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Special Message

February 10, 1835

To the Senate of the United States.

I have received the resolution of the Senate of the 2d instant, requesting me to communicate copies of the charges, if any, which may have been made to me against the official conduct of Gideon Fitz, late surveyor-general south of the State of Tennessee, which caused his removal from office.

The resolution is preceded by a preamble which alleges as reasons for this request that the causes which may have produced the removal of the officer referred to may contain information necessary to the action of the Senate on the nomination of his successor and to the investigation now in progress respecting the frauds in the sales of the public lands.

This is another of those calls for information made upon me by the Senate which have, in my judgment, either related to the subjects exclusively belonging to the executive department or otherwise encroached on the constitutional powers of the Executive. Without conceding the right of the Senate to make either of these requests, I have yet, for the various reasons heretofore assigned in my several replies, deemed it expedient to comply with several of them. It is now, however, my solemn conviction that I ought no longer, from any motive nor in any degree, to yield to these unconstitutional demands. Their continued repetition imposes on me, as the representative and trustee of the American people, the painful but imperious duty of resisting to the utmost any further encroachment on the rights of the Executive. This course is especially due to the present resolution. The President in cases of this nature possesses the exclusive power of removal from office, and, under the sanctions of his official oath and of his liability to impeachment, he is bound to exercise it whenever the public welfare shall require if, on the other hand, from corrupt motives he abuses this power, he is exposed to the same responsibilities. On no principle known to our institutions can he be required to account for the manner in which he discharges this portion of his public duties, save only in the mode and under the forms prescribed by the Constitution. The suggestion that the charges a copy of which is requested by the Senate "may contain information necessary to their action" on a nomination now before them can not vary the principle. There is no necessary connection between the two subjects, and even if there were the Senate have no right to call for that portion of these matters which appertains to the separate and independent action of the Executive. The intimation that these charges may also be necessary "to the investigation now in progress respecting frauds in the sales of public lands" is still more insufficient to authorize the present call. Those investigations were instituted and have thus far been conducted by the Senate in their legislative capacity, and with the view, it is presumed, to some legislative action. If the President has in his possession any information on the subject of such frauds, it is his duty to communicate it to Congress, and it may undoubtedly be called for by either House sitting in its legislative capacity, though even from such a call all matters properly belonging to the exclusive duties of the President must of necessity be exempted.

The resolution now before me purports to have been passed in executive session, and I am bound to presume that if the information requested therein should be communicated it would be applied in secret session to "the investigation of frauds in the sales of the public lands." But, if so applied, the distinction between the executive and legislative functions of the Senate would not only be destroyed, but the citizen whose conduct is impeached would lose one of his valuable securities, that which is afforded by a public investigation in the presence of his accusers and of the witnesses against him. Besides, a compliance with the present resolution would in all probability subject the conduct and motives of the President in the case of Mr. Fitz to the review of the Senate when not sitting as judges on an impeachment, and even if this consequence should not occur in the present case the compliance of the Executive might hereafter be quoted as a precedent for similar and repeated applications. Such a result, if acquiesced in, would ultimately subject the independent constitutional action of the Executive in a matter of great national concernment to the domination and control of the Senate; if not acquiesced in, it would lead to collisions between coordinate branches of the Government, well calculated to expose the parties to indignity and reproach and to inflict on the public interest serious and lasting mischief.

I therefore decline a compliance with so much of the resolution of the Senate as requests "copies of the charges, if any," in relation to Mr. Fitz, and in doing so must be distinctly understood as neither affirming nor denying that any such charges were made; but as the Senate may lawfully call upon the President for information properly appertaining to nominations submitted to them, I have the honor, in this respect, to reply that I have none to give them in the case of the person nominated as successor to Mr. Fitz, except that I believe him, from sources entitled to the highest credit, to be well qualified in abilities and character to discharge the duties of the office in question.


Andrew Jackson, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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