Article 1.3.6: The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.
In any large organization of humans, there will always be at least two points of view on any subject. Furthermore, they will usually be somewhat evenly divided. This seems to be true of human nature in general and has little to do with politics or political parties. Prior to the formation of political parties and the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, the Constitution assured the President of the Senate would always represent an opposing view to that of the President since the person holding that office would always be the President’s chief political rival. The office of President of the Senate is mostly a ceremonial one today, with its occupants patiently biding their time waiting for their chance to run for the office of President. That has not always been the case, however. The office of Vice President has played an important role in our history.
In a 2008 debate with Sarah Palin, V.P. candidate Joe Biden made the following comment concerning Vice President Richard Cheney…
“Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history. The idea he doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that’s the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.” “And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there’s a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.” ~V.P candidate, Joe Biden
That is an amazing statement for a future Vice-President, and someone who had served thirty-six years as Senator from Delaware, to make. It shows an alarming ignorance of the office he would soon take on, and of the Constitution he would soon swear to protect and defend for, at minimum, the seventh time. Someone should have at least informed him that Article I is about the Legislative Branch; Article II is about the Executive Branch. Nevertheless, he speaks, for perhaps the majority of the American people. The popular perception is that the office of Vice-President is an office of the Executive Branch. According to the Constitution, however, the office is a function of both Branches. The Vice President is the only constitutional officer in the federal government with duties in both the Executive and Legislative Branches.
The Senate, as originally constituted, before the rise of organized political parties, and before the Seventeenth Amendment, provided the balance between the powers of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, and between the powers of the federal and state governments. Whether the Twelfth Amendment that changed the way Vice Presidents are elected and the Seventeenth Amendment changing the way Senators are elected, improved on the original structure of government is yet an open question.
The fact is; the office of Vice President was more closely associated with the Legislative Branch than the Executive Branch from 1789 until after the Second World War. Due to the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Vice President Harry Truman was forced to take on the duties of President in a time of war with no experience and little knowledge of important decisions made during the war, including the existence of the Atom Bomb. After that, the office of Vice President became more involved in the workings of the Executive Branch. The first Vice President to have an office in the White House was Walter Mondale, Vice President to Jimmy Carter. (1977 -1981)
To understand the constitutional duties of the Vice President, we first have to answer the question; what did the term “President of the Senate” mean to the Founding Fathers? The meaning was so obvious to them they did not bother to define it further. However, the office has been so neglected by its occupants and its meaning so changed by custom over the past two hundred years that its constitutional intent has been lost. Today the office of Vice President is looked upon by its occupants mostly as a possible stepping-stone to the Presidency. That was not the intent of the Framers.
The universal understanding of the term “President of the Senate” is further demonstrated in the fact that no elaboration on its meaning is found in the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers or in other popular writings of the founding era. To appreciate the proper role of the Senate President we are forced to go to the Constitution itself and to how the role was understood by those who filled it in the early days of the Republic.
That the office was considered important by the Framers is shown in the fact that it is the only duty assigned to the Vice President by the Constitution. Serving as President of the Senate is not just a ceremonial honor bestowed on the Vice President; it is his or her primary duty. To understand what those duties entail, a good place to start is by looking at the duties of its counterpart in the House of Representatives, the “Speaker of the House”. It is unreasonable to believe the Framers would stipulate an executive officer for the House and not designate a similar position for the Senate. “Majority Leader” is not a constitutional office.
The House has only one officer required by the Constitution. That officer is the Speaker and is to be chosen by whatever manner the House deems fitting. The House is given the authority to add other officers and to choose them, as they consider proper. The Senate has two officers mandated by the Constitution, the President and the President pro Tempore. It is permitted to elect its President pro Tempore and any other officers it thinks necessary or desirable in accordance with its own judgment.
