President’s absence argued in 1876 – Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the letter from the President to Congress 140 years ago regarding the constitutionality of the House attempting to dictate the executive’s location.

From the United States Congressional Serial Set:


To the House of Representatives:

I have given very attentive consideration to a resolution of the House of Representatives passed on the 3d day of April, requesting the President of the United States to inform the House whether any executive offices, acts, or duties, and, if any, what, have within a specified period been performed at a distance from the seat of government established by law, etc.

I have never hesitated and shall not hesitate to communicate to Congress, and to either branch thereof, all the information which the Constitution makes it the duty of the President to give, or which my judgment may suggest to me, or a request from either House may indicate to me, will be useful in the discharge of the appropriate duties confided to them.

I fail, however, to find in the Constitution of the United States the authority given to the House of Representatives (one branch of the Congress in which is vested the legislative power of the Government) to require of the Executive, an independent branch of the Government —co-ordinate with the Senate and House of Representatives—an account of his discharge of his appropriate and purely executive offices, acts, and duties, either as to when, where, or how performed.

What the House of Representatives may require as a right in its demand upon the Executive for information is limited to what is necessary for the proper discharge of its powers of legislation or of impeachment.

The inquiry in the resolution of the House as to where executive acts have within the last seven years been performed and at what distance from any particular spot or for how long a period at any one time, etc., does not necessarily belong to the province of legislation.

It does not profess to be asked for that object.

If this information be sought through an inquiry of the President as to his executive acts in view or in aid of the power of impeachment vested in the House, it is asked in derogation of an inherent natural right, recognized in this country by a constitutional guarantee which protects every citizen, the President as well as the humblest in the land, from being made a witness against himself.

During the time that I have had the honor to occupy the position of President of this Government it has been, and while I continue to occupy that position it will continue to be, my earnest endeavor to recognize and to respect the several trusts and duties and powers of the co-ordinate branches of the Government, not encroaching upon them nor allowing encroachments upon the proper powers of the office which the people of the United States have confided to me, but aiming to preserve in their proper relations the several powers and functions of each of the co-ordinate branches of the Government agreeably to the Constitution and in accordance with the solemn oath which I have taken to “preserve, protect, and defend” that instrument.

In maintenance of the rights secured by the Constitution to the executive branch of the Government, I am compelled to decline any specific or detailed answer to the request of the House for information as to “any executive offices, acts, or duties, and, if any, what, have been performed at a distance from the seat of government established by law, and for how long a period at any one time and in what part of the United States.”

If, however, the House of Representatives desires to know whether during the period of upward of seven years during which I have held the office of President of the United States I have been absent from the seat of government, and whether during that period I have performed or have neglected to perform the duties of my office, I freely inform the House that from the time of my entrance upon my office I have been in the habit, as were all of my predecessors, (with the exception of one who lived only one month after assuming the duties of his office, and one whose continued presence in Washington was necessary from the existence at the time of a powerful rebellion,) of absenting myself at times from the seat of government; and that during such absences I did not neglect or forego the obligations or the duties of my office, but continued to discharge all of the executive offices, acts, and duties which were required of me as the President of the United States.

I am not aware that a failure occurred in any one instance of my exercising the functions and powers of my office in every case requiring their discharge, or of my exercising all necessary executive acts in whatever part of the United States I may at the time have been.

Fortunately, the rapidity of travel and of mail communication and the facility of almost instantaneous correspondence with the offices at the seat of government which the telegraph affords to the President in whatever section of the Union he may be, enable him in these days to maintain as constant and almost as quick intercourse with the Departments at Washington as may be maintained while he remains at the capital.

The necessity of the performance of executive acts by the President of the United States exists and is devolved upon him wherever he may be within the United States during his term of office, by the Constitution of the United States.

His civil powers are no more limited or capable of limitation as to the place where they shall be exercised than are those which he might be required to discharge in his capacity of Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, which latter powers it is evident he might be called upon to exercise, possibly, even without the limits of the United States.

Had the efforts of those recently in rebellion against the Government been successful in driving a late President of the United States from Washington, it is manifest that he must have discharged his functions, both civil and military, elsewhere than in the place named by law as the seat of government.

No act of Congress can limit, suspend, or confine this constitutional duty.

I am not aware of the existence of any act of Congress which assumes thus to limit or restrict the exercise of the functions of the Executive.

Were there such acts, I should nevertheless recognize the superior authority of the Constitution and should exercise the powers required thereby of the President.

The act to which reference is made in the resolution of the House relates to the establishing of the seat of government and the providing of suitable buildings and removal thereto of the offices attached to the Government, etc.

It was not understood at its date and by General Washington to confine the President in the discharge of his duties and powers to actual presence at the seat of government.

On the 30th of March, 1791, shortly after the passage of the act referred to, General Washington issued an executive proclamation having reference to the subject of this very act from Georgetown, a place remote from Philadelphia, which then was the seat of government, where the act referred to directed that “all offices attached to the seat of government” should for the time remain.

That none of his successors have entertained the idea that their executive offices could be performed only at the seat of government is evidenced by the hundreds upon hundreds of such acts performed by my predecessors, in unbroken line from Washington to Lincoln, a memorandum of the general nature and character of some of which acts is submitted herewith; and no question has ever been raised as to the validity of those acts or as to the right and propriety of the Executive to exercise the powers of his office in any part of the United States.

U. S. GRANT. WASHINGTON, May 4, 1876.


The Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the busts of presidents for the first 100 years, circa 1876.

Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin