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to take away that right altogether, by the operation of any general principle. An individual member may render himself unworthy of the privilege. He may be set down; he may be denied the right, because he has abused it. But whenever a legislative body assumes to itself the power of stopping, at its will, all debate, at any stage of deliberation, it assumes a power wholly inconsistent with the essential right of deliberation, and totally destructive of #. principle of civil liberty which exists, and is identified with the exercise of that right. - - The right of every individual member is, in fact, the right of his constituents. He is but their Representative. It is in their majesty, that he appears. It is their right that he reflects. The right of being heard by their Representative is the inherent and absolute right of the people. Now, it is in the essential character of such a right, that it exists, independent, and in despite of any man, or body of men, whatsoever. It is absurd to say, that any right is independent, which depends upon the will of another. It is absurd to say, that any right is absolute, which is wholly, relative to the inclination of another; which lasts only as long as he chooses, and terminates at his nod. Now, whether this power be exercised by one, or many, it matters not. The principle of civil liberty is gone, when the inherent and absolute nature of the right is gone. Apply this reasoning to the case before us. It
is impossible to conceal the fact, that as our rules.
and orders stand, independent of the proposition now offered as an amendment, it is in the power of a majority to preclude all debate, upon any question, and force every member of the House to vote, upon any proposition, without giving him the opportunity of explaining his own reasons, or stating the interests of his constituents. This is undeniable. Is it not, then, plain and conclusive, that, as our rules and orders now stand, according to recent construction, every member of this House holds his right of speaking, not on the principle of his constituents, whose Representative he is, but upon the will of the majority of this House? For that which another may at any time take away from me, I hold not by my own right, but at his will. , Can anything be more obviously at variance with the spirit of the Constitution and the first principles of civil liberty 2 Let not any man say this power will not be abused. In the nature of things it must be abused. This is the favorite argument of every despotism, and, of course, will not fail to be urged when it is about to plant itself in the very temple of liberty. I have chosen to consider this subject in relation to the right of the wholy body, and of one of its individual members, rather than to that of a majority and minority. The right to speak is an individual right. -Limit it as you please, consistent with a single exercise of that right. But when this is taken away, or, which is precisely the same thing so far as it respects the principle of civil liberty, when it is in the power of one or many, at its sovereign will and pleasure, to take it away, there is no longer any right. "We have
our tenure of speech as the slave has his—at the
will of a master. But it is said that the Legislature must sometimes “act,” and that individuals, by an abuse of this liberty of speech; prevent the whole body from “acting.” All I say is, limit the exercise of the right as you please, only do not assume to yourselves the power of taking away the whole right, at your pleasure. , * * It is in this doctrine, of “the necessity of acting,” that lies the whole mystery of that error, which we are now combating. Strictly speaking, a Legislative body never “acts.” Its province is to deliberate and decide. “Action” is, alone, correctly attributable to the Executive. And it will be found, that all the cases, in which this necessity of “action” has been urged, have been cases in which the Legislative body has departed from its appropriate duties of deliberation and decision, and descended to be an instrument, or engine, of the Executive. I hesitate not to say, that this position may be proved by almost every instance in which this necessity of action has been urged. It was an Executive haste to its own purposes, which prevailed upon the Legislative body to deny, to its own members, their privileges. It has been asserted, that “if this amendment passes, this will be the only deliberative body in
the world which cannot stop debate.” On the
other hand I assert, that if this amendment does not pass, this will be the only deliberative body in the world, pretending to be free, in which it is in the power of a majority to force a decision, without any deliberation. It is not true that, in the British Parliament, the previous question stops debate and forces decision on the main question without deliberation. The previous question there, if decided in the negative, suppresses debate, by postponing the main question. And until 1807, the practice and rules of this House permitted debate of the main question, after an affirmative decision of a previous question...Who
ever undertakes to examine the subject will find
