John Tyler photo

Message to the House of Representatives

August 30, 1842

To the House of Representatives:

By the Constitution of the United States it is provided that "every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall before it become a law be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve, he shall sign it; but if not, he shall return it with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large upon the Journal and proceed to reconsider it."

In strict compliance with the positive obligation thus imposed upon me by the Constitution, not having been able to bring myself to approve a bill which originated in the House of Representatives entitled "An act to provide revenue from imports, and to change and modify existing laws imposing duties on imports, and for other purposes," I returned the same to the House with my objections to its becoming a law. These objections, which had entirely satisfied my own mind of the great impolicy, if not unconstitutionality, of the measure, were presented in the most respectful and even deferential terms. I would not have been so far forgetful of what was due from one department of the Government to another as to have intentionally employed in my official intercourse with the House any language that could be in the slightest degree offensive to those to whom it was addressed. If in assigning my objections to the bill I had so far forgotten what was due to the House of Representatives as to impugn its motives in passing the bill, I should owe, not only to that House, but to the country, the most profound apology. Such departure from propriety is, however, not complained of in any proceeding which the House has adopted. It has, on the contrary, been expressly made a subject of remark, and almost of complaint, that the language in which my dissent was couched was studiously guarded and cautious.

Such being the character of the official communication in question, I confess I was wholly unprepared for the course which has been pursued in regard to it. In the exercise of its power to regulate its own proceedings the House for the first time, it is believed, in the history of the Government thought proper to refer the message to a select committee of its own body for the purpose, as my respect for the House would have compelled me to infer, of deliberately weighing the objections urged against the bill by the Executive with a view to its own judgment upon the question of the final adoption or rejection of the measure.

Of the temper and feelings in relation to myself of some of the members selected for the performance of this duty I have nothing to say. That was a matter entirely within the discretion of the House of Representatives. But that committee, taking a different view of its duty from that which I should have supposed had led to its creation, instead of confining itself to the objections urged against the bill availed itself of the occasion formally to arraign the motives of the President for others of his acts since his induction into office. In the absence of all proof and, as I am bound to declare, against all law or precedent in parliamentary proceedings, and at the same time in a manner which it would be difficult to reconcile with the comity hitherto sacredly observed in the intercourse between independent and coordinate departments of the Government, it has assailed my whole official conduct without the shadow of a pretext for such assault, and, stopping short of impeachment, has charged me, nevertheless, with offenses declared to deserve impeachment.

Had the extraordinary report which the committee thus made to the House been permitted to remain without the sanction of the latter, I should not have uttered a regret or complaint upon the subject. But unaccompanied as it is by any particle of testimony to support the charges it contains, without a deliberate examination, almost without any discussion, the House of Representatives has been pleased to adopt it as its own, and thereby to become my accuser before the country and before the world. The high character of such an accuser, the gravity of the charges which have been made, and the judgment pronounced against me by the adoption of the report upon a distinct and separate vote of the House leave me no alternative but to enter my solemn protest against this proceeding as unjust to myself as a man, as an invasion of my constitutional powers as Chief Magistrate of the American people, and as a violation in my person of rights secured to every citizen by the laws and the Constitution. That Constitution has intrusted to the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment. Such impeachment is required to be tried before the most august tribunal known to our institutions. The Senate of the United States, composed of the representatives of the sovereignty of the States, is converted into a hall of justice, and in order to insure the strictest observance of the rules of evidence and of legal procedure the Chief Justice of the United States, the highest judicial functionary of the land, is required to preside over its deliberations. In the presence of such a judicatory the voice of faction is presumed to be silent, and the sentence of guilt or innocence is pronounced under the most solemn sanctions of religion, of honor, and of law. To such a tribunal does the Constitution authorize the House of Representatives to carry up its accusations against any chief of the executive department whom it may believe to be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. Before that tribunal the accused is confronted with his accusers, and may demand the privilege, which the justice of the common law secures to the humblest citizen, of a full, patient, and impartial inquiry into the facts, upon the testimony of witnesses rigidly cross-examined and deposing in the face of day. If such a proceeding had been adopted toward me, unjust as I should certainly have regarded it, I should, I trust, have met with a becoming constancy a trial as painful as it would have been undeserved. I would have manifested by a profound submission to the laws of my country my perfect faith in her justice, and, relying on the purity of my motives and the rectitude of my conduct, should have looked forward with confidence to a triumphant refutation in the presence of that country and by the solemn judgment of such a tribunal not only of whatever charges might have been formally preferred against me, but of all the calumnies of which I have hitherto been the unresisting victim. As it is, I have been accused without evidence and condemned without a hearing. As far as such proceedings can accomplish it, I am deprived of public confidence in the administration of the Government and denied even the boast of a good name--a name transmitted to me from a patriot father, prized as my proudest inheritance, and carefully preserved for those who are to come after me as the most precious of all earthly possessions. I am not only subjected to imputations affecting my character as an individual, but am charged with offenses against the country so grave and so heinous as to deserve public disgrace and disfranchisement. I am charged with violating pledges which I never gave, and, because I execute what I believe to be the law, with usurping powers not conferred by law, and, above all, with using the powers conferred upon the President by the Constitution from corrupt motives and for unwarrantable ends. And these charges are made without any particle of evidence to sustain them, and, as I solemnly affirm, without any foundation in truth.

