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Chapter 12:

  • The reduction of the expenses of the Government under Mr. Buchanan's administeration
  • -- the expedition to Utah -- the Covode Committee.

The rancorous and persistent opposition to Mr. Buchanan's administration throughout its whole term, did not divert it from devoting its efforts to promote the various and important interests intrusted to its charge. Both its domestic and foreign policy proved eminently successful. This appears from the records of the country. We deem it necessary to refer only to a few of the most important particulars

The administration succeeded by rigid economy in greatly reducing the expenditures of the Government. To this task Mr. Buchanan had pledged himself in his inaugural. It was no easy work. An overflowing treasury had produced habits of prodigality which it was difficult to correct. Over the contingent expenses of Congress, which had become far more extravagant than those of any other branch of the Government, the President could exercise no control For these the two Houses were exclusively responsible, and they had so far transcended all reasonable limits, that their expenses, though in their nature they ought to have been purely incidental, had far exceeded the whole of the regular appropriation for their pay and mileage. Such was the extent of the abuse, that in the two fiscal years ending respectively on the 30th June, 1858 and 1859, whilst the regular pay and mileage of the members were less than $2,350,000, these contingencies amounted to more than three millions and a half. In the fiscal year ending on the 30th June, 1860, they were somewhat reduced, but still exceeded $1,000,000. [232]

Notwithstanding this extravagance and the large outlay unavoidably incurred for the expedition to Utah, the President succeeded in gradually diminishing the annual expenditures until they were reduced to the sum of $55,402,465.46. We do not mention the cost of the expedition to Paraguay, because, through the careful management of the Secretary of the Navy, this amounted to very little more than the ordinary appropriation for the naval service. This aggregate embraces all the expenses of the Government, legislative, executive, and judicial, for the year ending 30th June, 1860, but not the interest on the public debt. If this, which was $8,177,814, be added, the whole would amount to $58,579,779.46. If to this we should make a liberal addition for appropriations recommended by the War and Navy Departments, as necessary for the defence of the country, but which were rejected by Congress, we shall be able to appreciate justly the correctness of the President's declaration in his annual message of December, 1860, ‘that the sum of $61,000,000, or, at the most, $62,000,000, is amply sufficient to administer the Government and to pay the interest on the public debt, unless contingent events should hereafter render extraordinary expenditures necessary.’ These statements, though made in the message, were never controverted by any member of either House in this hostile Congress. The expenditure was reduced to a much lower figure than the friends of the administration deemed possible. The result was the fruit of rigid economy and strict accountability. All public contracts, except in a very few cases where this was impracticable, were awarded, after advertisement, to the lowest bidder. And yet, in the face of all these facts, the administration of Mr. Buchanan has been charged with extravagance.


In addition to the troubles in Kansas, President Buchanan, at an early period of his administration, was confronted by an open resistance to the execution of the laws in the Territory of Utah. All the offer of the United States, judicial and executive, except two Indian agents, had found it necessary for their [233] personal safety to escape from the Territory. There no longer remained in it any Government, except the Mormon despotism of Brigham Young. This being the condition of affairs, the President had no alternative but to adopt vigorous measures for restoring the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws. For this purpose he appointed a new Governor (Cumming) and other Federal officers, to take the place of Governor Young and of those who had been compelled to leave the Territory. To have sent these officers to Utah without a military force to protect them whilst performing their duties, would have only invited further aggression. He therefore ordered that a detachment of the army should accompany them to act as a posse comitatus when required by the civil authority for the execution of the laws.

There was much reason to believe that Governor Young had long desired and intended to render himself independent. ‘He knows [says the President, in his annual message of December, 1857] that the continuance of his despotic power depends upon the exclusion of all settlers from the Territory, except those who will acknowledge his divine, mission and implicitly obey his will; and that an enlightened public opinion would soon prostrate institutions at war with the laws both of God and man. He has, therefore, for several years, in order to maintain his independence, been industriously employed in collecting and fabricating arms and munitions of war, and in disciplining the Mormons for military service. As Superintendent of Indian Affairs, he has had an opportunity of tampering with the Indian tribes, and exciting their hostile feelings against the United States. This, according to our information, he has accomplished in regard to some of these tribes, while others have remained true to their allegiance, and have communicated his intrigues to our Indian agents.’

‘At the date of the President's instructions to Govenor Cumming, a hope was indulged that no necessity might exist for employing the military in restoring and maintaining the authority of the law, but this hope has now vanished. Governor Young has, by proclamation, declared his determination to maintain his power by force, and has already committed acts of hostility [234] against the United States. Unless he should retrace his steps, the Territory of Utah will be in a state of open rebellion. He has committed these acts of hostility, notwithstanding Major Van Vliet, an officer of the army, sent to Utah by the Commanding General to purchase provisions for the troops, had given him the strongest assurances of the peaceful intentions of the Government, and that the troops would only be employed as a posse comitatus when called on by the civil authority to aid in the execution of the laws.’

He not only refused to sell, or permit the Mormons to sell, any provisions for the subsistence of the troops, but he informed Major Van Vliet that he had laid in a store of provisions for three years, which in case of necessity he would conceal ‘and then take to the mountains, and bid defiance to all the powers of the Government.’

The message proceeds to state that ‘a great part of all this may be idle boasting; but yet no wise government will lightly estimate the efforts which may be inspired by such frenzied fanaticism as exists among the Mormons in Utah. This is the first rebellion which has existed in our Territories; and humanity itself requires that we should put it down in such a manner that it shall be the last. To trifle with it would be to encourage it and to render it formidable.’

