« PreviousContinue »
Court of France, upon the Treasury of the United States.
H. or R.
thousand francs, instead of being applied to the payment of the debts due to the claimants, in whose favor they had been liquidated, had been diverted and applied for the benefit of a person in no wise entitled to it under the provisions of the Convention, and to whom nothing had been allowed. Under these circumstances, and in concurrence with the opinion of the Secretary of the Treasury, and agreeable to the wish of General Armstrong, the committee had thought it their duty to report a bill authorizing the Treasury Department to suspend the payment of the bills, whenever they should be presented, until the French Government should have furnished satisfactory proof that the amount of the bills has been applied for the purposes provided for in the Convention.
The bill was passed to a second reading, and referred to a Committee of the Whole on Wednesday.
ADMISSION OF LOUISIANA.
Mr. GRUNDY said that he was instructed by a committee to make a report on a subject which, having been first agitated with closed doors, it was perhaps proper that the report should be made in the same manner. He therefore moved that the galleries be cleared.
On the suggestion of the SPEAKER, Mr. G. withdrew his motion to make way for the consideration of the following business:
Mr. B. said, that the reasons which had induced the committee to report this bill, were founded on a transaction, which he would briefly state. It would be recollected that, by the Convention between the United States and France, commonly called the Louisiana Convention, the Government of the United States had agreed to assume the payment of a sum not exceeding twenty millions of francs, on account of debts due by the Government of France to the citizens of the United States. The mode of liquidating and ascertaining these debts was provided for in the Convention, and by the second section of the act of November 10, 1803, it was provided that the payment of the claims thus ascertained should be made by orders drawn by the Minister of the United States in France, upon the Treasury of the United States, who should be charged with the whole amount of such payments, until he should exhibit satisfactory proof that such orders were issued conformably to the Convention. These orders had generally been drawn in favor of the persons in whose favor such debts had been liquidated, and there had been no difficulty in giving the American Minister credit for this amount, when they were presented and paid in that form. Towards the close of that adjustment, however, there remained about one hundred and fifteen thousand francs to be applied for the benefit of claimants, in order to complete the twenty millions the amount of which was liquidated in favor of sundry persons having debts due from the French Government. Instead, however, of drawing bills for the sum, as usual, in favor of the claimants, the French Government insisted, for reasons which did not distinctly appear, that our Minister should draw for this amount in favor of the Cashier of the French Treasury, that Government assuming upon itself the payment of the particular claims on whose account they were drawn. This arrangement was resisted for some time, but ultimately acceded to by General Armstrong, under a wish finally to close so important a transaction. Notice of the manner in which it had been conducted was given by him to the Government; and the Treasury officers being of opinion that the amount of the bills, if paid, could not. under the circumstances, be credited to him, he requested that the payment of them might be refused or suspended until evidence of their proper application should be furnished by the French Government. It was, however, the opinion of the Secretary of the Treasury that, under the law of 1803, he had no discretion given him to refuse the payment of the bills whenever presented, which had not yet been done, and there was still an opportunity to prevent their payment. The subject had been brought before the Committee of Ways and Means, by the Secretary of the Treasury, some time since, who, from the difficulties attend- Mr. ALSTON opposed the motion. He drew a ing the transaction, had, at the first instance, de- comparison between the first and second grades clined to interfere; recently, however, the com- of government, favorable to the latter, though he mittee had been given to understand that a por-expressed his abhorrence of the Territorial form of tion of the sum of the one hundred and fifteen government in any shape. The complaints of
The House resumed the consideration of the amendments of the Senate to the bill for the admission of Louisiana into the Union, and to extend the laws of the United States to that State. The amendments were severally considered; and one relating to salaries was discussed in Committee of the Whole. The amendments were all agreed to, including that which separates from this bill the provision for extending the limits of the new State so as to include a portion of the Florida Territory.
The bill further providing for the government of the Territory of Louisiana, was read the third time.
Mr. McKEE opposed its passage, on the ground of the incompatibility of the second grade of govvernment with public peace or tranquillity. He dilated on the disadvantages of this grade of government, under which the whole population was sometimes thrown into the greatest ferment and commotion for the most trifling cause, "to waft a feather or to drown a fly." He adverted to the petitions against this law from the people of that Territory; it appeared they were themselves divided in opinion in relation to the change. He was not, therefore, for throwing this firebrand amongst them.
