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incumbency, and maintained his post almost without interruption to his private engagements at the bar.

In the first year of Mr. Madison's second term, this question of residence attracted the attention of government. Upon the suggestion of the President himself, it is said, Congress passed an act which required the Attorney General, from that time, to reside in Washington.* This led to his complete identification with the Cabinet, gave him a more distinct political character, and rendered him, in equal degree with his colleagues, responsible for the counsels of the administration. He was still, however, left in the full enjoyment of every privilege belonging to his professional position not incompatible with the restrictions as to residence. His relation to the Supreme Court, as the law officer of the government, could not be otherwise than a most effective auxiliary to his professional advancement, which, indeed, would be scarcely less promoted by the influence attached to his political connection with the administration. In every point of view, therefore, the preferment to this post obviously presented to Mr. Wirt a most desirable opportunity for the gratification of his ambition in that career to which he had devoted his studies and his hopes.

The Cabinet, at the period when he became associated with it, was composed of gentlemen eminent for their position at the head of what was then called the Democratic party. Mr. John Quincy Adams held the post of Secretary of State, Mr. Crawford was at the head of the Treasury, Mr. Calhoun, of the War Department, Mr. Crowninshield, of the Navy, which post he resigned in a few months after this date, and was succeeded in it by Mr. Smith Thompson of New York. The Post Office was in the hands of Mr. Meigs until the last year of Mr. Monroe's second term, when it was consigned to Mr. John McLean of Ohio, now a Judge of the Supreme Court.

With these gentlemen, the Attorney General maintained an official and private association, throughout the two presidential terms of Mr. Monroe's service; an association which was distin

* The passage of this act, there is reason to believe, caused the resignation of Mr. Pinkney, in 1814. Enjoying a large and profitable practice in Baltimore, as well as in the Supreme Court at Washington, and a professional reputation to which no official position could give additional renown, he prudently declined a sacrifice of these substantial advantages for the less comfortable honor of public station.

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guished, not less by the personal gratifications which flowed from the communion of highly cultivated minds, congenial in their pursuits and influenced by mutual sentiments of the kindest regard, than by their harmonious political action, of which the effects were seen in the increasing prosperity of the country and the universal confidence of the people. The administration of Mr. Monroe has been noted for the happy auspices under which it was begun and conducted to its close. The political strife which had embittered the temper of the two great parties of the Union, through a career of incessant and exasperated contests for sixteen years, had now subsided. Each party had, by common consent, sought a breathing space, "for frighted peace to pant," and, in a calm survey of the field of contention, had found,-what angry disputants will generally find, when they grow cool enough to investigate, that toleration and mutual forbearance in opinion better speeds a good cause, than blows or scolding words. In this abandonment of strife, so happily characteristic of the era of which we speak, the nation came to a sober and just estimate of its duty, and yielded a cordial support to the administration. All men exulted in this peace; and those at the head of affairs enjoyed the rare good fortune of witnessing an honest and patriotic appreciation by the people, of their own honest and patriotic endeavors to advance the public welfare. Party spirit had in great degree disappeared; faction was disarmed; no venal press was subsidized to conceal truth or stamp a fair seeming upon falsehood. Demagogues, the curse of free government, found no mart wherein to ply their seditious trade. So profound was this peace, so beneficent the spirit of the time, that, in 1821, Mr. Monroe was elected to a second term without an opponent in the field.

Such were the fortunate conditions which attended the entrance of the Attorney General upon the theatre of public life.

Mr. Wirt's varied attainments, professional skill and enlarged experience were now to be brought to the observation of the whole country. They were to be submitted to that ordeal of public judgment, which seldom errs on the side of leniency towards its object, and not less rarely stamps its approbation upon a spurious fame. If an exception to this reluctance of commendation be sometimes found in the history of men, who

have come to renown by those qualities and accidents which captivate the popular fancy in the blaze of a sudden glory, or by their relation to some exciting topic of admiration or prevailing taste, it is, we may say, never found in the history of those who have built a solid reputation upon the labor of intellect, and earned a title to be remembered in the silent and lonely vigils of persevering study.