It was not until the 29th of June, 1857, that the General in Chief (Scott) was enabled to issue orders, from his headquarters at New York, to Brigadier General Harney, for the conduct of the expedition.1 (And here it may be proper to observe that Col. A. S. Johnston, of the 2d United States cavalry, was soon after substituted in the command for General Harney. This was done on the earnest request of Governor Walker, who believed that Harney's services in Kansas were indispensable.)

The season was now so far advanced, and Utah was so distant, that doubts were entertained whether the expedition ought not to be delayed until the next spring. But the necessity for a prompt movement to put down the resistance of Brigham Young to the execution of the laws, and to prevent the consequences of leaving him in undisturbed possession of supreme [235] power for another year, were most fortunately sufficient to overcome these doubts. General Scott in his orders refers to these difficulties, and makes them the occasion of prescribing to the commander the great care and diligence he ought to employ. He says: ‘The lateness of the season, the dispersed condition of the troops, and the smallness of the numbers available, have seemed to present elements of difficulty, if not hazard, in this expedition. But it is believed that these may be compensated by unusual care in its outfit and great prudence in its conduct. All disposable recruits have been reserved for it. So well is the nature of this service appreciated, and so deeply are the honor and interests of the United States involved in its success, that I am authorized to say the Government will hesitate at no expense requisite to complete the efficiency of your little army, and to insure health and comfort to it, as far as attainable.’

The happy result of this expedition we shall present in the language of the annual message of the 6th of December, 1858, as follows:

The present condition of the Territory of Utah, when contrasted with what it was one year ago, is a subject for congratulation. It was then in a state of open rebellion, and cost what it might, the character of the Government required that this rebellion should be suppressed, and the Mormons compelled to yield obedience to the Constitution and the laws. In order to accomplish this object, as I informed you in my last annual message, I appointed a new Governor instead of Brigham Young, and other Federal officers to take the place of those who, consulting their personal safety, had found it necessary to withdraw from the Territory. To protect these civil officers, and to aid them as a posse comitatus in the execution of the laws in case of need, I ordered a detachment of the army to accompany them to Utah. The necessity for adopting these measures is now demonstrated.

On the 15th of September, 1857, Governor Young issued his proclamation, in the style of an independent sovereign, announcing his purpose to resist by force of arms the entry of the United States troops into our own Territory of Utah. By this he required all the forces in the Territory “to hold themselves in [236] readiness to march at a moment's notice to repel any and all such invasion,” and established martial law from its date throughout the Territory. These proved to be no idle threats. Forts Bridger and Supply were vacated and burnt down by the Mormons, to deprive our troops of a shelter after their long and fatiguing march. Orders were issued by Daniel H. Wells, styling himself “Lieutenant-General, Nauvoo Legion,” to stampede the animals of the United States troops on their march, to set fire to their trains, to burn the grass and the whole country before them and on their flanks, to keep them from sleeping by night surprises, and to blockade the road by felling trees and destroying the fords of rivers, etc., etc., etc.

These orders were promptly and effectually obeyed. On the 4th of October, 1857, the Mormons captured and burned, on Green River, three of our supply trains, consisting of seventy-five wagons loaded with provisions and tents for the army, and carried away several hundred animals. This diminished the supply of provisions so materially that General Johnston was obliged to reduce the ration, and even with this precaution there was only sufficient left to subsist the troops until the first of June.

Our little army behaved admirably in their encampment at Fort Bridger under these trying privations. In the midst of the mountains, in a dreary, unsettled, and inhospitable region, more than a thousand miles from home, they passed the severe and inclement winter without a murmur. They looked forward with confidence for relief from their country in due season, and in this they were not disappointed.

The Secretary of War employed all his energies to forward them the necessary supplies, and to muster and send such a military force to Utah as would render resistance on the part of the Mormons hopeless, and thus terminate the war without the effusion of blood. In his efforts he was efficiently sustained by Congress. They granted appropriations sufficient to cover the deficiency thus necessarily created, and also provided for raising two regiments of volunteers “for the purpose of quelling disturbances in the Territory of Utah, for the protection of supply and emigrant trains, and the suppression of Indian hostilities [237] on the frontiers.” 2 Happily, there was no occasion to call these regiments into service. If there had been, I should have felt serious embarrassment in selecting them, so great was the number of our brave and patriotic citizens anxious to serve their country in this distant and apparently dangerous expedition. Thus it has ever been, and thus may it ever be!

The wisdom and economy of sending sufficient reenforcements to Utah are established not only by the event, but in the opinion of those who, from their position and opportunities, are the most capable of forming a correct judgment. General Johnston, the commander of the forces, in addressing the Secretary of War from Fort Bridger, under date of October 18th, 1857, expresses the opinion that “unless a large force is sent here, from the nature of the country, a protracted war on their [the Mormons'] part is inevitable.” This he considered necessary, to terminate the war “speedily and more economically than if attempted by insufficient means.”

