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a certain member. This led to a long and bitter controversy, in which Prentiss took the ground that the House, like Cæsar's wife, “must be above suspicion.” A special committee was appointed, but, in consequence of more pressing matters, they pleaded want of time, the impossibility of taking testimony, etc., and so they were discharged.
Omitting the notice of the other important questions in which Prentiss figured conspicuously, we shall note one of a religious character, bearing upon the local status of the capital, as showing how he felt on sacred thenies.
Mr. Williams presented a petition from Mr. Campbell and other citizens of the town of Jackson praying for a donation of a lot of ground in the town, to be dedicated to the erection of a chapel, free for public worship, for the use of all denominations of Christians. The petition was referred to a special committee, and when they made a report in favor of granting it it was met by all sorts of weapons, the chief of which was ridicule; it was tried to be literally derided out by riders.
During its discussion Prentiss came in. On hearing what was the subject under consideration he rose to speak. Every one knew that he did not pretend to be a saint, but none knew on which side would fall his stout arm.
No full report of what he said has come down to us, but from that which has escaped decay, like Cuvier with his fragment of bones, we can frame a skeleton sketch. The beautiful thoughts may have been inspired by the remembrance of the pious teachings of his mother or the recollections of the old “Union Chapel,” the free church of Pleasant Hill.
" Remember, Mr. Speaker, we are not legislating for our brief day only, but for future generations. The capitol we are building will outlast our fleeting lives. Religion, ridicule it as you may, is the great balance-wheel that keeps the vast machinery of society in its proper working order; it builds the home as well as the state.
“You know, sir, how rapidly our country is being filled. Side by side with the youth who comes to better his fortune there stalks the adventurer, whose vampire mission is to suck out the life-blood of others. Imagine, sir, on some bright Sabbath morning a noble youth standing on these streets, with nothing but his own snd thoughts crowding upon him. He is weary with watching for coming fruition that hope once promised him. By his side there comes the tempter to lure him into those dens upon whose lintels ought to be written the motto upon the portals of Dante's Inferno, “Who enters here bids hope farewell.' Suppose, sir, that just as the voice of the tempter is whispering in his ear there breaks upon it the sweet symphony of the church-going bell, that mingles the chimes of earth with those of heaven. The chime brings to mind the sweet memories of childhood and the dear ones of his far-distant home. At that hour they may be in the house of God, and the unseen messengers of returning prayer may even then be hovering over him to whisper sweet suggestions. Moved by the symphony of the Sabbath bell and its blended memories the boy turns from the tempter, turns from the path to the gambler's hell to the portals of the Christian's heaven, and is saved. In aftertime he may live to be the pride of his people and an honor to your State. Let by all means in our power, foster true religion in this the capital of our State."
The effect of the speech was very marked, and saved the bill from defeat. It turned the tide in its favor, and it passed the lower house, but slumbered in the Senate, and was not taken up again till the succeeding adjourned session. As far as I can judge from the journals, the measure was modified, and a distinct lot in the plot of the city was assigned to each of the Christian denominations. Thus Prentiss's speech of 1836 ripened into fruition, and may we not hope that the hypothetical case stated by him has been realized over and over again ?
I shall close this epitome of some of his prominent acts during this session of this Legislature by an anecdote related by his fellow-member, Prosper K. Montgomery, from Jefferson :
“One day he” (Prentiss) “was addressing the Legislature on an important question, and, as usual, was electrifying the House, when suddenly, like a thunder-clap in a clear sky, a huge bulk of plastering fell into our midst, right upon the glistening bald head of Hoops, of Claiborne. In a moment all was confusion; every member sprang to his feet. Hoops and the balance thought there was a young earthquake, and some sprang for the windows, others for the doors. Lime-dust filled the room, and there was, so to speak, a general consternation. But in the midst of it there was one who stood erect, calm, and unmoved, and that one was Prentiss.
" It was a while before order was restored, for, although Legislatures are used in a general way to whitewashing, this was too big a dose for the body. As soon as order was restored, Prentiss resumed his argument just where lie had been cut off by the accident, and continued it to its close just as forcibly and brilliantly as though he had not been interrupted. The flurry of the House was soon absorbed by the charms of his eloquence.”
