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US Doc 508

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Mar 9, 1832.]

Case of Samuel Houston.

(H. OF R


of privilege, by arresting on civil process, or by assault- or that it would exist on the ground of necessity. But ing any of their members during their sitting, or on their believing, as they did, that it might, in certain cases, be way to, or return from the House of Delegates.” safely lodged in such bodies, they thought proper, in The Senate may exercise the same power in similar plain and intelligible terms, to define the offences, and

confer the power to punish. This seems to me a just South Carolina. “ Each House may punish, by impri- inference from what has been done. The American peosonment, during sitting, any person, not a member, who ple, then, have spoken upon this very question; and have shall be guilty of disrespect to the House, by any disorder-condemned, in audible tones, the doctrine of undefined ly or contemptuous behavior in its presence, or who, du- privileges and necessary powers. Whatever privileges ring the time of its sitting, shall threaten harm to the body they thought proper to confer, have been given. Others or estate of any member, for any thing said or done in have been withheld. They have intended to leave nothing either House, or who shall assault any of them therefor." in this respect to construction or implication. So also in

The constitution of Georgia is precisely like that of conferring power, if they choose to erect their legislative South Carolina.

bodies into courts of justice, and authorize them to punish Ohio. “Each House may punish, by imprisonment, those who should violate their rights, they have done so in during their session, any person, not a member, who shall express terms. They have thus acted wisely and intelligibe guilty of disrespect to the House, by any disorderly or bly. They have placed their veto upon the slavish doctrine, contemptuous behavior in their presence.

of undefined privilege and power, which, drawn from a Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, the same foreign source, is attempted to be engrafted upon our free Ohio.

and definite system of government. Mississippi. "Each House may punish, by imprison- I have done, sir, with the argument in support of the ment, during the session, any person, not a member, for power of this House, drawn from the general assertion that disrespectful or disorderly behavior in its presence, or for a similar power exists in, and has been exercised in State obstructing any of its proceedings.'

legislative assemblies. The analogy fails. Theirs is an I do not find, sir, that any other State has conferred express power; ours is claimed as an incident. We look this power by a constitutional provision. But several of into the constitutions and statutes of the States, and see that the State constitutions contain a clause of this description: the power is given in explicit language. Will an express that each House shall have all powers necessary for a delegation of power to other bodies aid us to prove that this branch of the Legislature of a free and independent House possesses it as an incident? Certainly not. Cite State. Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and De. as many cases as gentlemen please, they prove nothing to laware, are of this class. Such a clause, fairly un- this purpose; they are wide of the mark, and leave the derstood, may not perhaps confer this power. The believers in this incidental power precisely where they question would still remain, is this a necessary power? I started. do not intend to discuss that question, or maintain that a I will examine two or three particular cases which have power to try and punish is a necessary power. I main-been mentioned. One arose in the Virginia House of Detain, on the contrary, that it is not. I have only adverted legates in 1784. It was the case of John Warden, a loyal to this class of constitutional provisions, as introductory to Scotch gentleman, residing in Virginia, whose temper the remark, that the constitution of the United States does was excited by the passage of a bill through the House of not contain any similar grant of power. It does not as. Delegates, which was supposed to prevent the recovery sume to transfer to one or both Houses of Congress all of British debts. “In a moment of loyal excitement, he power, or all power which may be necessary; but only exclaimed, that if the House had passed such an act, some such specific and enumerated powers as were supposed of them had refused to pay for the coats on their backs." to be necessary. Should a legislative House, of either of For this high contempt and breach of the privileges of the States last mentioned, therefore, hold that this power that House, he was taken into custody; but, on declaring was necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free and that it never was his intention to affront the dignity of the independent State, the argument to sustain that opinion House, or insult any member of it, he was discharged. would be infinitely stronger than it possibly can be in This case is pressed upon us as a precedent, as an aufavor of the power now claimed and exercised by this House. thority, to justify the course pursued in the present in

Other States have, by public statutes, created and de- stance. What is the case? An arrest for verbal scandal. clared the rights and privileges of members of their re- The House was proceeding to punish for this atrocious spective Legislatures, and provided the proper mode of attack upon its dignity. The precedent is commended to redress and punishment for their violation.

our observance as an authority. This House then may punish The constitution of Virginia is silent in these respects. for words spoken, which reflect upon the integrity of the Yet an act of its Legislature, passed in 1799, confers large House, or any of its members. Are gentlemen prepared privileges and immunities upon members of that body, and for this consequence? Would the honorable gentleman contains every provision necessary for their prompt and (Mr. DODDRIDGE] who brought this precedent to the efficient vindication.

notice of the House, live up to his own rule! Surely he New York has acted upon this subject; has declared would not: for in his opinion the House cannot punish for and defined legislative contempts, and expressly authoriz- written or printed scandal, however gross. But before ed either branch of its Legislature to inflict punishment for the honorable gentleman had pressed this case upon us, he offences of that character.

should have proved two propositions: What now, sir, becomes of this argument drawn from 1st. That the powers of this House are analogous to cases which have arisen in the State Legislatures, and those of the Virginia House of Delegates. which have there been summarily punished? Can such

2d. That that House did not transcend its own powers. cases prove that the power to punish is an incidental pow. Until both these are established, the case is without er! That it exists, because it is necessary that it should authority, and deserves very little regard here. exist? If so, why in these numerous instances has it been Instances of legislative usurpation are not very unfreexpressly given? Let me also, sir, ask the advocates for quent, and this was probably one of that description. It this incidental and necessary power, if these repeated seems at least to have been so regarded in that venerable declarations by the citizens of the several States, in form- commonwealth; for although, in 1784, one branch of its ing their constitutions, and by legislative enactments, do Legislature assumed a power to punish for privileges not furnish a very cogent and convincing argument that which had not been created either by constitution or by they did not believe in the incidental nature of this power, statute, yet, in 1799, opposite views prevailed, and both

Vol. VIII.--183

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