Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Hens set"

I can't resist one more Isaac Bassett story, a wonderful little recollection about Senator Thomas Hart Benton:
Benton, he took a prominent part in the deliberation of the Senate. Few public measures were discussed that he did not participate in. He was distinguished for his iron will. As a public speaker, he was not interesting. Senator Benton was the author of the expunging resolution, which I was an [eye]witness to in the Senate. He was distinguished for his learning, he had a practical mind and a strong memory. As a public speaker he was not interesting, but his speeches were read with great interest and his influence was widely felt.

I remember on one occasion when I was quite a boy, he wanted to see a friend who was on the floor of the Senate and requested me to find him. I found him and pointed him out on one of the sofas. I made use of the word “setting,” instead of “sitting.” He stopped and put his hand on my head and said, “My boy, don’t say that again, hens set.”

About the illustration:
A caricature of Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, as an insect rolling a large ball "Expunging Resolution" uphill toward the Capitol. The print employs Benton's own metaphor of rolling a ball for his uphill campaign to have a March 1834 Senate censure of then-President Andrew Jackson stricken from the Senate journal. The censure had condemned Jackson's removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States as exceeding the President's constitutional power. In the cartoon Benton says, "Solitary and alone and amidst the jeers and taunts of my opponents I put this Ball in motion." The quotation comes from Benton's 1834 speech given in the Senate, stating his intention to move to expunge the censure. Benton's campaign earned him scorn from the opposition and, initially, little support from friends of the administration. But his resolution was finally passed in January 1837. The cartoon must have appeared shortly after the successful vote, for the ball is inscribed with a "List of the Black Knights," which names the twenty-four senators who voted for the resolution.

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