In the mean time it was my anxious desire that the Mormons should yield obedience to the Constitution and the laws, without rendering it necessary to resort to military force. To aid in accomplishing this object, I deemed it advisable, in April last, to despatch two distinguished citizens of the United States, Messrs. Powell and McCulloch, to Utah. They bore with them a proclamation addressed by myself to the inhabitants of Utah, dated on the 6th day of that month, warning them of their true condition, and how hopeless it was on their part to persist in rebellion against the United States, and offering all those who should submit to the laws a full pardon for their past seditions and treasons. At the same time I assured those who should persist in rebellion against the United States that they must expect no further lenity, but look to be rigorously dealt with, according to their deserts. The instructions to these agents, as well as a copy of the proclamation and their reports, are herewith submitted. It will be seen by their, report of the 3d of July last, that they have fully confirmed the opinion expressed by General Johnston in the previous October as to the necessity of sending reenforcements to Utah. In this they state that they [238] “are firmly impressed with the belief that the presence of the army here, and the large additional force that had been ordered to this Territory, were the chief inducements that caused the Mormons to abandon the idea of resisting the authority of the United States. A less decisive policy would probably have resulted in a long, bloody, and expensive war.” These gentlemen conducted themselves to my entire satisfaction, and rendered useful services in executing the humane intentions of the Government.

It also affords me great satisfaction to state that Governor Cumming has performed his duty in an able and conciliatory manner, and with the happiest effect. I cannot, in this connection, refrain from mentioning the valuable services of Colonel Thomas L. Kane, who, from motives of pure benevolence, and without any official character or pecuniary compensation, visited Utah during. the last inclement winter for the purpose of contributing to the pacification of the Territory.

I am happy to inform you that the Governor and other civil officers of Utah are now performing their appropriate functions without resistance. The authority of the Constitution and the laws has been fully restored, and peace prevails throughout the Territory. A portion of the troops sent to Utah are now encamped in Cedar Valley, forty-four miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and the remainder have been ordered to Oregon to suppress Indian hostilities.

The march of the army to Salt Lake City, through the Indian Territory, has had a powerful effect in restraining the hostile feelings against the United States which existed among the Indians in that region, and in securing emigrants to the far west against their depredations. This will also be the means of establishing military posts and promoting settlements along the route.

I recommend that the benefits of our land laws and preemption system be extended to the people of Utah, by the establishment of a land office in that Territory.

Nearly eight years after these events had passed into history, Mr. Buchanan was no little surprised to discover that General [239] Scott, in his autobiography, published in 1864,3 asserts that he had protested against the Utah expedition, and that it was set on foot by Secretary Floyd, ‘to open a wide field for frauds and peculation.’ He does not even intimate that the expedition had been ordered by the President. The censure is cast upon Floyd, and upon Floyd alone. The President had, as a matter of course, left the military details of the movement to the Secretary of War and the Commanding General of the Army; From a reference to the instructions from the General to General Harney, the President could not have inferred the existence of any such protest. On the contrary, General Scott explicitly states the fact that they had been ‘prepared in concert with the War Department, and sanctioned by its authority wherever required.’ In these instructions General Scott, so far from intimating that he had protested against the expedition, states that ‘the community, and in part the civil Government of Utah Territory, are in a state of substantial rebellion against the laws and authority of the United States. A new civil Governor is about to be designated, and to be charged with the establishment and maintenance of law and order. Your able and energetic aid, with that of the troops to be placed under your command, is relied upon to secure the success of his mission.’ And the General, as we have already seen, expresses the belief that the honor and interest of the United States were deeply involved in the result. Most certainly Mr. Buchanan, until he read the autobiography, never learned that General Scott had protested against the Utah expedition.

The Covode Committee.

We have already more than once referred to the violent and persistent opposition manifested in Congress to President Buchanan's administration throughout its whole term. This was displayed in a signal manner by the creation and proceedings of the notorious Covode Committee, during the session immediately preceding the Presidential election. It was instituted, beyond doubt, to render the existing Democratic administration odious [240] in the eyes of the people, and thereby to promote the election of any Republican candidate who might be nominated. The manner in which this committee was raised, by stifling debate, plainly augured the character of its future action.

On the 5th March, 1860, Mr. John Covode, a Representative from Pennsylvania, moved to suspend the rules of the House so as to enable him to introduce the resolutions creating his committee.4 The Speaker decided that this motion was not debatable. Several members endeavored to discuss the character of the resolutions, but they were soon called to order and silenced. Before Mr. Underwood was stopped he had got so far as to say: ‘I rise to a point of order. It is, that it is not in order, in this House, for any member to propose an investigation upon vague, loose, and indefinite charges, but it is his duty to state the grounds distinctly upon which he predicates his inquiry. If the gentleman who offered these resolutions will state to the House, upon his responsibility as a member, that he knows, or has been informed and believes, that offers have been made to bribe, as insinuated in that resolution, nobody will object. But I do object to charges against any officer of the Government by insinuation.’ Mr. Covode was silent to this appeal, but Mr. Bingham came to his relief by objecting to the debate as ‘all out of order.’

Mr. Winslow afterwards (amidst loud and continued cries of ‘Order’) said: ‘I feel some hesitation about my vote. These resolutions are very vague and indefinite, large in their terms, and framed like a French indictment, covering a deal of ground and abounding in a multitude of general charges. I have perfect confidence in the integrity of the President and his Cabinet. Let any specific charge be brought against him or them, and I will cheerfully yield the fullest investigation, and accord the promptest action. I will do nothing to hinder but every thing to facilitate it. I cannot, however, vote for a committee on these sweeping charges.’ Mr. John Cochrane, of New York, had also got so far as to say: ‘Because no charges have been made on which an investigation can be founded,’ when ‘Mr. Grow and others called the gentleman to order.’ [241]

The motion to suspend the rules was passed, and the resolutions were then before the House for consideration and discussion, when Mr. Covode instantly rose before any other member could obtain the floor, and called for the previous question on the adoption of the resolutions, which if sustained would cut off all amendment and debate.

