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We have one inducement, at least, to do so-the consideration. that legislate unwisely as we may, we can make the system no worse than it is.
I do not wish to be understood that the amendments I have offered are sufficiently perfect to carry into effect the plan I have suggested. I have not offered them under such a belief. The only object in offering them is to enable me to bring the subject before the Senate to the end that, if my views should receive favor with the Senate, a plan may be perfected, containing the requisite provisions in detail. I offer the amendments only as an approximation to the system I wish to see adopted; and I believe that, if no nearer approach shall now be made, the incorporation of the principles contained in the amendment will not be without value. For it will reduce the numerical force of the militia one half; it will relieve one half of the people now suffering under the oppression from the useless burden imposed upon them, and it will regain some portion, if not an half, of the public confidence for the militia, as the means of public defence.
Mr. SEWARD then examined and answered some objections to the system he proposed, derived, as was said, from the laws of Congress relative to the militia.
Finally, the time has come to decide whether the militia system shall be preserved or abandoned. It can be no longer maintained without radical alteration and amendment. And though members may wish to preserve it, they will find it as hopeless as the attempt to retain the snow which melts more rapidly with the pressure of the hand.
I have looked upon the system with veneration, while I have felt and acknowledged the justice of the popular complaint against it; and under the influence of mingled solicitude arising from both these causes, I have long endeavored to find a remedy for the evils I have mentioned. Of all which I have imagined and heard suggested, this appears to me most feasible, as well as most likely to be effectual. It is with a degree of diffidence I have ventured to give my views on the subject, which only can be overcome by a sense of my responsibility, before I can give a vote which will go to the eventual abolition of the system; to offer the best exertion in my power to procure it, and, at the same time, to meet the requirements of the people. I have always felt that the militia system is a relic of the age of the Revolution too valuable to be idly thrown away; that it is a strong and beautiful pillar of the
government which ought not to be rudely torn from its base. But if no effectual remedy can be found in legislative wisdom, I shall feel myself bound, though with reluctance, to vote at all hazards for such a bill as will redress the evils the system imposes, and to trust to the exigencies of invasion, insurrection, or oppression, for a regeneration of the military spirit which brought the nation into existence, and will, if restored in its primitive purity and vigor, be able to carry us through the dark and perilous ways of national calamity yet unknown to us, but which must, at some time, be trodden by all nations.
ELECTION OF MAYORS BY THE PEOPLE.
APRIL 22, 1831.
INTRODUCTORY NOTE.—The question before the Senate was the mode of choosing or appointing mayors of the several cities of the state. Motions having been made in favor of their appointment by the governor, by the governor and senate, and by the legislature, Mr. SEWARD offered an amendment proposing that they be elected by the people. He then proceeded to address the committee in support of his amendment; he spoke at some length, and assigned various reasons in favor of his amendment. He was decidedly opposed to conferring any more appointing power either upon the governor, or the governor and senate, or the legislature; and the amendment of the gentleman from the second (Mr. TALLMADGE) proposed to do, either or all of these things. He contended that it was a sound principle, adopted by the framers of the Constitution, taking the appointment of mayors out of the power of the legislature.
At another stage of the proceedings, Mr. BENTON's amendment being under discussion, which was that the mayors of all the cities in the state should be elected or appointed in such manner as the legislature shall direct, Mr. SEWARD offered the following remarks.-Ed.
WHAT is the state of the question before the Senate? The provision required by the city of New York is, that the mayor of that city shall be elected by the people. The amendment under consideration proposes that the legislature shall hereafter have the right to prescribe the manner in which that officer shall be elected or appointed.
It is admitted that the office of mayor is one of local interests, duties and responsibilities, and that it is, in the abstract, right and proper that the mayor should be elected by the people in that city. Why, then, should not this provision, conceded to be abstractly right and proper, be adopted? Is it to be rejected on the ground of distrust of the people? No such distrust is avowed, and I am therefore bound to believe none is indulged. Only one argument has been urged in support of the amendment, which was, that it was expedient that the mode of election or appointment of this officer should be made a subject of legislative dis
cretion, in order that it might from time to time be varied according to the wishes of the people of that city. This argument supposes that the present application is based upon slight grounds, and that the city of New York would not long be content with any one mode of election or appointment. This presumption is altogether unwarranted. So far as concerns this application, we are distinctly informed that it is made because by the late alteration in the charter of that city-the Common Council was divided into two houses-and the mayor was vested with the power of negativing by his veto the ordinances of those houses and it is submitted to us that the officer with whom this power is vested ought not to derive his office from that body, or be responsible to it in derogation of whose power he is to exercise his veto. Who will deny that there is merit in this proposition? Who will contend that the governor of this state, who is invested with concurrent legislative powers, should by derivation of his office or otherwise be made amenable to the legislature. This application, then, so far from being groundless, is correct in principle, and in harmony with the structure of our government. And what grounds are there for the presumption that the people of the city of New York will again require an alteration in the mode of electing their mayor if the present application shall prevail? Under the old Constitution of this state, the mayor was appointed by the council of appointment. Was the city of New York then restive and clamorous for change? No; that city acquiesced until the loud and deep-toned and universal popular complaint against the corruptions of the council of appointment demanded its abolition, and a new depository of the appointing power of the state. Then, in accordance with the more democratic principles which prevailed at that day, the appointment of mayor was confided to the immediate representatives of the people of the city in their Common Council. Have the people of that city since been unquiet on this subject? No, sir; they have never asked for a change, until by another radical alteration in the powers and duties of this office, and in the organization of the Common Council, a necessity has arisen for the application now made.
Again, sir, the tendency of all our principles of government is to democracy; the new Constitution took the appointment from the council of appointment, and conferred it upon the immediate
representatives of the people. There is but one more change before you reach absolute democracy; that is the one now proposed, and conceded to be proper. Are gentlemen afraid that the people, once invested with this power, will come back again and sue us to relieve them from its responsibilities? Such an instance would be anomalous in the history of government.
But we are told that the appointment or election of this officer ought not to "be bound up in constitutional bonds ;"—that it ought to be left to the legislature. Sir, I think if there be any right of the people which ought to be bound up in constitutional bonds, it is the right of electing their magistrates. If there be any right belonging to the people of the city of New York which ought to be bound up "in constitutional bonds," it is the right guarantied to them of electing, either by their immediate representatives, or by their own ballots, the highest local magistrate in their city, without being subjected to the caprice of party in your legislature. Gentlemen who support the amendment say they are in favor of allowing the mayor to be chosen by the people; will their amendment carry out their views? Amend the Constitution as they propose, and will the people then have that right? No; but it will then be left to the legislature of the state to determine whether the mayor shall be elected by the people or by the Common Council, or appointed by the legislature, or by the governor and Senate and to revoke that decision at pleasure.
Gentlemen do indeed assure us that the legislature will never deprive the people of that city of the privilege of electing this officer, unless at their own solicitation. We are asked if we believe any legislature would so deprive them, and we are even told that to entertain such an apprehension, is to arrogate to ourselves all the virtue and the purity of the present and future legislatures. I, sir, arrogate to myself no such extraordinary portion of virtue and purity, and yet I have less confidence in legislative bodies than is necessary to induce my consent to restore to this legislature a power, of which, within my own recollection, it has been solemnly, and for cause, deprived by the Constitution. I will not say that the legislature ever would deprive the people of New York of the right to elect the first magistrate of their city; but I can safely say that legislatures have reluctantly parted with power, and have sometimes upon poor pretexts assumed it. But, sir, the answer to the gentleman's inquiry is furnished by the Con