The President of the Senate, however, is elected by the majority vote of all the electors of the fifty states and is the only nationally elected officer in the Legislative Branch, a further indication of its importance. This is fitting since the Senate has “advice and consent” powers over treaties, Judges, Supreme Court Justices, Ambassadors and other officers appointed by the President. Since treaties and Presidential appointments are national in their scope and in their effects on citizens, it is proper that the executive officer of the Senate be elected nationally.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word “president” as the “chief executive officer of the United States or the chief executive officer of an organization or corporation.” The word, whether used in a political sense or a non-political sense, always carries with it the connotation of executive authority. To attempt to separate executive authority from the term “President of the Senate” is an unwarranted manipulation of the English language. This being the case, how then did the office of Vice President become relegated to such an unimportant role in our government as it has today? To understand this we have to look at the early history of our nation.
John Adams was a prominent revolutionary in the years leading up to independence. He was a strong advocate of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the committee assigned by the Continental Congress to draft it, although its drafting was primarily the work of Thomas Jefferson. After the revolution he was assigned to a number of diplomatic positions under the Federation and worked closely with Jefferson as envoy to England. When the new government was formed under the Constitution he ran against George Washington for the office of President and was soundly defeated. Under the original Constitution, having received the second highest number of votes, he became Vice President.
Adams was a super patriot and a competent Ambassador. However, as Vice President and later as President, flaws in his temperament prevented him from becoming great in those positions. He took seriously his duties as President of the Senate and became known for his lectures to the Senate on policy and procedural matters. While he did not have a vote except as a “tie breaker” he did attempt to influence legislation. His overbearing and tyrannical manner as President of the Senate brought on a threatened revolt by the Senators near the end of his first term. Hoping to become President after George Washington retired; he moderated his management of the Senate during his second term in order not to further alienate his political supporters.
In spite of his leadership role in the revolution, Adams was an admirer of the English style of government and its customs of nobility. During his first term as Vice President he became embroiled in a month long controversy over what the proper address should be for the President when he visited the Senate. He preferred the titles of “His Majesty the President” or “His High Mightiness”. The more simple title of “President of the United States” eventually won out.
Further evidence of his elitist nature, autocratic personality and inability to abide opposing opinions came up during his term as President when he requested and signed into law, the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writings” against the government or its officials. The Act expired at the end of his term in 1801 and Thomas Jefferson, his successor, granted a full pardon to those convicted under this unconstitutional law.
The Constitution was written for a government without political parties. It makes no mention of them and therefore, does not give us any guidance as to their proper role, if any, in our system of government. However, before the end of George Washington’s term in office, two political parties were formed; the Federalist Party founded by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams; and the Democratic-Republican Party founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
In the election of 1796 John Adams, after serving eight years as Vice President under Washington, received the majority of electoral votes to become President. Thomas Jefferson received the second highest number and became the Vice President. The conflict between the two parties and between the President and Vice President was so intense during the Adams administration that after Jefferson was elected President in 1801 to succeed Adams, the Twelfth Amendment was proposed and ratified, requiring that the Electoral College cast separate votes for President and Vice President.
The practical effect of this amendment was to assure that the President and Vice President would always be members of the same political party. An unintended consequence of the amendment was that it weakened the moderating effect one branch might have over radical ideas proposed by the other, and it tipped the balance of power in favor of the Executive Branch.
A second unforeseen consequence of having the President of the Senate of the same Party as the President was to encourage ambitious Vice Presidents to consider the office primarily as a possible stepping-stone to the Presidency. With an eye on the next election, the Vice President was further encouraged to keep a low profile during his term in office and avoid controversy. This led to the custom of considering the office of Vice President as a ceremonial one whose primary responsibility was to replace the President should he become unable to serve, and to count the electoral votes every four years. There are a number of reasons, however, to believe the Framers intended the office of Vice President to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Senate performing many of the functions performed today by the Senate Majority Leader.
The current role of “Majority Leader” is clearly unconstitutional and is a usurpation of the constitutional powers of the President of the Senate as intended by the Founding Fathers. The Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader have acquired powers over time that equal or exceeds the powers of the Executive Branch. Both have assumed dictatorial authority over legislation to be considered by either house of Congress. Neither position is accountable to the voters other than those in their respective districts or states although their actions affect the lives and well-being of every American.