Mr. McKEE concluded his objections by moving to postpone the bill to the first Monday in December next.
H. OF R.
Publication of Secret Proceedings.
divisions and disputes under the second grade of government were not attributable to any defect in the second grade, but to the despotic nature of the first, in which the people were not represented, and had no opportunity of making their grievances known, &c.
Mr. PORTER observed, that this subject appeared likely to occupy considerable time, and, as it appeared to him, of minor importance, to topics which were before the House, he moved that it lie on the table. And the bill was accordingly ordered to lie, after a few words of objection by Mr. RHEA.
Mr. PORTER then stated, that he was instructed by the Committee of Foreign Relations to make a proposition to the House, which was deemed by them to require confidential consideration. He therefore moved that the galleries be cleared; and they were cleared accordingly. The doors remained closed for about half an hour. When the doors were opened
PUBLICATION OF SECRET PROCEEDINGS. Mr. GRUNDY, from a committee which had been appointed while the House was sitting with closed doors, made the following report:
The committee, to whom was referred the resolution directing an inquiry to be made, whether there has been any, and, if any, what violation of the secrecy imposed by this House, during the present session, as to certain of its proceedings, have, according to order, proceeded in said inquiry, and beg leave to state, that under the authority with which they were invested by the House, they have caused to come before them four witnesses, whose testimony on oath is as follows, to wit:
Charles Prentiss states, that he furnished to the editors of the "Spirit of 'Seventy-Six," a paper printed in Georgetown, the paragraph giving an account of the proceedings of the House of Representatives, while sitting with closed doors, on the subject of the embargo; and he further says, that he did not receive the information, or any part thereof, which enabled him to write said paragraph, from any member of Congress or officer of the House. Upon being interrogated, he states that he received the whole of his information from Nathaniel Rounsavell, one of the editors of the Alexandria Herald; that he received it on Wednesday late at night, and he asked of Mr. Rounsavell whether the injunction of secrecy had been removed. Rounsavell replied that he had not inquired. On Thursday morning the witness spoke to some of the members on the subject, and from their conduct he was satisfied that the injunction of secrecy had not been removed; notwithstanding which, the witness sent the paragraph above alluded to to the editors of the Spirit of 'Seventy-Six on Thursday.
John M. Carter and James B. Carter, editors of the Spirit of 'Seventy-Six," state that they received from Mr. Prentiss, in writing, the statement which appeared in their paper; that they received no information on the subject from any member or officer of the House.
Nathaniel Rounsavell, upon being interrogated, says, he composed the paragraph which appeared in the Alexandria Herald of Friday last, containing a statement of the secret proceedings of the House of Representatives upon the subject of the embargo; that be on Wednesday night, after the adjournment of the
House, dérived a part of the information, on which he was enabled to give the detailed account, from the con versation of members of the House, with whom he ac cidentally fell in company; that he was acquainted with the members, and they with him; they knew he was present; he partook in some degree in the con
Question by the committee-From the conversation of what members did you collect the information of which you have spoken?
The witness refused to answer the interrogatory. Question 2-At what place was the conversation held?
Witness refused to answer.
to, or any of them, since you first appeared before this Question 3-Have you seen the members alluded committee on Saturday last?
Witness likewise refused to answer this interrogatory.
Whereupon it is ordered by the committee that the Sergeant-at-Arms detain said Rounsavell in his custody until the pleasure of the House of Representatives relative to the conduct of said witness can be
the following resolution for consideration: After the report was read. Mr. GRUNDY offered
"Resolved, That the Sergeant-at-Arms be directed the House, there to answer such questions as may be to bring the said Nathaniel Rounsavell to the bar of propounded to him by the Speaker, under the direction of the House."
Much desultory discussion took place as to the mode of proceeding in this case, the form of the proposed order, its conformity to precedent, &c., in which Messrs. PITKIN, LACOCK, SHEFFEY, TROUP, TALLMADGE, GRUNDY, FISK, and WIDGERY, took part. This discussion resulted in the proposition of a preamble to the motion, by Mr. GRUNDY, reciting the grounds of the order. The motion was then agreed to.
On motion of Mr. GRUNDY, the select committee were then discharged from the further consideration of the subject.
