Washington DC - These Our Lawmakers
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE House of Representatives, albeit presenting an average of conduct equal to that of any corresponding chamber in the world, is a rough-and-tumble body. It is apt to carry partisan antagonisms to extremes and wrangle over anything that comes up, with accusations and recriminations, and at rare intervals an exchange of blows. Repeatedly I have seen the Sergeant-at-Arms lift his mace and march down one aisle and up another, to compose disturbances which seemed to threaten a sequel of riot, while the Speaker pounded his desk in an effort to overcome the clamor of several members trying to talk at once. By laxity of discipline and force of custom, there is a degree of freedom here, in even a peaceful discussion, unknown to the Senate. Members will bring, to exemplify their statements in a tariff debate, samples of merchandise — a suit of clothes, a basket of fruit, a jar of sweetmeats, perhaps. One day a debater, discussing olive oil, accidentally dropped a bottle of it on the floor, and several of his colleagues lost their footing in crossing the scene of the disaster. Another, who had a pocketful of matches designed for illustrative purposes, suddenly found his clothes ablaze and made a fiery bolt for a water-tank. Still another, inflamed by his own eloquence in trying to show how Congress ought to wring the life out of an odious monopoly, impetuously laid hands upon a small and inoffensive fellow member who happened to sit near and shook him till his teeth rattled, amid roars of delight from every one except the victim.
Usually, the Senate is as staid as the House is uproarious. All routine business is transacted there "by unanimous consent" ; it is only when some really important issue arises that the Senators quarrel publicly. When a serious debate is on, there is no commotion : every Senator who wishes to speak sends his name to the presiding officer, or rises during a lull and announces his purpose of addressing the Senate on a specified day. The rest of the Senators respect his privilege, and, if he is a man of consequence, a goodly proportion of them will be in their seats to hear him. If a Senator is absent from the chamber when a matter arises which might concern him, some one is apt to suggest deferring its consideration till he can be present. It is the same way with appointments to office which require confirmation by the Senate : a Senator objecting to a candidate nominated from his State can count upon abundant support from his fellow Senators, every one of whom realizes that it may be his turn next to need support in a similar contingency. This is what is called "Senatorial courtesy." So well is it understood that no unfair advantage will be taken of any one's absence, that the attendance in the chamber sometimes becomes very thin. An instance is often cited when the Vice-president, discovering only one person on the floor at the beginning of a day's session, rapped with his gavel and solemnly announced : "The Senator from Massachusetts will be in order!"
The strong contrast between the two chambers has existed ever since the creation of Congress. This is not wonderful when we reflect that the Senate was for a long time made up of men chosen by the State legislatures from a social class well removed from the masses of the people, and that they held office for a six-year term, thus lording it over the members of the House of Representatives, who, besides being drawn directly from the rank and file of the body politic, had to struggle for reelection every two years. In the early days, the Senators were noted for their rich attire and their great gravity of manner ; whereas most of the Representatives persisted, while sitting in the House during the debates, in wearing their big cocked hats set "fore and aft" on their heads. Whether the Senate sat covered or bareheaded for the first few years of its existence, we have only indirect evidence, as it then kept its doors closed against everybody, even members of the House. Little by little a more liberal spirit asserted itself, until the doors were opened to the public for a certain part of every morning, with the proviso that they should be closed whenever the subjects of discussion seemed to require secrecy. By common consent, these subjects were limited to certain classes of business proposed by the President, like the ratification of treaties and the confirmation of appointments to office. Such matters remain confidential to this day, and the Senate holds itself ready to exclude spectators and go into secret session at any moment, on the request of a single Senator.
As a secret session is always supposed to be for the purpose of discussing a Presidential communication, the fiction is embalmed in the form of a motion "that the Senate proceed to the consideration of executive business." This is the signal for the doorkeepers to evict the occupants of the galleries and shut the doors leading into the corridors ; but sometimes the real reason for the request is widely removed from its pretext. I have known it to be offered for the purpose of cutting short the exhibition which a tipsy Senator was making of himself ; or to prevent a tedious airing of grievances by a Senator who had quarreled with the President over the dispensation of patronage in his State ; or to silence a Senator who, objecting to the negotiation of a certain treaty, kept referring to it in open debate while it was still pending under the seal of confidence. In this last instance, the offending Sena-tor was so obstinate of purpose that the doors had to be closed and reopened several times in a single day.
