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CUSTOMS AND HABITS
SOMETHING should be said about the personal, the human side of lawmaking, not so much here for any entertainment it may furnish, as for the light it may throw on the development of the most important of human institutions. That which men achieve is the achievement of men, of human beings, compounded of wisdom and folly, smiles and tears, of habits, ambitions, passions — the myriad motives of human action. Were lawmakers mere logic machines, then the measuring devices of science might suffice our need, but as they are men the sketchbrush must be used, even if to get no more than an impression of legislative life and some of the material conditions that shape its course.
We are told that we are creatures of environment. Without carrying that theory to extreme application, it is not unreasonable to say that men do well to make their laws in surroundings dignified, even ornate. It is not for the sake of vain display that public buildings are among the most imposing and sumptuous edifices man can erect. Their beauty, their solidity, their magnificence give a perpetual lesson in public self-respect. They encourage honorable pride. They instill the sense of power. They inspire reverence for the authority of law. They are the symbols of what government means.
Likewise it is fitting and useful that the halls of legislation and their adornment shall be the best a people can afford, not for the comfort and gratification of those who frequent them, but to keep the makers of law ever mindful of the supreme importance of their labors. These are the reasons why the finest buildings of the modern world, taken as a class, are its capitols, and its finest chambers, again as a class, are those designed for legislators.
Of the same nature are the reasons why the processes of lawmaking have always been conducted with some degree of pomp and parade, etiquette and ceremonial. In a democratic country like ours, with small patience for what we scornfully speak of as fuss and feathers, these things are little encouraged, yet enough of them survive to call for recognition of their significance. The fact that they are only survivals, is of itself instructive, for it tells us that we have been growing more and more democratic, with less and less regard for pretentious forms. As far as they conduce to reasonable dignity and decorum, we tolerate them, but everything savoring of class distinction has been discarded. Here is at least one aspect of our social relations that may help to dissipate the fears of those who imagine wealth to be reviving class and caste. If they suppose invidious discrimination something new in America, just for a single illustration to the contrary, let them be informed that a century or so ago the Massachusetts House of Representatives had what was called the Boston seat, reserved exclusively for the Boston members, who sat together, on cushions, while other members were left to such accommodations as they could find on bare benches.1
Matters of costume throw side-lights on the changes that have taken place. In 1805 the President of the South Carolina Senate wore a blue satin gown trimmed with white ermine, and by resolution of December 19 of that year the Speaker of the House was directed to wear one of the same sort.2 A Philadelphia newspaper of 1791 said the Senators of the United States appeared every morning full-powdered and dressed in the richest material.3 Going back to the first Legislature in the country, that of Virginia, we find sitting in the choir of the church where the first Assembly met, the Governor and Council, their coats trimmed with gold lace. By the statute of 1621, no one was allowed to wear gold lace except these high officials and the commanders of the hundreds.4
Do not infer that our forefathers sent to represent them none but those who could afford to dress elegantly. Sometimes friends of improvident statesmen looked out for their needs. Such was the good fortune of Sam Adams when he went to Congress in 1774. Adams, then in his fifty-third year, had never left his native town of Boston except for places a few miles distant, his biographer tells us. The expenses of the journey and the sojourn in Philadelphia were arranged for by the legislative appropriation. But the critical society of a populous town, and the picked men of the thirteen colonies were to be encountered. A certain sumptuousness in living and apparel would be not only fitting, but necessary in the deputies, that the great Province which they represented might suffer no dishonor. Samuel Adams himself probably would have been quite satisfied to appear in the old red coat of 1770, in which Copley had painted him, and which no doubt his wife's careful darning still held together; but his townsmen arranged it differently. John Andrews, in a letter to William Barrell, told how they did it. “Some persons (their name unknown) sent and asked his permission to build him a new barn, the old one being decayed, which was executed in a few days. A second sent to ask leave to repair his house, which was thoroughly effected soon. A third sent to beg the favor of him to call at a tailor's shop, and be measured for a suit of clothes, and choose his cloth, which were finished and sent home for his acceptance. A fourth presented him with a new wig, a fifth with a new hat, a sixth with six pair of the best silk hose, a seventh with six pair of fine thread ditto, an eighth with six pair of shoes, and a ninth modestly inquired of him whether his finances were not rather low than otherwise. He replied it was true that was the case, but he was very indifferent about these matters, so that his poor abilities were of any service to the public; upon which the gentleman obliged him to accept of a purse containing about fifteen or twenty Johannes.'
1 Charles Sumner, Debates in Mass. Conv. of 1853, II, 597. ? Am. Hist. Assn. Rep. for 1896, 1, 864, 866. J. W. Moore, The American Congress, 143. 4 John Fiske, Old Virginia and Her Neighbours, I, 231. 6 J. K. Hosmer, Samuel Adams, 307, 308.
