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MVB Speech on the powers and duties of the Chair in regard to the disposition of papers addressed to it, [c17 March 1834]

When the debate closed, & before putting the question on the motion made by the Senator Mr Clay that the memorial should ^not^ be received, the Vice President rose & observed in substance. <illegible> That the it was with much regret that the Chair felt itself comd compelled to detain the Senate at so late an hour, by any observations of its own, upon a subject which had been already so fully discuss[ed] But as the question to be decided was in its nature one of order, in respect to which it comported with was ^not only^ perfectly proper in itself, but conformable also to parliamentary usage, for the Chair to take a part, if ^he^ felt it due as well to the Senate as to the chair, to state briefly, not only the considerations by which its course had been governed ^influenced^ in the particular case ^now^ before the Senate, but also the general principles which the chair had adopted for its Government in regard to the subject matter out of which (that case) ^it^ had arisen. He believed such a course on its ^his^ part, necessary as well to a correct understanding of the immediate question under discussion, & that it should not fail to be useful in future. By the express provision of the Constitution, the Senate is authorized to "determine the rules of its proceedings." By this provision of the Constitution, the set rules of order in its proceedings are without subjected to the legislation of the Senate without much if any restriction other than such as may be found to result from other & express provisions of the Constitution. This has been ^right^ has been exercised by the Senate by means of the rules which it has from time to time established. These rules provide that all ^every^ question of order shall be decided by the President, without subject, nevertheless, to an appeal to the Senate. They provide further that the President may call for the sense of the Senate on any question of order. This latter provision is peculiar to this body, & its rules are in that respect, unlike those of the other branch of the Legislature. But little conversant with questions of order, and anxious to regulate its course by the best lights that could be obtained, the Chair felt thought it best proper, at an early day, to look into the practical interpretation which had been given to this authority thus conferred on ^it^, The chairs by those incumbents who had preceded the present incumbent in the occupation of it ^the chair. ^Upon that examination found it was found, ^that it had generally, if not always been^ the practice of the chair, if not universal, had been <extensive>, and especially upon important points ^of order^ to take the sense of the Senate in respect to them in the first instance, whenever there was, in the of its judgement, sufficient question as to the proper course of proceeding to render such a state advisable. Regard Having regard to the character & construction of the body, this mode of proceeding appeared to the chair ^from the Chair ^^Presiding officer^^^ to be at not only ^not only^ discreet <illegible> and altogether proper & in its self, and but a fair ^he thought it^ would moreover be giving an effort ^give^ to the peculiar provision, in the rules of the Senate, ^an effect^ most conformable to the respect which was justly due to it ^the Senate^ from a presiding officer ^not chosen by itself^ in whose selection the Senate had no choice. The chair therefore felt no difficulty in <prescribing> it adopting it a ^as the a^ rule for its own conduct. Why that course could not be pursued upon the first presentation of the papers in question, consistently with often & paramount considerations ^and why it is proper not only most proper but highly desirable that the sense of the senate should now be taken upon the immediate question before it^ shall be made obvious would, the <chair> ^be^ <illegible> made quite obvious in the succeeding observations which the chair ^it he felt^ feels it to be its his duty to <illegible> it. to the Senate

The subject matter out of which that ^the present^ question has arisen, presents two questions ^points^ for discision, questions which are certainly of a very grave character & will merit the deliberate decision & <illegible> <action> of the Senate, viz my ^that is to say^

