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On the Bill introduced by Mr. Bell, to Secure the Freedom of
Elections, and to provide for the Faithful Administration of the Executive Patronage. House of Representatives, May 19th and 20th, 1840.
Mr. BROWN having obtained the floor, said:
He had listened with profound attention to the arguments of both his colleagues (Mr. Gentry and Mr. Bell,) in favor of this bill. He had done so, because he was desirous to know on what new statement of facts, or by what new process of reasoning, this odious measure was now to be revived, and again pressed on the consideration of the public, after its signal failure in the other end of the Capitol, and after that deep and decided reprobation of it which had been manifested in so many of the elections of this country. He was particularly anxious to discover whether misfortunes had not subdued, or at least chastened and softened down, some of those fierce and angry passions with which it was first advocated; misfortunes that have fallen with peculiar force on those gentlemen's own personal and political friends. One of them (Mr. Bell,) a few weeks since, on the Cumberland road bill, gave us a most touching and eloquent description of those misfortunes. “He had seen (said he, during the last summer, one friend after another dropping around him," until that proud and exulting majority by which he used to be surrounded on this floor from his own State, was now sadly reduced to a solitary unit. Looking at the other end of the Capitol, he might have told us that this mortality among his friends had been still greater; there, nothing was to be met with but one entire and perfect scene of desolation and defeat. Sir (said Mr. Brown,) I was anxious
to observe that gentleman, when he should walk forth amid the ruins which this very bill had so mainly contributed to spread around him. I sincerely hoped that a contemplation of them might induce him to pause, and hesitate, and finally to abandon a measure which has heretofore produced such fatal results. But, sir, I am sorry to have to say, what many persons have observed before, that misfortunes, when they fail to reform, are almost sure to harden us; and that even the dispensations of Providence, when not rightly improved, often superadd to our desperation, and plunge us still deeper into those vices and follies which they were intended to reform.
I do not intend to apply such observations as these to the gentleman's course generally in this House. I have had frequent occasions not only to approve, but even to applaud, his calm and dignified mode of argument, during the disorders and tumults of the session. But, sir, I do mean to say, that, on this particular subject and its kindred ones, the gentleman never fails to lose his equanimity of temper, and to expose himself to the imputation of being governed more by the suggestions of passion, than guided by the dictates of reason, or the honest convictions of opinion. In much of that argument to which I wish now to reply, the gentleman seemed determined to have no compeer, in bold denunciation, in reckless invective, in wild and furious declamation. He seemed to imagine that he had driven Democracy into its last fortress, and that he was then making a bold and heroic charge, that was to demolish it for ever; or, to use his more sanguinary mode of expression, "he was striking a deadly blow at the life-blood of the party --that vile, corrupt, and infamous party which had so long ruled the destinies of this country.” But, sir, the democratic party of this country was not let off with even such denunciations as these. The gentleman (Mr. BELL,) became so far transported as to compare it to that fabled monster, the Parisian vampire, that subsisted“by sucking the blood from the warm and beating arteries of sleeping innocence.” He described the end and destruction of that unnatural monster, and declared that he could see in that end the writhing and expiring contortions of the putrid and bloated carcass of democracy. Sir, I allude to these extravaganzas in the speech of my honorable colleague, in order to assure him that, in my humble judgment, great as are his powers of description and comparison, no one but himself could see the slightest resemblance in this imaginary picture. No. If you wish to see a resemblance of that Parisian monster, go find it in that proud and bloated aristocracy that has so long fed and fattened on the people of this country. Go find it in that system of associated wealth and exclusive privilege, in all its odious forms and varieties, which has been so long consuming our substance, and which is now beginning to crumble beneath its own magnitude, and to expire in the midst of its own rottenness and corruption.
But, Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to content myself with making general observations like these against the present bill. It was introduced originally about three years ago, notoriously with the view of breaking down the Democratic party of the Union. But more especially was it intended to break down the Jackson or Democratic party in the State of Tennessee. It is now revived evidently for the same purpose, and was pressed upon this House in a tone of exultation and defiance which seemed at the time as though it was intended to provoke and challenge a reply. Sir, I do not feel especially called on to repel attacks made against the Democratic party generally. I have no connexion with that party sufficiently notorious to justify me in presuming to become her champion. In my own State, however, that connexion is not quite so obscure and unknown. Although never aspiring to be one of her leaders, I have been for twenty years enrolled among her most zealous and faithful private soldiers. If I seem now for the moment to step out from her lines, and to take position above that of a mere private, it is only because those who used to bear her banner high and proudly amid the ranks of her enemies, have now not only surrendered that banner into the hands of her enemies, but are foremost in the onslaught and loudest in the battle-cry against her!
