MVB, Speech on the appointing power, 3 October 1821

MVB, Speech on the appointing power, 3 October 1821

Mr. Van Buren said, there was a variety of opinions as to the proper place for the depository of the appointing power. Those who advocated the propriety of placing it in the governor and senate, did not appear to be satisfied with the system which they advocated. He was anxious, before the question was decided, to remove their embarrassment by designating the extent of power which was to be confided to this or that body—it was therefore his intention to submit a distinct proposition; and before he proceeded to do that, he would remark, that he most cordially concurred in opinion with the honourable gentleman from Albany, (Mr. Kent) as to the importance of proceeding with harmony and good feeling. It had been to him a matter of surprize, that on a subject in which all were so deeply interested, and where individual interest could not be subserved, they should not be willing to preserve such feelings. A contrary course would undoubtedly have a direct tendency to weaken public confidence in the proceedings of the Convention; if not generally, it would in the minds of the more enlightened parts of the community.

It was not to be disguised, that that part of the report before the committee, relating to the appointment of justices of the peace, was by far the most important feature in the report—if that was settled, the remaining part of it would be got along with very easily. Some had thought these magistrates ought to be elected; but he had at all times been opposed to their election; and if he did not deceive himself, the force of the remarks of gentlemen in favour of their election, had excited doubts in the mind of every man, as to the propriety of such a measure. He concurred in the opinion which had been expressed as to the impropriety of electing the higher officers of state, because their duties were important; and it was to be feared that it would have a tendency to render their judgment subservient to their desire for a continuance in office. This was the principal argument which had been used. If there were other reasons he did not know what they were.

The amount of business before the justices of the peace in this state, was five times as great, as all the business before the other courts—on this point, it appeared to him there was no room for a diversity of opinion—the truth of this statement could be ascertained by a reference to their proceedings. They were equally important as it respected criminal justice.

As to the probable effect upon their independence, there is no room for a comparison. The judges of the supreme court are elected for a long term of time; should the people become dissatisfied, even whole counties, these officers might not feel the effects of their displeasure till after a long time had elapsed; but apply this to justices of the peace, who administer justice in the immediate presence of their constituents, and are exposed to the daily scrutiny of those upon whom they are dependant; who are cognisant of all they do; and have the power of passing judgment on them. If they are not satisfied with them, they must forfeit their offices.

What could the single arm of a chief magistrate of the state do towards suppressing a rebellion? It must be effected through the interposition of this inferior magistracy. He was willing to go as far as any man, in endeavouring to curtail dangerous patronage in distinct bodies of men; but he would not go so far as to cut every cord that binds together the people to the government.

It was at first thought advisable by the committee, to have them appointed by the court of common pleas; but on more mature deliberation, it was concluded that it would be making political engines of them, and therefore it was abandoned, and the principle adopted which is contained in the report now before the committee. There are different propositions before the committee, viz: for having them elective, for having them appointed by the governor and senate, and for having them appointed by the governor and a council of six.

Mr. V. B. said he would not pretend to raise any new argument, but apply those which had been urged with so much force by the gentleman from Albany, (Mr. Spencer) who had first spoken this morning. His first objection was, that these men who are to be chosen as a council, are to be chosen by corrupt and intriguing men, in their respective districts. If this be the case in these extensive districts, how much more so will it be in individual counties? And again, these men are to be elected by a party, and therefore represent that party; consequently, all their acts will be characterised by party views; and again, no decent man will undertake to perform a duty, which will be sure to lead him into difficulty.

Every man would be in favour of his friend, and would therefore give rise to all the hard feelings which have been so sorely felt in the method heretofore practised by our present council. We have had some experience on this subject—I think, therefore, we ought not to proceed without serious deliberation.

We have reported a project for the city of New-York, but we are informed that it does not meet with the approbation of that city; and is it reasonable to suppose that a similar plan would meet the feelings of the different counties?

