On the Proposition introduced by Mr. Fitzsimons, that Provision should be made for the Reduction of the Public Debt.

House of Representatives, November 20, 1792.

Mr. MERCER. The Constitution permits the head of the treasury to propose plans. It may be proper, then, that the different secretaries may {430} prepare such plans as are within their respective departments, which the chief magistrate may propose to the legislatures, if he sees fit; and when so done, it is constitutional, and the legislature may or may not, at their discretion, take them up; any other exposition is unconstitutional and idle. This is also the exposition of the documents and information that arise in the administration of government, which this house may require of the executive magistrate, and which he will communicate as he sees fit. The house may go too far in asking information. He may constitutionally deny such information of facts there deputed as are unfit to be communicated, and may assist in the legislation I always wish for. But I want no opinions resulting from them. If they are to influence us, they are wrong; if not to influence, they are useless. This mode of procedure, of originating laws with the secretary, destroys the responsibility; it throws it on a man not elected by the people, and over whom they have no control.

November 21, 1792.

Mr. AMES. What is the clause of the Constitution, opposed to the receiving a plan of a sinking fund from the secretary? Bills for raising revenue shall originate in this house. I verily believe the members of this house, and the citizens at large, would be very much surprised to hear this clause of the Constitution formally and gravely stated as repugnant to the reference to the treasury department for a plan, if they and we had not been long used to hear it.

To determine the force of this amazing constitutional objection, it will be sufficient to define terms.

What is a bill? It is a term of technical import, and surely it cannot need a definition: it is an act of an inchoate state, having the form but not the authority of the law.

What is originating a bill? Our rules decide it. Every bill shall be introduced by a motion for leave, or by a committee.

It may be said, the plan of a sinking fund, reported by the secretary, is not, in technical, or even in popular language, a bill -- nor, by the rules of the house or those of common sense, is this motion the originating a bill. By resorting to the spirit of the Constitution, or by adopting any reasonable construction of the clause, is it possible to make it appear repugnant to the proposition for referring to the secretary? The opposers of this proposition surely will not adopt a construction of the Constitution. They have often told us, we are to be guided by a strict adherence to the letter; that there is no end to the danger of constructions.

The letter is not repugnant; and will it be seriously affirmed that, according to the spirit and natural meaning of the Constitution, the report of the secretary will be a revenue bill; or any other bill, and that this proposition is originating such a bill? If it be, where shall we stop? If the idea of such a measure, which first passes through the mind, be confounded with the measure subsequent to it, what confusion will ensue! The President, by suggesting the proposition, may as well be pretended to originate a revenue bill; even a newspaper plan would be a breach of the exclusive privilege of this house, and the liberty of the press, so justly dear to us, would be found unconstitutional Yet if, without any order of the house, the draft of an act were printed, and a copy laid before every member in his seat, no person will venture to say that it is a bill -- that it is originated, or can be brought under cognizance of the house, unless by a motion.

I reply upon it, that neither the letter of the Constitution, nor any {431} meaning that it can be tortured into, will support the objection which has so often been urged with solemn emphasis and persevering zeal.

We may repeat it, what color is there for saying that the secretary legislates? Neither m memory nor m understanding can discern any. I am well aware that no topic is better calculated to make popular impressions; but I cannot persuade myself that they will charge us with neglect or violation of duty, for putting ourselves into a situation to discharge it in the best and most circumspect manner.

Mr. MADISON. I insisted that a reference to the secretary of the treasury on subjects of loans, taxes, and provisions for loans, &c., was in fact a delegation of the authority of the legislature, although it would admit of much sophistical argument on the contrary.