Why is a proceeding of this sort adopted at this time? Is the occasion for it found in the fact that having been elected to the second office under the Constitution by the free and voluntary suffrages of the people, have succeeded to the first according to the express provisions of the fundamental law of the same people? It is true that the succession of the Vice-President to the Chief Magistracy has never occurred before and that all prudent and patriotic minds have looked on this new trial of the wisdom and stability of our institutions with a somewhat anxious concern. I have been made to feel too sensibly the difficulties of my unprecedented position not to know all that is intended to be conveyed in the reproach cast upon a President without a party. But I found myself placed in this most responsible station by no usurpation or contrivance of my own. I was called to it, under Providence, by the supreme law of the land and the deliberately declared will of the people. It is by these that I have been clothed with the high powers which they have seen fit to confide to their Chief Executive and been charged with the solemn responsibility under which those powers are to be exercised. It is to them that I hold myself answerable as a moral agent for a free and conscientious discharge of the duties which they have imposed upon me. It is not as an individual merely that I am now called upon to resist the encroachments of unconstitutional power. I represent the executive authority of the people of the United States, and it is in their name, whose mere agent and servant I am, and whose will declared in their fundamental law I dare not, even were I inclined, to disobey, that I protest against every attempt to break down the undoubted constitutional power of this department without a solemn amendment of that fundamental law.

I am determined to uphold the Constitution in this as in other respects to the utmost of my ability and in defiance of all personal consequences. What may happen to an individual is of little importance, but the Constitution of the country, or any one of its great and clear principles and provisions, is too sacred to be surrendered under any circumstances whatever by those who are charged with its protection and defense. Least of all should he be held guiltless who, placed at the head of one of the great departments of the Government, should shrink from the exercise of its unquestionable authority on the most important occasions and should consent without a struggle to efface all the barriers so carefully erected by the people to control and circumscribe the powers confided to their various agents. It may be desirable, as the majority of the House of Representatives has declared it is, that no such checks upon the will of the Legislature should be suffered to continue. This is a matter for the people and States to decide, but until they shall have decided it I shall feel myself bound to execute, without fear or favor, the law as it has been written by our predecessors.

I protest against this whole proceeding of the House of Representatives as ex parte and extrajudicial. I protest against it as subversive of the common right of all citizens to be condemned only upon a fair and impartial trial, according to law and evidence, before the country. I protest against it as destructive of all the comity of intercourse between the departments of this Government, and destined sooner or later to lead to conflicts fatal to the peace of the country and the integrity of the Constitution. I protest against it in the name of that Constitution which is not only my own shield of protection and defense, but that of every American citizen. I protest against it in the name of the people, by whose will I stand where I do, by whose authority I exercised the power which I am charged with having usurped, and to whom I am responsible for a firm and faithful discharge according to my own convictions of duty of the high stewardship confided to me by them. I protest against it in the name of all regulated liberty and all limited government as a proceeding tending to the utter destruction of the checks and balances of the Constitution and the accumulating in the hands of the House of Representatives, or a bare majority of Congress for the time being, an uncontrolled and despotic power. And I respectfully ask that this my protest may be entered upon the Journal of the House of Representatives as a solemn and formal declaration for all time to come against the injustice and unconstitutionality of such a proceeding.


John Tyler, Message to the House of Representatives Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives