Alexander Cummings Macwhorter Pennington.

Election of speaker online

. (page 1 of 1)
Online LibraryAlexander Cummings Macwhorter PenningtonElection of speaker → online text (page 1 of 1)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook









lJj}on Inierrogntories propounded btj Mr. Zollicoffer to certain gentlemen who
had been voted for, forifSpeaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Richardson, Mr. Banks, and IMr. Fuller, having addressed the
House on the subject —

Mr. Humphrey ^Iarshall suggested that the gentleman from New Jersey
[Mr. Pennington] had been voted for, and that he, too, should be heard upon
these interrogatories. [Laughter. Cries of " Call the roll !'• and '•' Penning-
ton !" in the midst of much confusion.]

Mr. Barksoale obtained the floor at the moment Mr. Pennington
addressed the Chair.

The Clerk. Will the gentleman from Mississippi yield to the gentleman
from New Jersey ?

Mr. Barksdale. I yield to IMr. Pennington.

Mr. PENNINGTON said : *

Mr. Clerk : My friend from Kentucky [Mr. Marshall] takes me entirely
by surprise. I certainly could have had no expectation, when I came to
the Hall to-day, that any gentleman could think of calling for a response to
the interrogatories propounded yesterday by the honorable gentleman from
Tennessee [Mr. Zollicoffer] from a candidate so obscure and unpromising
as myself. [Laughter.] Why, sir, he should recollect that I am vv'holly out
of the triangle — this political i^ons asinorunu over which the very ingenious
and accommodating body of gentlemen around me, with the aid of the most
skillful of engineers, have been fruitlessly struggling to effect a safe passage
for the last five weeks. [Bursts of laughter.] I thought I could disco\'er


in the merry twinkle of my friend's eye, as he called for my response,, the
triumphant anticipation of a capital joke at my expense ; but I am not to be
caught so easily, I assure him. If, indeed, he could have entrapped me into
a serious exposition of my political principles, for this occasion, with no belter
show of success than my little band of six or seven, he might well have boasted
of tlie best joke of the season. [Renewed laughter.] It was the great Na-
poleon, I believe, who said, "there is but one step from the sublime to the
ridiculous." With a lively disposition to extend every reasonable accommo-
dation to my friend, I must beg leave to decline most respectfully to take
that particular step just now. [Laughter.]

Besides, sir, I have not been served with the interrogatories ! [Laughter.]
I believe it was understood yesterday that the candidates who were expected
to answer \vere to be served with copies of the catechism ; and it w^ould seem
that all the triangular candidates have been duly served, and have thus had
ample opportunity to prepare their responses ; while no such respect has been
paid to your humble servant. [Laughter.] I must enter my solemn protest
against being taken at such disadvantage, and under such circumstances. I
appeal to every high-minded gentleman to say whether I am not bound by a
proper self-respect to assume a dignified reserve ?

But to be serious, Mr. Clerk, 1 propose to avail myself of this occasion to
say to the House and the country what I sh^ld have been glad to have said
long ago, if a fit opportunity had been presented to do so, in explanation of
■ the part which I have borne in this contest. The position which 1 have been
made to occupy has been, to me, for some time past, extremely irksome, and,
in some degree, involuntary. Though apparently a candidate, it is well
known to my more intimate friends, and to many, if not most, of the members
of the House, that I am not such in the proper sense of that term. I havB
had, from the first, no aspiration for the office of Speaker; but, on the con-
trary, have shrunk, with unfeigned self-distrust, from the difficulties and
responsibilities of the position. At the commencement of the session, in view
of the peculiar elements constituting the present House, since so clearly
developed, I yielded a reluctant consent to the use of my name in this con-
nection upon the urgent solicitations of friends, both here and elsewdiere, in
whose judgment and disinterested patriotism I have reason to confide, wdth no
purpose, either on their part or on mine, other than to iacilitatc the organiza-
tion. I assert no claim to such an elevation. I have solicited no support. I
have no dasire to obstruct, nor v/ill I for a moment allow myself to stand in
the way of, an adjustment of the difficuUies wdiich surround us. I feel sure
that every gentleman here will do me the justice to say, whatever injurious
insinuations to the contrary /nay have found their way into the public prints,
that I am in no measure, beyond any other member of this body, responsible
for that delay in our action which has excited the just indignation and disgust
of the country. I am ready to cooperate in any effort that may promise to
relieve us from our embarrassment. The public business is suifering from th«
obstinate pursuit, on all sides, of a contest which as yet holds no promise of
victory to either, but only continued disadvantage to the public interests.