First 1st Does a communication intended to be laid before the Senate through the <illegible> of the Chair presiding officer, from the moment of its reception by the Chair, become, ipso facto, ^as has been ^^is^^ contended^ the property, & part of the archives, of the Senate, so as to deprive the Chair of all discretion as to the disposition to be made of it without the approbation of the body? ^<illegible> to be supposed^ And if that be not the case, then ^Secondly^, under what responsibility does the Chair rest to the Senate, in regard to the character of the communications which it suffers to reach the body through its agency? These are certainly questions of a very grave character, well deserving of the deliberate consideration of the Senate. They are questions in respect to which there would seem to be a diversity of opinion amongst the Members, & it is certainly far from ^being^ the intention of the Chair to pass, ^in this form,^ upon the correctness of the conflicting dedications which have, in this regard, here drawn from the <illegible> before <illegible> by Honble Senators. on This plan Its only purpose is to state its own views, and in doing so, it feels that it may safely assume, that if it be correct to say that the chair has no rightful authority of our communications which <are> addressed to it for the use of the Senate, no right to return them it to those from whom they came, to deliver them over to their representa on this floor & withhold them 3d from the Senate ^then most clearly^ if a chair <most> certainly <to> ^cannot^ be held responsible for the contents of any paper thus presented. It would in all can only be necessary to state this proposition, to render the incongruity and injustice of the opposing pretension obvious to the meanest capacity, & to secure its rejection by all ^every^ unprejudiced mind. What then is the true rule as to the power and duties of the chair, in regard to the disposition of papers addressed to it with a view to their submission to the Senate? Could the Chair have allow itself to consult its convenience only, and to relieve itself from responsibility, there is no rule that could be a suggested, by which those objects <can> would be more effectually accomplished, than that which <illegible> has been contended for, by which its duties are office in this regard is converted into one of a purely ministerial character, & by which the any paper recd. by it for the ^use^ of the Senate, is at once converted into a portion of the Senatorial archives. But the Chair has not been able to satisfy itself, that it could thus be relieved itself from a duty to which it owed to the Senate. It has on the contrary regarded considered it to be a portion of that duty to receive as soon at its best <discretion> on the subject in withholding <illegible> withhold from <illegible> such communications, as, in the exercise of its best discretion, were ^it considered to be^ so framed, as to render such <treatment> of them ^their presentation^ inconsistent with the respect due to the body ^Senate,^ as well as such, as were, from other considerations, justly subject to the operation of the same rule. Scarcely a week passes, in which communications are not rcd by the Chair, with a request to have them laid before the Senate, ^in respect to^ which it is apparent that their authors are suffering under mental aberrations of the most painful character. Communications of this ^sort,^ character, of which <many> <means> are constantly in the possession of the chair, would, on the supposition refered to, be entitled to the disposition, but which is claimed for the papers under consideration. But the exercise of the discretions referred to, has not been confirmed by the Chair, to <comm> ^papers^ of this character ^descriptions,^ which might justly be regarded as extreme cases. It has, on the contrary, felt it to be within the line of its duty, to withhold from the Senate, communications which however high & sound the source from which they emanated, contained reflections upon the Senate plainly derogatory to the ^its^ honor. of the It is but a few <days> ^weeks^ since, that the chair ^with a request <recd> by order of to lay them before the Senate ^<recd> <at>^ the proceedings of a public meeting held in the City of Philadelphia, which ^it^ was obvious had been a very large one, & which the Chair does not doubt to have been also a very respectable, <one>, in which <illegible> the severest censure was heaped ^denounced against^ upon this body, for an act in which the ^present incumbent of the^ Chair happened to have had a particular interest. Under the influence of the <illegible> ^sense^ of duty which has been expressed, by the chair it did not hesitate to deliver the paper to one of the Senators from that state, with a request that it should be ^respectfully^ returned to the highly respectable source from which it had come with. <illegible> the information that the Chair felt to it <was> to be inconsistent with its duty, to lay a paper containing such matters before the Senate. It would be The Chair would have preferrd in this, as it would in every similar case, to have pursued the course authorized by the rules of the Senate, & which has ^heretofore^ in other respects, here so extensively adopted, of taking the sense of the Senate up in the first instance upon the propriety of receiving the paper in question. But it could not shut it eyes to the past ^has hitherto appeared to the Chair^, that that could not ^well^ be done without exposing the Senate to the <evil> ^indignity & mischief evils agt against^ which the assumed (&c) discretion in ^exercised by the^ chair was calculated to protect it, viz. by ^the mischief indignity of^ having a paper read ^to it which^ in its ^<illegible>^ preserved as reflected upon its character & motives.

The Chair has felt thought it proper to be thus particular in the statement of its views & practices, to the end, that if the opinion which has been so confidently advanced, that every paper rcd by the chair becomes the property of the Senate, subject to its exclusive disposition, be that of the body, the fact may be authoritatively announced either in the form of a rule or decision of the Senate, & thus made the rule of conduct for the future a rule which ^If such a rule was adopted^ the respect which the Chair entertains for the Sen body over which it has the honor to provide, as well as a sense of duty will ^induce it^ constrain him to carry ^the same ^^its^^^ old execution.

But (as has <illegible>) the Chair has felt itself constrained to regard this as an enormous view of the subject, & it has already stated its own ^impressions^ as to the nature & extent of the responsibility under which it rested to the Senate, in the discharge of this portion of its official duties.

In taking up upon itself the exercise of <that> ^the^ discretion ^before stated,^ the Chair was by no means unapprised of the ^extent &^ delicacy & ^of the^ responsibility, which, with out previous reference to the wishes of the senate, it assumed; but which it cheerfully <illegible> ^with the view of^ rather than to hesitate for a moment to do all in its power to upholding the ^true^ dignity of a body, to the advancement of whose highest interests it had determined to devote itself.