Another story of kind-hearted neighbors is told by Governor Thomas Ford in his "History of Illinois” (p. 284), about John Grammar, who was elected to the territorial Legislature of Illinois from Union County about the year 1816, and was continued in the Legislature most of the time for twenty years. It is said that when first elected, lacking the apparel necessary for a member, he and his sons gathered a large quantity of hazelnuts, which were taken to the Ohio Saline and sold for cloth to make a coat and pantaloons. The cloth was the blue strouding used by the Indians for breech-cloths. When it was brought home the neighboring women were assembled to make up the garments of the new member. The cloth was measured every way, cross, lengthwise, and from corner to corner, but still the puzzling truth appeared that the pattern was scant. The women concluded to make of it a very short bob-tailed coat, and a long pair of leggings, which being finished, and Mr. Grammar arrayed in them, he started for Kaskaskia, the seat of government. Here he continued to wear his leggings over an old tattered garment until the poetry bill (a partial appropriation) passed, when he provided himself with a pair of breeches.
Lawmakers no longer think it necessary to "dress up" and wear their "Sunday best.” Nowadays they wear what would be worn by the business or professional man about his ordinary work. He who dresses in the height of fashion may become the butt of ridicule. He who wears what he would wear at a wedding or funeral is liable to the loss of influence with his fellow members, for they will suspect him of snobbery or stupidity.
In England the advance in common sense has been even more remarkable than in America, for the Englishman had farther to travel. A generation ago no London business man, not to speak of a professional man or member of Parliament, ever thought of appearing at shop or office without silk hat and black coat. It was but a little more than half a century ago that no member of the House of Commons who respected himself and his constituency sat in the presence of the Speaker without wearing gloves. Henry W. Lucy recalls how one named Monk, who sat for Gloucester session after session, created a sensation, on the whole painful, by presenting himself on sultry days in a dove-colored suit. It is true his late father had been a Bishop, but it was felt that he was rather imposing on the distinction.
"I distinctly remember," Lucy goes on, "another shock suffered by the House when Lord Randolph Churchill entered wearing a pair of tan shoes. The Fourth Party was then at the height of its impudence, the plenitude of its power. Its young leader had, for months, alternately bullied the Prime Minister and tweaked the nose of the Leader of the Opposition. These things had been suffered, not gladly, it is true, but in recognition of impotence to withstand them. This tan shoes atrocity was, on both sides of the House, felt to be going literally a step too far. At this date it is curious to reflect upon these dead-and-gone emotions. On sultry afternoons the benches of the twentieth-century House of Commons present an appearance suggestive of Henley on Regatta day. The cylindrical silk hat, which, within the memory of the present Speaker, was regarded in the light of one of the pillars that sustain the British Constitution, is rarely seen. Straw hats, Homburg hats, and the common bowler have rudely shunted its solemnity. A working-man Member, returned for the first time to the present Parliament, has beaten the record by presenting himself in a soft brown wide-awake, the rim of which is in size and proportions planned on the scale of the sloping roof of a Swiss chalet. As for clothes, anything will do, the lighter in color, the less conventional in cut, the better. It was by the last Parliament elected in the reign of Queen Victoria — the first King Edward VII opened in person -- that this revolution was completed.” 1
Nevertheless, Sydney Brooks thought Parliament “the bestdressed assembly in the world." %
With us unconventionality rarely gets conspicuous save in hot weather. Of late years men have sought comfort on torrid days at anycost. Presiding officers, however, occasionally draw the line. When a Congressman took off his coat and flaunted his shirt-sleeves before the nation, Speaker Reed promptly dispatched a page to order the coat restored to its proper domain.
Thomas Jefferson is said to have attributed the signing of the Declaration of Independence in part to a matter of clothes. A livery stable nearby the hall where the Congress met, bred such a swarm of flies that the delegates, wearing the short breeches and silk stockings then the fashion, kept their handkerchiefs very busy in switching the pestiferous nuisances from their legs. The annoyance was so great that it hastened if it did not aid the appending of the ever-memorable signatures.
THE SYMBOLICAL HAT THE article of costume that has played the biggest part in the history of lawmaking bodies is the hat. To remain covered by cap or hat has for centuries been the evidence and emblem of liberty and independence. Thereby the commoners of England showed that no King could interfere with their freedom. By the same token they showed their joint superiority to any one of their number who sought from them the favor of a hear
1 Henry W. Lucy ("Toby, M. P."), “Reminiscences of the House of Commons,” Putnam's Monthly, January, February, 1907.
* Harper's Weekly, March 5, 1904.