Sir, I am heartily tired of this fruitless struggle ; and attaching less conse-
quence to the choice which we shall make than many of those around me, I am

prepared, after so much delay and difllculty, to cast my vote for any gentleman,
on any side of this House, whose election may he cftected hysuch aid. From
the first moment of the session I have been anxious for the organization. I
Jiave not been, by any means, particular in my choice among the candidates
in\ opposition to the Adn^nistration. On the first three trials 1 voted success-
ively for the gentlemen from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and JMassachusetts, [iMessrs.
Campbell, Fuller, and Banks,] indicating, at the outset, my willingness to
contribute to the election of eitlier of those gentlemen. The gentleman from
Ohio [Mr. Campbell] knows — for he had the amplest assurances to that
effect — that my vote and those of my colleagues were at his command at any
moment when they would have secured his election, up to the time of his
withdrawal from the contest. He asked no complimentary votes, and was
satisfied to wait for ours till they could render him a more substantial service.
I deem this a proper occasion to say, not only that he was my first choice, but
tliat I was, and still am, of opinion that he was eminently entitled to this honor
by the distinguished ability and unwavering fidelity with which he had served
iiis party and his country.

After his withdrawal, (an act as graceful as it was honorable and self-sacri-
ficing.) I declined the ofier of a large body of friends to press my name upon
the attention of the House. I gave way to the gentleman from Massachu-
setts, [Mr. Banks,] and, at theJirst moment when it seemed practicable to
elect him, my vote and those ormy colleagues were cast in his support ; and
from that moment to this we hav'e ever been ready to contribute to that result.
It is true that the gentleman from Massachusetts was, for many reasons, un-
acceptable to us, and that much has been said and done in the progress of
this contest, on the part of his friends, (for which, however, we do not hold
him responsible.) calculated to alienate us from his support. It is true that
we have not concurred with our judgments, though we have by our votes, in the
pertinacious effort which has been made to elect that gentleman ; nor havB
we been willing to take the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Richardson] as the
only alternative to the gentleman from Massachusetts — a line of policy which
has been urged upon the Opposition in this body with a dogmatism only
equaled by its absurdity, and the malign spirit which dictates it. The rule
of conduct adopted, in this respect, by my colleagues and myself, was adopted
also by all who were originally my friends, and we have been found united
for more than a month, contrary to our convictions of sound policy, in an
eJibrt, as yet unavailing and inauspicious, to elect the gentleman from Massa-

In the mean time, while my name has remained in nomination, the votes
of six gentlemen, not originally my friends, and having now, as I presume,
no special preference for me, but unwilling to vote for the gentleman from
Massachusetts for reasons satisfactory to themselves, upon their own repre-
sentative responsibility, have been concentrated upon me in good faith ; aod
it seems to be well understood that no one of these gentlemen can be brought
to the aid of tlie genilemail from 31assachusetts, though I should peremptorily
decline their support.

Under this state of facts, it is suggested that I should decline ; and tele-
graphic dispatches have been transmitted in every direction to create a public

impression that I am an obstacle to the organization, and, by thus placing me
in a false position, to constrain me to a course of action which does not com-
mend itself to my convictions of duty or honor, with a design, as it seems to
me, not so much to promote the election of the gentleman from Massachu-
setts a§ to embarrass those who have thus honored me, and, in my name, held
out to the friends of that gentleman the olive branch of conciliation and peace.