Mr. Noell. ‘I desire to offer an amendment, and ask that it may be read for information.’

Mr. Covode. ‘I cannot yield for that purpose.’

Mr. Noell. ‘I ask to have the amendment read for information.’

Mr. Bingham ‘I object.’

‘The previous question was seconded and the main question ordered to be put, and under the operation thereof the resolutions were adopted.’

On the 9th March, 1860, Mr. Speaker Pennington appointed Mr. Covode of Pennsylvania, Mr. Olin of New York, Mr. Winslow of North Carolina, Mr. Train of Massachusetts, and Mr. James C. Robinson of Illinois, members of the committee.5 The Covode Committee was thus ushered into existence in ominous silence, its authors having predetermined not to utter a word themselves, nor to suffer its opponents to utter a word, on the occasion of its birth. The President could not remain silent in the face of these high-handed and unexampled proceedings. He felt it to be his imperative duty to protest against them as a dangerous invasion by the House of the rights and powers of the Presidential office under the Constitution of the United States. Accordingly he transmitted to the House, on the 28th March, 1860, the following message:6

to the House of Representatives:
After a delay which has afforded me ample time for reflection, and after much and careful deliberation, I find myself constrained by an imperious sense of duty, as a coordinate branch of the Federal Government, to protest against the first two clauses of the first resolution, adopted by the House of Representatives on the 5th instant, and published in the ‘Congressional [242] Globe’ on the succeeding day: These clauses are in the following words: “Resolved, That a committee of five members be appointed by the Speaker, for the purpose, 1st, of investigating whether the President of the United States, or any other officer of the Government, has, by money, patronage, or other improper means, sought to influence the action of Congress, or any committee thereof, for or against the passage of any law appertaining to the rights of any State or Territory; and 2d, also to inquire into and investigate whether any officer or officers of the Government have, by combination or otherwise, prevented or defeated, or attempted to prevent or defeat, the execution of any law or laws now upon the statute book, and whether the President has failed or refused to compel the execution of any law thereof.”

I confine myself exclusively to these two branches of the resolution, because the portions of it which follow relate to alleged abuses in post-offices, navy-yards, public buildings, and other public works of the United States. In such cases inquiries are highly proper in themselves, and belong equally to the Senate and the House as incident to their legislative duties, and being necessary to enable them to discover and to provide the appropriate legislative remedies for any abuses which may be ascertained. Although the terms of the latter portion of the resolution are extremely vague and general, yet my sole purpose in adverting to them at present is to mark the broad line of distinction between the accusatory and the remedial clauses of this resolution. The House of Representatives possess no power under the Constitution over the first or accusatory portion of the resolution, except as an impeaching body; whilst over the last, in common with the Senate, their authority as a legislative body is fully and cheerfully admitted.

It is solely in reference to the first or impeaching power that I propose to make a few observations. Except in this single case, the Constitution has invested the House of Representatives with no power, no jurisdiction, no supremacy whatever over the President. In all other respects he is quite as independent of them as they are of him. As a coordinate branch of the Government he is their equal. Indeed, he is the only [243] direct representative on earth of the people of all and each of the sovereign States. To them, and to them alone, is he responsible whilst acting within the sphere of his constitutional duty, and not in any manner to the House of Representatives. The people have thought proper to invest him with the most honorable, responsible, and dignified office in the world, and the individual, however unworthy, now holding this exalted position, will take care, so far as in him lies, that their rights and prerogatives shall never be violated in his person, but shall pass to his successors unimpaired by the adoption of a dangerous precedent. He will defend them to the last extremity against any unconstitutional attempt, come from what quarter it may, to abridge the constitutional rights of the Executive, and render him subservient to any human power except themselves.

The people have not confined the President to the exercise of executive duties. They have also conferred upon him a large measure of legislative discretion. No bill can become a law without his approval, as representing the people of the United States, unless it shall pass after his veto by a majority of two-thirds of both Houses. In his legislative capacity he might, in common with the Senate and the House, institute an inquiry to ascertain any facts which ought to influence his judgment in approving or vetoing any bill. This participation in the performance of legislative duties between the coordinate branches of the Government ought to inspire the conduct of all of them, in their relations toward each other, with mutual forbearance and respect. At least each has a right to demand justice from the other. The cause of complaint is, that the constitutional rights and immunities of the Executive have been violated in the person of the President.

The trial of an impeachment of the President before the Senate on charges preferred and prosecuted against him by the House of Representatives, would be an imposing spectacle for the world. In the result, not only his removal from the Presidential office would be involved, but, what is of infinitely greater importance to himself his character, both in the eyes of the present and of future generations, might possibly be tarnished. The disgrace cast upon him would in some degree be reflected [244] upon the character of the American people who elected him. Hence the precautions adopted by the Constitution to secure a fair trial. On such a trial it declares that “the Chief Justice shall preside.” This was doubtless because the framers of the Constitution believed it to be possible that the Vice-President might be biassed by the fact that “in case of the removal of the President from office” “the same shall devolve on the VicePres-ident.”