On the face of things, there is no reason why the President should not attend any session of the Senate at which business of his originating is under debate. No President since the first, however, has made the experiment. Washington attended three secret sessions, but was so angered by the Senate's referring to a committee sundry questions which he insisted should be settled on the spot, that he quitted the chamber, emphatically vowing that he would waste no more time on such trifling. The Senators excused their conduct by saying that they were embarrassed in talking about the President and his motives while he was sitting there.
The custom of wearing their hats while transacting business was continued by the Representatives for fifty years or more. Even the Speaker, as long as he sat in his chair, would keep his hat on, though he was accustomed to remove it when he stood to address the House. The Senators, whatever may have been their practice during the years of their seclusion, distinguished themselves from the Representatives immediately thereafter by sitting with bared heads. They also avoided the habit, common in the House, of putting their feet up on the nearest elevated object — usually a desk-lid — and lolling on their spines. English visitors, though accustomed to the wearing of hats in their own House of Commons, nevertheless found a text for criticism in the way the American Representatives did it and they all had something severe to say of the prevalence of tobacco-chewing in the House, with its accompaniment of spitting, as Mrs. Trollope put it, "to an excess that decency forbids me to describe." Less offensive to the taste of our visitors from abroad was the indulgence in snuff-taking, which was so general that boxes or jars were set up in convenient places inside of both halls, and it was made the duty of certain employees to keep these always filled with a fine brand of snuff. Any of the most eloquent orators in Congress was liable to stop at regular intervals in a speech to help himself to a large pinch, bury his face in a bandanna handkerchief, and have it out with nature. A few of the lawmakers, indeed, cultivated snuff-taking as a fine art, and were proud of their reputations for dexterity in it. Henry Clay was one of the most skilful.
While we are on the subject of indulgences, we must not overlook a drink called switchel, which was very popular, being compounded of rum, ginger, molasses, and water. Every member was allowed then, as now, in addition to his salary and traveling expenses, a fixed supply of "stationery" ; and this term, which was elastic enough to include everything from pens and paper to jack-knives and razors, was stretched to cover the delectable switchel under the thin disguise of "sirup." In later years, when a wave of teetotal-ism had swept over Washington, and the open sale of alcoholic drinks in the restaurants of the Capitol was under a temporary ban, any member who wished a drink of whisky ordered it as "cold tea," and it was served to him in a china cup. This stratagem fell into marked discredit when one of the most respectable and abstemious members of the House, who had never tasted intoxicating liquor of any sort, ordered cold tea in entire good faith to clear his throat in the midst of a speech, and became maudlin before he was aware that anything was amiss.
Besides sprawling with their feet higher than their heads, and otherwise airing their contempt for conventional etiquette, many of the old-time Representatives felt free to read newspapers while debates were going on around them, indifferent to their disturbance of both orators and audience. The first pointed rebuke of this practice was administered by James K. Polk when Speaker of the House. He noticed one morning that substantially every Representative had a newspaper in hand when the gavel fell for beginning the day's session. The journal was read, but nobody paid any attention to it, and then the Speaker made his usual announcement that the House was ready for business. Still everybody remained buried in the morning's news. After another vain attempt to set the machinery in motion, Mr. Polk quietly drew a news-paper from his own pocket, seated himself with his back toward the House, spread the sheet open before him, and ostentatiously immersed himself in its printed contents. One by one the Representatives finished their reading, and perhaps a quarter of an hour passed before there came from all sides an irregular volley of calls : "Mr. Speaker!" "Mr. Speaker!" Mr. Polk ignored them till one of the baffled members moved that the House proceed to the election of a presiding officer, to take the place of the Speaker, who appeared to be absent. This brought Mr. Polk to his feet with the remark that he not only was present, but had notified the House that it was ready for business and had received no response. The House took the joke in good part and showed by its conduct thereafter that it was not above profiting by the Speaker's reproof.
