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lieved, was an election case. He was glad, however, that, in the Mendon case, no point of order was pressed, and that he was relieved from the necessity of choosing between the authority of President Adams, fortified by his own deliberate private judgment, and the precedents of the Parliament from which the rule had been borrowed. True, there was this marked distinction between the New Jersey members and the Mendon members, — that the former were provided with certificates of unquestionable validity, while those of the latter were believed to be without some of the requisite sanctions and signatures. But not even this would have reconciled him to depriving those gentlemen of their votes in one case, while the House permitted them to retain their seats at all.
It might be asked of the Speaker, in what cases the rule was to be applied, so as not to be altogether inoperative. The case of a pension had already been suggested. If a member of the House were a petitioner for a pension, bounty, remuneration, or indemnification of any kind, the rule would clearly exclude him from voting on the question. A large number of resolves had already passed the House and others were still in the orders of the day, granting gratuities to persons who had arrested criminals, detected counterfeiters, or rendered other service to the community. If any of these persons had been members of the House, their votes must have been disallowed. Then there was a class of cases liable at any time to arise out of the conduct and character of members, when charges might be made against them upon which the House might find it necessary to proceed, or when by some gross violation of order and decorum in the House, or of morality and honor out of it, they might subject themselves to reprimand or expulsion. And questions might also, perhaps, occur in relation to corporations, on which the votes of the stockholders would be excluded under the precedent of the London Flour Company, before cited. But these questions the Speaker believed could be very few, and the multiplication of them he thought would be attended with danger to the great fundamental right of the people to representation on the principles of equality. If members duly elected and qualified were to be deprived of their votes, as had been demanded, now and formerly, on every question relating to corporations in which they may be associated with hundreds of other members of the community, and in the prosecution of a business which directly employs the labor of other hundreds of workmen, and indirectly of still other hundreds of agricultural producers, — if such an interest in any question as this, must be construed into " a private right distinct from the public interest,” subjecting a member to a temporary disfranchisement, — the right of the people to an equal representation on every subject of legislation, would be rendered precarious indeed. If the stockholders of such corporations were to be deprived of their votes, how should it be with the stockholders of rival corporations or even of individuals en. gaged in the same business, whose interests might be adverse, and whose policy might be to crush competition, if any such should chance to be members? How should it be with members who owned real estate in the vicinity of the establishment, or with farmers who would sell their produce at higher prices owing to its neighborhood, or with agents or factors who had the sale of its wares and fabrics ? All these might have interests fully equal to those of the stockholders. And with what class of corpora. tions should the proscription cease? How should it be with members of municipal corporations, when questions of particular and exclusive interest to those corporations should occur? On the questions of boundary between adjacent towns which were annually occurring, were the members from both towns to be ruled out from voting? If a strict analogy were to be observed between the proceedings of courts of justice as to jurors and witnesses, and the proceedings of this House, such cases as these must clearly be comprehended under the rule.
There were others, too, besides members of corporations, as to whose right of voting questions must arise, if the rule were to receive such an extension? How should it be with farmers, on the bounties on wheat or silk? How with innkeepers or grocers, on the regulation of the sale of spirituous liquors ? How with the members living in the vicinity of Charles River and Warren bridges, on the subject of restoring a toll to those decaying structures? The doctrines which two years ago would have deprived a stockholder in any bank in the Commonwealth
from serving on a committee or voting, in reference to the entire subject of banks and banking, would seem to justify a similar proscription in all these cases.
But the Speaker said he would no longer trespass on the indulgence of the House. He was aware that gentlemen might at first sight be disposed to construe the rule as the gentleman from Northfield had seemed to construe it, in appealing from his decision. And therefore, believing it to be a rule of doubtful constitutional justice, in derogation of the rights of the members, adverse to the equality of the representative system, and which, unless carefully limited, was capable of being wrested to the worst of purposes, he had felt bound to give to the House his honest views of its character and tendency, and to explain to them fully the grounds of his decision.
His own disposition would be never in any case to apply the rule to a case of corporate interest. Corporations had been so multiplied of late years, and their interests had become so closely interwoven with those of the whole people of the Commonwealth, that it was difficult to imagine cases in which they were entirely distinct. The interests of individual corporations even, partook largely of the character of public interests. To how large a number of persons must an interest be common, to be entitled to the designation of a public interest? The Western Railroad Corporation had some thousands of stockholders. Was the interest which a member held in common with thousands of others, to be regarded as a private interest? What, then, should be the numerical limit at which an interest should cease to be private, and be acknowledged as public? The members whose votes were in question in the present case, were interested in common with at least a hundred stockholders, and there were frequently more than three hundred operatives employed in the establishment. The Speaker said that if, in any case, he was to be compelled to regard interests like these as grounds of exclusion under the rule, it would only be where the authority for so doing was plain, precise, and unavoidable. He would follow in the steps which had been already taken in this line of construction, as it was his duty to do; but he should adventure on no new tracks in a direction so contrary to his opinions of policy and justice. And, if he must err at all, he should always endeavor to err on that side, which should insure the greatest freedom of voice and vote to those who held their seats in the 'House by the same title with himself, and who had all the constitutional qualifications for a full, equal, and unrestrained exercise of the privileges of membership.
REPLY TO A YOTE OF THANKS.
AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A VOTE OF THANKS TO THE SPEAKER, PASSED
BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF MASSACHUSETTS, MARCH 21, 1840
GENTLEMEN OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
I NEED not assure you of the sincere pleasure with which I rise to respond to the Resolution you have just adopted. I thank the gentleman from Westport for proposing it. I thank each member of the House for uniting in its passage. Called, as I was, at the commencement of the session, by so mere a majority of the members present, to preside over a body so nearly balanced in reference to the all-absorbing subject of party politics, I entered on the duties assigned me with little hope of giving satisfaction, either to myself or others. I looked forward to labors, of which other years had afforded me no experience. I anticipated trials, for which previous sessions had furnished me with no adequate preparation. And, certainly, I ventured to promise myself, at the end, nothing more, at the best, than the indulgent consideration of that bare majority by whose unmerited favor I had been placed here.
It could not fail to give me the highest gratification, Gentlemen, to find, as the session advanced, so many of my apprehensions disappointed; to find the elements of strife and discord, which manifestly abounded in the original composition of this body, so rarely set in motion; to find the public business so little interrupted by acrimonious controversy and angry dispute; and, more especially, to find my own official services, so seldom made the subject of party division, or even of personal exception.
Gentlemen, I have not sat here during three successive winters