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Georgia a few days afterward, respectively took the oath of office and entered upon their duties on the 8th of March, 1849.
The home department, first organized under the administration of General Taylor, was a new branch of the government, created at the close of the last session of Congress under Mr. Polk's administration, and added another member to the president's cabinet. The head of the department is called the secretary of the interior, a term taken from the title of a similar functionary in the cabinet of the government of France. The act creating this new department, places under the supervision of the secretary of the interior, the bureau of the commissioner of patents; the general land office; the accounts of marshals, clerks, and other officers of the courts of law; the bureau of Indian affairs; the pension-office; the patentoffice; the census-office; the commissioner of public buildings; and the board of inspectors and warden of the penitentiary of the District of Columbia. The bill was reported in the house of representatives by Mr. Vinton, of Ohio, from the committee of ways and means, in the 30th Congress, and, after it had been stated to the house that it was essentially the plan of the then secretary of the treasury, Mr. Walker, whose department was overburdened with business, and no better plan could be devised, it passed the house in February, 1849, being engrossed by a vote of 111 to 76. The senate took it up on the last afternoon of the session. Senator Allen, of Ohio, said it would be followed up next session by another bill for another hundred clerks. Mr. Webster heartily approved of it; the government had outgrown the means of performing its duties; the business was fast increasing; he did not know of a single clerkship that could be considered a sinecure. Mr. Niles, of Connecticut, considered the measure an improper enlargement of executive power and patronage. Mr. Mason, of Virginia, said: "You create fifty new offices where you diminish one. We progress in these respects, but we never go back." Mr. Calhoun, of South Carolina, called the measure monstrous and ominous, tending to the consolidation and concentration of power. Many hours of debate, marked by real ability, with six records of yeas and nays, ended in the passage of the bill, 31 to 25, late in the evening of the 3d of March, 1849. The home department was the first new branch of the cabinet which had been created since 1798, when the navy department was organized, under the administration of John Adams. The postmaster-general was not considered a member of the cabinet until the administration of General Jackson, although the department of the general postoffice was organized under Washington's administration, in 1789.
At the extra session of the senate on the 5th of March, 1849, the president pro tem., Mr. Atchison, of Missouri, being in the chair, the senators elect were requested to advance to the chair and take the oath prescribed for them, when fourteen senators, whose term commenced on the 4th inst., were qualified and took their seats. When the name of the Hon. James
Shields, of Illinois, was called, Mr. Walker of Wisconsin, rose and submitted a resolution to refer the credentials of Mr. Shields to the committee on the judiciary, with instructions to inquire into his eligibility. Mr. Berrien moved that, in order that the proceedings of the day might not be interfered with (the inauguration of the president) by the discussion to which that resolution might lead, its further consideration should be postponed till the following day; to which course Mr. Walker assented. On the 6th of March, two other senators elect having been qualified and taken their seats, the colleague of Mr. Shields, Mr. Douglass, asked, on behalf of the state of Illinois, that the oath might be administered to Mr. Shields. His credentials, he said, were in due form, and therefore those credentials entitled him to a seat in the senate upon precisely the same grounds as the senators who were admitted to their seats. The senate, he said, had no jurisdiction over Mr. Shields or the matter until he was admitted to his seat as one of its members. Mr. Douglass then adduced as precedents the cases of Mr. Gallatin and others, in which the parties had been sworn in, and the question of ineligibility discussed after they had taken their seats. Mr. Webster, Mr. Mangum, and other senators, thought the proper course to be adopted was to allow Mr. Shields to be sworn in at once. After some discussion this was agreed to; General Shields was then qualified and took his seat. On the 7th of March, Messrs. Benton, Felch, Mason, Webster, and Pearce, were appointed to inquire into his eligibility, and on the 13th they reported, through Mr. Mason, of Virginia, that James Shields had been elected by the state of Illinois on the 13th of January, 1849; that he had admitted that he was by birth an alien; that he was naturalized October 21, 1840; and that his election was void, as he lacked several months of being a citizen for nine years. The oath of General Shields, when naturalized, October 21, 1840, stated that he was born in Tyrone county, Ireland, May 17, 1810; came to the United States when a minor; and had resided in this country since he was 18 years old. The committee reported the following resolution: "That the election of James Shields to be a senator of the United States was void, he not having been a citizen of the United States the term of years required as a qualification to be a senator of the United States."