Although women were admitted as spectators to the sessions of both chambers on the same terms as men, there was for many years an undercurrent of feeling against their encroachments. There was limited room in either hall for their accommodation behind the colonnade. In this space — the original "lobby" — there was an open fireplace at each end, and it soon became a common complaint among the Senators that the feminine guests drew the sofas up in front of the fire and thus effectually shut off the warmth from every one else. Aaron Burr, while Vice-president, was the first person in authority to take cognizance of this indictment. He notified the visiting women that after a certain date they must cease coming into the lobby and find seats in the gallery. They were appropriately indignant and declared an almost unanimous boycott against the Senate. Vice-president Clinton was of a different temper from his predecessor and let them all come back again. By degrees, however, as the privileges of the floor became more and more restricted in both chambers, the women were given a special' gallery for themselves.
From the time they began coming to Congress in any multitude, the fair visitors have made their presence felt. In the House one day John Randolph drew attention to them by halting a debate to point a long, skinny finger in their direction and snarl out : "Mr. Speaker, what, pray, are all these women doing here, so out of place in this arena ? Sir, they had much better be at home attending to their knitting !" In spite of that, they continued to come and to attract attention, till the number of members who habitually quitted their seats to repair to the gallery and pay their devoirs to their lady friends threatened to play havoc with the roll-calls. This abuse did not last long, and nowadays the visit of a member of either house to the gallery is an incident.
So far from objecting to spectators, both House and Senate now offer distinct encouragement to the public to come and hear the debates. To this end, each chamber has a deep gallery completely surrounding it, with cross partitions at intervals. One section is reserved for the President and Cabinet and their families ; another for the members of the diplomatic circle ; a third for the members of the press, and so forth. Control of each press gallery is nominally retained by the chamber concerned, but actually is left in the hands of a committee of newspaper men, who enforce an exemplary discipline, so that a writer guilty of misconduct would be excluded thenceforward from his privileges. On the other hand, the newspaper men have always stood firmly for their right to discuss the members and measures of Congress with all the freedom consonant with truth. It has required a long and sometimes dramatic struggle to bring about the present harmonious mutual understanding between Congress and the press as to the Iegitimate preserves of each body upon which the other must not trespass.
Some of the battles leading to this result are entertaining to recall. In the later forties, while members of the press were still permitted to do their work at desks on the floor of the House, a correspondent of the New York Tribune named Robinson published an article about a certain Representative named Sawyer, whose unappetizing personal habits he thought it would be wise to break up. Among other things he described the way Sawyer ate his luncheon : "Every day at two o'clock he feeds. About that hour he is seen leaving his seat and taking a position in the window back of the Speaker's chair to the left. He unfolds a greasy paper, in which is contained a chunk of bread and sausage, or some other unctuous substance. He disposes of them rapidly, wipes his hands with the greasy paper for a napkin, and throws it out of the window. What little grease is left on his hands, he wipes on his almost bald head." There was more to the same effect, but this will suffice. When the paper containing the article reached Washington, there was much laughing behind hands in Congress ; but, though most of the members rejoiced that somebody should have told the truth for the dignity of the House, few had the courage to come out boldly and say that the satire was deserved.
One of Sawyer's colleagues retaliated with a resolution that all writers for the Tribune be excluded thence-forward from the floor; after a brief debate it was adopted, and the offending correspondent was obliged to go up into the gallery and sit among the women. But his pursuers were not satisfied with this measure of revenge ; for, reviving a half-forgotten rule that men were to be admitted to the gallery only when accompanied by women, and then must be passed in by a member of the House, they sent a doorkeeper to eject him even from his temporary refuge. At once several ladies volunteered to accompany him for his visits, and among the Congressmen who climbed the stairs from day to day to pass him in was one not less distinguished than John Quincy Adams. Nor was this the end. For the correspondent went home, ran for Congress and was elected, while the wrathful Representative dropped into obscurity under the nickname, which he was never able to shake off, of "Sausage Sawyer."