it as I have stated. It is not true, that this power ever was, or ever can be necessary, in a Legislative body. In every case in which the previous question, according to recent construction, has been pressed upon the House, it will be found that there was no National or State necessity for an immediatedecision. That is to say, in every instance it will be found, that it was of no sort of public importance whether the main question were taken on this day, on the next, or on a third day. o the question might have been taken, in a reasonable time; and every individual member, who chose to speak, might have had the privilege, if he pleased, of speaking, at least once. As far as I observed, all these pretences of necessity have been easily resolvable into party cunning. The subject was one difficult to maintain. It had popular bearings, which it suited not the pleasure of the majority to have investigated. They pressed the minority to instant decision, by refusing adjournment And as it happens in all such cases, re-action is equal to action. The minority were put upon their
mettle, and, they majority. ' * • It is undoubtedly true, that, this power may be sometimes convenient. And this is the whole strength of the argument of those who oppose this proposition. The weak and aged members of the majority have been kept all night from their slumbers, by a hale and sturdy minority; which slumbers they might, by the way, at any moment, have enjoyed, if that very majority had yielded the point of adjournment. And is this reason of convenience sufficient, in the estimation of this House, to justify it, in depriving this people, in the person of their Representatives, of the essential right of speaking upon this floor? Is this a justification for such an atrocious and exorbitant grasp at power ? Our patriotism, nowadays, can submit to no sacrifices. sleeping, if we please, every day in our seats, unless we can sleep also every night of the session in our feather beds. And these feather-bed patriots, as I understand, are all agog for a march into Canada; and, if we believe them, are desirous of nothing so much as showing how those can meet privation and watchfulness in the field, who think of nothing but comfort and sleep upon this floor. I know there is another argument urged in favor of the assumption of this power by the majority, and that is, ihe haste and clatter which always attend the end of a session, Let our session be long or short, the event is, in this respect, always nearly the same. What with speeches and postponements, and laying down one piece of business half finished, and taking up another, the latter end of a session is a political chaos. The work of this and the other House, and that of the Palace into the bargain, is in fact sometimes to be washed up, in a night—and the members of all branches are knee-deep and -shuulder-deep in the suds. . Now, this shows the necessity, not of this unlimited power of the previous question, but of conducting public business with more prospective intelligence. The House is just like all oiher spendthrifts. It first wastes what is its own, and then seeks how it may make up its deficiency out of the property of other people. We pillage the public liberty, in order to compensate for legislative negligence. * , I have often been puzzled to imagine a necessity, which could even apologize for such an assumption of power as the majority, by this new construction of the previous question, are attempting; and, until lately, I did not believe that it could possibly exist. The only case, in which there seemed to me to be an apology for resorting to it, was, the other day, when the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. TRoup) threatened to call the ". question upon the majority themselves. admired both his manner and the occasion on which he introduced that idea. . And really there was something like a necessity. the view of that honorable gentleman, it was, that he thought there was not fighting matter to spare in the stomachs of the majority; and he threatened them with the previous question, lest, peradventure, the whole war spirit should ooze
put to trial the metal of the
We are not content with
away through the mouth. In this there was both discretion and patriotism. . There is one argument I was near omitting. The great apology for this assumption of power, is the prolongation of debate by the minority. Now, the length of debate must, in a great degree, depend upon the character of our Speaker. His power is, in truth, the power of the House. It is his province to limit debate, where it grows, devious and irrelevant. Although this unlimited power of the previous question might be necessary, in times when the Chair was not filled by any distinguished intelligence, yet now, when we are under the superintendence of a mind discriminating and impartial, there seems to be as little apology as there is necessity for a resort to this power. . . . . - - to - * Mr. BRIGHAM said, that although he was forward in life, he was but of yesterday of this House, and that the rules and orders were not familiar with him. But he exceedingly regretted that this House, in their wisdom, ever found it expedient or proper to adopt a rule to deprive a minority, or an individual member of this House, of the freedom of debate, the freedom of speech, a privilege so much boasted of in this land of liberty. He observed that he had his rights in common with the other members of the House, and that he had his duties to perform. He was not ambitious to become a public speaker, nor would he say that he supposed he could speak to the edification or satisfaction of the House. But shöuld he, on great questions, be denied the privilege of speaking 7 Suppose the question of peace or war should assume the aspect of solemnity, and it should become necessary and important that this