Sir, I need no suggestion from any quarter to press on me considerations
of pu1)lic duty or personal interest in relation to this or any other subject. ' I
have not been quite so passive a spectator of this contest as to have been in-
attentive to such considerations. I need no monitor to remind me of my duty
or my interests ; least of all, such a monitor as has set himself up to instruct
the members of this House in the line of their duty, and to hold it in awe by the
lash of a powerful press. I am the keeper of my own honor, and I shall
judge for myself, fearless of open denunciations or covert insinuations, come
from what quarter they may, what my obligations are to myself, to my con-
stituents, and to my country. And I have now to say, once for all, that when-
ever it shall appear to me that the continuance of my name in nomination
shall have even a tendency to delay the organization, I shall, without a mo-
ment's hesitation, ask my colleague who placed it there to withdraw it. It
will cost me no sacrifice to do so ; for, if I had ever indulged any desire for
success, I have long ceased to look upon it as^robable, or even practicable.
Till then I shall continue to occupy the position which I have maintained
hitherto, from the beginning of the contest. I shall, in that event, be enabled
to present to those gentlemen who have thus concentrated their votes upon
me, a reason for declining their support, the force of which, I doubt not, they
will be among the first to appreciate. In the absence of such a reason, I
should be guilty of a gross dereliction of honor and good faith, and unworthy
the respect of my peers in this body, if I were thus contemptuously to shako
the dust of my feet in the faces of those gentlemen. It has been intimated
that I might purchase position in this House and before the country by with-
drawing my name from the contest. Sir, I ask no position, in the House or
elsewhere, to which I am not justly entitled. I wish to earn for myself no
factitious importance ; least of all, to do so at the expense of my own self-
respect, and the sacrifice of my own honor.

Now, sir, I pass to the matter of the interrogatories. I have not read them.
I have heard them read but indistinctly at the Clerk's table. They involve,
if I correctly understand their general tenor, questions of grave importance,
demanding for a response deliberate consideration. Of course I could not be
expected now to respond to them ; and I am free to say that, had I examined
them, I could not, under present circumstances, be induced to .j,rouble the
House with any reply. It v*'ill be time enough for me seriously to consider the
propriety of answering these, or any other interrogatories, when there shall
appear to be a more general purpose seriously entertained to use my name in
this contest.

Sir, I am no party to the contract implied by the resolution of the gentle-
man from Tennessee, and the vote which has been given in support of it. I
voted to lay the resolution on the table, and, that failing, 1 voted squarely
against its adoption. I am, therefore, in no measure responsible for its

passage, nor In any degree committed to the line of conduct which it indicates.
I a^a-ee most fidly to the general principle affirmed by the resolution ; but, as
I view it, that principle has no applicability to the business now before the
House. The Speaker of this body is selected to preside over its deliberations,
to conduct its proceedings, and to preserve order and decomm — functions
which in no respect involve any political principle. They involve the prin-
ciples of personal integrity, impartiality, and capacity, and, on these points, I
have only to say, that, if the general tenor of my life and conversation, open to
all men, and my intercourse with the members of this House, do not afford
sufficient guarantees in tliese respects, they are as free to reject as they are to

It may be said, iNIr. Clerk, that the Speaker has in his power the appoint-
ment of the committees of the House. This may or may not be so. There
is no existing law, rule, or resolution, which vests this authority in that officer.
When Vv'e shall have elevated to the chair any honorable member of this body
to preside over its deliberations — when we shall have committed to such
member the preservation of order and decorum, the proper time will have
arrived to determine whether his character and principles be such as to justify
us in intrusting to him so important and responsible a power.