Many newspaper publications have been made subjects of special investigation by committees of Congress, but in no instance has a threat of expulsion from the gallery or of prosecution in the courts produced any practical results ; and the locking up of recusant committee witnesses has become a mere mockery. The most notable case on record was that of Hallet Kilbourn, a former journalist who had become a real estate broker and a leading participant in a local land syndicate which the House undertook to investigate. Kilbourn was commanded to produce certain account-books, as well as the names and addresses of sundry persons who, not being members of Congress, he insisted were outside the jurisdiction of that body. For his refusal to furnish the information demanded he was thrown into jail and kept there nearly six weeks. From the first, he had declared that he had no objection to opening his accounts to the whole world or to publishing the data desired, as all the transactions covered by the inquiry had been honorable ; and this assertion he proved later by voluntarily printing everything. But he was resolved to make a legal test of the right of Congress to arrogate to itself the arbitrary powers of a court of justice, and he got a good deal of enjoyment out of the experience.
For the whole period of his imprisonment he lived like a prince at the expense of the contingent fund of the House; drove about the city at will in a carriage, merely accompanied by a deputy sergeant-at-arms ; and entertained his friends at dinner within the jail walls. Of course, the newspapers exploited the whole episode gladly, and when he had held his prosecutors up to popular ridicule long enough, he sued out a writ of habeas corpus and was released. Then he brought a suit for damages against the Sergeant-at-Arms for false imprisonment and won it on appeal after appeal, till the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a sweeping decision that "there is not found in the Constitution any general power vested in either house to punish for contempt." In spite of the efforts of all the judges in the lower courts to cut down the damages granted by their juries, Congress was finally obliged to pay Kilbourn twenty thousand dollars, or about five hundred dollars a day for his forty days' incarceration. It took him nine years to carry his case through all its stages.
Both chambers open their daily sessions with prayer. Clergymen of nearly all denominations have served as Chaplains, including Father Pise, a very eloquent Catholic priest who was a close friend of Henry Clay and was invited at his instance to lead the devotions of the Senate. As a rule, the prayers are extemporaneous, and it seems almost inevitable that, in periods of political upheaval, some color of partisanship should creep into them. Yet such slips have been very rare indeed. The most startling was made by the late Doctor Byron Sunderland, who was Chap-lain of the Senate in 186z. He was the foremost Presbyterian minister in Washington and a strong anti-slavery advocate. One day Senator Saulsbury of Delaware, who was an accomplished biblical scholar, made a speech reviewing the references in the Hebrew scriptures to human servitude, as proof that slavery was of divine origin. Doctor Sunderland, having left the hall, did not hear the speech made, but was told about it when he arrived at the Capitol the next morning. He was nettled by the news, and, before he was fairly conscious of it, he caught himself saying something like this in his opening prayer : "Oh, Lord God of Nations, teach this Senate and all the people of this country that, if slavery is of divine institution, so is hell itself, and by Thy grace help us to abolish the one and escape the other !" These few words caused a great sensation, and later in the day Mr. Saulsbury vented his indignation in a resolution to expel the offending clergyman from the chaplaincy ; but some quick-witted Senator on the opposite side cut off debate by moving to adjourn, and the matter died there.
Everyday's proceedings of Congress are published in a special journal called the Record; but it must not be too lightly assumed that every speech reported has been made in Congress. One of the rules of the House of Representatives permits a member, with the consent of the House, to be credited with having made remarks which, as a matter of fact, he has only reduced to writing and handed to the Clerk. That is what is meant by the "leave to print" privilege. Into the authorship of these speeches, or even of some that are delivered, it is not wise to probe too far. There are trained writers in Washington who earn a livelihood by digging out statistics and other data and composing addresses on various subjects for orators who are willing to pay for them, and Congressmen are among their customers. Once in a while something happens which casts a temporary shadow over this traffic. Several years ago, for example, two Representatives from Ohio were credited in the Record with the same speech. Inquiry developed the fact that it had been offered to one of them, who had refused either to pay the price demanded for it or to give it back ; so the author had sold a duplicate copy to the other. But worse yet was the plight of two members who delivered almost identical eulogies on a dead fellow member, having by accident copied their material from the same ancient volume of "Rules and Models for Public Speaking."
