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(280) as made up the Legislature you would find "some who are not worth two cents and some who might be considered as very near crooked.” This truism, known to everybody, applicable to every legislative body in the world, and recognized by a thousand writers, somehow particularly aggrieved the members of the Massachusetts House, and they proceeded to formal censure, which was wisely expunged from the records in the hour of good-will at the close of the session. Afterward I heard a member of Congress, on the floor of the national House, commit a like offense which might have been measured as twice as grave, for he said there were Congressmen not worth
It behooves me to avoid the charge of contempt that might follow were the estimate to be here characterized as also a truism, but inasmuch as the House took no notice of the appraisal when made in its presence, perhaps there will be no danger in the repetition.
If such things are to be taken seriously — and of course they have a serious side - it is clear that any legislator ought to think twice before he asperses the capacity or impugns the integrity of any of his associates. Even generalities may do harm by adding to the disrepute in which so many of the people hold the servants they select. On the other hand if the people are to be incited to choose better servants, that can be achieved only by statement of the facts. Such statement, calm, judicial, without exaggeration, cannot fairly be called “contempt.” It is in reality a public service.
In a class by itself, without precedent, was the episode in the national House in October, 1921, of which Representative Thomas L. Blanton of Texas was the central figure. Following the custom, he had secured permission to "extend” his remarks on a subject specified, which means that he was authorized to insert in the “Congressional Record” matter not spoken or read on the floor. This he did by inserting an affidavit of an employee in the Government Printing Office, describing a controversy with another employee in the course of which sundry obscene epithets were used. These were printed elliptically, that is, with hyphens between the first and last letters, but their significance was for the most part easily understood. When the matter was brought to the attention of the House, that body promptly ordered the affidavit to be expunged from the Record. Then indignation waxed — fanned, it is to be feared, by recollection of the annoyance Mr. Blanton had caused his fellow-members through many months by excessive and seemingly unjustifiable use of the power given to any one member to demand quorum calls and otherwise delay the business of the House. The opportunity to get revenge for the waste of some weeks of their lives, together with a genuine resentment of what was felt to be a scandalous outrage, led many members to approve expulsion as a punishment none too severe. Earnest debate on a high plane, with a full house and crowded galleries, resulted in failure to get the two-thirds vote necessary for the extreme penalty, whereupon by majority vote the Speaker was ordered to censure Mr. Blanton, this proving to be an ordeal more severe than expulsion would have brought. The next day, when the House had calmed down and sober reflection had overcome hasty impulses, many who had voted to expel, expressed satisfaction that their views had not prevailed, and conceded that the wiser course was followed.
The obnoxious words were not those of Mr. Blanton himself. They disclosed a blameworthy state of affairs in a government office. They involved the problem of organized labor in the civil service, a problem sharply dividing the public at large and of a nature certain to prevent unprejudiced judgment. The public would look to what it might assume to be Mr. Blanton's motives and not to his methods. Expulsion would be viewed as martyrdom. Justly or unjustly, the reputation of the House would suffer and the very purpose of punishment would be thwarted.
COMMUNICATING WITH CONSTITUENTS May a legislator enjoy freedom of speech in communicating with his constituents ? No less a man than Thomas Jefferson once discussed this vigorously. In May, 1797, at a Circuit Court in Richmond, Virginia, the Grand Jury made this presentment:
“We, of the grand jury of the United States, for the district of Virginia, present as a real evil, the circular letters of several members of the late Congress, and particularly letters with the signature of Samuel J. Cabell, endeavoring, at a time of real public danger, to disseminate unfounded calumnies against the happy government of the United States, and thereby to separate the people therefrom; and to increase or produce a foreign influence, ruinous to the peace, happiness, and independence of these United States."