The preliminary proceedings in the House in the case of charges which may involve impeachment, have been well and wisely settled by long practice upon principles of equal justice both to the accused and to the people. The precedent established in the case of Judge Peck, of Missouri, in 1831, after a careful review of all former precedents, will, I venture to predict, stand the test of time. In that case, Luke Edward Lawless, the accuser, presented a petition to the House, in which he set forth minutely and specifically his causes of complaint. He prayed “ that the conduct and proceedings in this behalf of said Judge Peck may be inquired into by your honorable body, and such decision made thereon as to your wisdom and justice shall seem proper.” This petition was referred to the Judiciary Committee; such has ever been deemed the appropriate committee to make similar investigations. It is a standing committee, supposed to be appointed without reference to any special case, and at all times is presumed to be composed of the most eminent lawyers in the House from different portions of the Union, whose acquaintance with judicial proceedings, and whose habits of investigation, qualify them peculiarly for the task. No tribunal, from their position and character, could in the nature of things be more impartial. In the case of Judge Peck the witnesses were selected by the committee itself, with a view to ascertain the truth of the charge. They were cross-examined by him, and every thing was conducted in such a manner as to afford him no reasonable cause of complaint. In view of this precedent, and, what is of far greater importance, in view of the Constitution and the principles of eternal justice, in what manner has the President of the United States been treated by the House of Representatives? Mr. John Covode, a representative [245] from Pennsylvania, is the accuser of the President. Instead of following the wise precedents of former times, and especially that in the case of Judge Peck, and referring the accusation to the Committee on the Judiciary, the House have made my accuser one of my judges.

To make the accuser the judge is a violation of the principles of universal justice, and is condemned by the practice of all civilized nations. Every freeman must revolt at such a spectacle. I am to appear before Mr. Covode, either personally or by a substitute, to cross-examine the witnesses which he may produce before himself to sustain his own accusations against me, and perhaps even this poor boon may be denied to the President.

And what is the nature of the investigation which his resolution proposes to institute? It is as vague and general as the English language affords words in which to make it. The committee is to inquire, not into any specific charge or charges, but whether the President has, “by money, patronage, or other improper means, sought to influence,” not the action of any individual member or members of Congress, but “the action” of the entire body of Congress itself, “or any committee thereof” The President might have had some glimmering of the nature of the offence to be investigated, had his accuser pointed to the act or acts of Congress which he sought to pass or to defeat by the employment of “ money, patronage, or other improper means.” But the accusation is bounded by no such limits. It extends to the whole circle of legislation; to interference “for or against the passage of any law appertaining to the rights of any State or Territory.” And what law does not appertain to the rights of some State or Territory And what law or laws has the President failed to execute? These might easily have been pointed out had any such existed.

Had Mr. Lawless asked an inquiry to be made by the House whether Judge Peck, in general terms, had not violated his judicial duties, without the specification of any particular act, I do not believe there would have been a single vote in that body in favor of the inquiry. Since the time of the Star Chamber and of general warrants, there has been no such proceeding in England. [246]

The House of Representatives, the high impeaching power of the country, without consenting to hear a word of explanation, have indorsed this accusation against the President, and made it their own act. They even refused to permit a member to inquire of the President's accuser what were the specific charges against him. Thus, in this preliminary accusation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” against a coordinate branch of the Government, under the impeaching power, the House refused to hear a single suggestion even in regard to the correct mode of proceeding, but, without a moment's delay, passed the accusatory resolutions under the pressure of the previous question. In the institution of a prosecution for any offence against the most humble citizen—and I claim for myself no greater rights than he enjoys—the Constitution of the United States, and of the several States, require that he shall be informed, in the very beginning, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, in order to enable him to prepare for his defence. There are other principles which I might enumerate, not less sacred, presenting an impenetrable shield to protect every citizen falsely charged with a criminal offence. These have been violated in the prosecution instituted by the House of Representatives against the executive branch of the Government. Shall the President alone be deprived of the protection of these great principles, which prevail in every land where a ray of liberty penetrates the gloom of despotism? Shall the. Executive alone be deprived of rights which all his fellow-citizens enjoy? The whole proceeding against him justifies the fears of those wise and great men who, before the Constitution was adopted by the States, apprehended that the tendency of the Government was to the aggrandizement of the legislative at the expense of the executive and judicial departments.

I again declare, emphatically, that I make this protest for no reason personal to myself; and I do it with perfect respect for the House of Representatives, in which I had the honor of serving as a member for five successive terms. I have lived long in this goodly land, and have enjoyed all the offices and honors which my country could bestow. Amid all the political storms through which I have passed, the present is the first [247] attempt which has ever been made, to my knowledge, to assail my personal or official integrity; and this as the time is approaching when I shall voluntarily retire from the service of my country. I feel proudly conscious that there is no public act of my life which will not bear the strictest scrutiny. I defy all investigation. Nothing but the basest perjury can sully my good name. I do not fear even this, because I cherish an humble confidence that the Gracious Being who has hitherto defended and protected me against the shafts of falsehood and malice will not desert me now, when I have become “old and gray-headed.” I can declare, before God and my country, that no human being (with an exception scarcely worthy of notice) has, at any period of my life, dared to approach me with a corrupt or dishonorable proposition; and, until recent developments, it had never entered into my imagination that any person, even in the storm of exasperated political excitement, would charge me, in the most remote degree, with having made such a proposition to any human being. I may now, however, exclaim, in the language of complaint employed by my first and greatest predecessor, that I have been abused “in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, to a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket.”