On the question being stated, viz., on the adoption of the resolution, General Shields rose and remarked, that there was no competitor to contest his seat; no memorial questioning his right to a seat in the senate. had resided in Illinois 17 years; been a member of the legislature, an auditor, a judge of the supreme court of that state, commissioner of the general land-office, a general in the United States army, and even, for three days, governor of Oregon-offices requiring naturalization. The senator from Wisconsin (Mr. Walker), however, had a perfect right to do what no citizen of Illinois would have done; and he did not complain of the conduct of Mr. Walker. Perhaps it was his duty to do so. But the
question having been referred to an honorable, a talented, and an influential committee, General Shields said, he had made up his mind to remain entirely passive, to let the matter take its course, to submit to the decision of the senate, and to appeal to his own state. If she deserted him, he said, it was his intention (though he had endeavored to prove his fidelity to his country by every act of his life) never to offer himself again for office in the United States.
Mr. Mason said the committee were guided by the action of the senate in Mr. Gallatin's case. Gallatin was born in Geneva, Switzerland, 1761; emigrated to the United States in 1780; took the oath of allegiance to the state of Virginia in 1785; was elected to the senate from Pennsylvania in 1793 his seat was contested in 1794; and his election was declared void by a vote of 14 to 12 in the senate-because he had not been nine years a citizen.
Mr. Foote having moved the postponement of the question until the first Monday in December next, a long and interesting discussion took place, Mr. Douglass contending that the resolution of the committee had been based upon a wrong construction of the constitution. Mr. Webster held that the election was void, because the person upon whom the election fell was not competent to discharge the functions of the office that was intended to be conferred upon him; that is to say, to be a senator from the 3d of March, 1849, for six years. Now, if he could not be a senator from the 3d of March for six years, then he was not eligible for the senatorial term; and it might just as well be said that he might be elected when he had been a citizen six years, and await the lapse of three years before commencing his period of service, as it may be said that he may be elected and await the lapse of nine months. That proposition he considered so clear as to satisfy any gentleman on reflection. Mr. Calhoun said that nothing could be more certain than that if General Shields were not then a senator he could not become such by postponement. Mr. Calhoun said he should feel bound to vote for the resolution properly amended. His opinion was, that the resolution was not entirely correct. It would seem to conclude that all cases of election are void unless nine years shall have expired on the day of the election. I think," said Mr. Calhoun, "that is not according to the constitution. My opinion is, that if the nine years are consummated previous to the 4th of March, the election is good and is not void. I propose, therefore, to add to the resolution the following words: at the commencement of the term for which he was elected.'" Mr. Webster assented to this construction, and hoped the amendment would be adopted. General Shields asked permission of the senate to tender his resignation. After a lengthened and animated discussion on the question of receiving the resignation, Mr. Hale, of New Hampshire, moved that the chair be instructed to inform the executive of Illinois that General Shields had resigned his seat in the senate, which
motion was postponed; the amendment of Mr. Calhoun to the resolution of the committee was adopted, and the senate refused, by a vote of 32 to 12, to adopt a motion made by Mr. Douglass, of the same tenor as the one offered by Mr. Hale, namely, requesting the vice-president to notify the executive of Illinois that General Shields had resigned his seat. The question was then taken on the resolution as amended, and it was adopted without a division, on the 15th of March, and a copy of the resolution was directed to be certified by the secretary, and transmitted by the vice-president to the executive of Illinois.