In sketching these incidents, which show Prentiss's self-possession in trying circumstances, it must not be forgotten that at this very time he was in full practice in the courts in Jackson. He would attend court, make an argument, and then come into the House. Without taking his seat he would inquire as to what was under consideration; if it was some important question he would immediately launch out in one of his brilliant efforts, each effort seeming more striking than its predecessor. When it was important to talk against time, as is sometimes done in parliamentary bodies to save a measure, and he saw the House growing listless, he would wake them up by a sally of wit, and then hold them by his thunder.
In allusion to the fearful accident when Prentiss had swallowed a piece of glass, which nearly cost him his life, a friend condoled with him, and also expressed gratification at his recovery.
“Oh," said Prentiss, in reply, “ I'm all right again; my throat has been rifled out, and I can speak more fluently than ever.”
“I protest,” rejoined his friend, “ against any more facility being given you in that line; you have already been too highly gifted.”
In those days, as in these, during the hours of recess in the House, “the boys," so to speak, had their fun by caricaturing whatever of ludicrous had happened in their body. Of course, here Prentiss was in his element, for his wit was as sparkling as the light of a diamond. It seems that on one occasion a speaker on the subject of the public welfare was dreadfully lugubrious concerning a negro insurrection, and wound up the climax of desolation somehow thus : “ The fact is, Mr. Speaker, I warn you, sir, we are in imminent danger. It is our duty to be prepared, sir; it is our duty to watch and pray, to watch and guard, sir; for if we do not, then, sir, on some serene night, wrapped in the peaceful arms of Morpheus, we may wake in the morning and find ourselves dead !” The solemnity of the closing sentence squelched for a moment a burst of uncontrollable laughter, but it was not long in coming with a roar.
The next day a mock House sat on that speech (the orator, of course, being absent). It was rehearsed in all its drollery, and convulsed the hearers. In the midst of the uproar Prentiss rose,
“Mr. Speaker, I move to amend the last syllable, of the last word, of the last line, of the last speech, by adding thereunto the word drunk."
“I second it,” shouted a member.
“Mr. Speaker, sir, this is necessary for the sense; for, for the life of me, I can't see how a dead man can wake up after he has been kilt by the niggers."
The merriment occasioned by this sally beggars description. In the midst of it in walked the orator himself. He saw what was up. His wrath began to gather, and the meeting, Montgomery says, began to dissolve without a motion to adjourn. The Speaker seized the mace and called the House to order just in time to prevent a row.
Montgomery gives another instance of Prentiss's ready wit. An important bill, gotten up, it was thought, for party advantage, was improperly and irregularly sent down to the House for concurrence. Prentiss at once detected the design, and was branding it as it deserved. Just then a whiff of wind came and wafted all the papers of the bill clear out of the window into the street. “I am not surprised at this, sir,” said he, without losing a stitch in his argument. “The very wind of heaven seems to be conscious that this proceeding is unwarrantable and illegal, and speaks out plainly in its condemnation. It, sir, has called the bill from the table and indefinitely postponed it.”
After a long and tedious session of three months the Legislature adjourned over, to meet in the succeeding January.
In the year 1836, during the recess of the Legislature, the eleven so-called Chickasaw counties were duly organized under the act of February 9, 1836, before alluded to. The question was at once mooted among them as to their right of representation in the lower house. The clauses that bore on the subject were,
First. The ninth section of the third article, which prescribed that the Legislature, at its first session, should cause an enumeration to be made, and every four or six years thereafter up to 1845, and after that at not less than four nor more than eight years, of all the free white inhabitants of the State; and the whole number of representatives shall at the several periods of enumeration be fixed by the Legislature, and apportioned among the several counties, cities, or towns (entitled to separate representation) according to the number of free white in each, and shall not be less than thirty-six nor more than one hundred. “Provided, however, that each county shall always be entitled to one representative."
Second. The sixth and twenty-ninth sections of same article fixed the first Monday of November, 1833, and the day following, and triennially thereafter, as the day of the general election.
Third. The fifth section of same article declares the members of the House shall be chosen by the qualified electors, to serve for two years from the day of the commencement of the general election.
Fourth. The eighteenth section of same article declares that when vacancies happen in either house “the governor, or person exercising his powers, shall issue writs of election.”
Sixth. Section 14, Article 5. All vacancies not provided for in the constitution may be filled as the Legislature may prescribe. Twenty-eighth section, same article. County officers may bc indicted for malfeasance.