House be made acquainted with the circumstances and disposition of the citizens of the several sections of the country—and suppose a member who is not much accustomed to speaking, silently sits until those gentlemen who are in the habit, and are fond of speaking, shall have exhausted themselves in debate—shall he, in that case, be denied the right of speaking—shall he be deprived of his Constitutional privileges and his constituents of their right of representation on the floor of this House?... . . . . . . " He said, that he was bound by the oath of God to support the Constitution, and to promote the welfare of his country; but, if his mouth is stopped, how can he execute his trust or perform his vows?. For this House, by a rule, to interdict the freedom of speech, is an assumption of power, and a violation of right. He hoped; that the rule under consideration would be modified, and that the proposed amendment would be adopted. He wished that each individual member might be permitted to exercise his right of speaking to any question before the House, at least once, if he
chooses. - If I understood |
Mr. Nelson spoke in favor of the amendment. He said he had no hesitation in declaring, that whenever right and expediency shall come in competition, that he should prefer right. He remarked, that the Constitution secured the freedom of speech to the citizen. And are we, he asked,
to be deprived of it when we come to this House— when we enter this temple of liberty 2 The attempt is not to suspend merely, but to destroy this right, and because we have experienced some inconvenience from this exercise. He agreed with the gentleman from Massachusetts, (Mr. Quincy,) that if the House, would do their duty, and get the business along in the early part of the session, we should never be in the dilemma the House were in, the last session of Congress; and that an inconvenience was a very poor reason for destroying this right of offering our sentiments. He would rather recommend the turning out of doors a member who should become troublesome
Even expulsion would not be a greater infringe
ment of his right. The right of the people is the right of their Representatives to speak, deliberate, and decide. As to the plea of necessity, he protested against it as the plea of tyrants. Mr. Alston, of North Carolina, expressed his astonishment, that the gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Nelson,) had assumed the ground he had. He said, there were two parties in this House; and asked, is it ever known how a question will be decided, until it is taken 7 Mr. BassBTT said, if a stranger was present, and should hear this debate, he would suppose that the question was now for the first time brought forward for the establishment of the rule, against which so much had been said, when it is well known that it has always been the practice. Mr. Pitkin said, the amendment now under consideration was proposed in consequence of a decision of the House, at the close of the last session, that when the previous question was decided in the affirmative, there could be no debate on the main question; the amendment, if adopted, allows a member, who has not previously spoken, to speak at least once on the main question, before he is called upon to give his vote upon it. The principle adopted by the majority, during the last days of the last session, and now supported in the House, is this, that a majority, who may happen to be present, at any time, have it in their power, by means of a previous question, as it is called, to prevent all debate on every question before the House, however important it may be ; to seal up the lips of every member, and compel him to vote upon the question without an opportunity of expressing his sentiments upon it, or explaining the reasons of his vote. This, Mr. Speaker, is a principle to which I never hape, and to which I never will give my assent. What, sir, let me ask, and where is the rule, under which the majority claim to exercise this enormous power—the power of imposing silence upon any member, on this floor 7 - The rule, under which this power is claimed, is in the following words: “The previous question shall be in this form: Shall the main question be now put 7” It shall only be admitted when demanded by five members; and, until it is decided, shall preclude all amendment and further debate of the main question, and that “on a pre12th CoN. 1st Soss.-19
any question; for five members alone can demand the previous question, and then, of course, all debate must cease, until a decision be had on that question, and if the previous question be decided in the affirmative, by this new construction of the rule, there can be no debate or amendment of the main question. Thus, sir, unless the amendment now proposed be adopted, if a roposition for a declaration of war against Great Britain, or any other nation, should be laid upon your table to-morrow, it will be in the power of a majority of the House, and that majority may consist of less than forty members, to impose silence upon every member of this House; and we must be compelled to vote oh a proposition so interesting to the prosperity, happiness, and perhaps the final destiny of this country, without the poor privilege (if we might choose so to do) of raising our voices against it. But, sir, the opponents of the amendment say, that the construction given to the rule the last session, was in conformity with the universal practice of the House, from the establishment of the Government, except in two or three instances.
