Stephen F. Austin to Unknown, 08-xx-1822

Summary: Austin's plan for organization of Mexican Congress, August, 1822. Combination of existing institutions, the Spanish constitution and the Constitution of the United States.

City of Mexico August 1822

Plan for the organization of Congress for the Empire of Mexico

As a citizen of this Empire I should be wanting in my duty did I not feel that anxiety for the common welfare of my Country which ought to animate the bosom of every good man. I have therefoie viewed with great interest the political agitations of the nation, and particularly of this Capital for the last two months; and believing that the evils which now embarrass the operations of Government arise solely from a defect in the organization of the Legislative department; I have taken the Liberty to offer my ideas on the subject, hoping that my motives may excuse my presumption

Agreeably to the Basis which has governed since the glorious declaration of independence in Iguala, the fundamental principles of the Government are established—It is to be a Constitutional Monarchy—This Basis has been recognised as the foundation on which the superstructure of the Constitution is to be erected. The leading features of the Government is therefore no longer a question, and any remarks on that subject would be irrellevant and improper: the on[l]y question to be considered is the details of a system the foundation of which is already laid

The strength and beauty of architectural structures depend on the symmetry, order and connection of their parts; so in the formation of political institutions their capacity to sustain the shocks of conflicting interests is of Primary import and must depend on the harmony and dependent relations of the constituent parts—It would seem that these circumstances have not been sufficiently attended to in the organization of the Government, so far as it has progressed; the consequences have resulted that the Congress on the one hand, tenacious of its authority have been contending about forms, and have wasted much time without a single salutory effect, being more intent to extend its own Power than to promote the public good

The Executive on the other hand without a precise definition of its powers have been obliged to wait the inefficient operations of the Legislature—In this political [cataclysm(?)] the welfare of the State is disregarded and discontents and distrusts are generated which menace the most pernicious consequences—

What is the cause of this state of things?—The answer is evident—It is that which has overthrown so many Governments in the old world, and plunged whole nations into civil wars, anarchy and desolation—that which like an overwhelming volcano burst upon devoted France and after drenching her plains with the blood of her choicest citizens only prepared her for the chains of a despot. It is the want of a proper division, definition, and limitation, of the powers of the several branches and departments of Government—

I lay it down as an axiom which history will support and prove, that there is as much danger to be apprehended from the hasty imprudence, intemperate decisions, and despotism of a single representative body or Congress convened and united in one chamber as there is from the despotism of a Single individual at the head of a nation, and consequently that there is the same necessity for a check to the Legislature, that there is for the Executive. This principle is acknowledged even in the Government of the United States, which is the most perfect republic that exists. The division of the Legislative powers in that Government into two separate and distinct branches, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, both of which are to a limited extent controuled by the Executive, operates as a check or balance in the exercise of them.

The first great and preparitory step therefore towards the firm and final organization of this Government is to regulate the Legislative department so that its deliberations may be free and independent, and at the same time controuled so as to be incapable of exceeding its authority, or clashing with that of another. To do this I propose the following system for the organization of Congress

1—The Legislative powers shall be vested in a Congress, which shall be composed of two chambers one to be called the Chamber of the Commons, the other the Senate

2—The Commons shall be elected every 2d year by the People in the following manner—There shall be one Deputy for every 70,000 inhabitants. The Provincial deputations of each Province shall, immediately proceed to take an enumeration of the inhabitants of their respective provinces and after this is completed they shall lay them off into as many districts as the Province is entitled to Deputies agreeably to the above ratio, which districts shall contain an equal number of inhabitants so far as is practicable—Each of said districts shall elect one Deputy to the Chamber of Commons, who shall be over 21 years of age, an inhabitant of the district for which he is elected, and have been at least three years a Citizen of this Empire, and "tener una renta anual proporcionada procedente de bienes propios—"