I do, therefore, for the reasons stated, and in the name of the people of the several States, solemnly protest against these proceedings of the House of Representatives, because they are in violation of the rights of the coordinate executive branch of the Government, and subversive of its constitutional independence; because they are calculated to foster a band of interested parasites and informers, ever ready, for their own advantage, to swear before ex parte committees to pretended private conversations between the President and themselves, incapable, from their nature, of being disproved, thus furnishing material for harassing him, degrading him in the eyes of the country, and eventually, should he be a weak or a timid man, rendering him subservient to improper influences, in order to avoid such persecutions and annoyances; because they tend to destroy that harmonious action for the common good which ought to be maintained, and which I sincerely desire to cherish between [248] coordinate branches of the Government; and, finally, because, if unresisted, they would establish a precedent dangerous and embarrassing to all my successors, to whatever political party they might be attached.

James Buchanan. Washington, March 28th, 1860.

The principles maintained in this message found no favor with the majority in the House. It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, of which Mr. Hickman, of Pennsylvania, was chairman.7 On the 9th of April, 1861, he reported resolutions from the majority of the committee in opposition to its doctrines, whilst these were sustained by the minority. The majority resolutions were adopted by the House on the 8th of June following.8

Meanwhile the Covode Committee continued to pursue its secret inquisitorial examinations until the 16th of June, 1860, when Mr. Train, one of its members, and not Mr. Covode the chairman, made a report from the majority, accompanied by the mass of all sorts of testimony which it had collected.9 The views of the minority were presented by Mr. Winslow of North Carolina, now no more—a man possessing every estimable quality both of head and of heart, and one who had enjoyed the highest honors which his own State could confer.

The committee, though it had been engaged for three months with vindictive zeal and perseverance in hunting up all sorts of testimony against the President and members of his Cabinet, yet finally shrunk from the responsibility of reporting a single resolution accusing or censuring any one of them. In the boundless field it had explored, it failed to discover a single point on which it could venture to rest any such resolution. This surely was a triumphant result for the President.

We refrain from now portraying the proceedings of the committee in their true light, because this has already been sufficiently done by the message of the President to the House of the 28th June, 1860, of which we insert a copy from the Journal10 [249]

To the House of Representatives:
In my message to the House of Representatives of the 28th March last, I solemnly protested against the creation of a committee, at the head of which was placed my accuser, for the purpose of investigating whether the President had “by money, patronage, or other improper means, sought to influence the action of Congress, or any committee thereof, for or against the passage of any law appertaining to the rights of any State or Territory.” I protested against this because it was destitute of any specification; because it referred to no particular act to enable the President to prepare for his defence; because it deprived him of the constitutional guards which, in common with every citizen of the United States, he possesses for his protection; and because it assailed his constitutional independence as a coordinate branch of the Government. There is an enlightened justice, as well as a beautiful symmetry, in every part of the Constitution. This is conspicuously manifested in regard to impeachments. The House of Representatives possesses “the sole power of impeachment;” the Senate “the sole power to try all impeachments;” and the impeachable offences are “ treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.” The practice of the House, from the earliest times, had been in accordance with its own dignity, the rights of the accused, and the demands of justice. At the commencement of each judicial investigation which might lead to an impeachment, specific charges were always preferred; the accused had an opportunity of cross-examining the witnesses, and he was placed in full possession of .the precise nature of the offence which he had to meet. An impartial and elevated standing committee was charged with this investigation, upon which no member inspired with the ancient sense of honor and justice would have served, had he ever expressed an opinion against the accused. Until the present occasion it was never deemed proper to transform the accuser into the judge, and to confer upon him the selection of his own committee.

The charges made against me, in vague and general terms, were of such a false and atrocious character that I did not entertain a moment's apprehension for the result. They were abhorrent [250] to every principle instilled into me from my youth, and every practice of my life, and I did not believe it possible that the man existed who would so basely perjure himself as to swear to the truth of any such accusations. In this conviction I am informed I have not been mistaken. In my former protest, therefore, I truly and emphatically declared, that it was made for no reason personal to myself, but because the proceedings of the House were in violation of the rights of the coordinate executive branch of the Government, subversive of its constitutional independence, and, if unresisted, would establish a precedent dangerous and embarrassing to all my successors. Notwithstanding all this, if the committee had not transcended the authority conferred upon it by the resolution of the House of Representatives, broad and general as this was, I should have remained silent upon the subject. What I now charge is, that they have acted as though they possessed unlimited power, and, without any warrant whatever in the resolution under which they were appointed, have pursued a course not merely at war with the constitutional rights of the Executive, but tending to degrade the presidential office itself to such a degree as to render it unworthy of the acceptance of any man of honor or principle.

The resolution of the House, so far as it is accusatory of the President, is confined to an inquiry whether he had used corrupt or improper means to influence the action of Congress or any of its committees on legislative measures pending before them. Nothing more, nothing less. I have not learned through the newspapers, or in any other mode, that the committee have touched the other accusatory branch of the resolution, charging the President with a violation of duty in failing to execute some law or laws. This branch of the resolution is therefore out of the question. By what authority, then, have the committee undertaken to investigate the course of the President in regard to the Convention which framed the Lecompton Constitution? By what authority have they undertaker to pry into our foreign relations, for the purpose of assailing him on account of the instructions given by the Secretary of State to our Minister in Mexico, relative to the Tehuantepec route? By what authority [251] have they inquired into the causes of removal from office, and this from the parties themselves removed, with a view to prejudice his character, notwithstanding this power of removal belongs exclusively to the President under .the Constitution, was so decided by the first Congress in the year 1789, and has accordingly ever since been exercised? There is in the resolution no pretext of authority for the committee to investigate the question of the printing of the post-office blanks, nor is it to be supposed that the House, if asked, would have granted such an authority, because this question had been previously committed to two other committees—one in the Senate and the other in the House. Notwithstanding this absolute want of power, the committee rushed into this investigation in advance of all other subjects.

