« AnteriorContinuar »
his own mind; and on both of them, too, he had the still greater satisfaction of being sustained by a large majority of the House.
The first of these cases was that of one or more Bank Di. rectors and Stockholders, whom it was proposed to exclude from serving on a committee of one from each county, to which had been referred a memorial from the Associated Banks, on the subject of the suspension of specie payments. The Speaker decided that Bank Directors and Stockholders were entitled to serve on such a committee under the rule; and that decision, after a long argument in opposition to it by a gentleman not now a member, was sustained, 337 to 97.
The second case was that of sundry Stockholders in the Western Railroad Corporation, whom it was proposed to exclude from voting on the bill for granting the credit of the State in aid of the enterprise in which that Corporation were engaged. The Speaker decided that those Stockholders were entitled to their votes; and that decision, also, was sustained, 238 to 43.
These cases differed considerably from each other, and both of them, in some degree, from that now under consideration. The former related to a whole class of corporations, — the doctrine advanced in opposition to the Chair being, on that occasion, that no director or stockholder in the one hundred and eighteen banks in this Commonwealth could serve on any committee, or give any vote on any question, relating to banks and banking. The latter related only to a single corporation, and in this respect was analogous to the case before the House. It was obvious, however, that all three of them involved the same general principles, and must be governed by the same parliamentary precedents.
There was one point in which the Speaker said he was glad to find that all these cases agreed. In neither of them did his decision affect results. The committee, on which the bank director was permitted to serve, could of course do nothing final. Their proceedings, like those of all other committees, were controlled by the House. So also in the second case, had all the stockholders in the Western Railroad Corporation, who were members of the House, been deprived of the right of voting, the aid of the State would still have been granted by a handsome majority. And so in the present instance, too, should the three gentlemen who have been named as stockholders be excluded from the count, there would remain a majority of thirty-seven to dispose of the amendment of the gentleman from Westport. The Speaker trusted that these circumstances would insure to the question on the present occasion, as they doubtless had in the previous instances in which it had been raised, a more calm, deliberate, and dispassionate investigation, than if an important issue were immediately involved in its settlement.
Such an investigation he thought it eminently deserved. In his judgment it was a question of high importance and of farreaching responsibility. Other corporations were concerned in its settlement beside the Sandwich Glass Company; - corporations of a different class and character. The real question be. fore the House was, whether the city of Boston should be deprived of two of its members legally chosen and duly qualified, and the town of Dorchester of one third of its rightful representation here, on an allegation that the private interests of the members referred to were inconsistent with a faithful discharge of their duty to their constituents? It was the right of the towns and cities, and not of the members themselves, which was really at stake in this and in all similar cases. And gentlemen would do well to bear in mind, that though the controversy might now relate to a city and a town which perhaps could afford to spare a vote or two, - it might next be raised in relation to such as had but one Representative, and thus disfranchise them altogether on particular questions.
The Speaker said that as often as he had reflected on this view of the case, and it had been again and again the subject of his examination, he had been led to doubt both the policy and the justice of retaining in our Rules and Orders any such principle as that under which the question had been raised. The power of the House in all matters relating to their own proceedings might, perhaps, be unquestionable. The Constitution expressly gave them such a power and he supposed it to be absolute. They might silence members, he presumed, not merely in the case provided for, but in any or all other cases, subject only to their responsibility to the people. But power was obviously one thing, and right another. And he had often been led to question the right by which any portion of the Representatives of the people could say to any other portion, except where it might be absolutely essential to their own self-defence and self-preservation as a deliberative, legislative body, that they should not exercise the common and acknowledged privileges and powers of membership. All were here by similar titles and upon similar terms. We were the Representatives of the several communities which had elected us, and our responsibilities were to them, and not to each other. And it would seem no inappropriate reply, to any one who should attempt to interfere with another in the exercise of his duty as a member, and to exclude him in any case from his equal share in the collective will of the House, upon some allegation of his being disqualified for the service which his fellow-citizens had assigned him, “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he shall stand or fall.”
