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officers, on which he has not the right to require the opinion of the Attorney General, and on which it is not continually required; and in relation, at least, to questions on municipal law, which are incessantly occurring, it is understood that the heads of departments consider the advice of the law officers conclusive.
In the operations of an office whose sphere of action is so wide, and whose decisions are of such extensive and unremitting practical effect, it would seem to be of consequence to the nation that some degree of consistency and uniformity should prevail: but, it is obvious, that these can be attained in no other way than by putting the incumbent, for the time being, in full possession of all the official opinions and acts of his predecessors.
Under this impression, when I had the honor of receiving the appointment, my first inquiry was for the books containing the acts of advice and opinions of my predecessors: I was told there were none such. I asked for the letter-books, containing their official correspondence: the answer was, that there were no such books. I asked for the documents belonging to the office; presuming that, at least, the statements of cases which had been submitted for the opinion of the law-officer had been filed, and that I should find, endorsed on them, some note of their advice in each case; but my inquiries resulted in the discovery that there was not to be found, in connection with this office, any trace of a pen indicating, in the slightest manner, any one act of advice or opinion which had been given by any one of my predecessors, from the first foundation of the federal government to the moment of my inquiry. Thus, the gentlemen who have held this office, in succession, have been in constant danger of being involved themselves, and involving the departments which depended on their counsel, in perpetual collisions and inconsistencies; exposing the government to that kind of degradation which never fails to attend an unsteady and contradictory course.
In noticing the omission to keep these records, and preserve the statements and documents, I am very far from intending any censure on my predecessors: for no law had enjoined it on them as a duty; and from the multitude and variety of questions which are unavoidably pressing upon this office, throughout the year, it is very apparent that the plan which I suggest could not have.
been executed, without an expense, in clerk-hire, office-fuel, stationery, &c., for which there is no provision by law.
After this explanation, I submit it to you, sir, with great deference, whether it would not be expedient that some provision be made, by law, for keeping a record of the opinions and official correspondence of the Attorney General, in his office; and for preserving in his office the documents submitted for his advice.
Again the subjects on which the Attorney General is occasionally consulted, and those on which he has to act in the Supreme Court, turn, not unfrequently, on the local laws of the several States. But these have not been furnished to his office; and the omission is a serious practical evil. Would it not be well that the office of the Attorney General should be supplied with these laws?
Another defect seems to me to exist in the law as it now stands. You will observe that the only law which prescribes the duty of the Attorney General, and which I have already quoted, limits the obligation upon him, and consequently, limits his right "to give official advice and opinions, to cases in which he shall be called upon, by the President, or by any of the departments, touching any matters which may concern their departments."
But, I am told, (and, in my short experience, I have already found it true, in part,) that the advice and opinion of the Attorney General, in his official character, are called for by committees of Congress, standing and special, by all the District Attornies, Collectors of Customs, Collectors of the Public Taxes, and Marshals throughout the United States, by Courts martial, (military and naval,) wheresoever they may sit, &c., &c.
If it be advisable to open the office of the Attorney General to applications of this kind, I submit it to you, sir, whether it would not be expedient to have it provided for by law. 1. That the several officers and public bodies which have been mentioned, (instead of resting on the personal courtesy of the Attorney General,) may be authorized to call for his opinion, as a matter of right.
And 2d, (which strikes me as being of equal, if not superior consequence,) that the Attorney General himself may be justified in giving an official opinion in these cases.
For, in a government of laws, like ours, it seems to me of importance that the influence of every officer should be confined within the strict limits prescribed for it by law.
It cannot be questioned, from the connection of the Attorney General with the executive branch of the government, that his advice and opinions, given as Attorney General, will have an official influence, beyond, and independent of, whatever intrinsic merit they may possess: and whether it be sound policy to permit this officer or any other under the government, even on the application of others, to extend the influence of his office beyond the pale of the law, and to cause it to be felt, where the laws have not contemplated that it should be felt, is the point which I beg leave to submit to your consideration.
There is, however, a strong objection to any new provision which should go to open the office of the Attorney General, as now organized, to applications beyond the provisions of the act of 1789. It is this: I am convinced that no single unassisted individual, whatever may be his strength, his habits of industry, or the system and celerity of his movements, could discharge, in a manner satisfactory either to himself or the nation, the vast load of duties which would be thus thrown upon him, without devoting himself to them, solely and exclusively. The very frequent calls which are regularly and properly made on the office, under the act of 1789, and the careful and elaborate examination which it is often necessary to bestow upon these subjects, are found to be sufficient, in connection with the Attorney General's duties in the Supreme Court, to give the office, at present, almost constant occupation: and if, in addition to those duties, he shall be placed under a legal obligation to answer all the other calls which have been mentioned, he must, unavoidably, abandon entirely the individual pursuits of his profession, and rest, for the support of his family, on the salary attached to the office. Even under the duties, as they now exist, very little time is left to the Attorney General to aid the salary of his office by individual engagements; a fact which may explain, in part, the frequent resignations of this office which have heretofore occurred.
I would not have troubled you with these suggestions, at this time, but that the subject strikes me as being of so much practical importance to the nation, as to merit consideration: and that it
relates to an office whose defective organization, however grievous to the incumbent, or injurious to the public, would not be apt to force itself on the notice of others.*
I have the honor to be, sir,
With very great respect,
Although Congress did not act immediately upon the suggestions of this letter, they, doubtless, had their influence, in the subsequent proceedings of that body, in increasing the salary of the Attorney General, and in providing him a proper library. Mr. Wirt's administration of the office had, also, its due weight in adjusting that more distinct understanding of the nature of his duties, in connection with other departments of the Government, which now exists.
LETTER TO POPE.-VIEWS IN ACCEPTING THE POST OF ATTORNEY GENERAL.-LETTER TO GILMER.-CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. ADAMS.-AN AMENDED EDITION OF THE SKETCHES CONTEMPLATED.-LETTERS TO CARR. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL ADMITTED TO THE BAR OF BALTIMORE. -THE RULE OF COURT.-MEETS PINKNEY.-RIVALRY BETWEEN THEM.ADVICE TO GILMER.-A MISUNDERSTANDING AT THE BAR AND RECONCILIATION.-LETTER TO DELAPLAINE.-REMARKS ON BIOGRAPHICAL WRITING.
HAVING departed somewhat from the regular succession of dates in the correspondence, with a view to bring together what was appropriate to the publication of the Biography of Henry, and the appointment to the Attorney-Generalship-the two prominent events of this period-I now return to the more pleasant incidents of social life, from which we may learn with what feelings the subject of our narrative looked upon this advancement of his fortunes.
We have here a letter of personal interest, in which the writer pours into the bosom of an old and cherished friend the warmest sentiments of his own heart, with that rambling freedom of utterance which, better than all other testimonials, evinces the entire sincerity and truth of what he writes.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
TO WILLIAM POPE.
WASHINGTON, January 18, 1818.
I am indebted to you for two warm, amusing and, at the same time, affecting letters, which I have never found time 'till now to answer, for since I have been here I have had to work 'till midnight, every night, to keep the channel of my office from being blocked up by drift wood. It is now night, and after a close day's work, it is a relief to me to take up my pen and hold some chat with you.