History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 7

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Author: William James Jackman

Chapter 8:
The Senate as an Executive and Judicial Body

The Senate is not only a legislative but also an executive chamber; in fact, in its early days the executive functions seem to have been thought the more important; and Hamilton went so far as to speak of the national executive authority as divided between two branches, the President and the Senate. These executive functions are two, the power of approving treaties and that of confirming nominations to office submitted by the President.

The Senate through its right of confirming or rejecting engagements with foreign powers, secures a general control over foreign policy. It is in the discretion of the President whether he will communicate current negotiations to it and take its advice upon them, or will say nothing till he lays a completed treaty before it. One or other course is from time to time followed, according to the nature of the case, or the degree of friendliness existing between the President and the majority of the Senate. But in general, the President’s best policy is to keep the leaders of the senatorial majority, and in particular the Committee on Foreign Relations, informed of the progress of any pending negotiation. He thus feels the pulse of the Senate, and foresees what kind of arrangement he can induce it to sanction, while at the same time a good understanding between himself and his coadjutors is promoted.

This control of foreign policy by the Senate goes far to meet that terrible difficulty which a democracy, or indeed any free government, finds in dealing with foreign Powers. If every step to be taken must be previously submitted to the governing assembly, the nation is forced to show its whole hand, and precious opportunities of winning an ally or striking a bargain may be lost. If on the other hand the Executive is permitted to conduct negotiations in secret, there is always the risk, either that the governing assembly may disavow what has been done, a risk which makes foreign states legitimately suspicious and unwilling to negotiate, or that the nation may have to ratify, because it feels bound in honor by the act of its executive agents, arrangements which its judgment condemns. The frequent participation of the Senate in negotiations diminishes these difficulties, because it apprises the Executive of what the judgment of the ratifying body is likely to be, and it commits that body in advance.

The Senate may, and occasionally does, amend a treaty, and return it amended to the President. There is nothing to prevent it from proposing a draft treaty to him, or asking him to prepare one, but this is not the practice. For ratification a vote of two thirds of the senators present is required. This gives great power to a vexatious minority, and increases the danger, evidenced by several incidents in the history of the Union, that the Senate or a faction in it may deal with foreign policy in a narrow, sectional, electioneering spirit. When the interest of any group of States is, or is supposed to be, opposed to the making of a given treaty, that treaty may be defeated by the senators from those States. Supposing their party to command a majority, the treaty is probably rejected, and the settlement of the question at issue perhaps indefinitely postponed.

The judicial function of the Senate is to sit as a High Court for the trial of persons impeached by the House of Representatives. The Chief Justice of the United States presides, and a vote of two thirds of the senators voting is needed for a conviction. The process is applicable to other officials besides the President, including Federal judges.

Rare as this method of proceeding is, it could not be dispensed with, and it is better that the Senate should try cases in which a political element is usually present, than that the impartiality of the Supreme Court should be exposed to the criticism it would have to bear, did political questions come before it.

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Chicago: William James Jackman, "Chapter 8: The Senate as an Executive and Judicial Body," History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 7 in William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.2142-2149 Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKTSWSNG5P5AFB7.

MLA: Jackman, William James. "Chapter 8: The Senate as an Executive and Judicial Body." History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 7, in William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.2142-2149, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKTSWSNG5P5AFB7.

Harvard: Jackman, WJ, 'Chapter 8: The Senate as an Executive and Judicial Body' in History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 7. cited in , William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.2142-2149. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKTSWSNG5P5AFB7.