Thus the seat of General Shields was declared vacant, and the governor of Illinois, believing he had no power to fill it, made no appointment, but called the legislature together, which body again elected General Shields a senator of the United States, the nine years probation having expired.
On the 12th of March, Mr. Webster offered a resolution, which was adopted, that the president be requested to transmit any instructions which may have been given to the United States minister in London, offering a further extension of reciprocity and equality in the laws of navigation.
In introducing in the senate the resolution referred to in the proceedings of the 12th of March, Mr. Webster said that he offered it in consequence of information received by the very latest arrival from England. In the advices by the last steamer at Halifax, and transmitted by telegraph, it was stated that the president of the board of trade in England "had again brought forward the government proposal for the modification of the navigation laws; and Mr. Bancroft, the United States minister, had stated, that to whatever extent in liberality the British parliament may be disposed to legislate in this matter, he is ready and willing to sign a convention immediately, based upon the most complete reciprocity, so as to open the entire coasting trade of the two countries to the vessels of both nations." Mr. Webster said his object for the present was only an inquiry. If it were the pleasure of the senate to adopt the resolution, it might be answered before they finally adjourned. But if there were not an opportunity to receive an answer during the session of the senate, one part of his purpose would, at least, be accomplished, that of drawing the attention of the country to this most important subject. He confessed that he was a little startled to find that the American minister now remaining in England, had, at the present moment, and under existing circumstances, offered to throw open the whole coasting trade of the United States freely, and without discrimination, to British vessels.
If we enter into this reciprocity with Great Britain, and open to her the whole coasting trade of the United States, we are bound, of course, to do the same thing to the ports of the north of Europe. It would be well for us to consider the experience we have had, since we opened the trade between ourselves and certain powers of Europe and America to the ships
and vessels of third parties. And it will become us to see how far the interference of ships and vessels of the northern part of Europe, for example, in the trade between the United States and Brazil, has lessened or increased the interests of ships owned in the United States, and all those concerned in navigation.
The coasting trade proper, Mr. Webster said, between England and her European dominions, was infinitely small, compared with the coasting trade of the United States. The coasting trade of the latter employs the greater part of the tonnage of the United States; and that trade, as it is, and is to be hereafter, will employ our shipping in voyages, some of which will be the longest prosecuted on the globe. They will be voyages from the Atlantic cities, around Cape Horn, to Oregon and California. If any proposition, as it seems has been suggested, should be adopted by the government of the United States, it would follow that all the products or manufactures of the United States might be carried in British or other foreign ships from Boston or New York, not only to New Orleans, but round the cape to our own ports on the Pacific, as freely as they might be carried in our own vessels. His object was merely to ascertain whether it was true that our minister to England had been authorized to enter into a convention which would uproot, substantially, the principles of our navigation laws as they have existed for sixty years. The subject well deserved the attention of the country.
After the transaction of the executive business of nominations to office before them, the senate adjourned on the 21st of March.
On the 12th of March, President Taylor, surrounded by his constitutional advisers, received the salutations of the representatives of foreign governments at Washington, on the occasion of his accession to the chief magistracy. The whole number of the members of foreign legations present was thirty-two, all in their official costumes.
The address on behalf of the diplomatic corps, was delivered by the oldest member of that corps present, General Don Carlos Maria Do Alvear, minister plenipotentiary and extraordinary of the Argentine confederation, in the following terms:
"MR. PRESIDENT: The diplomatic corps accredited to the government of the United States, has the honor, through me, to express to you, the chief magistrate of this republic, their sincere congratulations on your recent election to the presidency, which, they are profoundly convinced, will redound to the honor and happiness of the great people over whom you have been called to preside; and that those relations of peace and friendly intercourse which now so happily exist between the United States and the various countries which we have the honor to represent, will be preserved and perpetuated, to the mutual advantage and well being of all. And you may be well assured, sir, that nothing shall be wanting on our part to contribute to so desirable a result. We take advantage of this occasion,