On motion of Mr. GRUNDY, it was resolved that several interrogatories contained in a paper which he offered to the House, should be proposed to the witness.
Mr. BURWELL suggested the propriety of allowing this person counsel; but withdrew the sug gestion, on its being remarked, that this person appeared before the House in the character of a witness, not a criminal, and that it was not usual for a witness to appear by counsel.
Mr. Rounsavell was then brought to the bar of the House by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
After some hesitation on the part of the witthe usual form of oath administered to witnesses. ness to take the oath required, he was sworn, in
The first interrogatory agreed to by the House was put to him by the Speaker, in the following words: From the conversation of what members did you collect the information of which you have spoken in your deposition before the committee ?"
To this question, the witness answered in these words: “I refused to answer that question when
Publication of Secret Proceedings.
before the committee, and I continue steadfast in that refusal."
The witness was ordered to withdraw, and the Speaker reported his answer to the House; having deemed it unnecessary, on his refusal to acswer the first, to propound any other of the questions.
Some conversation arising as to the proper mode of proceeding to compel the witness to
Mr. D. R. WILLIAMS said it appeared to him that questions affecting the liberty of the citizen were not of a nature to be acted on with precipitancy, and as the witness must necessarily remain in custody of the House until otherwise ordered, be moved to adjourn.
The motion was negatived by a very small majority.
A doubt was started, as this person was now detained under an order of a committee, and that committee had been dissolved, whether it would affect him after the House should adjourn.
H. OF R.
same right? I trust in God we shall never stain the honor of this House and nation by the adoption of such a resolution. It infringes the rights of the citizen, and partakes of barbarity and cruelty.
Mr. SEYBERT rose in justice to himself. He said he could assure his friend from Kentucky that he had as little disposition as any one to infringe the rights of the citizen; but the preservation of the nation was a paramount object; to prevent the disclosure of the proceedings of the National Councils when it is essential that they should not be divulged. This man in his testimony had implicated members of Congress; until he should particularize them every one would be suspected. The practice of every legislature and judicial tribunal would justify them in compelling him to answer.
Mr. BIBB submitted to the gentleman from Pennsylvania whether there was any necessity to preclude this person from communication with others. There was no member of the House who would not rejoice that he should give testimony, rather than that they should be under the necessity of punishing him. If he were permitted to consult his friends, he might to morrow be
Mr. SEYBERT, after stating his indisposition to encroach on the rights of the citizen, which, however, muşt yield to the superior rights of the nation, which required them to act in this case, suggested the propriety of recommitting this per-willing to give testimony. son to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms until further order should be taken by the House, and preventing him in the meantime from communicating with those from whose conversation he might have derived his information. With this view he offered the following resolution :
Resolved, That Nathaniel Rounsavell be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms until further order, and that in the meantime he be precluded from all intercourse or conversation with any person or persons other than the Sergeant-at-Arms.
Mr. JOHNSON said he hoped he never should lose sight of the dignity of the House, nor was he less disposed than any other member to probe this matter to the bottom. While he would, he declared, always be ready to support, even with his life, the respect due this assembly, he would with equal firmness oppose any invasion of the rights of any man in society without necessity. Why was this witness to be precluded from the conversation of his friends? He was committed for obstinacy, which did not inflict a stain on him, but elsewhere, if it affected any one disreputably. What crime had he been guilty of to warrant the course proposed? Let any member suggest, upon his honor, that he believes this individual will probably be corrupted-that he will be induced to swerve from the truth-and there might be some plausible ground for the procedure. He was not, he said, so tenacious of the respect due to this House of its dignity, if gentlemen liked the word better-as to wreak the whole weight of its vengeance on this individual. The man whose hands are stained with the blood of his fellow-citizen, even he has a right to see his wife, his child, his friend, or brother. The vilest criminal in a penitentiary has the right to see his friends even out of the presence of his keeper; and shall this individual be denied the
Mr. SHEFFEY suggested the addition of the words "unless in the presence and hearing of the Sergeant-at-Arms." This would do away the objectionable part of the motion, and must at the same time check any improper communication he might have with members or others.
Mr. SEYBERT readily agreed to such a modification of his motion.
Mr. WILLIAMS moved to strike out all that part of the motion which restricts the witness in his intercourse with others.