- I deny, sir, that this has been the practice, and I believe I may venture to assert, without fear of
contradiction, that no such power has ever been
exercised over the members of this House, since its organization, until the last session. I have, sir, examined the journals, with some attention, and have not been able to find a solitary instance of the kind. On the contrary, many cases are to be found when the previous question has been decided in the affirmative, and that, ...! after the main question has not only been amended but has been debated. And here, sir, permit me to observe, that the rule itself, with respect to the previous question, was adopted the first session of the First Congress, and has ever since remained precisely in the same form ; and no construction was ever given to it, so as to prevent debate on the main question, until the last session. Permit me to refer the House to the Journal of the first session of the Third Congress, for the proof of what I have stated. During this session, the difficulties then subsisting between this country and Great Britain, became the subject of discussion, and a proposition for prohibiting all intercourse with Great Britain, in case justice was not done us, was then submitted to the House, and the previous question was called upon it; and decided in the affirmative, after which the subject was not only postponed, but, as appears by the Journal, was both amended and debated. It appears also, from the Journal, in 1795, that a proposition was amended after an affirmative decision of the previous question. In the year 1798, when a resolution was before the House for publishing the instructions to, and the despatches
from our Ministers to the French Republic, the
previous question was moved and determined, in the affirmative; and it appears by the Journal that
immediately after such decision, on the same day, debate was had on the main question. . But, sir, to come to our own times: on the 15th of December, 1807, a construction was given to the rule, after mature deliberation, by a large majority of the House, that the main question might be debated, after an affirmative decision of the revious question. This was done on an appeal }. the decision of the Speaker;" that after the previous question is called for and determined in the affirmative, it precludes all debate on the main question.” The House reversed the decision of the Chair by 103 to 14. A similar decision took place on the 2d of December, 1803, in the House —101 to 18. And, sir, I have been unable to find a single decision of the House to the contrary, from the first organization of the Government until the close of the last session. Indeed, sir, the words of the rule itself, show that the construction, which had so long prevailed, was the only true construction which could be given to it. The words are, and until it (viz: the previous question) is decided, “shall preclude ...' amendment and further debate of the main question.” By which it is evident, that amendment and debate of the main question is only precluded, until the previ ous question is decided, but that after such decision, it was not precluded. .* The gentleman from New York. (Mr. Gold,) and the gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Nelson.) have truly stated that the previous question was taken from the rules of the British Parliament, and they have likewise stated the reason of its introduction into that body. It was, sir, to prevent debate in the House of Commons upon questions of a delicate nature with respect to high personages, &c. Yes, sir, it was introduced there to enable the Ministry to prevent the Commons from opening their lips on subjects relating to the Royal Family and the great men of the realm. But, sir, we have gone further than the Ministry and their majorities, despotic and tyrannical as they have been, have ever dared to go in Parliament. For even there members are now, and always have been, permitted to debate on the previous question; but which members on this floor are not now permitted to do. Mr. Speaker, the nature of our Government forbids that the majority should have the power to prohibit all debate on questions which may come before this House. We have not, as yet, I trust, any high personages in this country about whom it would be indelicate or improper for the members on this floor to speak; and let me ask what subject of national import. ance can be proposed for adoption, on which a
member should be deprived of the privilege of
speaking at least once before he gives his vote? Nay, sir, let me ask gentlemen whether this House has a right to compel me, or any other member, to vote on any question, without giving mean opportunity of explaining my reason for that vote. I deny, sir, that they have this right; as a member of this body, I claim the privilege of delivering my sentiments, or what I may consider the sentiments of my constituents, on any subject, before I give my vote upon it. I claim it not, sir, for
myself personally, but I claim it in the capacity of a Representative of a free people, sent here, not like a member of the French Council of Five Hundred, for the purpose of voting merely, but for the purpose of deliberating on subjects of high concern to their peace, their prosperity, their happiness. For what, sir, are we assembled here under a Constitution the purest in the world 2 Is it not for the purpose of promoting “the general welfare” of the nation which we represent 3 And how is this to be done, except by a free communication of our sentiments to each other, on the various plans which may be proposed for that object? The peace, the honor, and interest of this country is confided to our care, and while we are here deliberating on the best means of preserving the one or securing and promoting the other, the Constitution has very wisely thrown around us a shield of complete indemnity—“for any speech or debate in this House,” we are “not to be questioned in any other place.” Will then the majority claim the right of depriving a member of this privilege of speech, a privilege not only thus secured to him by the Constitution itself, but for the due exercise of which he is not to be questioned elsewhere? But, sir, those who oppose the amendment say that the construction is founded in necessity; that individual members have abused the privilege of speech; that they have heretofore, and probably will again, make long speeches merely for the purpose of delay, and of embarrassing the proceedings of the House; and that therefore the majority must have it in their power to stop debate, whenever they think proper, and that this power will always be exercised with a sound discretion. I deny, sir, that any such necessity exists; it is a plea easily made, but generally difficult and in this case impossible to be supported. Why has itso happened that this necessity has never existed until the last session of Congress? Was