The difficulties of ^a successful^ discharging of his trust ^in the particular case under consideration^ were ^had^ moreover ^been^ in no small degree encreased by the course which had been ^was^ taken by the Senate, and by the character of the debate, on the part of some of its members, in two <cases> similar in principle which have recently been acted upon. by us. In respect to them it is ^It was^ well Known that the senate, although its attention was directly called to their exceptionable character, of the more proper <illegible> proceedings <illegible> Senate <illegible> decided ^in these cases^ to receive papers which on account of the reflections they ^respectively^ contained as well upon the body as ^&^ upon its presiding officer, they refused to refer or to print, and that in the discussion which arose upon their presentation, the principle was distinctly & solemnly avowed, that in a period like the present, it did not belong to the Senate, to prescribe to a suffering people, the language in which they should approach ^call upon^ their representatives for a redress of (their) grievances.

In these proceedings the chair was ^<illegible> <illegible>^ from its position as <illegible> was neither ^not^ inclined, on account of its relation to the subject, to take part, nor could it, perhaps, have done so with propriety if its inclinations had been otherwise

Although, as has been observed, the difficulties of the Chair in the performance of this part of its duties, at all time delicate, were necessarily ^thereby unavoidably^ increased, by those proceedings they did its opinion was not changed in respect to the principle which it had adopted. Acting upon that principle the Chair refused ^declined^ to submit the proceedings in question to the Senate, <be> although well satisfied of the respectability of the Source from whence they had emanated, because they contained improper reflections ^of an odious character^ upon a ^one of its^ members of which by name which though not directly of the to be Although the chair [. . .] so far, at least, in the sentiments which had been avowed in the discussion alluded to, as to desire ^be willing^ to permit ^to extend a very ^^the most^^ liberal indulgence to^ the utmost <admirable> <latitude> to the right of petition 6th it did ^could^ not regard it as comporti consistent with the peculiar relations in which it stood toward this body, to permit others to say to it ^in a petition presented^ through its ^the^ agency ^^^in an odious <illegible>^^ of the Chair^ that for which it would be its, ^the^ duty ^of the Chair^ to call a Senator to order, when ^uttered orally in respect to^ said of him one of his <compans> on this floor. The Chair therefore returned ^delivered^ the paper to one of the Senators from Pennsylvania with & accompanied ^it^ by the a declaration, that unless he and his colleagues could felt themselves authorized to suppress what the the exceptionable matter, the chair could not reconcile it to its sense of duty to present it to the Senate. Upon that question the Chair did not of course express its opinion, but it regards it as due as well to the Honble Senators from that State, as to itself, to say, that if it ^had^ regarded that such an act on their part, to be liable to any just exception, it would never have submitted the paper to them with any such suggestion. It did not so regard it <illegible> <illegible> <illegible>, and least of all could it have anticipated that an act done under the circumstances & from the motives by which it was characterized, would have drawn down <illegible> <illegible> upon the <illegible> to which it had been <subjected>. ^elicited <illegible> the exceptions which have been <illegible> in to the act.^ The facts & circumstances of the course, were however before the Senate & in respect to which every one would judge for himself.[†] (But whatever difference ^and whatever difference of opinion may exist as to its effect upon the question <illegible> of the <present> validity of the^ of opinion might exist as to the ^abstract^ question of the its propriety ^of the its conduct,^ the Chair could not allow itself to anticipate any, in regard to the purity of the motives intentions by which it was governed.

