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Special Message

June 25, 1842

A BILL entitled "An act for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the Sixth Census," approved June 25, 1842.

In approving this bill I feel it due to myself to say, as well that my motives for signing it may be rightly understood as that my opinions may not be liable to be misconstrued or quoted hereafter erroneously as a precedent, that I have not proceeded so much upon a clear and decided opinion of my own respecting the constitutionality or policy of the entire act as from respect to the declared will of the two Houses of Congress.

In yielding my doubts to the matured opinion of Congress I have followed the advice of the first Secretary of State to the first President of the United States and the example set by that illustrious citizen upon a memorable occasion.

When I was a member of either House of Congress I acted under the conviction that to doubt as to the constitutionality of a law was sufficient to induce me to give my vote against it; but I have not been able to bring myself to believe that a doubtful opinion of the Chief Magistrate ought to outweigh the solemnly pronounced opinion of the representatives of the people and of the States.

One of the prominent features of the bill is that which purports to be mandatory on the States to form districts for the choice of Representatives to Congress, in single districts. That Congress itself has power by law to alter State regulations respecting the manner of holding elections for Representatives is clear, but its power to command the States to make new regulations or alter their existing regulations is the question upon which I have felt deep and strong doubts. I have yielded those doubts, however, to the opinion of the Legislature, giving effect to their enactment as far as depends on my approbation, and leaving questions which may arise hereafter, if unhappily such should arise, to be settled by full consideration of the several provisions of the Constitution and the laws and the authority of each House to judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members.

Similar considerations have operated with me in regard to the representation of fractions above a moiety of the representative number, and where such moiety exceeds 30,000--a question on which a diversity of opinion has existed from the foundation of the Government. The provision recommends itself from its nearer approximation to equality than would be found in the application of a common and simple divisor to the entire population of each State, and corrects in a great degree those inequalities which are destined at the recurrence of each succeeding census so greatly to augment.

In approving the bill I flatter myself that a disposition will be perceived on my part to concede to the opinions of Congress in a matter which may conduce to the good of the country and the stability of its institutions, upon which my own opinion is not clear and decided. But it seemed to me due to the respectability of opinion against the constitutionality of the bill, as well as to the real difficulties of the subject, which no one feels more sensibly than I do, that the reasons which have determined me should be left on record.


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

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