The committee proceeded for months, from March 22d, 1860, to examine ex parte, and without any notice to myself, into every subject which could possibly affect my character. Interested and vindictive witnesses were summoned and examined before them; and the first and only information of their testimony which, in almost every instance, I received, was obtained from the publication of such portions of it as could injuriously affect myself, in the New York journals. It mattered not that these statements were, so far as I have learned, disproved by the most Respectable witnesses who happened to be on the spot. The telegraph was silent respecting these contradictions. It was a secret committee in regard to the testimony in my defence, but it was public in regard to all the testimony which could by possibility reflect on my character. The poison was left to produce its effect upon the public mind, whilst the antidote was carefully withheld.

In their examinations the committee violated the most sacred and honorable confidences existing among men. Private correspondence, which a truly honorable man would never even entertain a distant thought of divulging, was dragged to light. Different persons in official and confidential relations with myself, and with whom it was supposed I might have held conversations, the revelation of which would do me injury, were examined. Even members of the Senate and members of my own [252] Cabinet, both my constitutional advisers, were called upon to testify, for the purpose of discovering something, if possible, to my discredit.

The distribution of the patronage of the Government is by far the most disagreeable duty of the President. Applicants are so numerous, and their applications are pressed with such eagerness by their friends both in and out of Congress, that the selection of one for any desirable office gives offence to many. Disappointed applicants, removed officers, and those who for any cause, real or imaginary, had become hostile to the administration, presented themselves, or were invited by a summons to appear before the committee. These are the most dangerous witnesses. Even with the best intentions, they are so influenced by prejudice and disappointment, that they almost inevitably discolor truth. They swear to their own version of private conversations with the President without the possibility of contradiction. His lips are sealed and he is left at their mercy. He cannot, as a coordinate branch of the Government, appear before a committee of investigation to contradict the oaths of such witnesses. Every coward knows that he can employ insulting language against the President with impunity, and every false or prejudiced witness can attempt to swear away his character before such a committee without the fear of contradiction.

Thus for months, whilst doing my best at one end of the avenue to perform my high and responsible duties to the country, has there been a committee of the House of Representatives in session at the other end of the avenue, spreading a drag-net, without the shadow of authority from the House, over the whole Union, to catch any disappointed man willing to malign my character, and all this in secret conclave. The lion's mouth at Venice, into which secret denunciations were dropped, is an apt illustration of the Covode Committee. The Star Chamber, tyrannical and odious as it was, never proceeded in such a manner. For centuries there has been nothing like it in any civilized country, except the revolutionary tribunal of France, in the days of Robespierre. Now, I undertake to state and to prove that should the proceedings of the committee be sanctioned by the House, and become a precedent for future times, the balance [253] of the Constitution will be entirely upset, and there will no longer remain the three coordinate and independent branches of the Government—legislative, executive, and judicial. The worst fears of the patriots and statesmen who framed the Constitution in regard to the usurpations of the legislative on the executive and judicial branches will then be realized. In the language of Mr. Madison, speaking on this very subject, in the forty-eighth number of the “Federalist:” “In a representative republic, where the executive magistracy is carefully limited both in the extent and duration of its power, and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly which is inspired, by a supposed influence over the people, with an intrepid confidence in its own strength, which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions by means which reason prescribes, it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.” And in the expressive and pointed language of Mr. Jefferson, when speaking of the tendency of the legislative branch of Government to usurp the rights of the weaker branches: “The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it turn their eyes on the Republic of Venice. As little will it avail us that they are chosen by ourselves. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and controlled by the others.”

Should the proceedings of the Covode Committee become a precedent, both the letter and spirit of the Constitution will be violated. One of the three massive columns on which the whole superstructure rests will be broken down. Instead of the executive being a coordinate, it will become a subordinate [254] branch of the Government. The presidential office will be dragged into the dust. The House of Representatives will then have rendered the Executive almost necessarily subservient to its wishes, instead of being independent. How is it possible that two powers in the State can be coordinate and independent of each other, if the one claims and exercises the power to reprove and to censure all the official acts and all the private conversations of the other, and this upon ex parte testimony before a secret inquisitorial committee—in short, to assume a general censorship over the others? The idea is as absurd in public as it would be in private life. Should the President attempt to assert and maintain his own independence, future Covode Committees may dragoon him into submission by collecting the hosts of disappointed office-hunters, removed officers, and those who desire to live upon the public treasury, which must follow in the wake of every administration, and they, in secret conclave, will swear away his reputation. Under such circumstances, he must be a very bold man should he not surrender at discretion and consent to exercise his authority according to the will of those invested with this terrific power. The sovereign people of the several States have elected him to the highest and most honorable office in the world. He is their only direct representative in the Government. By their Constitution they have made him commander-in-chief of their army and navy. He represents them in their intercourse with foreign nations. Clothed with their dignity and authority, he occupies a proud position before all nations, civilized and savage. With the consent of the Senate, he appoints all the important officers of the Government. He exercises the veto power, and to that extent controls the legislation of Congress. For the performance of these high duties he is responsible to the people of the several States, and not in any degree to the House of Representatives.

