Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Let all the disorderly be taken out"

One of the great things about the internet for history lovers is that so much original material is readily accessible. I am, for example, reading Holman Hamilton's Prologue to Conflict, on the Compromise of 1850. After reading about Henry Clay's February 5 - 6, 1850 speech in support of his compromise resolutions, I decided to find it. A few clicks later, and there it is!

Sometimes the little things are the most interesting. Even from the dry transcript, as reported in the Congressional Globe, one gets a sense of the nervous anticipation that accompanied Senator Clay's speech. The Senate Chamber and galleries were packed. People were so eager to be present that they assembled in the hallways leading to the chamber and in adjacent rooms, where they could not hear. Inevitably, disruption ensued as people jostled and, I would guess, whispered to other and relayed to those outside that the speech was beginning.

Perhaps a minute into the speech, the disruptions became so pronounced that Clay was forced to stop so that order could be restored:
Mr. CLAY. . . . But what have we seen during this very session? One whole week -- I think it was an entire week -- exhausted in the vain endeavor to elect a Doorkeeper of the House!

[Much confusion prevailed in the lobbies and the avenues leading to the Senate chamber.]

Mr. CASS. Will the honorable Senator pause a few moments, until order is restored here?

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Sergeant-at-Arms will see that the avenues to the galleries and this chamber are closed, and that a sufficient number withdraw from them to give room for those who are in, and to restore order.

Mr. FOOTE. Let all the disorderly be taken out.

Mr. BADGER. There are persons in the ante-rooms that, because they cannot hear themselves, will not let others hear. I would suggest the propriety of extending the order to their case also.

Mr. CASS. Is the Sergeant-at-Arms in the chamber.

The VICE PRESIDENT. He is discharging his duty in restoring order.

Mr. BADGER. Let the ante-rooms be entirely closed.

Order having at length been restored,

Mr. CLAY continued. . . .

Henry Clay's speech was captured in a famous lithograph (above). In the version below, I have added numbers that correspond to the list below, identifying some of the senators:

1. Henry Clay (Whig, KY)
2. Daniel Webster (Whig, MA)
3. Thomas Hart Benton (Dem., MO)
4. Lewis Cass (Dem., MI)
5. William Seward (Whig, NY)
6. Vice President Millard Fillmore (Whig, NY)
7. William L. Dayton (Whig, NJ)
8. William M. Gwin (Dem., CA)
9. John Caldwell Calhoun (Dem., SC)
10. James A. Pearce (Whig, MD)
11. Robert F. Stockton (Dem., NJ)
12. Henry S. Foote (Dem., MS)
13. Stephen A. Douglas (Dem., IL)
14. Pierre Soule (Dem., LA)
15. Truman Smith (Whig, CT)
16. Salmon P. Chase (Free Soil, OH)
17. William R. King (Dem., AL)
18. John Bell (Whig, TN)
19. James M. Mason (Dem., VA)
20. James Cooper (Whig, PA)
21. Willie P. Mangum (Whig, NC)
22. Sam Houston (Dem., TX)

I obtained the list of names from this webpage. You will need to scroll down about one-third of the way.

Presumably, Gwin was present as an interested observer, California not yet having been admitted as a state. He took his seat on September 10, 1850.

The presence of Robert F. Stockton is something of a mystery. Although I have listed him as a Senator, he was not at the time. According to his Congressional biography, Stockton did not begin his service in the Senate until March 4, 1851 -- more than a year after Clay delivered his speech. Although a native of New Jersey, he had close contacts with California. Stockton served in the navy, rising to the title of Commodore. He was responsible for the Pacific coast, fought in battles in California during the Mexican War, and became the first military governor of California. (The city of Stockton, California is named after him.) By 1850, he was back in the East. It is possible that his stature and connections with California earned him a front row seat in the Senate chamber.

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