Let us now turn our attention to the provisions of this bill, the end and aim of which are avowed to be the destruction of the present Democratic party of the United States—that party which the gentleman was pleased to denounce in his speech on
the Cumberland road bill to be “a standing fraud and imposition on this country.”
I begin, sir, with its caption : “A bill to secure the freedom of elections.” The elections of the people of the United States; all the elections, State and Federal, in all the States. The freedom of the elections of the United States! Sir, you have but to state the proposition, in any company, in any State or county in this Union, to raise the smile of derision at its absurdity. What! our elections not free enough in this country, where every man goes forward to the polls of his own accord, and casts his vote for whom he pleases! goes in his own unquestioned and unquestionable majesty, asking no man's permission, and submitting to no limitation or restriction on his rights whatsoever! How can you secure more freedom to us in elections than we now enjoy? How can you better secure, by law, that freedom which has been for more than fifty years secured to us by the Constitution? Sir, it is like substituting statutory freedom for constitutional freedom. It is a good deal like what the advocates of this bill call “the purity of the elective franchise.” Not that purity which is felt and preserved in the hearts of the honest citizens of this country; not that virtue which, emanating from the heart, controls and governs the conduct of the people in administering their own government in their own way, and for their own advantage and prosperity; but a sort of pretended legal purity; a sort of hypocritical statutory virtue, which would yield to all sorts of political prostitutions on the first seducing bribe that might be laid in its way. Away with these forms and shadows; if the people have not purity and virtue enough (as the high toned Federalists have always said they had not) to govern themselves, you can never infuse those qualities into them by any process of the law. So much for the caption of this bill. I call your attention now to the preamble or recitals of it. The first one of these recitals is the following:
“Whereas, complaints are made that officers of the United States, or persons holding offices or employments under the authority of the same, other than the heads of the chief Executive Departments, or such officers as stand in the relation of constitutional advisers of the President, have been removed from office or dismissed from their employment upon political grounds, or for opinion's sake; and whereas, such a practice is manifestly a violation of the
freedom of elections, an attack upon the public liberty, and a high misdemeanor."
Here, sir, is a preamble, for which there is no proposed enactment. It alleges certain conduct to be a high misdemeanor, yet proposes no penalty or punishment for the crime. Why, then, is it intruded here on this paper? Sir, I take it to be a perfect anomaly; a thing unknown before in the history of legislation. I again demand to know why it is put down in the preamble, but not inserted in the enacting clause of the bill? I can draw but one conclusion from this strange fact, and that is, that the doctrine will do to profess but not to practice; to show off a speech upon, in order to excite popular feelings, but not to be established as one of the laws of the land, which it is known would have to be repealed so soon as its operation was seen and understood. I mean to examine this dangling supernumerary presently to show that the arguments in its favor are all fallacious, and the facts on which it purports to be based have no existence. I pass on to the second clause of the preamble, in the following words:
Whereas, complaints are also made that officers of the United States, or persons holding offices or employments under the authority of the same, are in the habit of intermeddling in elections, both State and Federal, otherwise than by giving their votes ; and whereas, such a practice is a violation of the freedom of elections, and a gross abuse, which ought to be discountenanced by the appointing power, and prohibited by law."
“ Be it enacted, &c., That, from and after the first day of July next, no officer, agent, or contractor, or other person holding an office or employment of trust or profit under the Constitution and laws of the United States, shall, by the contribution of money or other valuable thing, or by the use of the franking privilege, or the abuse of any other official privilege or function, or by threats and menaces, or in any other manner, intermeddle with the election of any member or members of either House of Congress, or of the President or Vice President of the United States, or of the Governor or other officer of any State, or of any member or members of the Legislature of any State ; and every such officer or other person offending therein, shall be held to be guilty of a high misdemeanor; and on conviction in any court of the United States, having jurisdiction thereof, shall pay a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars.”
This is the first section of the bill. According to its provisions, it will be seen that every grade of office and every variety of employment, under the United States, is included; also, that every thing and any thing said or done by them (except