Jefferson took exception to this and wrote a Petition to the Virginia House of Delegates, to be signed by inhabitants of the four counties in Cabell's district, in which he set forth:
"That by the Constitution of this State, established from its earliest settlement, the people thereof have professed the right of being governed by laws to which they have consented by representatives chosen by themselves, immediately: that in order to give to the will of the people the influence it ought to have, and the information which may enable them to exercise it usefully, it was a part of the common law, adopted as the law of this land, that their representatives, in the discharge of their functions, should be free from the cognizance or coercion of the coördinate branches, Judiciary and Executive; and that their communications with their constituents should of right, as of duty also, be free, full, and unawed by any: that so necessary has this intercourse been deemed in the country from which they derive principally their descent and laws, that the correspondence between the representative and constituent is privileged there to pass free of expense through the channel of the public post, and that the proceedings of the legislature have been known to be arrested and suspended at times until the Representatives could go home to their several counties and confer with their constituents..
“That the grand jury is a part of the judiciary, not permanent indeed, but in office, pro hac vice and responsible as other judges are for their actings and doings while in office: that for the Judiciary to interpose in the legislative department between the constituent and his representative, to control them in the exercise of their functions or duties towards each other, to overawe the free correspondence which exists and ought to exist between them, to dictate what communications may pass between them, and to punish all others, to put the representative into jeopardy of criminal prosecution, of vexation, expense, and punishment before the Judiciary, if his communications, public or private, do not exactly square with their ideas of fact or right, or with their designs of wrong, is to put the legislative department under the feet of the Judiciary, is to leave us, indeed, the shadow, but to take away the substance of representation, which requires essentially that the representative be as free as his constituents would be, that the same interchange of sentiment be lawful between him and them as would be lawful among themselves were they in the personal transaction of their own business; is to do away with the influence of the people over the proceedings of their representatives by excluding from their knowledge, by the terror of punishment, all but such information or misinformation as may suit their own views; and is the more vitally dangerous when it is considered that grand jurors are selected by officers nominated and holding their places at the will of the Executive."
Elaborated at length, the petition concluded by invoking from the Assembly “that redress of our violated rights which the freedom and safety of our common country calls for. We denounce to you a great crime, wicked in its purpose, and mortal in its consequences unless prevented, committed by citizens of this Commonwealth against the body of their country. If we have erred in conceiving the redress provided by the law, we commit the subject to the superior wisdom of this House to devise and pursue such proceedings as they shall think best; and we, as in duty bound, shall ever pray,” etc.
Nothing appears to have come of it, and probably Jefferson did not expect anything to come of it. Presumably the ends of a political manifesto were all he had in mind.
1 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. L. Ford ed., VII, 158.
PAYMENT of lawmakers probably began in England as compensation, in the literal sense of the word. The King could not easily get shires and boroughs to send agents to him for negotiating about the money he needed, unless the agents were compensated for their expenses. The thrifty monarchs saw no occasion for paying these out of their own pockets, and so they ordered the sheriffs to levy on the land owners. At least one sheriff got into trouble thereby. We find a presentment by the grand jury for the wapentake of West Derby, in 1320, saying that the sheriff of Lancashire had returned two Knights without the assent of the county, and had levied £20 for their expenses; "whereas the county could, by their own election, have found two good and sufficient men, who would have gone to Parliament for ten marks, or at the most for £10." 1
Not long after this, the compensation was fixed at four shillings a day for a Knight and two shillings for a citizen or Burgess. Payment was due for the whole time of service, including not only the stay in Parliament, but also the journey to and fro, which would indicate that it was looked on as a matter of compensation rather than reward. On the other hand, the giving of twice as much to a Knight as to a Burgess has the flavor of reward, unless we assume that the social standing of the Knight entailed on him a larger burden in the way of keeping up appearances. It is to be remembered that though two and four shillings a day strike us as ridiculously small, the purchasing power of money was then from four to six times what it is now, so that the payment was really considerable. In fact, it was probably enough above the actual outlay of members to justify the common view of it as a wage. We know at any rate it proved so heavy a burden for poor constituencies that they refused to send a member rather than pay the cost. In the time of Henry VIII the city of Canterbury, overjoyed at having saved the wages of one of its members who stayed away from 1 Quoted by Townsend, Hist. of the House of Commons, I, 241.