The Speaker confessed, therefore, that, as a matter of principle, he was opposed to the rule altogether. But it had come down to us from a distant antiquity, and had been annually incorporated into our parliamentary system. It was his duty, accordingly, as the servant of the House, to observe and execute it. And he should not shrink from doing so, wherever its execution was called for. But the same views which had led him to question its justice in the abstract, would lead him also, now and always, to give it the narrowest possible construction. He desired to be personally instrumental in depriving as few of the Representatives of the people as might be, of what seemed to him their just and rightful prerogative. And he had no hesitation in repeating what he said on this subject three years ago, that he should very much prefer to have any one or any number of his decisions set aside by the House, than to be guilty himself of setting aside the vote of a single member in a case in any degree doubtful.
Nor did scruples like these seem to have been confined to himself. Old as the rule was, and incorporated, as it had been, into all our legislative systems, national and State, it seemed to have been a very rare occurrence for it to be enforced, or even for any question to be raised under it. With the exception of a single case which had recently occurred in Congress, during a very exciting discussion, and to which he would presently allude, he had no knowledge of any such point having been raised in any American Assembly but our own. Doubtless, there must have been such instances in some of our State Legislatures, but he had never met with any, and knew not where to find any account of them. During the long and agitating controversies, extending through so many successive years, as to the re-charter of the United States Bank, in Congress, although partisan jealousies were sharply stimulated against that institution, although not a few of its stockholders were known to be members, and although accusations of other sorts of interest in its continued existence were rise in all quarters, no such point of order is believed to have been started. The rule, by general consent, seems to have been left to operate upon individual consciences, inducing members to decline voting of their own accord, wherever they felt they were liable to be swayed from the discharge of their duties by their private interests, or wherever perhaps, they were unwilling to incur the suspicion of being thus swayed, — but to have been regarded as altogether too odious and too arbitrary to be put forcibly into execution.
But its execution had been demanded in this case by the gentlemen from Northfield, and, in default of any American authorities on the subject, the Speaker said he was compelled to resort to the Parliamentary Annals of the Mother Country, from which the rule was originally borrowed, to find precedents for determining its rightful interpretation and legitimate intent. Even there the precedents were few and far between ;- but the Chair was happy to state, that all which he had been able to find had confirmed him in his opinion that the strictest and narrowest possible construction was to be given to the rule, which its terms would admit of. Even in an unreformed, rotten-borough House of Commons, where there was so little pretence to any representation of the people on the principle of equality, and where so many of the members were without any
direct responsibility to the people in the true sense of that term, there seemed to have been the utmost caution observed in disfranchising a member on any pretence of private interest. How much more ought such a caution to be observed in a Legislative Assembly so carefully constituted to insure equality and responsibility as ours!
There were but three leading cases in the English Parliamentary Journals on this subject, so far as the Chair had found opportunity to examine them. The first in order was the Loyalty Loan case, in 1797. This was a question about allowing an outright bonus or gratuity of five pounds in the hundred to the subscribers to a loan called the Loyalty Loan, which had been made to the British Government in a great public exigency, and by which the subscribers had suffered a pecuniary loss. It was a measure purely of pecuniary relief and indemnification to private individuals. It was there decided that the interest of the subscribers was direct and immediate. It was a vote of
money directly and immediately out of the public Treasury into their own pockets, and the votes of such of them as were members — except, indeed, of those who declared in their places that they did not intend to avail themselves of the bonus — were accordingly disallowed. This case, it would be perceived, was precisely analogous to the pension case supposed by the Chair, a day or two since, when this point of order was first suggested, and did not go at all beyond it.
The second case was that of the London Flour Company, incorporated for the manufacture of bread in the year 1800. By that bill certain persons were not merely incorporated for the purpose which has been named, but it was provided that they should be allowed ten per cent. interest on moneys advanced by them for the establishment, instead of five per cent. which was the legal rate of interest. In this case it was decided, that subscribers to the stock might vote on the passage of the bill in all its various stages, and upon all questions arising in relation to it, with the single exception of that relating to this provision as to the rate of interest which they should be allowed to receive. But on a motion to reduce this rate from ten per cent. to five, their votes were disallowed.
The third case was that of the Gold Coin Bill, in 1811, bill introduced to remedy some of the evils growing out of a