An interesting insight into the function of the office of President of the Senate is found in a petition written to the Virginia Legislature by Thomas Jefferson shortly before his death. Jefferson wished to sell a piece of property in order to pay off some of his debts. It seems that they were suffering from a decline in real estate values at the time (sound familiar?) and the only way Jefferson felt he could get a fair price for the property was through a lottery which required legislative approval. In his petition to the Legislature, Jefferson offered a recap of his sixty plus years of public service to the young republic. In it we find this revealing and inspiring passage.
“If it were thought worth while to specify any particular services rendered, I would refer to the specification of them made by the legislature itself in their Farewell Address, on my retiring from the Presidency, February, 1809.” “There is one, however, not therein specified, the most important in its consequences, of any transaction in any portion of my life; to wit, the head I personally made against the federal principles and proceedings, during the administration of Mr. Adams.” “Their usurpations and violations of the constitution at that period, and their majority in both Houses of Congress, were so great, so decided, and so daring, that after combating their aggressions, inch by inch, without being able in the least to check their career, the republican leaders thought it would be best for them to give up their useless efforts there, go home, get into their respective legislatures, embody whatever of resistance they could be formed into, and if ineffectual, to perish there as in the last ditch.” “All, therefore, retired, leaving Mr. Gallatin alone in the House of Representatives, and myself in the Senate, where I then presided as Vice-President. Remaining at our posts, and bidding defiance to the brow-beatings and insults by which they endeavored to drive us off also, we kept the mass of republicans in phalanx together, until the legislatures could be brought up to the charge; and nothing on earth is more certain, than that if myself particularly, placed by my office of Vice-President at the head of the republicans, had given way and withdrawn from my post, the republicans throughout the Union would have given up in despair, and the cause would have been lost for ever.” “By holding on, we obtained time for the legislatures to come up with their weight; and those of Virginia and Kentucky particularly, but more especially the former, by their celebrated resolutions, saved the constitution, at its last gasp. No person who was not a witness of the scenes of that gloomy period, can form any idea of the afflicting persecutions and personal indignities we had to brook. They saved our country however.” (Emphasis Added)
This brief glimpse into history provides several lessons for us today. It is natural to believe the problems we face today are unique in history. The thesis of this book is that history always repeats itself and if we do not learn the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. The circumstances faced by Jefferson were similar to those faced by Newt Gingrich in 1994 and John Boehner in 2011, only in a different house. There was no “Majority Leader” for Jefferson to contend with.
That office would not come into existence for another century. The offices of minority and majority leaders were not officially created until the progressive era; 1921 for the Democrats and 1925 for the Republicans. Their primary political responsibilities were to maintain party discipline. To do this they relied on their leadership skills and the power of persuasion. These positions were created by political parties, not the founders. Constitutionally, the office of President of the Senate is analogous to the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives. While the Constitution gives both houses of Congress the power to add any additional officers they deem necessary, it does not authorize those officers to usurp the authority of those created by the Constitution.
In the 112th Congress, Eric Cantor is the Republican majority leader in the House and Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic minority leader. Republican John Boehner fills the Constitutional office, Speaker of the House. In the Senate, Harry Reid is the Democratic Majority Leader and Mitch McConnell is the Republican Minority Leader. Since Vice Presidents, by custom, neglect to fulfill their Constitutional duties as President of the Senate, that power, constitutionally bestowed on Vice President Joe Biden, is usurped by the Majority Leader.
John Adams, our first Vice-President, and Thomas Jefferson, our second, established the model for the office. Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence; he served as a member of Congress and as an envoy to France under the Confederation; he served one term as Vice President and two terms as President of the United States. Still, at the end of his illustrious career he identified his four years as Vice-President as the “most important in its consequences, of any transaction in any portion of my life.”
Until the American people demand the Vice President carries out his constitutional duties, the senate will continue to operate without a constitutional executive officer as its leader. The office of Senate Majority Leader is extra-constitutional. The dictatorial power it has assumed over the Senate is unconstitutional and is also a very real threat to the future of the nation.
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Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."