Shall he surrender these high powers, conferred upon him as the representative of the American people, for their benefit, to the House, to be exercised under their overshadowing influence and control? Shall he alone of all the citizens of the United States be denied a fair trial? Shall he alone not be “informed [255] of the nature and cause of the accusation” against him? Shall he alone not ‘be confronted with the witnesses’ against him Shall the House of Representatives, usurping the powers of the Senate, proceed to try the President, through the agency of a secret committee of the body where it is impossible he can make any defence, and then, without affording him an opportunity of being heard, pronounce a judgment of censure against him? The very same rule might be applied, for the very same reason, to every judge of every court of the. United States. From what part of the Constitution is this terrible secret inquisitorial power derived? No such express power exists. From which of the enumerated powers can it be inferred? It is true the House cannot pronounce the formal judgment against him of “removal from office,” but they can, by their judgment of censure, asperse his reputation, and thus, to the extent of their influence, render the office contemptible. An example is at hand of the reckless manner in which this power of censure can be employed in high party times. The House, on a recent occasion, have attempted to degrade the President by adopting the resolution of Mr. John Sherman, declaring that he, in conjunction with the Secretary of the Navy, “by receiving and considering the party relations of bidders for contracts, and the effect of awarding contracts upon pending elections, have set an example dangerous to the public safety, and deserving the re. proof of this House.”

It will scarcely be credited that the sole pretext for this vote of censure was the simple fact that in disposing of the numerous letters of every imaginable character which I daily receive, I had, in the usual course of business, referred a letter from Colonel Patterson, of Philadelphia, in relation to a contract, to the attention of the Secretary of the Navy, the head of the appropriate department, without expressing or intimating any opinion whatever on the subject; and to make the matter, if possible, still plainer, the Secretary had informed the committee that “the President did not in any manner interfere in this case, nor has he in any other case of contract since I have been in the department.” The absence of all proof to sustain this attempt to degrade the President, whilst it manifests the [256] venom of the shaft aimed at him, has destroyed the vigor of the bow.

To return, after this digression. Should the House, by the institution of Covode committees, votes of censure, and other devices to harass the President, reduce him to subservience to their will, and render him their creature, then the well-balanced Government which our fathers framed will be annihilated. This conflict has already been commenced in earnest by the House against the Executive. A bad precedent rarely if ever dies. It will, I fear, be pursued in the time of my successors, no matter what may be their political character. Should secret committees be appointed with unlimited authority to range over all the words and actions, and, if possible, the very thoughts of the President, with a view to discover something in his past life prejudicial to his character, from parasites and informers, this would be an ordeal which scarcely any mere man since the fall could endure. It would be to subject him to a reign of terror from which the stoutest and purest heart might shrink. I have passed triumphantly through this ordeal. My vindication is complete. The committee have reported no resolution looking to an impeachment against me; no resolution of censure; not even a resolution pointing out any abuses in any of the executive departments of the Government to be corrected by legislation. This is the highest commendation which could be bestowed on the heads of these departments. The sovereign people of the States will, however, I trust, save my successors, whoever they may be, from any such ordeal. They are frank, bold, and honest. They detest delators and informers. I therefore, in the name and as the representative of this great people, and standing upon the ramparts of the Constitution which they “have ordained and established,” do solemnly protest against these unprecedented and unconstitutional proceedings.

There was still another committee raised by the House on the 6th March last, on motion of Mr. Hoard, to which I had not the slightest objection. The resolution creating it was confined to specific charges, which I have ever since been ready and willing to meet I have at all times invited and defied fair investigation upon constitutional principles. I have received [257] no notice that this committee have ever proceeded to the investigation.

Why should the House of Representatives desire to encroach on the other departments of the Government? Their rightful powers are ample for every legitimate purpose. They are the impeaching body. In their legislative capacity it is their most wise and wholesome prerogative to institute rigid examinations into the manner in which all departments of the Government are conducted, with a view to reform abuses, to promote economy, and to improve every branch of administration. Should they find reason to believe, in the course of their examinations, that any grave offence had been committed by the President or any officer of the Government, rendering it proper, in their judgment, to resort to impeachment, their course would be plain. They would then transfer the question from their legislative to their accusatory jurisdiction, and take care that in all the preliminary judicial proceedings, preparatory to the vote of articles of impeachment, the accused should enjoy the benefit of cross-examining the witnesses, and all the other safeguards with which the Constitution surrounds every American citizen.

If, in a legislative investigation, it should appear that the public interest required the removal of any officer of the Government, no President has ever existed who, after giving him a fair hearing, would hesitate to apply the remedy. This I take to be the ancient and well-established practice. An adherence to it will best promote the harmony and the dignity of the intercourse between the coordinate branches of the Government, and render us all more respectable both in the eyes of our own countrymen and of foreign nations.

James Buchanan. Washington, June 22, 1860.

On the reading of this message it was, on motion of Mr. Benjamin Stanton, of Ohio, referred to a select committee, consisting of himself, Mr. Curry, Mr. Charles F. Adams, Mr. Sedgwick, and Mr. Pryor, which was instructed to report to the House at the next session. No report was ever made. Thus ended the Covode Committee.

1 Senate Documents, 1857-68, vol. III, p. 21.

2 Act of 7th April, 1858, 11 Laws, p. 262.

3 Vol. II., p. 504.

4 House Journal, p. 450; ‘Congressional Globe,’ pp. 997, 998.

5 House Journal, p.484.

6 Ibid., p. 18.

7 House Journal, pp. 622, 699.

8 Ibid., p. 101.

9 Ibid., p. 1114.

10 Ibid., p. 1218.

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