I have alluded to disorders which occasionally mar the course of legislation, when members hurl ugly names at each other or even exchange blows. While some such affrays have carried their high tension to the end and sent the combatants to the dueling field to settle accounts, others have taken a comical turn which decidedly relaxed the strain. Perhaps the most picturesque incident of this kind was the historic Keitt-Grow contest in February, 1858. The House had been engaged all night in a wrangle over an acute phase of the slavery question, and two o'clock in the morning found both the Northern and the Southern members with their nerves on edge. Mr. Keitt of South Carolina, objecting to something said by Mr. Grow of Pennsylvania, struck at him, but Grow parried the blow, and a fellow member who sprang to his assistance knocked Keitt down. From all sides came reenforcements, and in a few minutes what started as a personal encounter of minor importance developed into a general free fight.
Potter of Wisconsin, a man of athletic build, whirled his fists right and left, doing tremendous execution. Owen Lovejoy, seeing Lamar of Mississippi striding toward a confused group, ran at him with arms extended, resolved on pushing him back, while Lamar as vigorously resisted the obstruction. Covode of Pennsylvania, fearing lest his friend Grow might be overpowered by hostile numbers, picked up a big stoneware spittoon and hurried forward, holding his improvised projectile poised to hurl at the head where it would do most good ; but having no immediate need to use it, he set it on top of a convenient desk. Everybody was too excited to pay any attention to the loud pounding of the Speaker's gavel, or to the advance of the Sergeant-at-Arms with his mace held aloft. Even the unemotional John Sherman and his gray-haired Quaker colleague Mott could not keep out of the fray entirely.
But Elihu Washburne of Illinois and his brother Cadwallader of Wisconsin proved by all odds the heroes of the occasion. They were of modest stature, but sturdy and full of energy. Elihu tackled Craig of North Carolina, who was tall and had long arms, which he swung about him with a flail-like motion ; and it would have gone hard with the smaller man had he not suddenly lowered his head and used it as a battering-ram, aiming at the unprotected waist-line of his antagonist and doubling him up with one irresistible rush. Just then Cadwallader, seeing Barks-dale of Mississippi about to strike Elihu, ran toward him ; but being unable to penetrate the crowd, he leaped forward and reached over the heads of the intervening men to seize the Mississippian by the hair. Here came the culmination ; for Barksdale's ambrosial locks, which were only a lifelike wig worn to cover a pate as smooth as a soap-bubble, came off in his assailant's hand. The astonishment of the one man and the consternation of the other were too much for the fighters, who, in spite of themselves, united in wild peals of merriment ; and their hilarity was in no wise dampened when Barksdale, snatching at his wig, restored it to his head hind side before, or when Covode, returning to his seat and missing his spittoon, marched solemnly down the aisle and recovered it from its temporary perch.
This scene occurred in the old Hall of Representatives. The most dramatic scene ever witnessed in the present hall was one which attended the opening of the Fifty-first Congress, when the Republicans, who had only an infinitesimal majority, had organized the House with Thomas B. Reed as Speaker. Reed, who was a large, blond man with a Shakespearian head and a high-pitched drawl, signalized his entrance upon his new duties by announcing his purpose to preside over a lawmaking rather than a do-nothing body. For several successive Congresses the House had found itself crippled in its attempts to transact business by the dilatory tactics of whichever party happened to be in the minority. Day after day, even in a congested season, would be wasted in roll-calls necessitated by some one's raising the point of "no quorum," although everybody knew that a quorum was present, and that its apparent absence was deliberately caused by the refusal of members of the opposition to answer to their names. Reed had bent his mind to breaking up this practice.