Mr. V. B. would refer the committee, though with reluctance, to the proceedings of the past council of appointment—particularly to one act. During the last winter, apprehensions were abroad in this good city, that certain individuals would have too much influence in the council; and, to shut the door against this evil, the people took it into their own hands, called ward meetings to make arrangements for the selection of officers in the city; and it is known that it caused more difficulty than any other circumstance.

He did not believe it would be benefiting the people, to extinguish one great fire and enkindle fifty-two smaller ones. The further this power could be removed from the people, the better. He could not therefore consent to the proposition of the gentleman from Oneida, (Mr. Platt,) and would ask the liberty of submitting to the consideration of the committee a project of his own. He submitted it under a full conviction of its practical utility, although it might not go so far towards meeting the views of the gentleman from Albany as would be desirable. His proposition is this: “to amend the second section of the report, by adding thereto, at the conclusion of the same, the following words:

“Who shall be appointed in the manner following, viz:

"That the board of supervisors in every county in this state shall, once in every —— years, at such time as the legislature may direct, recommend to the governor a list of persons equal in number to the justices of the peace by law authorized to be appointed for said county; and the respective courts of common pleas of the several counties shall also recommend a list of the like number, and as often as any vacancies shall happen, the boards of supervisors and courts of common pleas of the counties in which such vacancies may happen, shall recommend lists of persons equal to the number of vacancies in such county; and from the lists so recommended, the governor shall appoint and commission the justices of the peace for the respective counties—that the said justices shall hold their offices for —— years, but may be removed by the governor on the address of the body which recommended their appointment, stating in writing the grounds of such removal.”

This proposition, in the first place, meets the views of the gentlemen who are desirous of removing this power from the seat of government, as the nominations must originate in the counties.—No man will suppose that the governor will go into the different counties of the state to influence the nominations; he will merely have the right of discriminating between the individuals nominated in the counties where they reside. This, then, is the first advantage—the second will be, that the nominations will be respectable.

He could not agree in opinion with his honourable friend from Albany, as to the merits of the magistrates in this state; he considered them a very respectable body. The supervisors of a county, coming from the different towns in that county, will be acquainted with the merits of the individuals in their respective towns—there will be a rivalship for the most respectable candidates; they will be selected for their respectability and responsibility; and instead of depending for favouritism on the executive, as has heretofore been the case under the former council, they will consider it their interest to send to the governor the most respectable names that they can select. The governor may obtain any additional information which he may require from the representatives of the people in the legislature. Should there be distinct parties in these counties, one in favour and the other opposed to the governor, from both of which candidates should be nominated, he would undoubtedly, knowing his own responsibility to the people, select from both political classes with due attention to their qualifications and standing in society. It is unreasonable and rash to suppose that he would be confined to one particular class, when an indulgence in such a course, must be at his own expense—he cannot do it from ignorance, or in the dark.

The judges of the common pleas will be anxious to recommend the safest and best men, as they will have frequent occasion to sit with them in criminal cases. These were a few of the advantages arising from the plan which he proposed, although gentlemen may say it does not answer the public expectation in bringing home to the doors of the people this power of appointment. It will be seen that out of fourteen thousand officers which were heretofore dependant on this general appointing power, about eight thousand militia officers have been taken and thrown home to the people, leaving but a small number dependant on this general appointing power. It has been said that military appointments never excited great interest; although it may be true in part, it is not to the full extent;—it has been carried so far that you could scarce meet a man who was not a colonel, whilst almost every man has felt a deep interest in the subject, either directly or indirectly. An attempt was once made in the senate of this state to vary the features of our militia system: it is well known that it excited great alarm. Instead of fourteen thousand appointments, there are now but six thousand to account for—three thousand are proposed to be provided for by the legislature as they may think proper—these are coroners, acknowledgers of deeds, examiners in chancery, &c. &c. leaving but about two thousand five hundred upon which the governor will have a right to discriminate. District attorneys, clerks of courts, mayors, and recorders, are already provided for, and are to be appointed by the courts and common councils. Compare the number of officers now under consideration with the number heretofore originating in the general power—it leaves but a small proportion.

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