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Excerpts of the President's News Conference

November 02, 1923

I have here a quotation from a decision of the Supreme Court that is relative to ships bringing intoxicating liquor into port, and the inquiry is relative to a prospective treaty with Great Britain. Now, no definite information has been received about that. It is expected that Ambassador Harvey is to bring some proposal, or some answer to our proposal, when he returns. It has been so stated in the press. Just what the nature of the proposal might be, we don't know. There has been talk about a twelve mile limit, and talk about an hour's journey. Which one of these, or a combination of them, will be suggested, is not certain. The question here is raised as to whether this treaty would be in conflict with the Constitution or the present Volstead Law. Well, that, of course, depends entirely upon the terms of the treaty. I think I stated the general principle at a prior conference, which is that the Constitution and the treaties made thereunder shall be the supreme law of the land. That works out practically in this way, as I under-stand it; Congress, of course, has the right to make laws, which, when made in accordance with that Constitution, are the supreme law of the land. Our Congress has passed the prohibitory law, and that, at the present time, is supreme. But it has also the power, on the part of the treaty-making power, to make a treaty. Now, if the treaty is made subsequent to the passage of the law, the treaty should, insofar as there was any conflict between the two, supersede the law. Then it would be open to the Congress, as I understand it, at any later or subsequent time, to re-enact a law, or to make one that was different from the terms of the treaty, and then the newly made Congressional law would be the law of the land. That is, you have a sort of concurrent power between the treaty-making authorities and the law-making authorities, and the one that has acted last is the one that is binding.

PRESS: Mr. President, some of the editorial writers seem to think that the proposed treaty would contravene the Constitution—not the Volstead Law, but the Constitution itself. Do you believe it within the power of the Government to make a treaty that would contravene the Constitution itself?

PRESIDENT: Of course not. The only power the Government has to make a treaty comes from the Constitution, and there wouldn't be any question about it, for any treaty that might be made, that was contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, would be absolutely void.

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I have another question about the reparations question, which, perhaps, I have already covered. Are the financial experts empowered to inquire into Germany's present capacity, but without authority to recommend any change in the amount of 132,000,000,000 gold marks? Of course, it goes without saying, from a reading of the note, that it isn't proposed to make any change in the treaties that Germany and France, and the other powers have made with each other, nor is it proposed that the findings of this Commission are to be binding on anyone. It is simply an inquiry into the capacity of Germany to pay; not a proposal to make any recommendation whether the reparations shall be diminished or increased. It couldn't be done without the concurrence of the French Government.

No steps have been taken towards the appointment of an American member, and anyone that is designated, doesn't go, insofar as I have in mind any plan now, representing the American Government. That, too, is carefully stated in the note. He goes as an American, to assist— not at all to represent our Government. Nor do I know whether our Government would take any steps towards making an appointment. It is suggested that Americans could undoubtedly be secured who would participate in such an investigation. Now, they might be chosen by the Reparations Commission, or chosen in any other fashion. But it was carefully stated that they are not to represent the American Government.

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Also an inquiry about the Monroe Doctrine. Whether it would be repugnant to the country if monarchies were created in the western hemisphere. I don't know as I could discuss that in a way as to shed any more light. The general prescription on all of these questions is to read the original document, whether it be a note or the Monroe Doctrine. Of course, it is well known that there was a statement by President Monroe that he didn't want any European or foreign establishments set up that might be inimical to American institutions. That is capable of a great many different interpretations, on which you are at liberty to use your ingenuity.

Source: "The Talkative President: The Off-the-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge". eds. Howard H. Quint & Robert H. Ferrell. The University Massachusetts Press. 1964.

Calvin Coolidge, Excerpts of the President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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