But, sir, if it were true, that by any existing regulation the Speaker would
ex ojficio possess the power to appoint the committees, or it be contemplated,
according to established usage, to vest that power in him, I do not see how
the principle enunciated by the resolution could have any proper relation
to the selection of that officer. The duty of the Speaker, in the appointment
of committees, is fixed by a well-defined, though too often disregarded, prin-
ciple of parliamentary law. He would be bound by that principle, and ought,
and doubtless would be required, under the pain of removal, whatever might
be his individual opinions or personal preferences, to constitute the standing
committees upon the various branches of the public service in conformity to
the ascertained sentiments of a majority of the House. It is a rule of parlia-
mentary law, equally well defined — though this, too, has been too frequently
disregarded — that select or special committees are to be constituted of a
majority at least of the friends of the measure referred to them, however odious
it may be to the House or to its presiding officer. I confess, therefore, that
with these views I cannot see the necessity or propriety of instituting an
inquisition into the peculiar political opinions of candidates, especially with
such extreme nicety as characterizes the points made by the interrogatories of
the gentleman from Tennessee. It seems to me that enough ought to be
known of any gentleman, fit for such a position, without subjecting him to the
humiliation of submitting himself to bo questioned and cross-questioned in this
Hall as to all the minute points and phases of his political principles, and that,
too, with all the little chicanery of the bar-room and the hustings. For
myself, sir, I am satisfied to be judged, and to stand or fall, by my past political
life, and the record which I have made in the public service '^ to which I beg
leave to refer the inquisitive.

I will make no pledge, subject myself to no test, submit to no condition or
humiliation to insure success.

And now, sir, not desiring further to occupy the attention of the House, 1


have only to say again that, in my position and with my views, I most respect-
fully decline to be put through the catechism.

In conclusion, Mr. Clerk, I may illustrate my position by the point of an
anecdote of boyhood days. It is now Saturday afternoon, and there are doubt-
less around me many who, with me, will associate, while life lasts, with that
time vivid recollections of the delectable exercises in the smaller and larger
catechism wherewith we were initiated into the rudiments of the Westminster
Confession of Faith. I remember on one of these occasions to have been seated
by a waggish youngster, who, upon being called up and asked what progress
he had made in his catechism, very naively replied, tha't he had got beyond
"effectual calling."' [Roars of laughter.]

Mr. Barksdale. The interrogatories, Mr. Clerk, which I propose to put
to the gentleman from Massachusetts. [Mr. Banks,] I intend for all the gen-
tlemen who are candidates for the speakership; and, in order that the House
and the gendemen to wdiom they are propounded may understand them, I
will now read them :

Are you now a member of the American or Know Nothing party ?

Are you in favor of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, the
United States forts, dock-yards, &c. ?

Do you believe in the equality of the white and black races in the Lnited
States ; and do you wish to promote -that equality by legislation ?

Are you in favor of the entire exclusion of adopted citizens and -Roman
Catholics from office ?

Do you favor the same modification — and this question I intend particularly
for the gentleman from Massachusetts, [Mr. Banks] — of the tariff now which
you did at the last session of Congress ?

Mr. Bingham. I insist that, before any more interrogatories are put, those
which I have propounded be answered.

Tlie Clerk. Does the gentleman from Mississippi withdraw his inter-
rogatories for the present?

Mr. Barksdale. No, sir.

Mr. Richardson took the floor.

The Clerk. Does the gentleman from {Mississippi yield to the gentleman
from IlHnois?
. Mr. Barksdale. I do, sir.

]Mr. Richardson. I wish to ansv»'er the question propounded.

Mr. Kennett, (interrupting.) I ask it is in order to put one or
two more interrogatories in addition to those propounded by the gentleman
from Mississippi? I should like to know of each candidate lor the speaker-
ship, including my friend from New Jersey, [Mr. Pennington,] whetlier he
believes in a ffiture state or not ? [Laughter.] And then, provided he
answers that question affirmatively, I desire to know v/hether he believes it
will be a free or a slave state? [Roars of laughter.]

Mr. Barksdale. I would say to the gentleman from Missouri [Mr. Ken-
nett] that, if he intends by that interrogatory to cast any reflection upon me

either directly or indirectly — [excitement, and cries of "No! no!"] — I hurl
it back with all the scorn, derision, and contempt which its insolence and
impudence so justly merit. [I^oud cries of "Order!" "Order!"]

Mr. Campbell, of Ohio. I call the gentleman to order.

Mr. Barksdale. Sir, he has no ri'^dit to call me to order; and I demand
by what right he calls me to order? [Continued cries of "Order!" and
much confusion in the Hail.]

Mr. Campbell. I again call the gentleman to order.

Mr. Grow. I move that the House do now adjourn.