it then for the first time, that a division of sentiment appeared on this floor 7 were parties never before heard of in this country? Were not parties arrayed against each other in 1796 on the subject of the British Treaty, and in 1798–9, on the question of a war with France? Were not the disputes in this House, in those times, as long and as bitter, as they have ever been since? Those were times, which have been so often quoted in this House as hard, and unconstitutional ; times when the reign of terror prevailed, when corrupt majorities, as has been often said on this floor, passed alien and sedition laws. And, yet, sir, with all the political sins which have been heaped upon those majorities, the sin of having taken i. the privilege of speech on this floor never has been, and as I have proved from the journals, never can be laid to their charge. This House, by the Constitution, has the power to “determine the rules of its proceedings;” and in making those rules, it has the right of regulating, but not of *. preventing debate. It would indeed be a strange anomaly in politics, as well as in law, that under a general power of making rules of proceeding, we should make a
rule to prevent all proceedings whatever. Gentlemen may as well assume the power of preventing a member from voting, as they now do that of preventing him from speaking. I am willing to agree, sir, that the privilege of debate, on this floor, may have been and will again be abused ; that on particular subjects individual members have spoken much longer than was necessary, and I may add, also, with much less sense than a majority might have wished; and in some instances they may have prolonged their speeches, merely for the purposes of delay. But, sir, will you deprive a member of the right of speaking at all, because he is unable to convey his ideas in few words, or because he may have very few or no ideas to convey 3. Or because some may have #. merely to delay the proceedings of the
ouse, will you make a general rule, by which a member may be wholly deprived of the right of speaking 3 If indeed, sir, evils do arise in consequence of the liberty of speech in this House, if the business of the nation does not progress with
as much rapidity as in countries under the con- |
trol of an individual; they are evils which flow from the very nature of our Government, from that freedom which we so highly prize, and from that very Constitution which we have sworn to support. So long as we are men we shall be imperfect, we shall bring with us on this floor different views, different ideas on political as well as on other subjects; and it would be strange indeed if, on the various topics of national importance brought before us for discussion, we should not at times come into strong collision with each other. - * * The question on the amendment was determined in the negative-yeas 36, nays 76.
Mr. STANFord moved to amend the rules by
adding to the end of the paragraph relating to priority of business, the words “but no question of consideration shall be required upon an origimal motion;” which was also determined in the negative–yeas 30, nays 68. n motion of Mr. Williams the said rules
were amended by striking out the word “five,” in the paragraph prescribing the manner in which the previous question shall be taken, and inserting the words “one-fifth of the.”
*F. question was then taken to concur in the said rules as amended, and determined in the affirmative.
Tuesday, December 24, On motion of Mr. KENT, the petitions of the President and Directors of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company, presented the twentyeighth of January, 1806, and the thirteenth of February, 1807, were severally referred to the committee appointed, on the sixth instant, on the memorial of the Union Canal Company, in the State of Pennsylvania. . Mr. Poindexter moved the following resolution: Resolved. That the President of the United States be requested to inform this House whether any nego
tiation is now pending between the United States and Spain, or any other foreign Power, respecting the claim of the United States to that tract of country of which possession was taken by virtue of the President's proclamation, bearing date the twenty-seventh day of October, 1810; and, also, whether he is possessed of any information, which, in his opinion, requires that the Legislative authority of Congress over said country should be suspended, with a view to future negotiation on that subject.
The resolution was read, and ordered to lie on the table. Mr. JENNINGs moved the following resolution: Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to cause to be laid before this House any additional information, verbal or otherwise, which he may have received, relative and important to the public situation of the Indiana Territory, which may not be improper to be communicated. The resolution was read, and ordered to lie on the table. Mr. Stow moved the following resolution: Resolved, That, should a war ensue between the United States and Great Britain, it would be expedient to provide, by law, a bounty to impressed American seamen, and their associates, for each British ship of war they may capture and bring into an American port. The resolution was read, and referred to a Committee of the Whole on the first Monday in February next. The House, resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole on the report of the Committee on the Public Lands, made the fifth instant, on the etition of the Mayor and Aldermen of the city of ew Orleans; and, after some time spont therein, the Committee rose, and reported their disagreement to the resolution therein contained. The resolution was then read, and is as follows: Resolved, That provision ought to be made for securing to the corporation of the city of New Orleans, the occupancy and use of a piece of ground on which it is contemplated to erect steam engines for conveying
water into the said city: Provided, That if the ground .
shall not be so occupied, or shall hereafter cease to be so occupied, the claim of the United States thereto shall remain unimpaired. On motion of Mr. Bibb, the further consideration of the resolution was postponed until the first Monday in February next. A message from the Senate informed the House that the Senate have passed a bill “authorizing the President of the United States to raise certain companies of rangers for the protection of the frontier of the United States;” to which they desire the concurrence of this House. #. House resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole on the bill to continue in force, for a further time, the first section of an act, entitled “An act further to protect the commerce and seamen of the United States against the Barbary Powers.” The bill was reported without amendment, and ordered to be engrossed and read the third time on Friday next. Mr. Poindexter moved the following resolution : -