Early in his Speakership a motion to take up a con-tested election case was put to vote, and a roll-call demanded as usual by the minority. As the House was then constituted, one hundred and sixty-six members were necessary to a quorum, and four Republicans were unavoidably absent. Following the old tactics, nearly all the Democrats abstained from voting ; but, as the call proceeded, Reed was observed making notes on a sheet of paper which lay on his table. At the close, he rose and announced the vote : yeas 162, nays 3, not voting 163. Mr. Crisp of Georgia at once raised the point of no quorum. Reed ignored it, and, lifting his memorandum, began, in measured tones and with no trace of excitement or weakness :
"The Chair directs the Clerk to record the following names of members present and refusing to vote —"
And then Bedlam broke loose. The Republicans applauded, and howls and yells arose from the Democratic side. Above the din could be heard the voice of Crisp : "I appeal from the decision of the Chair!" But the Speaker, not having finished his statement, kept right on, oblivious of the turmoil:
"Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Bland, Mr. Blount, Mr. Breckinridge of Arkansas, Mr. Breckinridge of Kentucky —"
The Democrats generally had seemed stunned by the boldness of this move ; but the Kentucky Breckinridge, at the mention of his name, rushed down the aisle, brandishing his fist and shaking his head so that its straight white hair stood out from it. His face was aflame with anger, and his voice quite beyond his control, as he shrieked : "I deny the power of the Speaker — this is revolutionary !" The other Democrats, inspired by his example and recovering from their stupefaction, poured into the center aisle. They bore down in a mass upon the Speaker's dais, gesticulating wildly and all shouting at once, so that nothing could be understood from the babel of voices save their desire to express their scorn for the Speaker and their defiance of his authority. The Republicans sat quiet, making no demonstration, but obviously prepared to rush in if the trouble took on a more violent form. The Speaker stood apparently unruffled, not even changing color, and only those who were near enough to see every line in his face were aware of that slight twitching of the muscles of his mouth which always indicated that his outward composure was not due to insensibility.
So furious was the clamor that he was compelled to desist from his reading for a moment, while he pounded with his gavel to command order on the floor. Then, as the remonstrants fell back a little, his nasal tone was heard again, still reciting that momentous list :
"Mr. Brookshire, Mr. Bullock, Mr. Bynum, Mr. Carlisle — "
And so on down the roll, one member after another jumping up when he heard his name called, but subsiding as the Speaker went imperturbably ahead, much as might a schoolmaster with a roomful of refractory pupils. Presently came the opportunity he had been waiting for. Mr. McCreary of Kentucky, a very dignified, decorous-mannered gentleman on ordinary occasions, had shown by his change of countenance and color that he was repressing his emotions with difficulty ; and, resolved not to be ridden over ruthlessly as the rest had been, he had risen in his place and stood there, holding before him an open book and waiting to hear his name. The instant it was read out, he raised his disengaged hand and shouted : "Mr. Speaker!"
To every one's astonishment, the Speaker paused, turning a look of inquiry toward the interrupter, while the House held its breath.
"I deny," cried Mr. McCreary, in a voice which, in spite of his endeavor to be calm, was trembling with agitation, "your right to count me as present ; and I desire to cite some parliamentary law in support of my point!"
Reed, wearing an air of entire seriousness, answered with his familiar drawl:
"The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman is present." Then, with a significant emphasis on each word : "Does — the — gentleman — deny — it ?"
The silence which had settled momentarily upon the chamber continued for a few seconds more, to be succeeded by an outburst of laughter which fairly shook the ceiling. The Republican side furnished most of it at first, but those Democrats who possessed a keen sense of humor soon gave way also. The Speaker, still grave as a statue, maintained the expectant attitude of one awaiting the reply to a question. McCreary held his ground for a few minutes, striving to make himself heard in reading a passage from his book, while the gavel beat a tattoo on the desk as if the Speaker were trying to aid him by restoring order ; but he was talking against a torrent, and had to realize his defeat and resume his seat.
When the last name on the written list had been read, the Speaker handed the sheet to the Clerk for incorporation in the minutes, and, as coolly as if nothing had happened, proceeded to set forth briefly the precedents covering the case, including one ruling made by a very distinguished Democrat who was at that hour the most conspicuous candidate of his party for the Presidency.