But This ^,however,^ is not the only objection that is ^has been^ raised agt. the presentation of these ^<ir> papers^ proceedings It was has been ^was^ objected by an honorable Senator, that these proceedings, the <cancelling> ^erasure^ of any ^a^ part of which is deemed so reprehensible ^objectionable^, was is ^are^ but a part of a common newspaper without (<illegible>) even the autograph signature of any of the presiding officers, or other mark of authenticity, & therefore not admissable according to parliamentary usage. That objection has however been fully answered, by the reading of the original <illegible> letter from the Committee appointed by the meeting to communicate its proceedings to the Chair and was received & which <illegible> ^is before the Senate in the State in which^ had been overlooked by the acting Secretary of the Senate. But it is further objected that the paper in question does still contain exceptionable matter, inasmuch as it charges ^the^ corruption of Congress by the Bank. The Chair has no hesitation to say that ^if the paper^ had appeared to it to be susceptible of that construction it would not have deemed it proper, ^upon its own mere motion,^ to lay it before the Senate (thinking at best a previous <illegible> a previous an <illegible> ^of its one^ our motive upon the brief & cursory examination which it was alone in the power of the Chair to give to its contents, extended as they are, it ^may^ did not strike the Chair ^as changing more than a disposition upon the^ [††] nor does ^is^ the Chair now satisfied that the proceedings in question, although they certainly upon a close examin from ^upon^ the communication ^to^ which they have under gone in been subjected by the Senate, appear ^they are <thus> certainly found to^ to contain the most ^many^ injurious & discreditable insinuations, contain the charge of practiced corruption of the Legislature. But whatever may be the just construction of their contents, it is in the power of the Senate to make such a disposition of them upon the motion made by the Senator from Kentucky, as shall be deemed most ^consistent^ constant with justice & the <char> respect that is due to the body. The Chair cannot but think it was In regard to the suggestion that the Chair should ask permission to withdraw the paper, it cannot but has only to say that it thinks it is any respect desirable that the Senate should itself exp now express an opinion upon the point presented to its consideration by the pending motion. Such a decision is in the present agitated State of the Country, & the ^great^ probability that comes of the same Kind <illegible> <illegible> may again arise, if they are not prevented by the formal decision of the Senate. To have taken the ^its^ opinion upon the subject in the first instance under the rule of the Senate, would have been the choice & course of the Chair, had it not been for the difficulty which has been stated referred to. The subject being ^is^ now before the Senate. If But Whatever room there may be for a difference of opinion as to the strict propriety of the ^course^ manner in which had been ^taken^ brought there there cannot be any, it is hoped, ^in respect to the motives & intentions & which prompted to that course.^ that what has been do is done has been done with the best intentions. Upon this point, the Chair cannot does not feel itself to be under the least ^slightest^ necessity to indulge in protestations or assurances of any kind. The It is fully persuaded that no <illegible> mind will for a moment, hesitate in believing, that its conduct in the whole matter has, so far at best, as intention is involved, been controuled by the principles which were avowed by the Chair at the threshold of its duty, and which, it is well assured, have been most faithfully adhered to. Why then should the decision of the Senate be superseded by through its agency? It can perceive no good reason for such a course, whilst the they many that are offered to its adoption. Independently of the <illegible> ^intrinsic^ importance of ^such a decision,^ leaving that decision arising from the considerations already admitted to there are other ^considerations^ of a [. . .] more imperative character. As has already been said, [the] Senate ^has^ have heretofore decided to receive communications from the people, upon this very subject, which, on account of the <illegible> reflections which they contained, ^as well^ on the Senate as on its presiding officer it they [. . .] commit or print.

8th. The subject having thus entered into the deliberation ^& decision^ of the Senate, it is most proper ^desirable^ that all further action upon ^it^ the subject should ^in this case at least^ be under its controul, when that can, as is the present case, be done without impropriety. Again, a grave question has been made & fully discussed, as to the right of Sen controul of Senators over the <illegible> communications of their constituents under circumstances like the present. It is most proper also that that point should be settled by the Senate. at all accounts before & To render such a ^the preferred^ course advisable on the part of the Chair, there should ^at least^ be unanimity on the part of the Senate in desiring it. Such appears not to be the case. It is not only expressly objected to by Senators, but there obviously appears to be a serious diversity of opinion amongst the members, upon the abstract question whether the paper should be received or not. Under such circumstances, & without noticing an objection of order which would remove the step <illegible> improper without unanimous consent ^a consent which has already been <illegible>^ the Chair cannot but think, that it will ^best^ discharge its duty to all parties, by leaving the disposition of the subject to the decision of ^allowing^ the question before the Senate, & upon which, the Ayes & Noes have been already advanced, to be taken.

Marginalia:

[†][written in the left-hand margin] in its present state, the Chair is quite confident, there can be none as to the purity of intentions ^correctness of the motives^ by which the whole transaction has been characterized. on the part of the Senator from <P>

[††] [written in the left-hand margin] part of the Bank to corrupt Congress & the press.

[written in the left-hand margin on p. 25] **The chair perhaps owes it to itself to state, that before presenting the proceedings, to the Senate it suggested to the Senator from Mass more directly referred to by them & its willingness to hold them up for further advisement [page 25] of hearing from that Senator, that he had a response to the proceedings in his possession; that he would probably make some observations upon them; & that he would prefer to have them presented forthwith; that the chair was induced to present them this morning. [written in the right-hand margin on p. 28]

Source: DLC Library of Congress
Collection: MVB Papers (DLC)
Series: Series 7 (4 March 1833-3 March 1837)