Mr. McKEE doubted whether the House possessed the power which it was proposed to exercise. Until they should obtain the power by an act of Congress, he was inclined to think they had not power to punish this person.
Mr. ROBERTS said he did not view the proposed proceeding as a punishment, but merely as a precautionary measure. The House had power to bind its members to secrecy. In this case a publication of their proceedings had taken place; an inquiry is instituted through a select committee; and in the course of that inquiry information is obtained that the proceedings were disclosed by certain members of the House. It now became a matter of imperious duty on the part of the House to purge itself of the charge which indiscriminately attached to all, from the generality of the evidence. He did not view this person in the light of a criminal, but precisely in the situation of a witness before a judicial tribunal who refused to answer. It was now proposed to detain him until he should give evidence. In case he refused, Mr. R. said he thought the House owed it to itself to interrogate its members severally whether in the presence and hearing of this witness they had given such information, &c. The preclusion from private intercourse was merely to guard against any col
H. OF R.
Publication of Secret Proceedings.
lusion of the witness with those who might be concerned.
Mr. JOHNSON again spoke, and reprobated the course proposed to be taken.
Mr. PITKIN expressed his surprise at the proposed inhibition of intercourse. Should we go so far as to say he shall have no intercourse ex-doubtless had voted for the inquiry-as only three cept with our officers, it would be the most extraordinary exercise of power I ever heard of. When committed to jail shall we say that no person shall have access to him but his jailer? For the Sergeant-at-Arms is in this respect only a temporary jailer. It is better, in my apprehension, that the person who disclosed the secret should go free than that we should thus violate the liberty of the citizen.
Mr. MILNOR Said he could not agree in opinion with his honorable friend who had just sat down. He apprehended the difficulty in this case arose from not distinguishing between the case of a person committed for trial, in which case he is allowed counsel, and the case of a person committed for contempt of the authority of a court. So far from considering the proposed course as a violation of personal right, I consider it as mercy to the witness; because if an influence has been exerted upon his mind to prevent him from developing the facts in this case, it would be very proper that he should have an opportunity of cool reflection, for which he perhaps had not had time, as he had been brought suddenly before them. The witness, Mr. M. said, had no claim to the mercy of the House; nevertheless he was willing this species of mercy should be extended to him, to give him an opportunity of exercising his own unbiassed reflection.
Mr. MACON observed that this question did not appear to him to merit the importance attached to it. After this person had been in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms nearly three days, unrestricted in his intercourse or communication with others, to deprive him of such intercourse now would be to shut the door after the horse was gone. He, therefore, could see no necessity for the latter part of the resolution.
Mr.MCKEE asked whether there was any power delegated by the Constitution to this House which would justify the passage of the resolution. This House was clothed with no other authority in this respect than what was delegated to it by the Constitution; and he had examined the Constitution in vain to find such an authority. Parliamentary history to this day furnished them but one precedent, and that was in the case of Wilkes; and if we proceed as is now proposed, we shall find ourselves situated in regard to this man as the British Parliament found themselves in regard to Wilkes. He called upon the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. SHEFFEY) particularly, who had spoken so decidedly early in the debate, to point out in what manner the House possessed the power. He asked gentlemen who approved the proposition to take the torch into their hand, and let him and others follow according to the light they should shed.
