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SPEECH OF EDWARD LIVINGSTON,
THE ALIEN BILL,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED
STATES, JUNE 19, 1798.
By the provisions of this bill, the President might order dangerous or suspected aliens, to depart out of the territory of the United States. The penalty, provided for disobedience of the President's order, was imprisonment and a perpetual exclusion from the rights of citizenship. The bill provided, that, if any alien, ordered to depart, should prove to the satisfaction of the President, that no injury to the United States would arise from suffering him to remain, the President might grant him a license to remain for such time as
he should deem proper, and at such place as he should designate. The bill having been read the third time, the question was about to
be taken on its final passage, when Mr. Livingston addressed the House as follows :
MR. SPEAKER, I ESTEEM it one of the most fortunate occurrences of my life, that, after an inevitable absence from my seat in this House, I have arrived in time to express my dissent to the passage of this bill. It would have been a source of eternal regret, and the keenest remorse, if any private affairs, any domestic concerns, however interesting, had deprived me of the opportunity, I am now about to use, of stating my objections, and recording my vote against an act, which I believe to be in direct violation of the constitution, and marked with every characteristic of the most odious des. potism. VOL. II,
On my arrival, I inquired, what subject occupied the attention of the House; and being told it was the alien bill, I directed the printed copy to be brought to me, but to my great surprise, seven or eight copies of different bills on the same subject, were put into my hands; among them it was difficult (so strongly were they marked by the same family features,) to discover the individual bill then under discussion. This circumstance gave me a suspicion, that the principles of the measure were erroneous. Truth marches directly to its end, by a single, undeviating path. Error is either undermining in its object, or pursues it through a thousand winding ways; the multiplicity of propositions, therefore, to attain the same general but doubtful end, led me to suspect, that neither the object, nor the means, proposed to attain it, were proper or necessary.
These surmises have been confirmed by a more minute examination of the bill. In the construction of statutes, it is a received rule to examine, what was the state of things when they were passed, and what were the evils they were intended to remedy; as these circumstances will be applied in the construction of the law, it may be well to examine them minutely in framing it. The state of things, if we are to judge from the complexion of the bill, must be, that a number of aliens, enjoying the protection of our government, are plotting its destruction; that they are engaged in treasonable machinations against à people, who have given them an asylum and support, and that there exists no provision for their expulsion and punishment. If these things are so, and no remedy exists for the evil, one ought speedily to be provided, but even then it must be a remedy that is consistent with the constitution under which we act; for, by that instrument, all powers, not expressly given to it by the union, are reserved to the states; it follows, that unless an express authority can be found, vesting us with the power, be the evil ever so great, it can only be re
medied by the several states, who have never delegated the authority to Congress.
We must legislate upon facts, not on surmises: wo must have evidence, not vague suspicions, if we mean to legislate with prudence. What facts have been produced? What évidence has been submitted to the House? I have heard, sir, of none; but if evidence of facts could not be procured, at least it might have been expected, that reasonable cause of suspicion should be shown. Here again, gentlemen are at fault; they cannot even show a suspicion why aliens ought to be suspected. We have, indeed, been told, that the fate of Venice, Switzerland and Batavia, was produced by the interference of foreigners. But the instances are unfortunate; because all those powers have been overcome by foreign force, or divided by domestic faction, not by the influence of aliens who resided among them; and if any instruction is to be gained from the history of those republics, it is, that we ought to banish, not aliens, but all those citizens who do not approve the executive acts. This doctrine, I believe, gentlemen are not ready to avow; but if this measure prevails, I shall not think the other remote. If it has been proved, that these governments were destroyed by the conspiracies of aliens, it yet remains to be shown, that we are in the same situation: or that any such plots have been detected, or are even reasonably suspected here. Nothing of this kind has yet been done. A modern Theseus, indeed, has told us, that he has procured a clue, that will enable him to penetrate the labyrinth and destroy this monster of sedition. Who the fair Ariadne is, who kindly gave him the ball, he has not revealed; nor, though several days have elapsed since he undertook the adventure, has he yet told us where the monster lurks. No evidence then being produced, we have a right to say, that none exists, and yet we are about to sanction a most important act, and on what grounds ?-Our individual suspicions, our private fears, our overheated imaginations. Seeing nothing to excite these suspicions, and not feeling those fears, I cannot give my assent to the bill, even if I did not feel a superior obligation to reject it on other grounds.
The first section provides, that it shall be lawful for the President “ to order all such aliens, as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the United States, in such time as shall be expressed in sueh order."
Our government, sir, is founded on the establishment of those principles, which constitute the difference between a free constitution and a despotic power; a distribution of the legislative, executive and judiciary powers into several hands; a distribution strongly marked in the three first and great divisions of the constitution. By the first, all legislative power is given to Congress; the second vests all executive functions in the President, and the third declares, that the judiciary powers shall be exercised by the supreme and inferior courts. Here then is a division of the governmental powers strongly marked, decisively pronounced, and every act of one or all of the branches, that tends to confound these powers, or alter their arrangement, must be destructive of the constitution. Examine then, sir, the bill on your table, and declare, whether the few lines, I have repeated from the first section, do not confound these fundamental powers of government, vest them all, in more unqualified terms, in one hand, and thus subvert the basis on which our liberties rest.
Legislative power prescribes the rule of action; the judiciary applies the general rule to particular cases, and it is the province of the executive to see, that the laws are carried into full effect. In all free governments, these powers are exercised by different men, and their union in the same hand is the peculiar
characteristic of despotism. If the same power, that makes the law, can construe it to suit his interest, and apply it to gratify his vengeance; if he can go further, and execute, according to his own passions, the judgment which he himself has pronounced upon his own construction of laws which he alone has made, what other features are wanted to complete the picture of tyranny? Yet all this, and more, is proposed to be done by this act : by it the President alone is empowered to make the law, to fix in his mind, what acts, what words, thoughts or looks, shall constitute the crime contemplated by the bill. He is not only authorized to make this law for his own conduct, but to vary it at pleasure, as every gust of passion, every cloud of suspicion shall agitate or darken his mind. The same power, that formed the law, then applies it to the guilty or innocent victim, whom his own suspicions, or the secret whisper of a spy, have designated as its object. The President then having construed and applied it, the same President is by the bill authorized to execute his sentence, in case of disobedience, by imprisonment during his pleasure. This then comes completely within the definition of despotism; an union of legislative, executive and judicial powers. But this bill, sir, does not stop here; its provisions are a refinement upon despotism, and present an image of the most fearful tyranny. Even in despotisms, though the monarch legislates, judges and executes, yet he legislates openly; his laws, though oppressive, are known, they precede the offence, and every man, who chooses, may avoid the penalties of disobedience. Yet he judges and executes by proxy, and his private interests or passions do not inflame the mind of his deputy.
But here the law is so closely concealed in the same mind that gave it birth—the crime is “exciting the suspicions of the President”-that no man can tell what conduct will avoid that suspicion: a careless word, perhaps misrepresented or never spoken, may be sufficient evidence, a look may destroy, an idle ges