The fight was resumed the next day and continued to rage all through the session, the foes of the Speaker constantly devising new stratagems to outwit him, but in vain. Sometimes there were funny little developments, as when, in a precipitate flight of the Democrats from the hall to escape being counted, Mr. O'Ferrall of Virginia inadvertently left his hat on his desk, and the Speaker jocosely threatened to count that, on the theory that its habitual wearer was constructively present ; or when "Buck" Kilgore, a giant Democrat from Texas, refused to stay in the hall after the Speaker had ordered the doors fastened, and kicked one of them open with his Number 14 boot. Some-times a tragic threat would be uttered by a group of hot-headed enemies, and the galleries would be thronged for several days with spectators expecting to see Reed dragged out of the chair by force and arms. But, though every day witnessed its parliamentary struggle, the bad blood aroused was never actually spilled. What did happen was that, at the close of the Congress, when it is customary for the opposition party to move a vote of thanks to the Speaker, Reed went without the compliment. Something far more flattering than thanks was in store for him, however ; for in the Fifty-third Congress, the House, which was then under Democratic control, by a vote of nearly five to one adopted his quorum-counting rule with only a technical modification. Since that day it has never found itself in a condition of legislative paralysis.
The communications in which the President, as required by the Constitution, gives to Congress from time to time "information of the state of the Union," take the form of general and special messages. A general message is sent at the beginning of every session and usually reviews the relations of our Government with its citizens and with the outside world. A special message is called forth by some particular event or series of events requiring a union of counsels between the legislative and executive branches of the Government.
The formalities attending the presentation of general messages have differed at various stages of our national history. John Adams, for example, brought his in person to the Capitol. A military and civic procession escorted him from his house to the Senate chamber, where the Senators and Representatives were assembled in joint session. He was attired with more elegance than was his wont and was accompanied by the members of his Cabinet, the United States Marshal acting as usher; the Vice-president surrendered to him the chair of honor and took a seat at his right while he read his address aloud. In those days, each house appointed a committee to consider the address of the President and to draft a reply to it ; when the reply was ready, a committee waited upon him to inquire at what time it would be agreeable for him to receive it, and on the day appointed, the members called upon him in a body to present it.
The message ceremonial was considerably shortened during the administration of President Jefferson, who scandalized some of the sticklers for propriety by reading his first address to Congress clad in a plain blue coat with gilt buttons, blue breeches, woolen stockings, and heavy shoes tied with leather strings. This democratic departure was typical of the way a good many old customs died out. We find most of the later Presidents, till the spring of 1913, rather studiously avoiding the Capitol, meeting Congress seldom outside of the White House, and confining their official communications to written messages presented in duplicate at the doors of the two halls respectively by the hand of an executive clerk. The response of each house, if any is deemed worth while, now takes the form of the introduction of legislation on lines suggested by the President. But the common practice is to cut a message into parts, referring the pas-sages which deal with one class of subjects to one committee, and those which deal with another class to another committee ; and in most cases, unless an emergency arises to make further consideration essential, little more is heard of them.
President Wilson has revived the custom of visiting Congress in its own home and there delivering his addresses directly to the lawmakers in a body, assembled for the occasion in the Hall of Representatives.
This is a much more effective mode of approaching Congress than sending a written document by messenger, to be drawled through in a singsong voice by tired clerks, simultaneously in both halls, to a gathering of only half-interested auditors. It is also a more certain means of concentrating public attention upon the work of the session. There is a subtle something in the very personality of a President which appeals to the popular imagination. As the one high officer of state elected by the votes of all the people, he stands in their minds as a conservator and champion of their broadest ideals, as contrasted with the narrower sectional interests represented by the members of Congress. When, therefore, he takes his position face to face with the men who are to frame whatever legislation grows out of his recommendations, the whole country instinctively draws near and listens.
It is hard to guess what might happen should it fall to the lot of President Wilson to appear before Congress in person with such a trumpet-call as was sounded in President Harrison's message on the maltreatment of our sailors in Chile, or President Cleveland's on the encroachments of England in Venezuela, or President McKinley's on the failure of his peaceful efforts for freeing Cuba. If the mere reading of these formal messages was so impressive as to paint a vivid picture of the attendant scenes on the memory of all who witnessed them, what an extra touch of the dramatic would have been added had the chief executive of the nation appeared at the Capitol to tell his story himself!