Title: A Message to the Legislature of Massachusetts Accompanying the Governor’s Veto
Date: May 6, 1920
Location: Boston, MA
Context: A message explaining Governor Coolidge’s veto of a bill entitled “An Act to Regulate the Manufacture and Sale of Beer, Cider and Light Wines” which sought to legalize the sale of low proof alcohol in Massachusetts in violation of the 18th Amendment
To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives:
A bill entitled, “An Act to Regulate the Manufacture and Sale of Beer, Cider and Light Wines,” being House No. 38, is herewith returned under the provisions of the Constitution without approval.
There is little satisfaction in attempting to deceive ourselves. There is grave danger in attempting to deceive the people. If this act were placed on the statute books of this Commonwealth to-day it would provide no beer for the people. No one would dare act upon it, or if any one did he would certainly be charged with crime. Similar laws in other States are to date ineffective. I am opposed to the practice of a legislative deception. It is better to proceed with candor. Wait until the Supreme Court of the United States talks.
The proper authorities have declared the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted. Under it Congress has passed legislation. Should the claim that the amendment is void be sustained, our present high-license law remains in effect and this act then will be a dead letter. No one would defend it. Should the act of Congress be declared void, then let Congress pass a new law. No one can say this act does not now or will not in the future conflict with United States law. It does not even pretend to be an act to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment. By the solemn adoption of an amendment to the fundamental law of the land jurisdiction over this subject has been placed in Congress. It ought to be left there until it is declared with equal solemnity by the Supreme Court that such amendment is void.
When I took office I gave an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. That Constitution and the laws of Congress are declared to be the supreme law of the land. It may be that the Eighteenth Amendment and the act under it are one or both void. So far as any court has decided I understand the amendment has been sustained. They have been before the Supreme Court for some time, where up to now they both stand as law. That which the court hesitates to decide I shall not hasten to declare. It would be extremely improper to undertake to influence that decision by the action of the lawmaking power of Massachusetts. Do not anticipate it, await it. My oath was not to take a chance on the Constitution; it was to support it. When the proponents of this measure do not intend to jeopardize their safety by acting under it, why should I jeopardize my oath by approving it?
We have had too much legislating by clamor, by tumult, by pressure. Representative government ceases when outside influence of any kind is substituted for the judgment of the representative. This does not mean that the opinion of constituents is to be ignored. It is to be weighed most carefully, for the representative must represent, but his oath provides that it must be “faithfully and impartially according to the best of his abilities and understanding, agreeably to the rules and regulations of the Constitution and laws.” Opinions and instructions do not outmatch the Constitution. Against it they are void. It is an insult to any Massachusetts constituency to suggest that they were so intended. Instructions are not given unless given constitutionally. Instructions are not carried out unless carried out constitutionally. There can be no constitutional instruction to do an unconstitutional act.
The authority of the law is questioned in these days all too much. The binding obligation of obedience against personal desire is denied in many quarters. If these doctrines prevail all organized government, all liberty, all security are at an end. Force alone will prevail. Can those intrusted with the gravest authority set any example save that of the sternest obedience to law? Can Massachusetts afford to take any position which may turn out to be, which can anywhere be interpreted to be, an act of nullification? If rights are infringed the way to the court is open. The cases are pending which will undoubtedly decide the question here raised. Let the Supreme Court of the United States talk. The Massachusetts method of determining the authority of the law ought always to be by litigation and never by nullification, which is legislative direct action.
Citation: The Price of Freedom
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Rob Hammer, who prepared this document for digital publication.