صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

ward the Capitol than they are at this moment, to see what is to be done, here and now, for the vindication and promotion of these lofty ends.

"Let us resolve, then, that those eyes shall at least witness on our part duties discharged with diligence, deliberations conducted with dignity, and efforts honestly and earnestly made for the peace, prosperity, and honor of the republic.

"I shall esteem it the highest privilege of my public life if I shall be permitted to contribute any thing to these results by a faithful and impartial administration of the office which I have now accepted."

▲ CALL OF THE HOUSE.

T T E feel some solicitude, courteous reader, that your eyelids should not wax heavy under the influence of those somber records which, of necessity, form so material a portion of our history. We propose, therefore, to draw off your attention for a brief space to a Call of the House.

The representative body, like other assemblies of men, must occasionally have recourse to its muster-roll. The duties of legislation are not always of the summer-day order. Sometimes the spirit chafes, the limbs grow weary, and the mental energies flag under the labor which the daily sessions impose, especially in the pell-mell race for business which marks the period preceding final adjournment. At such times legislators—" children of an older growth"—need the stimulating process to bring them up to their task, and the House in these cases asserts its authority by resort to what is termed " a call." Our own experience of this instrument of convocation has impressed us with no very high estimate of its utility. Carried beyond the point of merely calling over the names to see who were present and who absent, we can not recollect a single instance in which we have known it productive of good. We have, on the contrary, frequently witnessed confusion, disorder, vexation, and ill blood grow out of it. We think the House would have done well for its own comfort—to use no stronger term—if it had gone at least so far as Mr. Adams desired it to go in 1840, by his resolution providing that no "call" should be ordered after ten o'clock at night, and that the attendance of no member should be required after midnight. We have seen men shine forth as heroes of a midnight call of the House, whose genius was equal to no loftier achievement, and the star of whose glory " paled its ineffectual fire" the moment the mandate went forth, "the doors of the hall will be opened."

The sixty-fifth and sixty-sixth standing rules of the House declare that,

"Upon the call of the House, the names of the members shall be called over by the clerk, and the absentees noted; after which, the names of the absentees shall again be called over; the doors shall then be shut, and those for whom no excuse, or insufficient excuses are made, may, by order of those present, if fifteen in number, be taken into custody as they appear, or may be sent for and taken into custody, wherever to be found, by special messengers appointed for that purpose.

"When a member shall be discharged from custody and admitted to his seat, the House shall determine whether such discharge shall be with or without paying fees; and, in like manner, whether a delinquent member, taken into custody by a special messenger, shall or shall not be liable to defray the expense of such special messenger."

Suppose, then, that the business of the day has lost its interest; or that there is musio at the President's; or a favorite horse on the race-course; or that bright eyes and merry hearts, taking possession of Pennsylvania Avenue, are drawing within the magic of their sphere almost every thing that has life enough to bless God for tho air and the sunlight! or, suppose that some member, exercising his "inalienable right" "to speak to Buncombe," should be left almost alone in his glory, the speaker, clerk, and a few others only remaining to keep up the constitutional forms. This is no uncommon occurrence. We knew a member whose rising with intent to make a speech was the signal at which the benches, in every quarter of the hall, were precipitately vacated. He was himself aware of this idiosyncrasy, so to speak, on the part of the House, but it did not appear to distress him much; for he had a peculiar faculty of securing the presence of at least one listener, who could not retire without a breach of decorum too flagrant for any gentleman to commit. When he had obtained the floor, he would fix his eye steadily—immovably—sternly, upon some innocent victim, whom he had selected for the purpose, and would address to him all his arguments and gesticulations precisely as if no other human being were present. The speaker, so far as his presence was heeded or needed, might have been on the other side of the Potomac. In this way, the member would go through a speech of several hours, much to his own content, but to the sore affliction of the listener, who sat, in gloom and sadness, enchained beneath his eye. .We remember one or two instances, more especially, in which we thought the penance inflicted was sufficient, not only in kind, but in duration, to atone for any sins that could have been crowded into the brief period of human existence. This, however, is a parenthesis, which Thomas F. Marshall, of Kentucky, speaking of John Tyler's administration, defined to be something that might either be inserted or omitted without destroying the sense. So we proceed.

Suppose yet again that a long day's session should be running into night—that the "constitutional quorum" can not be drummed up—and that, for these or other causes, a call of the House is ordered.

When the decision is announced, one of the officers forthwith sets in motion a huge parent bell, whose tintinnabulary branches run through all the rooms and recesses of the CapitoL Under this dissonant music, every thing human starts into action, presenting a scene such as Dante might have pictured in the infernal regions, if all its inhabitants had turned out to dance a cotillon.

The names of the members are called over, and then, again, the names of those who did not answer the first time. It is astonishing to see how rapidly, during this process, the seats have been filling up by their regular tenants. Where they come from no man knoweth, so sudden is their reappearance on the stage. They rise up, like the legions of Roderio Dhu, as if by incantation. But a goodly number are sure to be missing when the order is given to close the doors—and woe be to them.'

Now commences the business of taking into custody and hearing excuses. The sergeant-at-arms is out on his mission of arrest, and ever and anon returns with some disconsolate member in his keeping, who, perhaps, from his general conscientiousness in the discharge of his duty, might have been the last man upon whom the House should thus have laid its hand of power.

Pending this process, the House can transact no legislative business, and if it is prolonged for any considerable time, it becomes matter of some difficulty for those who are thus cooped np to find occupation or amusement in the intervals that elapse between returns of delinquents. We have seen a great many devices resorted to in this extremity. Some call for a song, some for a sermon. Some demand the reading of one of John Wentworth's speeches, some of the Maysville Veto. But, alas! all are out of order. The dull, dead reality is there! The doors are locked, and the prisoners themselves will that they shall remain so. Pause follows pause, each longer than the other; still, the House will neither stay proceedings nor consent to adjourn. It is in an obstinate mood, and you might as well hope to move the Capitol from its foundations as to divert the House from its object now.

In the mean time, nevertheless, some of those who answered to their names on the first call of the roll have disappeared. The record shows them present—that is enough; the House can not visit its displeasure upon them. Secure from the penalties it might otherwise have imposed, they may go home and "sleep soundly," as Duncan did, for any disturbance that the House can give them.

But here come more captives—some in pleasant humor, some who look as if they thought that a knock-down blow, when the blood is up, might not be so very disagreeable a thing. The speaker accosts the first of them: "You have been absent from this House without its leave and contrary to its order. If you have any excuse to offer, you will now be heard."

A peal of laughter rings through the hall.

The Marylander, to whom this address is made, replies, "I remained in this House all day; the law allows me a per diem, but not a per noctem;" and he sullenly turns on his heel and walks away.

Admitted to his seat on payment of fees.

Georgia next? What excuse ?" The child of a valued friend is sick unto death, and I had relieved the watchers by its side. This is the third session during which I have been a member of this House, and I have never before been thus arraigned."

Excused.

And the child? Its spirit fled that night! Light rest the turf upon its ashes, and sweetly smile its little soul in the bosom of Abraham!

Come on, Virginia: where were you ?" The gentleman over

« السابقةمتابعة »