Mr. SHEFFEY said he did not know why he
should be particularly called upon for an explanation of this subject; why he should be called upon to support an offspring not his own; for he had no share in this part of the resolution. This was not so novel a power as the gentleman appeared to suppose. The honorable gentleman members, he believed, voted against it. If we have a power to inquire, is it a power only to see how the fact is? Does the gentlemen mean to say that we have the power to inquire, and that we have no power to do anything else? Does the gentleman suppose that we have the power to inquire without making that inquiry effectual? The gentleman has too much good sense, sir, to suppose any such thing. If an individual interposes his will against that of this House, it is necessary that we should have the right to compel him to yield. The question then occurs in what manner this shall be accomplished? We may keep him in custody until he makes the declaration we require of him. We have a right to expel a member on the vote of two-thirds of the House. Suppose we had cause to believe that a member had acted in such a way as to merit expulsion, and that a knowledge of the facts relating to his conduct was in the bosom of certain individuals; to a committee of this House directed to inquire into the subject, an individual acknowledges his privity to the facts, but refuses to disclose them. The individual bids defiance to your authority; and are you now called upon to say where is your authority to punish him therefor? Upon such a question as that could there be a moment's hesitation? Does it not follow, if we can expel a member for misbehaviour, we have a right to use all the means necessary to discover whether he has been guilty of misbehaviour or not? The person who is the subject of the proposed motion stands before us in the character of a refractory witness. If we have not the power to compel him to answer, we ought to go home; we ought not to sit here for one moment. The gentleman can find no express delegation of such a power to the House, and therefore argues against it. Did not the gentleman vote for the inquiry? Where is the express delegation of power to make the inquiry? It is not to be found; it results from the delegation of other powers. You have a certain power expressly given, and hence results all the power necessary to carry it into effect. You have the power to purge this House from impurity; and, having this power, you have the power to compel the production of evidence. There is nothing more important as respects the efficacy of government, the individual and collective dignity of this body, than that we should assert and exercise this power when it becomes necessary. Every one knows my sentiments on the subject of secrets; but, when secrecy is once decided on, its violation ought to be punished with the utmost severity; and we ought not to be deterred from it by false alarms of invading the liberty of the citizen. Your respect for the individual liberty of the citizen paralyzes all your efforts to
Publication of Secret Proceedings.
punish him for a contempt of your order! This is defeating instead of supporting justice. This secret, it is said, was of no importance. But one secret is in that respect as important as another. Its disclosure may have been inadvertent; but if it has been made by a member with his eyes open, it ought to be severely punished.
Mr. Fisk said it was a primary principle of the Constitution that a man who is made amenable to a public tribunal shall have the benefit of counsel that his friends shall have access to him. For the refusal of this privilege other Governments had been justly accused of despotism. The very refusal of this man to answer showed that he acted from principle. For one, Mr. F. said, he should have thought it a disclosure of no secret if asked whether Mr. Bassett was in the Chair, to have answered yes. Or, if asked who had spoken, to have mentioned their names. The secret is, what you are about, what you have done, and not those unimportant particulars. Mr. F. was in favor of the motion.
Previous to taking the question Mr. NELSON mored an adjournment.-Motion lost.
The question on striking out so much of the motion as precludes the witness from conversation with any one unless in the presence and hearing of the Sergeant-at-arms, was decided as follows:
H. OF R.
that this man had cost the House trouble and expense enough, and that the best course they could take was to discharge him. He considered the person as too contemptible to deserve so much notice, and the offence on his part of so trivial a nature that it was unwise to meddle with it. If the man has ambition, he wants nothing but talents to become as popular as Wilkes, Sir Francis Burdett, or other popular champions. The persecution of Sir Francis Burdett had made him the idol of the people, and like causes would produce like effects. His remarks, Mr. N. said, did not go to mitigate the transgression of the members who had violated the secrets of the House; he spoke only of the individual now before them. This was in truth a contest between the House of Representatives and the freedom of the press of America. If we pursue this business—if the man have firmness enough to persevere-the most glorious opportunity is presented him to become one of the most conspicuous characters of the present day. He wished the resolution might not pass, though it appeared probable that it would.
The question was taken on the resolution, and it passed by a very large majority.
TUESDAY, April 7.
Mr. NEWTON, from the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures, presented a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase or lease the old City Hall, in the city of New York; which was read twice and committed to a committee of the Whole to-day.
YEAS-Willis Alston, jr., William Anderson, Ste-
The House took up for consideration the amendments of the Senate to the bill authorizing a detachment of the militia of the United States. The amendments are all matters of detail, excepting a new provision for abolishing corporal punishment. All the amendments of the Senate were agreed to, a slight verbal amendment however having been made to one of them, which required the sending the bill again to the Senate.
The amendments of the Senate to the bill for the relief of Thomas Orr, were read and concurred in.
further time for registering claims in the western A bill was received from the Senate giving land district of Orleans; which was twice read, and committed to the Committe of Public Lands.
On motion of Mr. KEY, a committee was appointed to inquire whether any, and what, additional compensation should be allowed to the Superintendent of the Indian Department, in consequence of the increased duties imposed by law on that officer. Mr. KEY, Mr. NELSON, Mr. JOHNson, Mr. McBRYDE, and Mr. TROUP, were appointed the committee.