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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 despotism.
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 ei. ther 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
inedied 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 duced? What evidence 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 cvery 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 fir 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