in before the mail closes. We have had the treasury bill before us to-day— made some progress. A puerile debate arose, whether the Secretary of the Treasury should be allowed to exhibit his reports and statements to the legislature. The champions of liberty drew their swords, talked blank verse about treasury influence, a ministry, violation of the privileges of the House by giving him a hearing from time to time. They persevered so long and so furiously, that they lost all strength, and were left in a very small minority. The clause, permitting this liberty, passed.