The office of the Attorney General has nothing to commend it to the fancy of an indolent man. The organization of the government does not present a post which requires from him who faithfully discharges its duties, more systematic diligence, more daily and nightly toil, self-possession, equanimity, or more uninterrupted health. The summary of these duties is expressed in the law which established the office, "to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court, in which the United States are concerned, and to give advice and opinions upon questions of law when required by the President, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching matters that may concern their departments."

In the discourse pronounced by Mr. Southard, on the occasion of the death of Mr. Wirt,* he spoke of the duties of the Attorney General in the following terms: "There is a peculiarity in the responsibility of this officer, which requires the exercise of more than common care in his selection. He does not deal with the ordinary routine of business which inferior intelligence and system can manage; but when doubts and difficulties intervene upon the powers conferred by law, or the rights intended to be secured, the appeal is made to him. His labors are always connected with perplexing subjects; and his opinions, as well as his arguments in court, relate to every variety of questions which can arise under our institutions, or from our connection with the commerce and governments of the world. His opinions, too, are official; not merely persuasive upon the judgment of other officers, but, so far as the construction of the law is concerned, regarded as binding; and, if error be committed, the responsibility is, in a great

"A discourse on the Professional Character and Virtues of the late William Wirt, delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives, March 18, 1834, by Samuel L. Southard.

degree, taken from them and cast upon him, a responsibility by no means light to a sensitive and well-organized mind."

This is the remark of one who, himself a member of the cabinet and a colleague of Mr. Wirt during the administration of Mr. Adams, had ample opportunity to witness the labors of his friend, and to become practically acquainted with the delicate and responsible duties of the office.

We may form some estimate of the nature and extent of these labors, from the record of them which is preserved by the government, and which was published by the order of the House of Representatives of the Twenth-sixth Congress, as one of the documents of its second session.* This printed record of opinions of the Attorneys General, engrosses a volume of nearly fifteen hundred pages, of which more than five hundred are appropriated to those of Mr. Wirt. "They all," says Mr. Southard, speaking of these opinions of Mr. Wirt, "relate to matters of importance in the construction of the laws; many of them to the most difficult and interesting subjects of municipal and constitutional law, as well as the law of nations, which occurred during three presidential terms. They will prevent much uncertainty in that office hereafter, afford one of the best collections of materials for writing the legal and constitutional history of our country, and remain a proud monument of his industry, learning and talents."

I have already said that Wirt introduced some improvements into the mode of conducting the business of this office. We owe to him this record of the opinions of the Attorney General, which is now duly preserved, and by which a very obvious uniformity and consistency of decision in the construction of laws, are maintained.

Within a short time after Wirt's induction into this office, he addressed a letter to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, calling the attention of that Committee to the very defective organization of this branch of the government machinery. This letter explains the nature of the defects complained of so fully, and so cogently enforces the duty of further legal provision to render the office efficient, that I

* Document of the House of Representatives, No. 123.

CHAP. III.] LETTER TO THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE.

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regard it, even at the present day, as worthy of the consideration of the country, and therefore present it to my readers entire. I am not aware that it has ever obtained a greater publicity than it found amongst the members of the Judiciary Committee of 1818, by whom it was consigned to the pigeon-holes of the Clerk's office and to the eternal sleep of the files of that session.

SIR:

TO THE HON. HUGH NELSON,

CHAIRMAN OF THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, March 27, 1818.

I beg leave to call your attention to the state of this office, and to some material defects which, I think, exist in the laws in relation to it; with the view that the subject, if you shall think it of sufficient importance to merit this course, may be presented, through your committee, to the consideration of Congress, before they rise.

The commission of the Attorney General "authorizes and empowers him to execute and fulfil the duties of that office, according to law." The only law which points out those duties, is the act of Congress of the 24th of September, 1789, entitled an act to establish the judicial courts of the United States, the thirtyfifth section of which act creates the office, and designates its duties in the following words: "And there shall be appointed a meet person, learned in the law, to act as Attorney General for the United States; who shall be sworn or affirmed to the faithful execution of his office, whose duty it shall be, to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court, in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law, when requested by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matter that may concern their departments."

It is to be observed that there is no duty which the President or any head of department performs, which does not involve some principle of law, under the head, either, of the natural or conventional law of nations, constitutional law, or municipal law; consequently there is no duty which belongs to either of those VOL. 2-6*

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