Mr. Ken.vett. I have only to remark, Mr. Clerk, that the tenor of my
questions must have been misunderstood by the House, if it thinks they were
designed to reflect on the gentleman from jMississippi, [IMr. Barksdale.]
They were intended good-naturedly. And I have to say further, that no
gentleman in this House, or out of it, need expect to intimidate me, or to
insult me in this manner. I have made all the apology, Mr. Clerk, that I
intend to make. That apology was made to the House. I did not intend
my remarks to be understood in any but a jocular way ; but I consider, at
the same time, tliat the remarks made by the gentleman [Mr. Barksdale]
about Americanism fullv justify me in putting such a query. [Cries of
^'- Good !" " Call the roll !"]

Mr. PENNINGTON rose and said : 3Ir. Clerk, I happened to be out of
my seat, in the lobby, when my friend from Missouri, at the close of my
remarks, propounded the theological questions which seem to have so much
disturbed the gentleman from Mississippi. My attention has only this moment
been called to them, and I take the first opportunity to reply.

My friend desires to know of each of the candidates for the speakership,
and particularly of his friend from New Jersey, whether he believes in a future
state ; and, if that question be answered affirmatively, whether he believes it
will be a free state or a slave state.

Now, sir, I have no hesitation in answering these questions ; for, as the
House knows, I am somewhat conversant with the Westminster Catechism,
and ought to be able to instruct my friend from Missouri. [Laughter.] I
have been taught, by that catechism, that there is such a thing as a future state
and I pledge my friend, upon my honor, that I religiously believe it. [Re-
newed laughter.] I do not understand, however, that it is wholly a free state,
nor yet, on the other hand, wholly a slave state. It is represented as divided
into two states — a beatified state, and another state not quite so agreeable. The
one I take to be a free state, and the other a slave state. [Roars of laughter.]

We are informed that these states are divided by an impassable gulf^^ not

exactly a compromise line, I believe. [Continued laughter.] We arc frequently
reminded, too, that one of these states is much the hotter of the two, and hence
I lake it for granted, as a matter of Aiir inference, that it is a slave state, and
lies on the south side of tlic line. [Bursts of laughter.] I havenever examined
the geography of the country, but 1 think it safe to assume, upon the basis of
the laws of population, that the state on the south side of the line has greatly
the largest share of the territory — quite in keeping, I believe. Of one thinf:
I beg to assure my friend, however, that I shall not dispute the settlement of


that part of the territory with him, nor raise any (
of the Wilmot proviso, or the principle of squattt
[Lauo;hter.] iniiiuniii •■■ o

There are those, JMr. Clerk, who hold to a thi 011 897 863 8 ^
state — a state of purgatory. Now, sir, upon thai point, as I never found it
in my primer, I am a Know Nothing. [Laughter.] But of one thing I am
quite sure, that, whatever may be the fact as to the future, there is most
decidedly a jn-esent state of purgatory, as all the candidates can attest, from
their lively experience of the purgation they have undergone on this occasion.
[Renewed laughter.] If I can be allowed to give in my personal experience,
.1 may save some trouble by assuring the House that one of the candidates, at
least, is past praying for. [Roars of laughter.]

Mr. Kennett. Mr. Clerk, I would like to say one word in reply to the
gentleman from New Jersey, who seems so well posted up in his catechism,
and in regard to these future states — the northern and southern sides of the
line, and purgatory. He has been kind enough to bind some of us hand and
foot here, and pitch us into the dark place. I want to know of him^ with regard to
his catechism, whether, when he informed us that he had got beyond " etlectual
calhng," he was also able to see his ^'election surer " [Roars of laughter.]

Mr. Pennington. I owe the gentleman one. [Renewed and long con-
tinued laughter.]

Mr. Pennington to Mr. Kennett, in an under tone. If it were not too
irreverent, I should have told you that my reliance is in -' the final perse-
verance of the saints."

Trinted at the Office of the Congressional Globe,


011 897 863 8


Online LibraryAlexander Cummings Macwhorter PenningtonElection of speaker → online text (page 1 of 1)