The Provincial deputations shall appoint Officers to preside at such elections who shall make out certificates for the person or persons elected, which certificate after being countersigned by the Captain General of the Province shall be evidence of a right to a Seat in the Commons—The Captain Generals or Political Chiefs of Provinces shall give said signatures without delay when called on

3—The Senate shall be appointed in the following manner. The Provincial Deputations shall elect two Senators for each Province who shall hold their offices for 8 years and who shall be over thirty years of age, an inhabitant of the Province for which they are elected and have been at least five years a Citizen of this Empire. The Emperor with the Consent of the Council shall appoint one Senator for each Province to be selected from any part of the Empire he may think proper, and without any restriction as to qualifications

4. The Senate at their first session shall divide themselves into four classes, the seats of the first class shall be vacated the 2d year, those of the 2d class the 4th year and so on, so that one-fourth should be chosen every 2d year—

5 Each chamber shall judge of the qualifications of its members, appoint its own President and other officers—determine the rules of its proceedings and with the concurrence of two thirds expel a Member

6. The Chambers shall hold their sessions in separate and distinct Halls, and each one shall keep a journal of its proceedings which shall be published except such parts as may require secrecy—

7 Neither chamber shall adjourn during the session of Congress without the Consent of the other, for more than four clays at a time, nor to any other place—

8—The wages of the Deputies and Senators shall be fixed by law, and untill that is done to continue the same as in the Spanish Constitution—The Senators shall be paid out of the publick Treasury, and the Deputies by the Provinces who send them—

9—The deputies to the Commons shall not receive any office from the Emporer while they continue Members

10 All laws shall pass through both chambers and be approved and promulgated by the Emperor as in the Spanish Constitution

11—The powers of Congress shall [be] the same that is given to the Cortes by the Spanish Constitution except that the Senate alone shall be consulted on all matters relating to foreign treaties, and shall have the same power as to ratifying them that is given by the Spanish Constitution to the Cortes

12 The Emporer may convene the Senate whenever he thinks proper to consult them as to foreign treaties or other subjects of importance to the Nation

13—There shall be at least one session of Congress every two years and as much oftener as the Emporer may think proper He may convene them at any time by proclamation—

14—There shall be no permanent deputation of Congress as fixed in the Spanish Constitution—and should it be necessary to convoke Congress on the Death of the Emperor or any casualty happening to him, it shall be done by the Council of State

Agreeably to this plan the People would have a full and fair representation in the Commons in proportion to their members-

The Senate would be a Territorial representation and being composed of members elected by the Provincial Deputations and the Emperor would combine the General interests of the Nation—This Chamber would also be to the Throne what the House of Lords is in England, one of its main pillars and supporters—for the Captain Generals and Governors of Provinces are appointed by the Emperor and their influence in the provincial Deputations would be sufficient in Most instances to secure the election of Senators well disposed to the Emperor—, this added to the power of appointing one third of the senate and of distributing rewards and titles to the Senators would make that chamber more dependent on the Throne than the House of Lords is in England, for they are hereditary Senators and do not depend on the Crown for their appointments—

The Government would then be composed of a Chamber of Commons as.purely democratic as a representative body can be,—of a Senate, independent of the other branch, and united by interest to the Emperor, but whose legal existance at the same time would de- pend on sustaining the Chamber of Commons in the event of any attempt to distroy it by the Executive; for if one branch of the Government was to be anihilated, the whole must fall, and a new organization be made—This chamber then would serve as a barrier to prevent the Mutual encroachment of the Executive and Commons upon the authority of each other—

One great advantage in this plan is that many of its leading features resembles the Government of the United States and would therefore be calculated to please that part of the people who wish to approximate towards a republic; but in fact the operation of the system would be to strengthen the Emperor; for the Senate in effect would be the Mere creature of the Throne although in appearance it is an independent representation of the Nation; and thus public opinion would probably unite in adopting the system, and prudent management would soon confirm their confidence in it—